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.
*Scriptures this morning are included in the message.
MESSAGE – Oh, Give Me a Home – A Message for Homeless Sunday
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.
In May of this year, the Washington Post ran an article on the increasing number of senior citizens experiencing homelessness. Kenneth Saur, pastor of Red Bank UMC in the Chattanooga area gave the following message for Pentecost this year. “The title of the article is: “Seniors are flooding homeless shelters that can’t care for them” it begins by describing a 73-year-old woman named Beatrice who was clutching a flier offering low-cost cable TV, imagining herself in an apartment, somewhere out of the Arizona heat. Instead, the grandmother and former autoworker can be found most mornings in a food line or seeking shade under the awning of a mobile street clinic.
At night, she sleeps on a floor mat at a homeless shelter.
She dreads the odors of human waste outside and the thieves who have stolen her wallet and her purse.
And she doesn’t stand out from the other seniors using wheelchairs and walkers at homeless shelters around the country or living in tents on the surrounding streets of our cities.
Nearly a quarter of a million people 55 and older are estimated to be homeless.
It’s the fastest-growing group of people who make up our homeless population, and a devastating combination of factors is to blame for the rising problem.
But the path to homelessness for our older adults often involves the death of a spouse or parent, which means income is lost and rent or mortgage can no longer be paid.
And let’s face it, housing and food prices have skyrocketed to unprecedented heights.
I’m thankful for the Homeless Food Pantry we have here at Red Bank United Methodist Church, where two-three hundred bags of food are packed each month for the homeless healthcare workers to deliver to homeless encampments around our city.
It’s what we should be doing as a Christian Church, as the followers of the One Who said, “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat…for whatever you do for others, you have done it for me.”
But, you know, with 1,000 churches in the Chattanooga area, I think we can do more and are called to do more—much more.
We have a tendency to get caught up in things that sideline us and make us ineffective.
We waste resources and time arguing with one another and splitting off into different factions over controversial issues when we could be pooling our resources, both spiritual and material resources—not to mention our time—helping those in need—doing what Christ has called us to do.
I’m afraid we are often found re-arranging the furniture on the Titanic when we could be changing the world for Christ!
But it’s not just theological differences that get in the way of God’s work.
Divisions between people of various races and political leanings run deep.
Rev. Saur goes on in his message to suggest that Pentecost was a good opportunity to lament and repent of our failure to see people who are different from us as those God creates in God’s image.
He tells his congregation, “After all, on the first Pentecost, God responds to the brokenness of humankind by graciously drawing people together through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ followers were all together in the Upper Room, waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit when “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven…they saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.
And then people who were staying in Jerusalem for the festival heard the disciples speaking their own languages.
And when they hear this, they’re thunderstruck.
These are uneducated Galileans, former fishermen and tax collectors, and women who’d never spent a moment in a foreign language class speaking all these languages fluently.
And so, the people listening asked one another, “What does this mean?” but the nay-sayers make fun of them, saying, “They are drunk!”
What would you be thinking if you were in the crowd?
I’d be freaking out, and so were they.
But still, the Holy Spirit continues to bring these baffled people together to hear what Peter has to say.”
I’m going to suggest that any day, every day is a good opportunity to lament and repent of our failure to see people who are different from us as those God creates in God’s image. I’m going to suggest to you that Pentecost was not a one and done event, but only the beginning of the movement of the Spirit among and within God’s people. As I said when I set this year’s theme for the Ordinary Time season we’ve been going through, we need to “Keep the Fire Burning” … the fire of Pentecost.
The national rate of homelessness is 18 in every 10,000 people. Tennessee’s rate is 15 out of every 10,000. We rank #17 in number of homeless.
Through our Bruno 1 mission here at Union Grove, we’ve leaned into doing something to address the homeless population in Blount County which, by the statewide estimate runs at 200+ homeless people at any given time. If all three of our guest rooms are full, we’ve taken as many as 5% of the local homeless population off the streets. If we are able to raise the funds to expand Bruno 1, we can increase that to about 15%. If we could achieve and complete Bruno 2 and 3, we could pull raise that number to as high as 20%, and if we could bring Bruno 4 into play, we could most likely take the majority of unaccompanied youth in this county off the street.
But, we’d have to do that all in this year because the homeless population which has been on the rise since 2017 with a brief plateau during the pandemic, but which began to rise dramatically as soon as the pandemic assistance funds ended, is only going to continue to grow. Why? The average rent in the US is $1,382 a month. Here in Tennessee, the average rent is $1,500 a month. Although many employers are now paying more than minimum wage, few are paying enough to cover that kind of rent plus utilities, groceries, and all the other things it takes to be able to live independently, maintain a job, and still put food on the table. Most Tennesseans are living only one or two paychecks away from homelessness themselves.
So, what’s the solution? Let’s go back to Rev. Saur’s Pentecost message for a moment: “But still, the Holy Spirit continues to bring these baffled people together to hear what Peter has to say.
Peter tells them, “We aren’t drunk,” Peter begins, “God is fulfilling Old Testament prophecy.
The prophet Joel had promised that God would send the Holy Spirit on all God’s people in such a way that it would rattle creation.
If we were to read the entirety of Acts Chapter 2, we would read that Peter tells the crowd that Jesus “was handed over” to them…and that they, with the help of
“wicked men put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”
They hear Peter go one to insist that God raised this same Jesus from the dead and that this risen Jesus is the Author of Life, the Lord, and Messiah.
After Peter finishes, these Jews, who were divided by language barriers, confusion, and guilt, press Peter for how they should respond to the news.”
How we respond should be the determiner of how we go forward and how we address issues like rising the rising homeless population, the increasing number of immigrants coming here to find safe-haven, and so many other problems.
In Peter’s time, there was no such thing as Christianity, no church on every corner, and zero public assistance programs. Those were things that would come many centuries later. During Peter’s time, there were those who were Followers of the Way and those who were not. Peter advised them, “Turn to God and be baptized … Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
And how do the people respond?
Three thousand received God’s grace through faith and were baptized on that first day.”
It’s through the movement of the Spirit in and among the people that things began to change. Rev. Saur reminds us, “Yet, their new togetherness doesn’t end there.
The Holy Spirit draws them even closer together.
In fact, the end of Acts Chapter 2 describes what might be the most dramatic form of “togetherness” that the Holy Spirit has ever created.
This brand new group of former strangers, who are from different countries with different customs and speak different languages, devote “themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer.
The Holy Spirit has completely united them in their commitment to both God and one another.
Yet, once the Holy Spirit unites these new Christians together, the Spirit doesn’t keep them there in one place for long.”
Reading the Book of Acts, we watch the Followers of the Way begin to form into a community … a community that cared for others in the community … a community that went forth and on to build itself into a faith tradition that would come to be called Christianity. A community that went forth and spread the good news through discipleship … through word and deed.
Pentecost sums up the gospel with simplicity and audacity: Following Christ offers the opportunity to live into and help build the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, to be in Oneness with God, and the church exists to proclaim it.
“Is that what God is doing for you and for me?,” Rev. Saur asks in his message last May.
The book of Acts talks about the filling of the Holy Spirit as an ongoing experience, not just a one-time event, and the church is constantly changing.
And that is hard, because we as a people tend to resist change.
We like to be comfortable and can get pretty comfortable in our pews and buildings.
But God is constantly calling the church to change according to the Spirit’s leading.
What worked in the 1800’s didn’t necessarily work as well in the 1950’s.
And where the Spirit was leading in the 1950s might be different than what we are being called to do to address the problems and situations people find themselves in today.
Our faith and understanding of God also change as the Spirit leads.
For instance, on the day of Pentecost, the church was only made up of Jews.
They were Jews from different lands and with different languages, but they were all Jews.
They never would have dreamed that God was going to call the Gentiles, those heathens into His Church as well.
They weren’t even supposed to touch those folks, let alone worship with them, eat with them and live with them.
But, as Acts moves on, we see that Peter has a vision that changes everything and the church makes the huge decision to change and allow the Gentiles in—and they don’t even require that they be circumcised…
…which then becomes a huge controversy within the church for at least a couple hundred years with one side screaming at the other—they must first become Jews and be circumcised before they can become Christians, while the other side yells back: “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free. For we are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Eventually, the rest of the church follows the leading of the Holy Spirit rather than the divisiveness of human reasoning and allows everyone in—by grace through faith alone.
From the very beginning, Jesus calls us into community as His Church.
He prays that we will be one just as He and the Father are one…
We … as in We, the People … haven’t gotten there yet.
But we … here at Union Grove … are already working to be the exception to that.
We know, people are hungry.
People are living without hope.
People see the church arguing with itself and walk away sad, saying, “See, they are no different than anyone else.”
But we can be better than that.
Jesus’ command—COMMAND—is that we love one another as He has loved us.
That is how the world will know we are His disciples if we love one another.
That is what it is all about.
Pentecost sums up the Gospel with simplicity and audacity: Jesus Christ offers hope to all, and the church exists to proclaim it.
Redbank UMC has a homeless pantry, which Rev. Saur points out is a great start, but he asks his congregation if they might do more and talks about visiting a church in Nashville that has built and continues to build tiny houses on its property.
Rev. Saur’s message was an ask of his congregation to think about what more they might be able to do there at Red Bank UMC looking to their property as a resource.
We’re already doing that here at Union Grove. Our “tiny house” type program is Bruno 3 and while it won’t provide permanent housing, we will be able to offer longer term housing than we can with Bruno 1.
My ask of you, then, is different from Rev. Saur and the congregation at Red Bank. I don’t need to ask you what more we can do. We already know what we can do physically with this property. My ask of you is how can we do this?
We are a very small congregation. We are all at the limits of our personal resources and, unless one of y’all is holding the information back, none of us have won the lottery. How do we go about bringing all we can do into fruition? What part are we missing in what we’ve been called to do?
Loving others? Check.
Not arguing within our church community? Check.
Inclusive? Gold star!
Spreading the good news through our words and deeds? (make a face) … To some degree.
We do go forth through Second Sunday and through our hybrid ministry, we do help those outside our own community and Bruno 1 mission where we are financially or materially able.
I think there are a few things we aren’t doing as well … okay, trying to do as well as we should because, to me, they are the hardest tasks to do.
We’re not necessarily good at witnessing to others on a day-to-day basis in a way that causes those who hear our messages to say things like, “I’m going to go check out this church” or “I may not belong to this church, but I’m going to support it through a donation” or “I may not live in the area of this church but being able to watch their recorded services or other forms of online ministry has helped me and I want to help others, too.” We’re not really good at … and I’m including myself in all these “we” statements … going out and approaching potential partners in other community organizations or businesses that might be willing to help underwrite the costs of seeing all four Bruno Projects come to fruition.
Is it a lack of faith? Not at Union Grove. Is it a lack of the Spirit? Not at all. Is it because what we do here is somehow wrong in God’s eyes and God is holding us back? Not one bit. God has shown us time and again he is with us all the way. Does our doctrine and religious dogma turn people off? First of all, we don’t have a lot of “dogma” beyond communion and baptism, so that’s a no there. As far as doctrine, we don’t have a lot of rigid doctrine so if doctrine is what’s holding folks back, it isn’t ours … it’s their own.
So, what is it then? That’s a question we each need to ask ourselves, and that goes for those of you worshipping with us virtually. What is holding any of us … what is holding you back?
For some, the answer may be church hurt or religious trauma, or rejection by the church, and we get that. That does not indicate a lack of faith. That indicates pain and a lack of trust. Trust is something that must be re-established, has to be earned, so I encourage those of you who have left the church because it somehow hurt you to not give up on Union Grove. We’re working to regain your trust in a way that you know we are not just looking for backsides in pews, that we want to truly build a loving, caring community here.
For some of you, the answer may be that you became disillusioned with the church you were attending, that they said one thing on Sunday and didn’t even manage to make it to Sunday evening before not practicing the message they preach. You may have had questions that never got answered or for which the answers were not really answers but deflections and dismissals. For some of you, it could be you found another spirituality that works better for you. God has many names and is more than big enough to share. We celebrate that here.
What I would ask those of you in one of those groups of “some” that follow us virtually is that you to begin to consider yourself a part of our “community” just as if you were living right here in Blount County Tennessee. Because to us you are part of our community already just by virtue of your presence, your interaction with us.
And to those of you who fall into any of those groups of “some” and do live in the area, I would ask that you begin to think of us not as a church but as a community … an inclusive, welcoming, affirming community of people from all kinds of backgrounds both personal and spiritual, and I would ask that you consider whether you might want to participate in our Bruno Projects in some way … regardless of whether you ever come to a Sunday morning service.
For those of you who are interested in what we’re doing and are members of organizations or businesses you think would be interested in what we’re doing, I would ask that you consider inviting one of us to come speak with you, with your organization, and or with your business partners or employers.
You see, “community” is more than just neighborhoods. It’s more than geographic locations. Community is people joined together in a common interest or need.
And for those of you who fall in the “some” who are none of the above, but Followers of the Way, I would ask you to consider what is holding you back from being a witness, from sharing the good news.
Maybe it’s lack of courage to make the initial ask of someone’s time. Make the call, the ask. The worst they’ll say is no.
Maybe it’s a fear of rejection … a long time ago, someone taught me it takes eighteen noes to get a yes. That didn’t mean 18 people wouldn’t buy what you were selling, but the 19th person would. It meant almost everyone has 18 obstacles that must be overcome before they buy. Rejection isn’t really rejection. It’s just eighteen obstacles that must be overcome.
This will sound cliché but pray about it. Take it to God. Tell God what’s holding you back and ask for his help in removing the obstacle.
Jesus gave us a commandment to love one another, and he didn’t mean a limited number of “other.” We love one another best when we demonstrate that love through our actions.
Jesus gave us a commission – to go forth and make disciples. Disciples are not backsides in seats on Sunday morning. Disciples are those who are doing the work and following the Way he gave us.
You are worthy, you matter, you can make a difference and … together … we can make an even bigger difference. That’s what beloved communities do … they make a difference.
So, my last question to you is … what is holding you back and how can we help you overcome it? Because here at Union Grove, every day is Pentecost and we will Keep the Fire Burning.
God, who calls us by our name; God, in whose image we are made.
COME IN FROM THE COLD, MAKE YOUR HOME IN OUR HEARTS.
God, who does not pass us by;
God, who hears the cries of the poor.
COME IN FROM THE COLD, MAKE YOUR HOME IN OUR HEARTS.
God, who isn’t impressed by our savings, properties and pension plans.
COME IN FROM THE COLD, MAKE YOUR HOME IN OUR HEARTS.
God, who has given us unique talents and skills and gifts to share;
COME IN FROM THE COLD, MAKE YOUR HOME IN OUR HEARTS.
Jesus of no fixed address,
come into this house, your home.
Take refuge and shelter with us here –
your feet must be tired,
your heart must be heavy.
Sit down with us, Lord.
Tell us your stories,
open our eyes to you.
MAKE YOUR HOME IN OUR HEARTS.
In your name, Amen.
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