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In order to expedite posting the worship services here on our website, we are reducing the transcript to just the scriptures used and the message. Union Grove UMC in partnership with Southland Books & Cafe, began holding Second Sunday Community Church in January 2023. Second Sunday Community Church takes place at 3 p.m. ET the second Sunday of every month, meets in-person at The Bird & The Book, and is also live-streamed on Facebook. Holy Communion is offered at every Second Sunday service. If you are worshipping on Second Sundays online whether during the live-cast or through on-demand viewing, you are encouraged to have bread and juice or wine available as you watch the service and to participate in communion just as if you are present with us.
God, open us to hear and receive your scriptures today as you would have us hear them, understand them as you would have us understand them, and to act upon them as you would have us act upon them.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
*Scriptures this morning are included in the message.
Message: In This Dark Hour, Doxology Verse 4
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer, and may you see fit to use me as a vessel from which you pour out your Divine Word.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
As you know, we are looking at verse 4 of Kurt Struckmeyer’s Doxology for Humanity, and I’m going to take this line by line.
Praise eyes that see all human need …
Deuteronomy 15:7-11 says: “If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’
Praise minds that cast out selfish greed …
Matthew 25:31-46 tells us that: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment but the righteous into eternal life.”
Praise lips that challenge those in power …
Matthew 23:1-36 reads: Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’s seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it, but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others, but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others, for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father, the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
“Woe to you, blind guides who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.’ How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it, and whoever swears by the sanctuary swears by it and by the one who dwells in it, and whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and of the plate, so that the outside also may become clean.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful but inside are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of uncleanness. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors. You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape the judgment of hell? For this reason I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation.
Praise those who struggle every hour …
And finally, in Matthew 5:3-11, Jesus tells us:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The only way it is possible to not see the human need in the world today is if we purposefully ignore and are willingly oblivious to it, if we victim blame, or if we decide whatever circumstances someone is suffering has been brought upon them by God as some kind of either a punishment or a test of faith.
That’s it. And none of those are of God. If there’s any need not being met, it is not an act of God, but a failure of humankind … or at least of those members of humanity purporting to be Christians … little Christs.
It is our eyes, minds, and lips that need to look for and identify needs, put an end to the greed that puts profits and power over serving the people, and speak truth to power and to stand in the gap for those who struggle.
Fr. Richard Rohr wrote, “If love is the soul of Christian existence, it must be at the heart of every other Christian virtue. Thus, for example, justice without love is legalism; faith without love is ideology; hope without love is self-centeredness; forgiveness without love is self-abasement; fortitude without love is recklessness; generosity without love is extravagance; care without love is mere duty; fidelity without love is servitude. Every virtue is an expression of love. No virtue is really a virtue unless it is permeated, or informed, by love.”
Looking at all that’s going on in the world – so much violence and oppression … some even calling for the eradication of entire populations of people … always “in the name of God.”
It makes you wonder what it is that the perpetrators of these evils are so afraid of, doesn’t it? These people that stand in the halls of government quoting scriptures to justify their hatred … what is it that they really fear? And what part of all those red letters in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, did they fail to read? In fact, did they read any of them?
I think not. I think not because they always quote from the Old Testament or from the letters written by Paul. I have yet to hear anyone defending all these hateful acts ever quote Jesus.
Of course, if they were to quote Jesus, it would contradict everything they’re doing. Jesus stood against legalism, ideology, self-centeredness, self-abasement, recklessness, and extravagance, and he regularly and consistently called it out. Jesus said to put God first, to love God above all others, and to love one another as we have been loved.
People in power commonly live in fear of losing that power. People without power commonly aspire to gain power. The two combined are a toxic mix.
The Emperor held power and was constantly in fear of losing that power, a fear that included enemies both foreign and domestic. No longer in control of their lands, Israel was under governance by Herod, a Jewish “governor” who valued the privilege of his position more than the protection of his people, the Temple leaders and the Empire. The Temple leaders negotiated agreements with the State in order to retain their control, but feared that someone like Jesus who was seemingly unafraid to speak truth to all earthly powers would result in the end of the tenuous relationship they held with Rome.
Jesus … God With Us … embodied non-violent revolution. Jesus not only encouraged people to repent … to change their ways and follow a better path … he taught them how. And that terrified both the religious leaders and Rome.
That’s why the religious leaders conspired against him, and why the Empire crucified him.
Today, we seem to be watching it happen all over again, don’t we? Self-declared temple leaders have been making deals with the representatives of the Empire, slowly but surely infiltrating the bodies that govern us at all levels and implementing their legalistic ideology through legislation … all in God’s name … and none with love for anything but the power and control they crave.
Like the Temple leaders of old, they have begun to declare who among us is unclean, unworthy, untouchable. Like the Temple leaders of old, they are reestablishing systems of hierarchy, patriarchy. And, like the Temple leaders of old, they are leveraging judgment and threats of eternal damnation upon those who don’t comply with their demands.
And all those that are being declared unclean, unworthy, and untouchable who struggle every hour today. What is to become of them? That is up to us.
Most of us are familiar with the poetic version of a speech by German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller titled “First they came …”. Few of us know the speech Niemöller delivered on January 6, 1946 that inspired the poem:
… the people who were put in the camps then were Communists. Who cared about them? We knew it, it was printed in the newspapers. Who raised their voice, maybe the Confessing Church? We thought: Communists, those opponents of religion, those enemies of Christians—”should I be my brother’s keeper?”
Then they got rid of the sick, the so-called incurables. I remember a conversation I had with a person who claimed to be a Christian. He said: Perhaps it’s right, these incurably sick people just cost the state money, they are just a burden to themselves and to others. Isn’t it best for all concerned if they are taken out of the middle [of society]? Only then did the church as such take note.
Then we started talking, until our voices were again silenced in public. Can we say, we aren’t guilty/responsible?
The persecution of the Jews, the way we treated the occupied countries, or the things in Greece, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia or in Holland, that were written in the newspapers. … I believe, we Confessing-Church-Christians have every reason to say: mea culpa, mea culpa! We can talk ourselves out of it with the excuse that it would have cost me my head if I had spoken out.
We preferred to keep silent. We are certainly not without guilt/fault, and I ask myself again and again, what would have happened, if in the year 1933 or 1934—there must have been a possibility—14,000 Protestant pastors and all Protestant communities in Germany had defended the truth until their deaths? If we had said back then, it is not right when Hermann Göring simply puts 100,000 Communists in the concentration camps, in order to let them die. I can imagine that perhaps 30,000 to 40,000 Protestant Christians would have had their heads cut off, but I can also imagine that we would have rescued 30–40,000 million [sic] people, because that is what it is costing us now.”
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Brothers and sisters, we need to find the will and courage to speak for those who are struggling. We need to not only speak for them, for their protection and their equal rights as our brothers and sisters, but we need to speak highly of them, to praise them … to praise their many contributions to our society, our nation, our culture.
And we need to find the will and courage to challenge those in power that are causing the struggles our brothers and sisters are suffering.
Matthew 7:12 says, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
In everything … not just in those things that benefit or please or empower or profit you, but in everything. And Jesus adds to that rule, “for this is the law and the prophets.” That is an important piece of this puzzle. Treating others as well as we hope to be treated ourselves … we want to be treated fairly, humanely, with equality? If we’re hurting we want to be given comfort and aid, if we’re hungry we want to be fed … And we should expect to not only extend that to others ourselves but that our laws reflect that same premise … because, as Jesus said, “this is the law and the prophets.”
Praise eyes that see all human need? Praise minds that cast out selfish greed? Praise lips that challenge those in power? Praise those who struggle every hour?
Lord, give us eyes to see and courage to point what we see out to others. Remove those habits and beliefs that make us lust after material wealth from our minds and help us once again learn to live in communion with you and community with one another.
So many times we tell ourselves it’s not our problem and then, when we are moved to speak out, we too often find our voices shake or are lodged in our throats. Give us courage to speak truth to power even when our voices shake.
Woke means awakened to the needs of others, to be well informed, thoughtful, compassionate, humble, and kind. To be eager to make the world a better place for all people.
Lord, wake us up to the work needed to undo harm being perpetrated against your children. Give your protection to our brothers and sisters who are struggling, who are fearful, who are losing hope, and who have been misled to believe you don’t care for them. Let them feel without question your presence, your arms and angel armies surrounding them. Encourage them to persevere. Give us strength and courage to stand between them and any harm.
The Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
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