NOTICE TO ON-DEMAND WORSHIPPERS
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.
Earth, sing to the Lord!
Be happy as you serve the Lord!
Come before him with happy songs!
Know that the Lord is God.
He made us, and we belong to him.
We are his people, the sheep he takes care of.
Come through the gates to his Temple giving thanks to him.
Enter his courtyards with songs of praise.
Honor him and bless his name.
The Lord is good!
There is no end to his faithful love.
We can trust him forever and ever!
Creator God, who claims us as your own, we bring our full selves to worship today. Our happiness and our sorrow, our singing and our crying, our strengths, and our failures—we carry it all. Teach us to trust that your faithfulness endures in all the seasons and circumstances of our lives. Help us to know that all that we are is bound to you and teach us to rest on your steadfast love as the source of our gratitude and joy as we, your sheep, follow you wherever you lead.
Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.
He established a decree in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach to their children; that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and rise up and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.
Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-20
Wisdom is radiant and unfading, and she is easily discerned by those who love her, and is found by those who seek her.
She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her.
One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty, for she will be found sitting at the gate.
To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding, and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care, because she goes about seeking those worthy of her, and she graciously appears to them in their paths, and meets them in every thought.
The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction, and concern for instruction is love of her, and love of her is the keeping of her laws, and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality, and immortality brings one near to God; so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom.
Jesus said, “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God, and trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I would not tell you this if it were not true. I am going there to prepare a place for you. After I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back. Then I will take you with me, so that you can be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father too. But now you know the Father. You have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father. That is all we need.”
Jesus answered, “Philip, I have been with you for a long time. So you should know me. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father too. So why do you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The things I have told you don’t come from me. The Father lives in me, and he is doing his own work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or believe because of the miracles I have done.
“I can assure you that whoever believes in me will do the same things I have done. And they will do even greater things than I have done, because I am going to the Father. And if you ask for anything in my name, I will do it for you. Then the Father’s glory will be shown through the Son. If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.
“If you love me, you will do what I command. I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever. The Helper is the Spirit of truth. The people of the world cannot accept him, because they don’t see him or know him. But you know him. He lives with you, and he will be in you.
“I will not leave you all alone like orphans. I will come back to you. In a very short time the people in the world will not see me anymore. But you will see me. You will live because I live. On that day you will know that I am in the Father. You will know that you are in me and I am in you. Those who really love me are the ones who not only know my commands but also obey them. My Father will love such people, and I will love them. I will make myself known to them.”
Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “Lord, how will you make yourself known to us, but not to the world?”
Jesus answered, “All who love me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them. My Father and I will come to them and live with them. But anyone who does not love me does not obey my teaching. This teaching that you hear is not really mine. It is from my Father who sent me.
“I have told you all these things while I am with you. But the Helper will teach you everything and cause you to remember all that I told you. This Helper is the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name.
“I leave you peace. It is my own peace I give you. I give you peace in a different way than the world does. So don’t be troubled. Don’t be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am leaving, but I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be happy that I am going back to the Father, because the Father is greater than I am. I have told you this now, before it happens. Then when it happens, you will believe.
“I will not talk with you much longer. The ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me. But the world must know that I love the Father. So I do exactly what the Father told me to do.
“Come now, let’s go.”
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Message In a Bottle
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.
What is would your message in a bottle be? That was one of the last group discussions we had in a class I’ve been taking this fall. What bit of wisdom would we entrust to a scrap of paper only big enough for a single sentence, slip into a bottle, seal, and pitch into the ocean knowing we would never be rescued off that deserted island and no one would know who it was that wrote the message?
Believe it or not, the discussion about what to write was on the profound side. Within our groups of three discussing it, it had to be a statement we could all agree on. We had three people, one bottle, and one scrap of paper that could hold one sentence. In my group, we decided on “God will never leave you.”
I’ve been pondering that decision since that last class session. I’m not sure it was the best message. What if whoever found the bottle didn’t know God as we do … through Christian teaching? What if they would never know the Christian version of God? What if God as they knew God was vengeful on their behalf, destroying anyone and everyone they didn’t like? What if that message actually empowered them because they justified any harmful or violent actions they took in the name of God as they know God or, worse, of whatever god they’ve created for themselves?
It reminds me of a parable Jesus told in Matthew 25:1-18:
“At that time God’s kingdom will be like ten girls who went to wait for the bridegroom. They took their lamps with them. Five of the girls were foolish, and five were wise. The foolish girls took their lamps with them, but they did not take extra oil for the lamps. The wise girls took their lamps and more oil in jars. When the bridegroom was very late, the girls could not keep their eyes open, and they all fell asleep.
“At midnight someone announced, ‘The bridegroom is coming! Come and meet him!’
“Then all the girls woke up. They made their lamps ready. But the foolish girls said to the wise girls, ‘Give us some of your oil. The oil in our lamps is all gone.’
“The wise girls answered, ‘No! The oil we have might not be enough for all of us. But go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
“So the foolish girls went to buy oil. While they were gone, the bridegroom came. The girls who were ready went in with the bridegroom to the wedding feast. Then the door was closed and locked.
“Later, the other girls came. They said, ‘Sir, sir! Open the door to let us in.’
“But the bridegroom answered, ‘Certainly not! I don’t even know you.’
“So always be ready. You don’t know the day or the time when the Son of Man will come.
Diana Butler Bass wrote the following about this passage in her “Sunday Musings” newsletter today:
“The parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (sometimes called “bridesmaids”) is one of those Jesus stories I often skip when reading the Bible: “Oh yes. That one. The moral is ‘be prepared.’ Easy.
Really? Be prepared? Jesus sounds more like a Scout leader than, well, Jesus.
If, as is often the case, we lay aside what we think is the moral of the story and reread these verses, a much stranger — and even confusing — tale presents itself.
The groom is delayed, so late that the bridesmaids fall asleep. Not only is there no groom, there’s no bride! When the groom finally shows, the young women are roused from a sound slumber to discover that only half of them have enough oil for their lamps. The oil-less bridesmaids ask their sisters to share. But the well-supplied bridesmaids refuse and tell the others to go and buy it for themselves! Where, exactly, do you buy oil in the middle of the night in ancient Israel? Is there a 24-hour Walmart? But the ones without oil go off, and after they purchase a supply, they arrive at the party only to have the bridegroom slam the door in their face and send them away like uninvited wedding crashers trying to get in.
Who does this? Nobody acts like this in real life! And it makes for a terrible allegory about Jesus. If the bridegroom is Jesus, we’re all in trouble because he’s a careless guy — and mean to boot. Where’s the Jesus who turns five loaves of bread into a meal for 5,000? Or Jesus-the-Jew who knew that hospitality to strangers was the most important practice of his faith? And where is that bride?
This parable seems more a comedy — like the movies 27 Dresses or Bridesmaids — than a serious theological lesson.
And that’s when it hits me: Maybe that’s exactly what this parable is. Funny. Perhaps we’re not supposed to read it with a straight face.
It is hard to imagine that its first hearers weren’t laughing! They, too, probably thought this sounded like the worst wedding ever. Who wants to go to a party where the groom is late and nasty to the guests? And where is that bride anyway? Maybe she doesn’t even like the groom. There’s no Fear Of Missing Out here — this is one party for which you are glad you never got an invitation!
The point of the story revolves around two words: “wise” and “foolish.” And those two words call to mind a biblical tradition that is far different than the parables — that of Proverbs and Wisdom literature. Parables are little fiction stories, full of metaphors and analogies, and often are allegories to make hearers stop and think about their assumptions about faith or God. But Proverbs and other wisdom writings are often witticisms, memorable contrasts, imaginative poetry, and provocative quips. The purpose of wisdom literature is to teach readers to live — here and now — justly, with mercy, and in community with one another.
In this story, “wise” is the word phronimos, meaning practical wisdom, shrewdness, savvy, being sensible or prudent. Matthew uses phronimos seven times in his gospel. But there’s another word for wisdom in biblical Greek, sophia, meaning divine wisdom, knowledge of sacred matters, insight to mystery. Matthew uses sophia once in his book when Jesus uses it to speak of himself: “the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (Matthew 11:19).
The “wise” bridesmaids are phronimos, full of practical wisdom. They brought flasks of oil to refill their lamps. They aren’t said to be sophia — attuned to divine wisdom. They contended with the “foolish” bridesmaids, who are described as moros in Greek, a word that can be translated into English as flat, dull, insipid, or nonsensical. The witticism in the story is the contrast between those who are full of practical wisdom and those who are dullards, maybe dreamers, who possess little or no common sense.
Who does the world praise? What do we teach to children? Ideally, we want our children or students to be practical, prudent, and sensible. Be prepared, we tell them.
But maybe Jesus has a different idea. Certainly Paul did.
Three decades before the Gospel of Matthew was written, the Apostle Paul penned these words to his friends in Corinth:
Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,
‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’,
‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,
that they are futile.’
Paul doesn’t use the word phronimos here. He used sophia. But he calls it the “sophia of the world,” clearly implying the kind of wisdom that the “world” extols. Earlier in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul explicitly calls Christ “the sophia of God” and thereby sets up a contrast between worldly wisdom and divine wisdom. In this letter, and in his other letters, Paul makes this contrast repeatedly — there are two kinds of wisdom, one, a conventional, common-sense wisdom, that is really foolishness, and the other, “divine wisdom,” that is the source of life and salvation.
Is that the same point Jesus is making in this story? Maybe it isn’t a parable — an allegory for a theological point — but a kind of extended proverb about wisdom?
After all, what do those practical bridesmaids get? They get to go to a party when they are exhausted, where there doesn’t seem to be a bride, and the groom is, at best, a bore. And they are locked in with him at this miserable affair in the wee hours of the night!
Honestly, the ones outside the door seem to wind up with the better end of the bargain. Think of some of Jesus’ other stories about weddings and parties — the last will be first, don’t invite your rich friends but invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” — and just a few pages before today’s story in Matthew, Jesus told a parable about a king who instructs his servants: “Go into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.”
Did the “wise” bridesmaids, those full of common sense and practical wisdom, go to the wrong party with a bad bridegroom? Maybe the real party hadn’t started yet! Sometimes phronimos isn’t all it is cracked up to be. And what of the “foolish” bridesmaids, the ones locked out, the young women standing on the streets? Were they about to receive an invitation to the King’s wedding, the party-to-end-all-parties? And just maybe they weren’t going to be just bridesmaids there — but they would finally be the Bride?
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.
The words at the end of Jesus’ wisdom story-proverb now sound like less a threat and more like an invitation — not “be prepared” or you are going to Hell, but “be discerning” so you end up at the right party. Understand the difference between the “wisdom of this world” and the divine wisdom of God: Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
The best banquet awaits.”
In our passages this morning, I read from the Wisdom of Solomon, a book that is not in the Protestant Bible, but is included in the section of the Catholic Bible we Protestants call the Apocrypha. The she in those passages is Sophia … Wisdom personified.
Jesus described her in the passage from John 14: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever. The Helper is the Spirit of truth. The people of the world cannot accept [her], because they don’t see [her] or know [her]. But you know [her]. [She] lives with you, and [she] will be in you.”
She that was sent to lead us, guide us, and intercede for us. She that whispers those “wait a sec … is this really a good idea … do you need to think about this … maybe you should sleep on it and not react hastily” questions and admonishments in our mind’s ear.
Thinking about the Spirit, if she had written the message in the bottle, what do you think she would write? Knowing, as she surely does and Jesus clearly pointed out when he said, “The People of the World cannot accept her because they don’t see her or know her,” do you really think she’d write something as ambiguous, as easily twisted out of context to justify your own will and desires as the message that “God will never leave you”?
If you believe the Bible is God-breathed, God-inspired, Sophia, the Holy Spirit working through various people throughout the ages, and you try to some up all those pages into one sentence … I don’t think she would come to the same conclusion my two classmates and I did. Afterall, it took all those pages, all those passages, to get to a conclusion that God is ever faithful, ever loving, and will never leave us. No, I don’t think that’s the message in the bottle she would write if she were the one responsible for that last bit of wisdom you … and she … were imparting on the world.
I have a Jewish friend, Rabbi Emmanuel, I admire for the way he teaches. He uses an anatomical analogy to describe the intersectionality of the three Abrahamic faiths … Judaism, Islamism, and Christianity. Judaism is the mind, Christianity is the heart, and Islamism is the soul. Judaism is wisdom, Christianity is love, and Islamism is loyalty to God.
He’s come to this conclusion after years of study and he is adept at teaching about God in a way that embraces that intersectionality and points out those things within each that cause too many of us to not recognize how not only closely related we are, but how we need to work together collectively rather than separately, competing with one another for dominance.
That’s not readily apparent in today’s world where it seems some Jewish people the world perceives as representing all Jewish people and some Muslims the world perceives as representing all Muslims seem hell bent on exterminating one another while some Christians the world perceives as representing all Christians are up in the stands cheering the other two teams, not really caring who wins as long as the clash causes the Second Coming of Christ.
Three faiths worshipping the same God. Three faiths who each believe God loves them the most, that they are the Chosen. Yeah, I’m sure that message my class group put in the bottle was not the best message we could have left behind.
Looking at all this, my message in the bottle is, “What is not healed is handed down.” Christ’s message in the bottle is, “And the second is like it: Love one another as I love you.” What will yours be?
We confess that we neglect to acknowledge you as God in our lives.
We live like we have complete control over our own future.
We forget that you created us and that we are the sheep of your pasture.
We separate ourselves from the flock and abandon our bonds with one another as we try to do it all on our own.
We have traded gratitude for individualism and thanksgiving for self-reliance.
Forgive us, we pray.
Free us to live as your grateful people.
We now offer through our silent prayers, our praises, petitions, and confessions.
(count to ten)
Brothers and sisters, receive the good news:
God’s steadfast love endures forever!
While we were yet sinners, God made a way for us
to return to God and to return to one another.
By God’s grace, we are a forgiven and reconciled people.
Thanks be to God! Credits:
- Unless listed below, all works cited within the text above.
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