ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Prelude – Jesus Paid It All, Josh Snodgrass
- Welcome, Call to Worship, & Opening Prayer – Rev. Ohle
- Praise Song – Lord Prepare Me, Oasis Worship.
- Prayers of the People – Rev. Ohle
- Scripture Readings – Rev. Ohle (Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19:7-11, John 2:13-22)
- Message: Legally Speaking – Rev. Ohle
- Anthem – Jesus, Friend of Sinners, Casting Crowns
- Benediction – Rev. Ohle
WELCOME, CALL TO WORSHIP, & OPENING PRAYER
Hi, there. It’s Sunday, March 7 in the year of our Lord 2021 and the third Sunday of Lent. I’m Rev. Val Ohle, pastor of Union Grove United Methodist Church and I’m glad you’re here.
We’re three and a half weeks into our series, “Return to Me: A Lenten Journey with Jesus.” Today’s message, “Legally Speaking,” takes us to the Sinai Peninsula and some trouble in the Temple.
Before we begin, some quick announcements and asks:
Please invite your family and friends to worship with us, visit our Facebook page, our website, and/or our channel on Vimeo. The links are provided at the end of this video, and we want to share the Good News with others. It’s that part of our faith we call evangelism. So share a post or a video link with them.
I would like to start a group specifically to brainstorm ideas for service to the community we can do now and things we can work toward when we’re able to re-open. The options for the group are to set it up on Facebook (participants would have to have a Facebook account, but we’d have the option of “video” or Zoom like meetings within the private group) or by Zoom (no account needed, and you can participate by phone if you can’t join through your phone or a computer). Let me know if you’re interested and which meeting method you’d prefer.
I’m also looking into the possibility of finding someone to teach a class on how to use technology like Smart TVs, various phone apps, etc. Even after COVID is gone, the digital age is here to stay and we all need to learn how to function in it, so let me know if that is of interest to you as well.
One thing I am currently working on is a “virtual fellowship hall” using Zoom that you will be able to “reserve” for meetings, family get togethers, and hopefully more without having to buy a subscription to Zoom. Keep an eye out for the announcement about it.
And, last but certainly not least, do you have children, youth, or young adults in your home, your family, watching with you? Let me know and ask them what they would like in terms of our worship and other activities, then drop me a note or give me a call.
Now let us begin with a Call to Worship and prayer:
One: O God of all ages and all generations, we come to worship you.
Many: Women, men, youth, and children bow before you, the only wise God.
Our fore-parents led the way for spiritual awareness and growth.
We try to follow in their footsteps recognizing you as God of all.
As we worship you, all your attributes of glory, mercy, and love show forth.
We humble ourselves in your holy presence because you are awesome. Holy, holy, holy is the name of the Lord.
God, prepare us to be tried and true, pure, and holy sanctuaries. And, with thanksgiving, Holy One, we’ll live as Spirit-filled, healed and transformed sanctuaries just for you. As we gather before you, Wonderful and Magnificent God, reveal yourself to us as you did to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Speak to us in ways that illumine our darkness and enliven our steps. Come alive in us, call us by name and give us the commandments of new life that will order our steps in this time of worship and as we leave this place. Move our hearts closer to yours and center our thoughts on worshiping you and you alone. Wherever you find us, whether on bended knee, seated, or standing, transform us into your image of perfect love; create within us clean hearts and renew a right spirit within us!
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE (Pastoral Prayer)
Let us lay our prayers and petitions at God’s feet and ask for His help. For those of you who have sent me prayer requests for yourself or others, please understand I do not say their names in the prayer to protect their privacy, but I am lifting up any prayer requests you’ve sent me, and your unspoken prayers as well. There may be one or more moments of pause during the prayer for you to lift any private prayers of your own. There may also be points in the prayer where you will be prompted to respond out loud. Just watch the screen and, if words appear in front of me, say them with me.
Now, please join me in prayer:
Liberating God, in love You have set us free:
free from slavery to sin and self,
free to know and love You,
free to follow and serve You.
We praise You for Your faithful love toward us, and for the many ways You have demonstrated that love to us.
We see Your love in the natural world around us—in the sky and trees and rivers.
We see Your love in the gift of Your commandments—the rules for living that guide us into right relationship with You, and with the people around us.
And we see Your love in Jesus Christ, who lived and died to bring us life.
Because we have experienced Your love, we come before You with confidence, bringing our needs and the needs of our world.
God, in your unfailing love, hear our prayer.
We pray for those who live surrounded by violence—whether from war or political unrest, crime or domestic abuse.
We pray for those who have been victims of violent crime, and for those whose loved ones have been injured or murdered.
God, in your unfailing love, hear our prayer.
We pray for those who find themselves involved in crime, whether by choice or through coercion; those caught up into gangs or prostitution, those who have turned to crime to pay for their addictions, those who are imprisoned.
God, in your unfailing love, hear our prayer.
We pray for our homes and families: for parents juggling the responsibilities of work and family, for husbands and wives whose marriages are breaking down, for children chafing under parental authority or expectations, for men and women caught up in adultery or adulterous thoughts.
God, in your unfailing love, hear our prayer.
We pray for the many people in our world who do not yet know You and have not experienced the new life that comes from knowing Christ Jesus; who continue to search for purpose and meaning.
God, in your unfailing love, hear our prayer.
Merciful God, give us strength and courage to keep Your commandments, to live in faithful obedience to Your will.
Guard our hearts and minds from all that might distract us from living out our commitment to You.
Help us to find our true worth in knowing You more fully, and serving You more faithfully.
God in Community, Holy in One, it is enough that you hear us even as we pray as we are taught:
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by 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: God through Christ has remembered us with kindness and steadfast love. As far as east is from west, so has God removed our sins. Believe the gospel: in Christ you are forgiven.
O God, most holy and praised: As Your Son gathered disciples to himself to teach them your ways, so your Spirit has gathered us in this time and in this manner. Make us alert and attentive as we hear and reflect on the scriptures; help us take them to heart and live into them so that your will is truly done on earth as in heaven. We pray in the name of our true Teacher, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s scriptures are taken from The Message.
Exodus 20:1-17 (NRSV)
Then God spoke all these words:
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.
Six days you shall labor and do all your work.
But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work–you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.
For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
You shall not kill.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Psalm 19:7-11 (NRSV)
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold, sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
John 2:13-22 (NRSV)
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.
Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.
He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body.
After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Legally Speaking
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
My private sector job is working as a paralegal for an attorney, a career I’ve been doing for almost nine years now. For those of you unfamiliar with that, among many other things, the paralegal’s job is to assist the attorney with cases by writing the pleadings … the legal documents that get filed with the court and doing research to make sure the right laws or statutes are being applied. In other words, I have to learn and know the laws as well as the attorney I work for, especially since paralegals tend to spend the most time with the clients and are very often the ones explaining laws to them they don’t understand.
One would think with a job like that and doing it for as long as I have, I’d be both cognizant and comfortable with just about anything law-like. But … I imagine like many of you … I worry … a lot … about God’s laws in the ten commandments, in part because in my adult past, I managed to break all of them one or more times, but more because my first introduction to them was that Charlton Heston movie with the King James edicts hurled down in the form of fireballs hot enough to carve stone and so ominous in their nature, they turned Heston’s hair white. As a child watching that movie, I only understood a few of those ten commandments – don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t backtalk mom and dad … well at least that’s what I understood at the time.
I’m guessing that most of you worshipping with me right now may have grown up with a similar view of those commandments, too. Thou shalt do this, but thou shalt not do that. Rules that established dun-dun-dun! Law & Order, rules to help us live a holy life, a base level from which we build a greater sense of responsibility for working beside the Spirit to build the eternity that God has envisioned for us. They’re about drawing lines.
Wait, what? What happened to “God loves you no matter what?” Drawing lines creates limitations not just about right and wrong, but about who’s in or out. This is a free country! Don’t fence me in, don’t cramp my style … Drawing lines goes against the great American value of freedom. We put the words “no limits” on the rear windows of our pickup trucks. We wear them on our jeans. They are not just a slogan; they are how we define ourselves, how we understand ourselves.
- Time to take a calming breath. Breathe in. Breathe out. Let’s work through this.
We all know that boundaries and rules can be good things, right? They keep us safe and much more. And that is why we reluctantly accept them. Like a kid who wants to play late into the night but trudges up to bed anyway, we say that the lines are good for us. Like broccoli or cod liver oil.
Except… well … I wonder … I mean, God through Moses performed amazing miracles to free the nation of Israel from Egypt, got them safely away with yet more amazing miracles, stayed right there with them through and led them out of the wilderness. Why would God who loved Israel so much He did all that then put them into a kind of time out and deliver a wag of the divine finger and slow shake of the holy head, displaying what appears to be disappointment and the prelude to punishment?
Does God give Moses the ten rules because the people of God have proved unworthy, have fallen short of the ideal of who they could be, who they were intended to be? Are they being grounded by these rules? Restricted, chastened, reproved by the law? Is this a, “Take your medicine, you won’t like it, but it’ll be good for you in the long run,” kind of moment in the history of humanity? Or is there something else here? Something we’re missing? Some other way of looking at the commandments?
We’ve been taught, generation after generation, that negative, finger wagging, if you mess these up I’ll be disappointed in you view of the commandments … the “shall/shall not” view … and, legally speaking, “shall” is an absolute term in the law. To say somebody will do something doesn’t have nearly the same legal weight as to say somebody shall or shall not do something. If a Court order contains a statement with the world shall in it and you don’t follow that statement to the letter, you’re in contempt. In a civil courtroom, contempt is not a good place to be in since it involves fines and possible jail time and most likely having to pay all the legal fees and costs for the other side of that statement. The connotations of being in contempt when God’s sitting on that judgment seat? Ooof… But … that’s how most of us have been taught to view the commandments, right?
So what if we change or perspective? The way we view them? What if we stop seeing them as regulations and start seeing them as definitions? What if, instead of “thou shall” and “thou shall not,” we hear “you” instead of “thou,” when we hear “you are” and “you are not”
When we shift perspective so that the law defines us rather than regulates us, it makes much more sense and seems far more doable. That rebellious streak of ours is less prone to get us in trouble because there is now nothing to rebel against … only something to aspire to … a set of goals we can work toward. Reformative justice.
Now the laws are like the covenant of marriage where we make a vow to our bride or groom to love, honor, and cherish them, to do right by them under any and all circumstances. The same type of covenant that we make through baptism and confirmation. Covenants that don’t constrain us so much as set us free to love. We aren’t hampered by the lines that are drawn so much as we are encouraged to go deeper and higher, to love more profoundly.
Being defined by the commandments lets us love God more profoundly, and that love allows us to enter into the fellowship and family of the church. It allows us to commit to serve, to participate, and to gather with the community of faith … with the beloved community.
When we are defined by the laws, it ceases to be about better than or holier than or who’s in and who’s out. The profound love of God we can now practice allows us to welcome the stranger, to show hospitality to the visitor (and one another), to invite, and to include.
If we view the commandments … all those words not as rules we ought to follow reluctantly or not, but as descriptions of the kind of people we can choose to be … when we see ourselves as the people who love God (the first four) and who love neighbor (the last six) … when instead of translating them to “Thou shall” or “Thou shall not” but instead as descriptions … “You are the people who have one God” and “You are not the people who kill and steal and bear false witness,” … We get to the heart of just who we are and who we are not. God doesn’t say, “Jump through these hoops and I will love you.” Instead, God says, “My love for you will shape you into these kinds of people, this kind of community.”
But let’s carry this out further. What if we were to live these descriptions into the world around us?
Somewhere along the way, most likely very early on, though, we compounded the lines God drew for us in the commandments, and we, as a society began to draw lines of our own. Throughout history, we’ve drawn lines that cause us to divide into “us vs them,” into “good vs bad,” into “accepted and in vs rejected and out.” Social and historical descriptions of those lines … those false divisions of race and ethnicity, of this faith vs that faith, of this lifestyle vs that lifestyle … all those lines drawn by society throughout history are too often, in fact almost always used … in fact invariably exploited … to instill a fear of other within us.
How would things change if we refused to acknowledge the manmade lines and instead draw on the definition of who we are to be in the commandments?
You know, Jesus reminds us, the people on the other side of those manmade lines are our neighbors too; that they are also a part of the family of God, and that we are to treat all with the same love and respect with which we treat those like us. We are all one family; that’s what these words are telling us.
And what if we didn’t just look at humanity in a new way, but included God’s creation as well? What if we began to treat the air and the water, the living creatures of this world, the resources available to us with the same kind of respect?
What if these words … these commandments … were not just for the human community, but for determining how that human community is going to walk before God in all things? What if we heard these words as a description of the kingdom, a redeemed Edenic environment of which we are but a part? What if this is what it meant when these words said, “So that your days may be long.”
What if those “long days” we are striving for are, in actuality, eternity. Death draws a line of its own, but God turns that line into a doorway, a corner to turn, welcoming us to the heavenly home and bringing us into a new reality.
Where God’s people draw lines to define us here and there, God draws the lines that allow us to live well now, but also so that we will be at home in eternity with God. So that we will recognize the place when we get there. And we’ll go on living between the lines that God has drawn, now and in God’s eternity. All these words draw a picture that sees beyond our vision.
Legally speaking, we would do well to let God legislate the laws and worry about the lines He draws instead of the lines we draw, don’t you think? As Steve Garnaas-Holmes recently posted, “The Ten Commandments are not requirements and prohibitions; they’re the white lines and guardrails that keep us faithful. They’re our marriage vows with God.
God, help me not merely to obey rules but to live faithfully, to be guided by love, not fear or self-serving, for your sake, and for the sake of the mending of the world. Amen.”
About now you’re either thankful I seem to have forgotten about that passage from Mark or you’re wondering where it fits in, right? For those of you counting the brevity chickens, sorry. I haven’t forgotten.
So, where does it fit in? For starters, when Jesus discovers a market place in the Temple … his father’s house, he becomes probably the most incensed we see in the gospels other than when he rebukes Peter. His outrage is justifiable. Remember what God said in Micah 6:6-8?
What shall I bring to the Lord, the God of heaven, when I come to worship him? Shall I bring the best calves to burn as offerings to him? Will the Lord be pleased if I bring him thousands of sheep or endless streams of olive oil? Shall I offer him my first-born child to pay for my sins? No, the Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.
Jesus knew all that had ever been written about God’s commands and instructions through Micah, through Amos, through Isaiah regarding what his father had to say about sacrifices. He also knew that the Pharisees and Sadducees’ teachings were contrary to those instructions, that they were not just, that they did not show constant love for all, and that they weren’t all necessarily living in humble fellowship.
So when he entered the Temple that day, he rose up and spoke truth to power. First, he fashioned a whip of cords and drove all the sacrificial animals out of the Temple. Then he flipped the tables covered with coins where the money changers sat, scattering the coins everywhere and scaring the money changers away.
This was not Jesus pitching fits. This was Jesus honoring his father and his father’s authority. This was Jesus showing respect for his father’s house.
When the church leaders challenged him about his actions, he foretold an event that was coming, an event that would ultimately restore all of us through a sacrifice only he could make. A free gift that requires no purchase on our part, no money changer sitting in the Narthex. He foretold his own resurrection.
The Pharisees didn’t get it. They thought he meant that if they tore down the Temple it had taken all those years to build, he was claiming he could rebuild it in three days.
Even the disciples wouldn’t understand right away, but in time they did. And Jesus? He knew they wouldn’t get it and he knew we wouldn’t get it … that’s why his last words were, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.” And in those words, he saved us all.
In closing, we need to see God’s commandments not as a hammer, but as an invitation of living in community, as a vision for what can be, and as a choice that the world has not yet tried. And maybe it is time the church leads by example. Amen?
Please join me in prayer:
God gave us the covenant of the law to guide us and help us live with our neighbors in love.
When we break God’s law, we leave our neighbors hurt and bruised.
God’s law is a gift to us, showing us how to keep our part of the covenant.
Even through old pain and wounds, may we embrace the new life that Christ can bring.
May the God of the law guide us in living lives that keep the covenant of love.
May Christ’s forgiveness grant us new life, even when we break God’s law.
May the Holy Spirit of conviction lead us to confession and renewal.
May we respond in love to the God of covenant and change.
Thank you, again, for worshipping with me today. Again, if you can, please consider making your weekly offering just as if we were meeting in person. The information for doing so will be on your screen in just a moment.
Now hear this benediction:
Go now to will and to work for God’s purposes. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
Be filled with the same love and look to the interests of others. With reverence for God, work out your salvation.
And may God quench your thirst with love and consolation;
May Christ Jesus strengthen you and encourage you;
And may the Holy Spirit lead you on and make your joy complete.
Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask when you go out, get your COVID vaccination as soon as you’re eligible, really truly love your neighbors … even the ones you’d rather not. Remember, legally speaking, who you are and who you are not. God be with you. Now go in peace to love and serve the Lord, ……..In the name of Christ. Amen.
- Call to Worship & Opening Prayer – T. Anne Daniel & Stacey Cole Wilson, The Africana Worship Book Year B
- Pastoral Prayer – re-worship.blogspot.com, and Rev. Richard J. Fairchild, Kir-Shalom
- Portions of Message – Rev. Dr. Derek C. Weber, Discipleship Ministries
- Closing prayer – Rev. Dr. Emily K. Bisset, Presbyterian World Service & Development
- Benediction – Nathan Nettleton, Laughingbird.net
Even though we can’t meet together in person, the church still has expenses that need to be met. If you are able, please consider making an offering or paying your tithes through the online service provided by Holston Conference. It’s safe. It’s free. It will help us continue ministry at Union Grove.
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.
If you are not comfortable using a debit or credit card online, you can mail your offerings/tithes to:
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!