ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Greeting, Call to Worship, and Opening Prayer – Rev. Val
- Opening Hymn – Come, Thou Almighty King (UMH 61)
- Affirmation of Faith – A Statement of Faith of the United Church of Canada
- Gloria Patri (UMH 70)
- Scripture Readings (all readings CEB) – Isaiah 6:1-8, Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17 – Rev. Val
- Message: In the Wind – Rev. Val
- Pastoral Prayer – Rev. Val
- Offertory – Rev. Val
- Doxology (UMH 95)
- Closing Hymn – Here I Am, Lord (UMH 590)
- Benediction – Rev. Val
WELCOME, CALL TO WORSHIP, & OPENING PRAYER
Good morning! What a weekend it’s been so far! This weekend’s storms have been a blessing even if they did come in with a bang. I always find it amazing how the biggest blessings we receive from God are so subtle we don’t even realize He’s bestowed them on us, and yet He seems to deliver the small blessings with fanfare and flourish. We need the moisture they bring, they’ve washed away the pollen for a time, and the outside temperatures are a bit more tolerable, at least for a few days. All of you other allergy sufferers join me in saying, “Thank you, God! Blessing noted.”
Today is the first Sunday after Pentecost, the beginning of the longest season in the church calendar, Peace and Justice Sunday, and Trinity Sunday. We’re going to hear about that and more in today’s message, but first a few reminders and announcements:
- Thomas Talks meets tonight at 7:00 p.m. on Zoom. The link is in your bulletin, on our website, and posted to Facebook. (Meeting Link: https://tinyurl.com/thomastalks)
- Java with Abba will not meet this week in observance of Memorial Day; repeat – Java with Abba will not be meeting tomorrow night. We’ll be back on Monday, June 5th.
- This Wednesday’s Pray and Study will be on Season 1 Episode 1 of The Chosen. The best way to watch it is to download the free app and watch on the app. There is no subscription cost. This series is 100% free. When you watch in the app, you avoid all the before middle and after “promotional talk” and an advertisements. I’ve also set up a YouTube playlist for those of you who don’t want to install the app. I forgot to put the ink for the playlist in the bulletin. I’ll post it on our Facebook page and website, and I did include it in the weekly worship bulletin email. (Meeting Link: https://tinyurl.com/prayandstudy – Playlist Link to view episodes: https://tinyurl.com/ugumcchosen)
Let’s begin with our call to worship which you’ll find on the insert in your bulletins, and our opening prayer.
Call to Worship
L: Holy Spirit of God, invisible like the wind, we do not see you moving among us, but the effect we see—come to our hearts:
P: that we may be renewed and reborn.
L: Open our minds:
P: that we may perceive your kingdom.
L: Lift up our eyes to where the cross of Christ stands for our healing:
A: so may we believe, and in believing not die but have eternal life; through him who in your love for us you sent into the world, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lord, we come before your throne of grace to acknowledge your voice. You speak; you have always spoken; and you are speaking. Your voice is majestic. It hovers over the waters, bringing about peace. It rides in the mighty roar of thunder, letting us know just how mighty you are. We hear your voice dancing in the consuming flames of fire found in the pit. Your voice swims amidst the raging flood waters to let everyone know that it will be ok. Today, we ask you to speak to us so that we can hear you. Speak for us so that it is never a question of who sent us. And speak through us so that your children might be saved. It’s in your darling son Jesus’ name, we pray.
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH
A Statement of Faith of the United Church of Canada
We are not alone,
we live in God’s world.
We believe in God:
Who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh, to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the church:
To celebrate God’s presence,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.
in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.
Open our eyes, our hearts, our minds, gracious Lord, as we turn to your scripture. We long to know you, to understand life, and to be changed. Examine us, Lord, by the floodlight of your truth.
Our scriptures this morning are taken from the Common English Bible.
Isaiah 6:1-8 (CEB)
In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, the edges of his robe filling the temple. Winged creatures were stationed around him. Each had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two their feet, and with two they flew about. They shouted to each other, saying:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of heavenly forces!
All the earth is filled with God’s glory!”
The doorframe shook at the sound of their shouting, and the house was filled with smoke.
I said, “Mourn for me; I’m ruined! I’m a man with unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips. Yet I’ve seen the king, the Lord of heavenly forces!”
Then one of the winged creatures flew to me, holding a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips. Your guilt has departed, and your sin is removed.”
Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?”
I said, “I’m here; send me.”
Romans 8:12-17 (CEB)
So then, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation, but it isn’t an obligation to ourselves to live our lives on the basis of selfishness. If you live on the basis of selfishness, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the actions of the body, you will live. All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children. But if we are children, we are also heirs. We are God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ if we really suffer with him so that we can also be glorified with him.
John 3:1-17 (CEB)
There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.”
Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.”
Nicodemus asked, “How is it possible for an adult to be born? It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb for a second time and be born, isn’t it?”
Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Don’t be surprised that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus said, “How are these things possible?”
“Jesus answered, “You are a teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things? I assure you that we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you don’t receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Human One. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Ascension & The State of the Communion
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
Today, we begin a pilgrimage. Not a physical pilgrimage to an iconic religious destination in some far off place, but a pilgrimage of formation and transformation; of learning the foundations of what we believe, of what Methodists believe; a pilgrimage to a deeper faith. Today we begin a pilgrimage of spiritual formation, of not just the tangible and visible actions of the faithful, but of a faith that permeates and inhabits our inner selves. Today, we begin a pilgrimage into the meaning of discipleship and toward becoming true disciples.
And what a day to begin such a journey! Today is the first Sunday after the Pentecost; the beginning of the longest season of the church year that takes us from the Day of Pentecost to Advent. It will be a long pilgrimage in which we will learn the story of the church. You see, we’ve spent the first half of the church year, that period from Advent to Pentecost, learning the story of Jesus. Now during this season after Pentecost, the story shifts to us—to all the followers really, to how we seek to live out that call to discipleship, to how we fulfill the commission that Jesus gave us as he ascended. And yet, we begin that journey not with a reflection on our humanness but on the unique nature of God as we have come to experience that presence. We begin our story by turning to our Creator first.
This isn’t an accident, as you might surmise. In part at least, this is a reminder that we are who we are because of who God is. Our identity is in God. Our story is wrapped up in “The Story” or in “God’s Story.”
Today is Trinity Sunday – the day we acknowledge and celebrate the three and yet one God. Trinity Sunday is about grabbing hold of as much God as we can stand and then knowing that we have only a tiny piece.
Today, we contemplate the unique understanding of God as Holy One and Holy Three. Our passage from John is one of the few places in the scriptures when God Creator, God Savior, and God Spirit are all present in the same passage.
This trinitarian image of God, this presence of God as three and yet one is both life-giving and powerful, and it highlights the importance of community and relationships. This three and yet one image of God’s own self is relational and a reminder that we need to be relational, too.
It is difficult to explain the Trinity, to try to reduce the Trinity to something easily comprehensible. To do so reduces the immensity that is God. One way we might try to touch on the Trinity is to consider it in musical terms, to think of the Trinity as like a three note chord where each of the three notes has its own distinct sound that can be heard at once in sacred harmony and at the same time individually. Michael, would you play C, E, and G for me, first in succession, and then together as one chord?
Like that three note chord, like this image of God who is three yet one, we too need to be attentive to community, to existing in sacred harmony while respecting the distinct uniqueness of one another.
I want to share a poem by Michael Guite that speaks to this musical attempt of understanding the Trinity.
In the Beginning
In the Beginning, not in time or space,
But in the quick before both space and time,
In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace,
In three in one and one in three, in rhyme,
In music, in the whole creation story,
In His own image, His imagination,
The Triune Poet makes us for His glory.
And makes us each the other’s inspiration.
He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,
To improvise a music of our own,
To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,
Three notes resounding from a single tone,
To sing the End in whom we all begin;
Our God beyond, beside us and within.
And so, today is a time of wonder and awe at the great mystery that is God who is three and yet one. Let us pray to the God who astounds us, who surprises us, who can’t be nailed down. As we begin this pilgrimage, we begin finding ways of opening ourselves up to something bigger, something that inspires and transforms, something that unsettles a little bit too. The God we worship doesn’t want to leave us as we are, but to continually transform us. That is never an easy and often an uncomfortable process. But let’s prepare ourselves to tell the church’s story by reminding us that there is a God who guides us, who calls us, who claims us, and who loves us. Let’s be reminded that we are made new in the Spirit, continually renewed in the Spirit, as we seek to make disciples of ourselves and the world.
Perhaps that’s the message in today’s passage from John where Nicodemus and Jesus seem to have a battle of wits and words. Nicodemus who has only ever worshipped God as One is now facing off with the Human One, God Savior. Nicodemus is clinging to his beliefs that he has carried his entire life and what he’s heard about this Human One … the miracles this Human One has been performing, the reports about what this Human One is saying are challenging everything in him, rocking those beliefs to the core and, while we might see Nicodemus beginning to doubt his own faith, Nicodemus doesn’t. Nicodemus is doubting Jesus.
Nicodemus’s opening gambit, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him,” is his attempt to use flattery to win Jesus’ trust. He most likely shared the skepticism of the other Pharisees and thought if he flattered Jesus sufficiently, pretending to see Jesus as coming from God, his questions would cause Jesus to say something that could ultimately be used against him.
Do we sometimes do that? Do we sometimes go to God with flowery praise when what we want is for God to fix something, but we lack the courage to simply cry out to him? Thinking of God Creator as God parent, ask yourselves. When something was wrong and you needed your parents’ help, did you go to them with boatloads of flattery before asking for what you really needed? Or did you simply cry out, “Mom, Dad, I hurt. Help me!”
Nicodemus with all his lifelong faith in One God, was outmatched. Jesus responded to his false flattery by telling Nicodemus that only someone who was born anew has a possibility of seeing God’s kingdom. I would imagine that answer would cause Nicodemus to spit, sputter, and pause a moment. Being reborn would have been a new concept to him, something he hadn’t encountered in his many years of studying the scriptures around which his faith life was built.
And when he stopped that sputtering, the questions began to pour out.
“How can anyone be born after having grown old?” and “Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” And worst of all was, “How can these things be?”
That really sets Jesus off; he gets personal in his response. “How can you be a teacher of Israel and not know these things?”
Rev. Dr. Derek C. Weber believes that what upsets Jesus is that Nicodemus starts off with “We know …”. A kind of arrogance on display indicating Nicodemus didn’t come to learn, but to show his own knowledge. Nicodemus probably was expecting gratitude or something like that from Jesus. “Wow, gosh thanks, guys. Gee, you really think so much of little old me?” But no, instead he gets some head-spinning theology about the Holy Spirit, of all things.
We do that, too sometimes, don’t we? We claim we know God is all powerful out loud, but do we really believe it all the way to the center of our beings?
And to make the situation Nicodemus was in worse, how did the Pharisees know that Jesus was a teacher come from God? Nicodemus says we know this because Jesus does cool stuff. Jesus does magic tricks, signs, and wonders.
There is nothing that ticks Jesus off as fast as getting all excited about the special effects and losing the narrative of the film. He didn’t want heads turned by miracles; he wanted people to come to him. He wanted people to hear his words and know his love. He wanted people to have a relationship with him and not just come for the show.
That’s how Jesus gets to The Verse: 3:16. There are people who wear T-Shirts with those numbers on it who may not even know what the verse means. That might also make Jesus mad. It might make him as mad as he was at a pharisee who thought he knew all there was to know about Jesus because he had seen an unexplainable event or two. It might make Jesus as mad as he was at a temple full of buyers and sellers, making money of the need to worship that is deep down in every soul.
Mad, or maybe … in fact more likely … sad. A little of both, I suspect. God so loved, he says, so loved the world, that whoever believes . . . The word, or concept, believe in the Gospel of John is more than a head thing. Nicodemus had a head thing. But he didn’t have a heart thing. Or a soul thing. He wasn’t leaning into Jesus the way Jesus wants us to lean into him. He wasn’t hungry for Jesus the way Jesus wants us to be hungry.
I am the bread, I am the gate, I am the way, the truth and the life. He wants to be all for all—our light in the darkness, our hope in the midst of the world’s despair. He doesn’t want to be a side show, or a sometime friend. He wants to be the center of our lives and hopes and dreams.
Just as Nicodemus did that night with Jesus, we too come here seeking to know, to experience God in all God’s fullness. To come and share stories, encounters, glimpses of God, all the while pointing to a larger truth beyond our images and stories. What does it mean to be born of the Spirit? How does that affect my life day to day? How does this fit into our discipleship path? What is it like? We come here, bringing our honest questions and lay them before the throne of God. Or at least as your pastor, I hope we do …
How can these things be? That was Nicodemus’s reply, and it is often ours. How can these things be? How can we hold on to Jesus when the path gets slippery, and the light grows dim? We must be born again.
Great. Cliches. Religious nonsense cliches. Has there been a phrase more divisive in the body of Christ than that one? Maybe. But this one has been misused and misunderstood since Nicodemus stumbled over it one night.
Born again? Anothen is the Greek word. Anothen. It means again and anew and from above. All wrapped up there together. But not again as in repetition – same thing over again; that’s what Nicodemus missed. But neither is “born again” a badge of honor or an entrance certificate. That’s what many modern-day users miss.
Rather, it is an invitation to join in the dance with Jesus—whoever believes; whoever takes him by the hand and says, “Lead me”; whoever says, “I find myself in you”; whoever leans for repose as the old hymn says (How Firm a Foundation, for those who wonder), shall have life, abundant, eternal life.
How can these things be? They just are.
Holy One, Holy Three, beyond our understanding and closer than the air we breathe, make us aware of your abiding presence, and enable us to be every more compassionate.
In Isaiah, the voice of the Lord asks, “Who will go for us?” not, “Who will go for me?” In Romans, Paul speaks of all three persons of the Trinity; we pray to the God Creator through God Spirit because of the work of God Savior. In John, Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about the role of all three persons of the Trinity, and while the Trinity is not the simplest of Christian doctrines, it is absolutely foundational because it explains the nature of God and God’s work, God’s story, throughout human history.
Start leaning. And learning. And, on this Trinity Sunday, if I have given you the impression that questions are somehow bad, forgive me. Questions, dumb ones and smart ones, irritating ones and time-wasting ones, earnest ones and honest ones, are good, are in fact important, vital, to the formation of our faith. We need to ask to learn. But then lean as we learn. Trust as we seek. Believe as we wonder. How can these things be? Believe. And ask. And live. To be born of the Spirit is to ask your questions and seek God in truth.
Please join me in the pastoral prayer.
Please join me as we lay our prayers and petitions at God’s feet and ask for His help. When you hear me say, Lord, in your mercy …, please respond with “hear our prayer.”
Holy, holy, holy God, in calling forth creation from the void, revealing yourself in human flesh, and pouring forth your wisdom to guide us, you manifest your concern for your whole universe.
You invite us, as your people, to gather the world’s needs into our hearts and bring them before you.
We pause now to take a breath and to seek a quiet place within ourselves as we pray:
Come Fount of life; Come Source of Healing; Come Bearer of Wisdom and Strength; Three-in- one God, … Come … into this time of worship, into our homes, into our varied spaces.
Sit with us awhile.
We need you.
Wrap us in your reassuring grace on this day we wrestle with your nature and how you reach out to us as our mysterious, triune, three-in-one, holy God in community.
God, we lift to you members of this very beloved community who need your strength, your comfort, your peace, and your intervention. We pray for one who has been struggling with illness too long, who is frustrated and beginning to give up. Be with your child, God, and remind them that it was you who breathed their earthly life into them. Remind them that it is you who inspired the creation of their medications, you who guides their doctors and caregivers. Remind them that you are there with them in this struggle. Help them to trust and have faith in your plan and your will, not their own.
Lord, in your mercy …. Hear our prayer.
We lift another of your children to you, God, and ask that you give them the courage to lay their burdens at your feet and not try to take those burdens back, that they trust you are present with them.
Lord, in your mercy … hear our prayer.
This weekend, Divine Parent, we remember just how high a cost has been paid by some to help ensure the rights and liberties the rest of us enjoy and can at times, all too often take for granted;
Come … fill us now with gratitude for the lives of those who, having heard our nation’s call to stand against oppression in all its forms, sacrificed, laid down their lives, so that others, including us, might live ours more fully, more freely.
We lift up silently now the names of those whom we have loved, but lost to war….
Lord, in your mercy, … hear our prayer.
Come … merciful God, pour forth your promised comfort into hearts hurting from the all too soon loss of spouses, parents, children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors, buddies and coworkers……;
Help us to remember them well, even though we no longer get to see them, to touch them, to celebrate the joys of life with them.
May we truly honor with our own lives the sacrifice they made.
Lord, in your mercy, … hear our prayer.
Come … with the soothing balm of your gentle touch, bind up the wounds of war, restore to wholeness the bodies, hearts, minds and spirits of the men and women who also answered the call to stand for freedom, justice, and peace and who have returned home bearing wounds that are often un-seeable, but oh so painful and so deep within.
Come … protect those who continue to serve in harm’s way. As their families wait for the day of their safe return, give them the courage and strength they need to face the days of waiting unafraid.
Thank you for being with us as we remember.
Thank you for your never-ending love and care for those whose names we lift in silence to you now who need you in this moment as well….. May today be the day when Your love rules in every human heart, and peace breaks out in every land.
Trusting that you always hear us we join now in praying these things in the name of your Son and pray the words he taught us:
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.”
Friends, hear the Good News: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
A quick reminder that your offerings should be placed in the round container on the table in the Narthex on your way into worship or as you leave, and your Manna Campaign forms should be placed in the bucket labeled “Forms”.
Holy God, above us, among us, within us: we rejoice this day that while you might have chosen to be unknown to us, you have revealed yourself in many ways. Each encounter with you calls us to return blessings with worship, compassion, and service. So, when we give this day, we do so in gratitude for all your parental care for us through your creation. When we give this day, we give because, in love, you gave us Christ, that through him we might find eternal life. When we give this day, your Spirit leads your church to reach out in compassion, mercy, and grace to all your children everywhere. In gratitude, we celebrate you, three and yet one.
Do you have something on your mind or heart this morning that a still small voice is telling you to say to God? The altar is open and waiting for you. You are invited to come forward and bring whatever is on your heart or mind to Him now.
Thank you for being with us today. I pray you’ll join us again next Sunday at 11:00 am.
Now hear this benediction:
Just as God’s Word was sent into the world to heal and redeem, so God sends you into the world this day to be light and love, healing and hope.
Go now to be light for the world!
And may the grace and peace of God the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer come upon you this day and remain with you always.
Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask when you go out, get your COVID vaccination as soon as you’re eligible, don’t be afraid to have or ask questions. And believe. God be with you. Go forth to love and serve the Lord in the name of Christ. Amen.
- Call to Worship – Michael Saward, The Jubilate Group
- Opening Prayer – Rev. Curry F. Butler, Jr.
- Portions of Message – Rev. Dr. Derek C. Weber, Discipleship Ministries, & Mary Kay Totty, The Upper Room Disciplines
- Portions of Pastoral Prayer adapted from prayers by – Amy Loving, The Worship Closet; Rev. Dr. Mary Catherine Miller
- Pardon – Thirdmill.org
- Benediction – Discipleship Ministries
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Just visit http://www.holston.org/churchoffering, and follow the instruction for making your offering. When asked, please choose Smoky Mountain District and Union Grove UMC Blount – Friendsville.
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Smoky Mountain District
PO Box 905
Alcoa TN 37701-0905
Please be sure to make your checks payable to Smoky Mountain District and write “Union Grove UMC Friendsville” on the memo line!