ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Prelude – Hymn Selections by Michael Stinnett, Pianist
- Welcome – Announcements, Call to Worship, & Opening Prayer – Rev. Ohle
- Praise Hymn – God, We Love This Congregation
- Affirmation of Faith – World Methodist Social Creed
- Gloria Patri (Glory Be to the Father)
- Scripture Readings – 1 John 5:1-6 (MSG), John 15:9-17 (MSG) – Rev. Ohle
- Message – No Greater Love – Rev. Ohle
- Pastoral Prayer – Rev. Ohle
- Offertory Prayer – Rev. Ohle
- Invitation – Rev. Ohle
- Closing Hymn – Abide in Me
- Benediction – Rev. Ohle
- Postlude – Hymn Selections by Michael Stinnett, Pianist
WELCOME, CALL TO WORSHIP, & OPENING PRAYER
Welcome back to our second in-person worship since reopening. If this is your first visit with us, welcome to our church family. If you’ve been here before, welcome home. We’re so glad you’re here!
Today, we’re going to celebrate each other, Union Grove, the future, and the greatest love ever known, but before we begin. Please take a moment to look through your bulletins. The links for two of our new small groups are in the bulletin. If you plan on participating, just type that link into your browser and you should be taken directly to the small group meeting. These meetings are on Zoom and can be done on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. While you do not need your own Zoom plan to participate, it does help to install Zoom on whichever device you’re using. Also, if you have friends that want to participate but don’t have internet or have trouble with Zoom, they can participate by telephone. You’ll need to contact me for that information.
The materials for our third small group have finally come in. The study is on the series The Chosen: Season 1. There is no cost for participating and, as with our other two groups, you don’t have to be a member of Union Grove to participate. The study will also take place on Zoom. I haven’t selected a day and time for it yet, so if you have a preference please let me know as soon as possible.
When the service is over, please carry your bulletins out with you and, if you don’t want to keep them for use during the week, leave them in the box in the Narthex labeled RECYCLE so we can dispose of them properly with minimal handling.
Also, in your bulletins on the back of the insert page, you’ll find a Connection Card on the top half and a Union Grove Manna Campaign pledge form on the bottom half.
The Connection Card is a very important part of our COVID-19 safety protocol, so please fill that out and leave it in the box in the Narthex labeled “Forms”. If you filled one out last week, the only thing I need this week is your name on the form.
I also want to be upfront about the Manna Campaign. This is a special stewardship campaign with one specific goal – to raise enough pledges to show that we can cover our bare essential operating costs for the upcoming year. Rather than bore you all with the details, I’ve left a special sheet on the table in the Narthex that shows our expenses as estimated by the District Office, and I trust their estimates as they have been paying our bills and funding us since last July. I know that some of the existing members have expressed a concern that the campaign means we’re more concerned about money than bringing people to Christ and back to church, and I understand their thinking. However, if we don’t provide the funds to keep the church open, we have nowhere to bring people to. So please give the campaign your prayerful consideration.
And now, if you would please join me in our Call to Worship which you’ll find in your bulletin.
L: See what love has been given to us, that we should be called children of God.
P: By this we know love, that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, and lived and died, that God’s love might be made plain among us.
L: Therefore, beloved, let us not love in word or in speech but in deed and in truth.
P: Because we love one another, we know that we have passed from death into life.
All: This is the victory that overcomes the world, through Jesus our risen Christ.
Lord, we are gathered here today as one body, because you chose to call us your friends. We come from all walks of life. We have had our share of good days and bad days. In the world’s eye, we aren’t good enough or worthy enough to have this bond; but in your sight, we are exactly who you need. Despite all the drama, we made it here to worship and praise your name. May the love we experience today in worship restore us, revive us, refresh us.
God, use our broken selves as tools of hope and love on this day. Lord, we love you. Thank you for loving us and calling us your friends. It’s in your name, we pray.
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 Message.
1 John 5:1-8 (MSG)
Every person who believes that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah, is God-born. If we love the One who conceives the child, we’ll surely love the child who was conceived. The reality test on whether or not we love God’s children is this: Do we love God? Do we keep his commands? The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments, and they are not at all troublesome.
Every God-born person conquers the world’s ways. The conquering power that brings the world to its knees is our faith. The person who wins out over the world’s ways is simply the one who believes Jesus is the Son of God.
Jesus—the Divine Christ! He experienced a life-giving birth and a death-killing death. Not only birth from the womb, but baptismal birth of his ministry and sacrificial death. And all the while the Spirit is confirming the truth, the reality of God’s presence at Jesus’ baptism and crucifixion, bringing those occasions alive for us. A triple testimony: the Spirit, the Baptism, the Crucifixion. And the three in perfect agreement.
John 15:9-17 (MSG)
“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.
“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.
“You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.
“But remember the root command: Love one another.
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Abide in Me
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 Easter Sunday, the theme of our worship has been “Dare to Dance Again,” but the references to dancing again have been a bit vague to a point that you might have missed them altogether. But today … today I want to focus on that theme … I want us to really choose, really dare to dance again.
Think for a moment … what would you tell your friends and loved ones if you knew your time on this earth was going to end? We all expect that our time will come to an end eventually … but what if you knew for certain the end was coming tomorrow and you only have today to speak to them?
Jesus knew his end was imminent. He knew how that end was going to come, who was going to betray him, the ordeal he was about to endure at the hands of Herod, Pilate, and the religious authorities. He knew the excruciating death he would suffer, the battle he would face after that death, and the outcome of that battle. He knew he was about to go through … pardon me … hell. And he knew his beloved friends, his disciples would not get it, would not stay awake with him in the garden leaving him to face his last hours of freedom alone, and he knew they would not understand all that was about to take place for some time to come.
Jesus was facing betrayal, abandonment, beatings, and crucifixion and he knew it, so what did he choose to talk about?
“As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete.”
He spoke to them of love, and he spoke to them of joy.
Knowing full well what he was about to go through, he could have issued numerous warnings, admonishments, and instructions, but instead he chose to remind them of his commandment to love one another so that his “joy might be in them and their joy might be complete.”
We are conditioned by society to believe that joy is what happens in the absence of suffering to such a degree that it can make what Jesus is saying to his disciples in this passage hard to get. His message had always been centered on love, but this addition of joy almost makes no sense. Why would someone who is facing what he’s facing make joy such an important part of what would be some of his last words to his disciples? And if joy was that important, why didn’t he … Jesus … Son of God … God incarnate … do something to avoid such a painful and humiliating death?
Perhaps it was because he understood that the kind of joy he was talking about … deep, to the center of your soul joy … the kind of joy that overrides, overshadows, and supplants all other emotions … is related to the deepest, darkest, most gut-wrenching kind of pain.
Perhaps it was because he knew that it is when we are suffering when we are in physical or emotional or spiritual pain, we are most likely to pour out our pain to God, whether through lamenting or pleas for release and rescue or angry cries of “why, why, why?!?,” and in emptying ourselves of that pain, that suffering, that fear or worry, we make room for joy.
I think, at least subconsciously, we know it, too. You’ve been there before … those moments when you just couldn’t take something that was hurting or worrying or frightening you any longer, maybe even the admission of something for which you felt guilt, something you’d been holding inside in the secret vault of your heart, so you let it out, you speak it to the heavens and even sometimes to family or friends, you “get it off your chest” as it were and suddenly you feel lighter, a sense of release and relief. And with that release, a new sense of determination to not only hold onto the joy that is beginning to fill you but to move forward.
I think in this particular passage, Jesus was anticipating not his own pain and suffering, but the coming pain, anguish, grief, and even guilt his disciples would soon be grappling with. I think his goal in this passage was to prepare them not only for that coming pain and to advise them on what to do with it – to remember his commandment that they continue to love one another and to love others the same way he had and continued to love all of them, even knowing that one would betray him, one would deny him, and all would abandon him as they slept in the garden later that night.
“I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete.”
What then is Jesus’ joy, what does it mean when he says his joy will be in us, and how will that make our joy complete?
John’s story of that last night with Jesus begins in John 13. If we look back to John 14:27, we see that Jesus had already told the disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” In that verse, Jesus imparted his peace to the disciples … he gifted them with his sense of peace. In telling them that he didn’t give it the way the world gives things, he was telling them that his peace was an eternal gift … something they would always have, something that would outlast worldly things.
Now, in John 15, Jesus is imparting his joy to them in the same way. The thing is, the disciples didn’t have our hindsight to draw on in order to understand what this joy he was telling them about was, and what human at that time could possibly have the foresight it would have taken to understand where Jesus’ joy was coming from?
His joy stemmed from his knowledge that the prophecies … and the law … would soon be fulfilled, mankind would be saved from and forgiven of our sins, death would be defeated, the grave robbed of its victory, and the church he planted in that group of disciples would be the cornerstone of building God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
Even today, with our ability to look back and see the larger story of God recorded in the scriptures … even now … we struggle to foresee the source of Jesus’ joy, in part because we’ve been conditioned … as I said earlier … not to connect joy to suffering … and Lord knows we have been suffering this past year and even longer, but because we’ve also been conditioned to define love differently than Jesus exemplified love.
Jesus loved unconditionally everyone he met, even those who didn’t do what he was telling them they needed to do. He healed and fed all who came to him hungry and in need of healing. He didn’t exclude or reject anyone. He intentionally went to the margins of society, seeking those the religious authorities ignored. Neither did he limit what he did based on a person’s origin. Jew, Samaritan, Roman, Gentile … those labels didn’t matter to Jesus. He simply loved through his words and actions and that’s where his joy came from.
I want to quote a recent article by Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber which inspired today’s message: “Joy, especially joy that is shared, isn’t not paying attention to all the things that suck. It’s not pretending the forces of evil aren’t raging around us. Joy isn’t a delusion. As my friend Rev. Theresa Thames reminds me – joy is resistance. It is resistance to the western individualism that seeks to isolate us and tell us that narcissism is happiness. Joy is resistance to the forces that seek to dehumanize our disabled bodies, our queer bodies, our female bodies, our uneducated bodies, our poor bodies, our brown and black bodies. Joy is the effervescence of the Holy Spirit bubbling up out of the caverns of suffering saying to the forces that try and keep us in the tomb that no – love is stronger.”
Love is stronger than all the negative the world keeps throwing our way. That’s good to know. That’s worthy of shouting praises. That makes me want to dance for joy! How about you?
Please join me as we lay our prayers and petitions at God’s feet and ask for His help. Because this service is being recorded for online worship, I won’t be saying any names out loud during the prayer in order to protect their privacy. We will have moments of pause so you can lift their names in your hearts. When you hear me say, Lord, in your mercy …, please respond with “hear our prayer.”
Eternal God, in these moments of quiet we thank you for your presence in our lives. We thank you for all of the testimonies of your profound love for your children. We especially thank you this day for the holy one Jesus. We thank you for his humility. We thank you that rather than elevating himself above us he instead would lift us up and as with his disciples call us “friends.” We thank you for his many reminders that we are to love one another. But we confess that we have great difficulty following his command to love.
We become upset with others and find it easier to reject them than to seek to understand and to love them.
We struggle with the almost impossible command to love our enemies.
We become driven to meet our own needs and become blind to the needs of others.
We are driven to succeed which becomes all-consuming and trumps our command to love.
Forgive us our foolish ways. Help us to keep in our awareness this command to love which Jesus repeated so many times. Help us especially to hear it in those hard times when it is most difficult to love.
Help us to love others when they are power-hungry.
Help us to love others when they are inconsiderate.
Help us to love others when they are angry and lash out blindly.
Help us to love others when they are selfish and insensitive.
Help us to love those who would reject or exclude any of your children because of their own biases.
Help us, O God, to love others so that we may abide in your love and act like the friends of Jesus.
We pause now in silence to lift the names of those who are in need of your healing, comfort, strength, and grace. [long pause]
Lord in your mercy … hear our prayer.
We pause now in silence and lift up our church that you would continue to hold it close to you, to lead the broken to it, and to lead us to reach out to others in your name and carrying your good news. [brief pause]
Lord in your mercy … hear our prayer.
Loving and merciful One, we thank you for the community in which you have placed us, for the brothers and sisters with whom we walk this pilgrim journey. Yet, we confess that we fail to love as you love.
We push aside those whom we believe are the least in your Kingdom. We fail to see your Kingdom in parables because we fail to see your Kingdom in each other.
Form in us a new vision of community in which there is neither East nor West, neither South nor North. We pray for the sake of your Kingdom that both is and is not yet.
Lord in your mercy … hear our prayer.
We ask these things in your name, Lord, and pray the words you 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: Choosing to set aside judgment, God gives us justice; choosing to let go of punishment, God fills us with peace; choosing to release anger, God’s steadfast love rests upon us.
Forgiven, redeemed, restored—we will tell everyone, through the lives we lead, what God has done for us. Thanks be to God.
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. Let’s pray:
God of unimaginable love, we have known of your caring since we were babies in our mother’s arms. We have been told the stories of your love, and we have sung songs about your love. These things bring us comfort. What challenges us is the command of Jesus, “As I have loved you, so you should love one another” – not just those who think as we do, pray as we do, and look the way that we do. Help us, through our giving, our living and our loving, to live up to the challenge of loving as you would have us love. In the name of our risen Savior, we pray. Amen.
Has God opened your heart, your mind this morning? Is there something more that you need to lay at His feet? Something you need to tell him? 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.
Just a quick reminder to please fill out the connection card portion of the back of your insert page and drop it in the “Forms” box in the Narthex on the way out. Also, please do consider filling out the Manna Campaign pledge form as well. You can drop it in the same box or, if you need to think about it, take it home with you and mail it in. If you have family that couldn’t be here this morning, I’ll have the video and audio of today’s service edited and uploaded as soon as they’ve been processed. Information on how to access them is in your bulletin.
And last, I pray you’ll join me again next Sunday at 11:00 am. Thank you for being here today!
Now hear this benediction:
Go forth into the new seasons of your lives, into growing and changing and living. Go forth with caring awareness for the world and all that is in it. Go forth in a concerted effort to discover the needs and opportunities around you. Go forth in peace and be led out in joy. Go in God’s continuing presence, with the power to love and the strength to serve.
Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask when you go out, get your COVID vaccination as soon as you’re eligible, and dare to dance again, to dance with joy that Love is stronger. God be with you. Go forth to love and serve the Lord in the name of Christ. Amen.
- Call to Worship – Ruth Duck, Bread for the Journey
- Opening Prayer – Stephon Carlisle Void, Easter Liturgical Resources from Africana Writers
- Portions of Pastoral Prayer & Pardon – Richard J. Einerson, Prayers of the People
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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!