• Call to Worship – Rev. Val & Congregation
  • Hymn: All People That On Earth Do Dwell (UMH 75)
  • Opening Prayer – Congregation
  • Creed: World Methodist Social Affirmation (UMH 886)
  • Gloria Patri (UMH 70)
  • Peace Prayer – Rev. Val
  • Peace Hymn: Behold a Broken World (UMH 426)
  • Scripture Readings – Rev. Val
  • Message: Living Among the Brambles – Rev. Val
  • Hymn: God of Grace and God of Glory (UMH 577)
  • Pastoral Prayer – Rev. Val
  • Hymn: For the Bread Which You Have Broken (UMH 614)
  • Service of Holy Communion
  • Offertory Prayer – Rev. Val
  • Doxology (UMH 95/Song Sheet)
  • Benediction – Rev. Val

In order to expedite posting the worship services here on our website, we are reducing the transcript to just the scripture readings and the message. The majority of the other content (minus the message) is available through our weekly digital/email bulletin (you can sign up on our Contact Us page).  Union Grove UMC began celebrating Holy Communion weekly as part of our regular worship service on July 17, 2022. 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.

*All scriptures today are from the NRSV.

Amos 7:7-17 – This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.'”

And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”

Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

“Now therefore hear the word of the LORD. You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.”

Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.'”

Psalm 82 – God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:

“How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah

Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.

Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.”

Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!

Luke 10:25-37 – Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”

He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

The scriptures of God for the People of God.

Thanks be to God.

MESSAGE – Living Among the Brambles …

Rev. Val

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.

Since June 1, there have been 92 mass shootings bring the total for January 1 through July 8 to 325. Mass Shootings are, for the most part an American phenomenon. While they are generally grouped together as one type of incident they are several with the foundation definition being that they have a minimum of four victims shot, either injured or killed, not including any shooter who may also have been killed or injured in the incident.

To quote Rev. Rebekkah Simon-Peter, “We are living in a time of deep political, economic, religious, social, racial, and generational polarization. This polarization is undergirded by what Arthur Brooks calls the “culture of contempt.” In the culture of contempt, differences are framed as fatal which deepens distrust of the other and encourages a gleeful sense of superiority over others. Most of all, this culture of contempt fuels an ever-ready sense of outrage, draining us before we even get to the issues that ought to cause real outrage: human trafficking, homelessness, hunger, poverty, and hierarchies based on color, money, or privilege.”

The majority of those mass shootings I mentioned earlier have occurred south of the Mason-Dixon line, an anomaly I found interesting considering the last nearly two hundred years of calling the Civil War the “Lost Cause”. The motivation for most of mass shootings could more than likely be attributed to the effects of the “culture of contempt” Rev. Simon-Peters mentioned.

Sadly, contempt culture has permeated almost every corner of our lives. It is the very bramble patch through which we must try to navigate every day. It is the thorns by which we find ourselves snagged, wounded, even impaled, and on which is born a kind of emotional virus that makes its way into us and does its utmost best to turn us each into yet another thorn among the brambles waiting to waylay the next unsuspecting soul in search of the Light and fill them with the poison of contempt as well.

I can’t speak for any of you, but today I stand before you guilty of falling victim to the virus on the ends these brambles we live amongst. I’ve been extremely frustrated, angry, more judgmental than usual, quicker to jump to conclusions, even at someone more dear to me than life itself. In my rashness, I forgot everything Christ ever said about how we’re to treat others, even those with whom we have a disagreement or who we see going astray, and I lashed out. My rashness has cost me dearly with the one I hold most dear and within my own family creating divisions that I am afraid only God will be able to heal. I’m not placing the blame for my actions on the culture of contempt. They were my actions and I take responsibility. I am blaming myself for failing to recognize that I was allowing the culture of contempt to distract me and to disturb the peace I should have been finding in Christ. I should have been more watchful, more prayerful, more compassionate, more willing to love than be self-righteous. … Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayer.

But that’s what the culture of contempt does. It interferes wherever if finds opportunity. If you’ve ever picked wild blackberries or attempted to prune an old-fashioned rose, you know how easily your clothing becomes snagged and caught and you have to try to unsnag it, often finding yourself snagged on other thorns in the process. We live among the brambles of the culture of contempt.

We see the impact of contempt culture running rampant in the flurry of laws, policies, court decisions, and actions being passed, rendered, enacted, and taken throughout this land. It’s pervasiveness is seeping out not only globally, but internally into our communities, our neighborhoods, our families, even to a larger degree than most of us want to admit … into our faith.

The middle ground – that once large block of people who did their utmost best to reserve judgment, is being diminished as the fringe at either end of the tapestry we call society continues to unravel at an ever increasing rate of speed. It’s this rapid unraveling that has increased the fringe on either end of society.

What causes this culture of contempt? People Francis suggests one possible answer. He says, “We can hardly fail to see that these days, in addition to the pandemic, an ‘infodemic’ is spreading: a distortion of reality based on fear, which in our global society leads to an explosion of commentary on falsified if not invented news.”

Do we, then, just turn off the news? Ignore it? Pretend it isn’t happening? As nice as that might sound, as peaceful as it might seem, that’s not the answer. That’s not who we are or who we’re called to be.

Do we gear up, arm up, seek out and unseat those in power that are the vines of the brambles in what would be a repeat of the Revolution and/or first Civil War? As frustrated and angry as we are, a much as we may want to strike back, and while a battle cry might bring a loud Amen, it would only be momentary. That’s not what we are called to do.

Perhaps if we all join together in a giant prayer circle that wraps around the globe, start singing Kumbaya and don’t stop singing until the whole world listens … At this point in the world’s history, I’m pretty sure that would take almost everyone on the planet and I’m not sure we would get that level of cooperation.

So what, then are we … mere mortals to do? How do we free ourselves from this bramble forest we’re caught in? More importantly, how do we free all the others entangled with us?

Our passages today may have some of the answers we seek, both in how it is we’ve come to a time when we find ourselves lost and living among brambles and even what we can do it. Let’s look first at Amos.

Amos is just a regular guy, no one special. He was from the southern kingdom of Judah during the time of Kings Jeraboam II and Uzziah. Even when King Amaziah of Israel called him a prophet, Amos was like, “No … I’m a shepherd and a grower of sycamore figs. I don’t even have any prophets in my family tree. That said, God has a message for you.” The message Amos delivered was announcing God’s judgment on the wayward behavior of God’s people, and he delivered it directly to the people.

Prophetic work always disturbs those in the type of power that is contrary to justice and liberation. God does not support oppressive governments and systems. Those who occupy such power are seldom willing to relinquish it or make the type of adjustments that align with God’s will and way.

Amaziah was a corrupt priest from the house of Bethel which was known for its idolatry. This priest did what many corrupt troublemakers do. He began to systematically assassinate Amos’s character, even directly to King Jeroboam of Israel. He spread rumors. Yup. Rumors. Rumors or, as Pope Francis so rightly calls it – a distortion of reality based on fear, which in our global society leads to an explosion of commentary on falsified if not invented news – to this day, fuel politics and campaigns and threaten to destabilize any credibility of whatever leader is in question.

 Amos had something corrupt people rarely have. Amos had confidence both in who he was and in what God had called him to do. His confidence let him make very bold moves. He went to the actual temple at Bethel and told the people there that God was setting a plumbline (today, we mostly use levels). A plumbline, of course, was a string with a weight at the end of it to measure how straight a wall was. Amos informed the idol worshipers and their priest that God was setting a plumbline against the house of Jeroboam and that the king, Israel, and its leadership were likely crooked next to the plumbline.

As believers, as followers of the Way, the Truth, and the Life, as people who constantly turn to and study the scriptures, we know what is expected of us in order to be found straight according to God’s plumbline. We know the mercy of His grace, the sacrifice of his Son for our forgiveness and salvation, and because of His grace and Christ’s forgiveness, we know that even when we get caught on the thorns of the brambles, if we repent, if we change our ways and turn back to his Way, we are once again found straight according to the plumbline.

We know how to get ourselves straight, but what about everyone else? Again, how do we free them from the brambles?

Long story short, we must become like Amos. We already have God’s vision, the prophecies. We must become bold enough to proclaim to a broken world, a bitter, anger-driven world, that God has set a plumbline in our midst. We must find ways to endure the attacks that come to us when we speak truth to power. We must be able to answer God’s call to engage the prophetic work, even if that work is done from the margins, and right now beloved communities like ours are very much in the margins.

If we continue to study the scriptures, continue to gather together in community, and continue to worship and pray, we will be provided the strength to endure and the courage to answer God’s call in the way God would have us. It will take each of us individually and all of us collectively, but God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit will be with us, are with us now.

Speaking a prophetic word right now is hard. It often falls on deaf ears, ears that don’t want to hear truth because they’ve become infected with the virus of contempt, even within the faith itself. There are more than a few in the faith who have gone the way of Amaziah in the passage from Amos, idolizing the power and wealth of the Empire and forgetting who it is they’re supposed to follow.

About this very thing, Rev. Simon-Peter wrote, “While it’s easy to see polarization “out there” in society, please don’t fall prey to the myth that it’s only “out there.” Whatever is going on in the echo chambers of social media, or toxic pseudo-news casts, or video games makes its way into the church. So we have to deal with the imported culture of contempt. But churches also need to look to see if they are responsible in some way for fanning the flames of contempt. If we use the Bible or the love of God as a weapon against each other then we are contributing to the problem. If we sow mistrust of each other, we are part of the problem. It’s important to preach … and I would insert to speak, teach, and act … in a way that builds up others, rather than tears them down.”

We have to be willing to speak truth to them and to all power, and we can do that not only with our words, but with our actions. When we reach out to the man in the ditch rather than passing him by like the priest and the Levite, when we become the Samaritan no matter what the priest and the Levite may think of Samaritans, when we lift of the oppressed and free the prisoners of the Empire’s systems of injustice, our actions are also speaking prophetically.

We have already established that we’re willing to do that work right here in Union Grove’s beloved community. We’ve opened our hearts and our doors to and receive as equals anyone who chooses to come into them without regard to their race, creed, social status, financial status, regardless of whether they’re straight or gay, married or single, regardless of whether they walk in knowing God or seeking the answer to a question they can’t put into words. We’ve physically reached out into the margins of our community, virtually creating a combination house of worship and mission center. We stand ready … and yet …

And yet, there is still room in this sanctuary for more … for those we wait to welcome. And where are they? Out there … somewhere … so beaten down by the effects of the bramble virus of contempt that is prevalent in so many churches like ours that they don’t trust what we say, what we write, what we declare. It’s hard, you know, to watch people who have, out of righteous necessity, deconstruct their faith and then stall, thinking there is no point in reconstructing a better faith because, if they couldn’t trust the religious leaders and communities they’d grown up in, why should they trust us?

Again, and again and again and we need to speak truth to the power of distrust through not just our words, but our actions. It takes creativity, it takes courage, it takes patience, but we need to do whatever it takes to reach into every margin and show them a church that does all it can to follow the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Because newsflash, folks. The people in the margins I’m talking about – the LGBTQ, people of color, of different ethnicities than all of us – they’re being purposefully snagged by the brambles. We can’t wait for them to come to us. We need to show up where they are, not to make fancy noble speeches, but to demonstrate through our actions of support, encouragement, alliance that we are sincere in what we say.

And that can’t continue and can’t stand. Not in God’s kingdom where we are all created in God’s image, in imago dei, where we are all created according to God’s plan. Remember last week’s story by Rev. Willimon about the gathering of the first church – a place where you were welcomed because you believed and not because of who you were, your background, your status, your tribe or people, your trade – that’s what God’s kingdom looks like. We need to work toward that kind of community here. That means we heed Jesus’s words in the passage from Luke. We go and do likewise.

That means being supportively present whether at parades and protests or simply in their neighborhoods and businesses. That means exchanging lip service for true service. That means looking at everything being done by those in power for not just how it impacts each of us but, more importantly, how it impacts everyone in the margins and then taking whatever legal, non-violent action is available to us to protect those in the margins. And not just “one and done” vigilance. We need to continue our vigilance long past the resolution of any of these issues because, as we’ve been seeing with the efforts toward voting redistricting, in Dobbs v Roe, in one Justice’s open threat to the privacy between partners, additional women’s rights including contraception, and marriage equality, no resolution no matter how righteous and good is permanent. Just as God, Christ, and the Spirit are ever present with us, we need to be the Samaritan who is ever present with our brothers and sisters in the margins.

As for those “in power” who have become corrupted by the contempt virus, we know from Romans 13:1 that “there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” But we also know from Psalm 82 what happens when those authorities become corrupt and establish themselves as earthly demi-gods. We know that, while they may have assumed god-like powers here on earth, God sits at their heads and judges them according to their work and whether they follow his commands, his laws. Psalm 82 is both their directive – to give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute; to rescue the weak and the needy; to deliver them from the hand of the wicked – and it is their warning. “If you don’t do as directed, I will bring you down. You will fail and fall.” We need to trust in that no matter whether it seems God is present or not, we need to remember that God is always present and that God works for the good of those who love him. Always.

And so, we make both individual and collective efforts to study the scriptures, we learn from them, we put them to work, we pray them, we speak prophetic truth to power wherever that power is unjust or corrupt, we speak through our words and through our actions, and we do all that through a lens of LOVE … not judgment or hate or contempt. That is how we survive when we find ourselves living among the brambles – by refusing to become a part of the bramble vine and by helping to free others caught in it.

Looking Down God Sees a Rose – SoulSurvivor (C) 4/15/2016

Locked in the wintertime of life

Transgression’s grip as cold as ice

A dark’ning garden filled with strife

There planted every form of vice

A thorny bush, of bitter hues

I was a bramble so depraved

I wanted naught but to eschew


My life and press on to my grave

My life and press on to my grave


I had no willingness to live

My body bloodied, crushed and sore

No circumspection did I give

The full weight of sin I bore

And like a tyrant my disease

My drug addicted frame of mind

Like a briar wrapped and seized


My heartbreak in a fatal bind

My heartbreak in a fatal bind


Then like the warming light of spring

You came my precious ray of hope

O’r my bramble bush You’d sing

A bud came up to reach

Warmer, warmer was the sun

Birds sang with You in the air

It was then I had begun


To leave behind my sin’s despair

To leave behind my sin’s despair


The tender bud it thrived and grew

Through deepest drought and bitter rain

And a bright bloom of awesome hue

Burst forth in glory that remains

That beauty is of Jesus Christ

It is to HIM all glory goes

He was the One who took my vice


Now looking down God sees a Rose

Now looking down God sees a Rose


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