ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Welcome & Prayer – Rev. Ohle
- Call to Worship – Teach Me Thy Way, Brooke Lambkin
- Prayers of the People – Rev. Ohle
- Scripture Reading – Micah 6:8, Matthew 4:23-5:2
- Message – Sermon on the Mount: An Introduction – Rev. Ohle
- Closing Anthem – For All My Days, Stu G featuring The Ember Days & David Leonard
- Benediction – Rev. Ohle
- Postlude – For All My Days, Stu G featuring The Ember Days & David Leonard
Good morning. My name is Rev. Val Ohle, pastor of Union Grove United Methodist Church. Thank you for taking the time to be here with me today!
Before we begin, I need to make a couple of brief announcements. This past week, Bishop Dindy Taylor announced that Holston Conference churches could re-open their buildings for in-person worship provided each church has an approved COVID-19 plan in place.
On August 25th, I submitted COVID-19 plans for both outdoor and indoor worship. While our outdoor plan was approved on September 8, it is not affordable at this time as it would require purchasing a special sound system that is simply not in our budget. For that reason, I made the decision to wait for the approval of indoor worship.
I am still waiting for word on whether our indoor plan will be approved, and I have faith that we will be worshipping together in-person soon. Please stay tuned to our website, Facebook page, and watch your email for updates.
Also, we are in the process of rebuilding a congregation here at Union Grove. Part of that process is putting together a new leadership team. If you’ve always wanted to be more involved in the church, this is an opportunity to do so. We will fill the administrative council first, then the worship team, and then work out from there.
So remember what we learned a few weeks ago: God has measured out a portion of faith to each of us and has given each of us different gifts. Please give prayerful consideration to ways you may be able to serve this church and then give me a call or email me and let’s talk. My contact information will be available at the end of this video and is also available on our website and Facebook page.
Now, let’s begin our worship today with a prayer:
God, thank you for this time together and for all those who’ve made time to worship with me.
We are beginning a new series today, Lord. We are going to study Your son’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. Be with us as we learn from him, God. I ask that Spirit come and fill us each, emptying us of ourselves and filling us with all you would have us to hear and to be. I ask that you take away my will, my words and that you speak through me today and always. Open us to hear your will. Lead us to follow the Way Your son taught us.
In Christ’s name, amen.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
This is the time we lift up our joys and concerns, our praise, and our petitions. To protect the privacy of those we pray for, we do not say any names. Please know that I am lifting up any prayer requests received and your unspoken prayers as well. I will pause for a moment of silence during the prayer so you can lift up any prayers of your own. Let’s pray:
Father, thank you for our many blessings received and especially for those blessings we have yet to recognize. Thank you for your forgiveness despite our unworthiness, and for your faithfulness.
We take a moment of silence now for our personal petitions …
We pray you be with all those who are suffering physical or mental pain right now: With those who are ill, with those who are injured, with those who are consumed by addiction, and with those who are suffering mental health issues. We pray especially for those whose healing will come when you remove them from the pain and suffering of this earthly life to join you in heaven.
Father, we lift up all those who are suffering or about to suffer loss. We pray for those left behind by the death of a loved one and ask that you help them make peace with their grief.
We pray for those caught in the ravages of fires, of storms, of wars, and of the violence that pits neighbor against neighbor and brother against brother.
We pray for those who have lost their jobs, their businesses, their livelihoods, their homes.
We pray for the hungry, the homeless, the orphaned, the ignored, and for those who find themselves alone.
We pray now for our nation, Lord. We ask that you intervene to bridge the divides. We ask that you remove any hate or anger or fear toward or of one another from us and that you drive the instigators of those things from the halls of our government and from our lands as Jesus drove the money lenders from the Temple.
Bring us together, God. Help us learn to love one another as you love us. Teach us again to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you.
I lift up this church to you, God, that it becomes a living sacrifice to you, and ask that you help me build a beloved community here in this place, a community that sets aside all differences with one another and that worships only you.
I ask these things in the name of your son, and now, with the confidence of Your child, I pray to you in the words he taught us to pray … (Lord’s Prayer):
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, the power, and the glory forever.
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 place. Make us alert and attentive as we read and reflect on Jesus’ words; 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.
Micah 6:6-8 (NRSV)
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Matthew 4:23-5:2 (NRSV)
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them …
The scriptures of God for the People of God. Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – SERMON ON THE MOUNT: AN INTRODUCTION
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer. Amen.
Today is less of a message than it is an introduction to where we’re going to go over the next few weeks.
A month ago, I began a worship theme called, “In His Words: Walking Through the Gospels with Jesus.” At the time, I felt that it was important to refocus our attention onto the person from which our faith takes its name. On Jesus who is Christ. I had noticed that, among the many messages available online including those delivered at Union Grove prior to my coming, the majority of which seemed to focus on the Old Testament or on the letters of the Apostle Paul to such a degree that I was concerned Jesus might be seen as a supporting actor rather than the main event.
It’s impossible to teach the gospels without referring to both the teaching of the Old Testament rabbis, but it’s also important to teach that, while the two teachings may not agree, they complement each other, and we need to understand that in order to see the bigger picture. The same is true of the writings of Paul – we need to see him not as a replacement for Jesus, but as complementary to what Jesus taught. That means unlearning some things we think we know so that we can relearn them in proper context.
I still feel strongly this is the right direction for us, and today I want to accomplish two things. I want to go back to where Jesus begins teaching in earnest, and I want to set the stage for the topic of our worship the next few weeks.
So, today we begin a series on what is the longest of all Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament, the Sermon on the Mount. Not only was this the longest of his teachings, it was delivered in his early Galilean period and was his first great teaching.
Now, for a little background: Jesus’ earthly ministry began when he was baptized near the river Jordan by John the Baptist, and ended … depending on which scholar you’re reading … either at his resurrection or at his ascension into Heaven.
Just as an aside: I’ve called it his earthly ministry because, at least to me, he continues to minister to all of us through his teachings.
The teaching called the Sermon on the Mount takes place after Jesus’ encounter with Satan in the wilderness, after he had performed his first miracle of turning water into wine at the Wedding in Cana, and after the miracle of the fishes with Simon Peter and the sons of Zebedee, James and John. Jesus has been traveling around Syria and now Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and healing the afflicted. His reputation is growing and, with it, the number of people coming to hear him speak or seek his help as a healer.
There are some things that we may miss when we study this passage. It is no accident that the Sermon on the Mount takes place on the mountainside. If you study the whole book of Matthew, you’ll find that mountains play a prominent role in Matthew’s gospel. In the case of this teaching, the mountainside location might invoke memories of the story at Mount Sinai when Moses brought down the Torah to Israel.
Something that we often overlook or get wrong altogether, something that can … and should … significantly change how we hear this teaching, and something that will hopefully undo a misconception far too many Christians today have grown up with, which Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School and author of the Sermon on Mount: A Beginner’s Guide to the Kingdom of Heaven points out … is the misconception that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was an attempt to “fix Judaism.”
Dr. Levine’s statements are based on her own experience as she was growing up, but if you think about it, you’ve probably heard or even been taught the same thing. What do you remember of what you learned about Jesus in church? How often have you heard someone imply that Jesus came along to “fix” the outdated, legalistic, misogynistic, xenophobic, violent, lacking in mercy, and otherwise a mess laws that had caused Judaism to go steadily downhill from the good old days of Abraham.
Too often, teachers and preachers alike have taught us the Torah’s “an eye for an eye” was fixed or replaced by Jesus’ teaching, “You have heard it said … but I say …” followed by things like turn the other cheek, go with them two, give not just your shirt but your shirt and your coat, and so many more. A few have even suggested that, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught his disciples how to pray what we know today as the Lord’s prayer because the Jews had forgotten how to pray.
I’ve been guilty of doing that, too, when I reference Matthew 22:36-40, the passage with the greatest and second greatest commandments, emphasizing to you how all the laws and all the prophets hang on those two commandments, without expanding on what I mean. I’m going to be correcting that mistake as we go along in this series.
Context is an important part of reading and understanding the Bible and we need to look not just at context for today, but also what it was at the time a passage originally occurred. So let’s take a moment and understand the context of the time when Jesus began to deliver his greatest teaching.
As Dr. Levine points out in her book, “Jesus is not a Christian talking to other Christians; he is a Jew talking to other Jews.” And he’s not talking to Jews who go to synagogue for an hour or so a week and then go on with their business. He’s talking to relatively devout Jews who have studied the Torah and who keep their faith traditions. Because of where he was geographically at the time, there would have been few, if any, non-Jewish people present in that crowd.
We need to see, to read, and to understand the sermon through that lens. Not as Christians who’ve most likely been taught the misinterpretations I mentioned earlier, but as those original Jews gathered there on that mountainside.
Jesus is not telling his fellow Jews to do away with the Torah … Rather, he’s telling them that he has insight into the heart of Torah [let me repeat that … insight into the heart of the Torah], and they would do well to listen to him.
We need to see the Sermon on the Mount not as one long sermon, but as a series of, as Dr. Levine calls them, discrete teachings, each of which could easily become the topic of a sermon, a lecture, a bible study, or a devotional because every verse is like a fancy cut diamond sparkling and shining on its own.
And so, in order to better understand the story laid out for us in the Bible, in order to better relate to God’s plan for us, and in order to deconstruct any misinterpretations we may have learned over the years, we’re going back to the beginning and start again.
And that’s okay, because sometimes you have to go back to move forward. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like … as a people, as a society, as humanity … we are moving forward. I feel like we’re stuck; trapped in a rut of our own making, spinning our wheels, and accusing each other of getting ourselves stuck. We need a reset button. A do over.
I shared the passage from Micah for a reason. It is instructions on how we are to live. We are to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our Lord. We’re not living that way as a collective people, but we can do better. We can’t individually press the reset button for the whole world, but we can as individuals allow ourselves to reset our faith. We can learn to look more deeply, more critically, and with greater understanding at The Way … the teachings of Christ that we are called to follow, to live into.
Next Sunday, we’ll begin exploring the Sermon on the Mount with Matthew 5:3-12, the Beatitudes.
For today, let’s pray:
God, we admit to you that we frequently get you wrong, that we fail to see in the scriptures what it is you would have us see and sometimes we read into the scriptures what we would have them to say. Wash away our pre-conceived notions, Lord. Prepare us to unlearn what we think we understand and to be open to hearing your will. Help us also to help one another by sharing what we learn and inviting others to learn with us.
In Christ’s name, amen.
May you be blessed with humility, so you can see God in the most vulnerable;
May you be given a cup of empathy and compassion to catch the tears of all who weep;
May you be given an arm for the long-suffering to cling to as they walk through life;
May your broken heart be given the gift of healing and may you heal those who have harmed you;
May you be given guilelessness which looks at the other and sees the other not as an object or a label, but as God’s beloved;
May you be given friendship which embraces those you have been taught to fear;
May you be given the gift of hospitality which welcomes those who are ridiculed as they shadow Jesus;
May you be given words of hope, of comfort, of grace whispered in the ears of all who are slandered for His name.
Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask when you go out, tell someone the Good News, be the church, forgive seventy times seven, and go in peace. God be with you. Amen.
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!