ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Prelude – Faith of Our Fathers (interlude), 4Him
- Welcome & Prayer – Rev. Ohle
- Call to Worship – Sweet Hour of Prayer, Casting Crowns
- Prayers of the People – Rev. Ohle
- Scripture Reading – Matthew 5:1-2, 7:1-29
- Message – A Life Worth Living – Rev. Ohle
- Closing Anthem – If We are the Body, Casting Crowns
- Benediction – Rev. Ohle
- Postlude – As For Us, Fernando Ortega
Good morning. My name is Rev. Val Ohle, pastor of Union Grove United Methodist Church. Welcome and thank you for joining me today!
Today is the final installment of our series on The Sermon on the Mount. We’re going to be looking at Matthew, Chapter 7. If you’ve been with us since we started the series back in mid-September, you’ll remember that “the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount establishes the kingdom’s priorities: righteousness and servant leadership, practicing as well as praying and preaching, creating not just a community but a family, avoiding hypocrisy, both creating peace with others and finding peace in ourselves. Today, the Sermon concludes with a combination of assurance for the future and guidelines for the present.”[i]
I hope you’ll watch through at least the message today. If you’re joining us for the first time, you can view the full series on our channel at Vimeo.com.
As always, I encourage you to let me know what you think of each week’s service, what you like, don’t like, whether you have questions, and what you’d like to hear about in the future.
So how can you do that? Throughout the video and at the end, you’ll URLs for our website, our Facebook page, our channel at Vimeo.com, how to contact me, sign up for our email newsletter and worship bulletin list, and where you can safely send your offerings by mail or through a secure online service. You can leave your feedback about the worship videos on our website, on our Facebook page, and also on each video at vimeo.com.
There is a special edition of From the Pastor’s Heart coming out within the next day or two, so I will save the announcements for that. Please watch out for it. It’s going to be all about Advent, Christmas, and what’s in store for Union Grove.
Now let’s begin this day with a prayer:
We meet in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit within this precious time from wherever we are, knowing wherever we are, there is your church. We meet as would a family, bound as one together in love from wherever we are, knowing wherever we are, we are loved by you.
God of peace and unity be in our arriving and departing, in our words and in our ways.
God of love and family be in our meeting and welcoming, in person or from a distance.
God of truth and mercy be in our reading and understanding, in our hearing and our speaking.
God of hope and prophecy be in our hearing and following. [ii]
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
This is the time we lift up our joys and concerns, our praises 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 you’ve sent me, and your unspoken prayers as well. There will be one or more moments of pause during the prayer for you to lift any prayers of your own. There may be points in the prayer where you will be prompted to respond out loud. Just watch the screen for the words to appear in front of me and say them with me.
Father, thank you again for this time together to worship and praise Your holy name. Thank you for the blessings you’ve given us, both known and unknown. For those who have been healed this past week, we give you thanks. For those who have found comfort this past week, we give you thanks. For those who have found the strength to carry on this past week, we praise your holy name and give you thanks. We lift up to you now all those in need of healing whether sick in body or soul-sick. Strengthen them, heal them, guide their caregivers and family to bring them comfort in this time.
We pause for a moment of silence to lift up those we know in need of your healing touch.
We lift up to you all those stricken by grief, Lord. Those who mourn loved ones and friends lost to age, to illness, to COVID-19, to violence, to war. Those who mourn the loss of a job, a business, a home, a sense of security. Your promise to them is comfort. Give them comfort now, God, and show us how to hold space for them while they grieve. Guide us to where we can help ease their pain until their hearts fill once again with the joy of being loved by you.
We pause for a moment of silence to lift up those we know who need your comfort.
We lift up to you our churches, our communities, our nation, our world. Lead us to heal the divisions between us, Lord. Guide us to build bridges, to be the peacemakers you’ve called us to be.
We pause in a moment of silence to confess our own contributions to all that divides us.
This has been a year, hasn’t it, God? A year that has felt more like a decade. Most of us have been stressed to the point of breaking, and we are tired, Lord. Not sleepy or sleep-deprived tired. We are tired to the bone. Exhausted. Worn thin. Too weary to see the blessings for all the bad, too weary to see how you have been working in the midst of all this.
We find ourselves angry, resentful, frustrated, and without the ability to find and cure the source of our ire. We lash out at one another for no apparent reason. We resist the things that would allow us to once again gather with those who calm us just by being present with us.
Help us through this time, God. Calm our unnamed fears, soothe our aching hearts, cleanse us of bitterness and resentment. Restore us. Send Spirit to wash away the feelings that have brought us to this point and fill us with your light and your love.
We ask these things today in the name of your Son, our Lord, and with the confidence of your children we pray the words he taught us to pray:
“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. ”
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.
Matthew 5:1-2, 7:1-29 (MSG)
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, saying …
“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.
“Don’t be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege.
“Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn’t a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children. So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?
“Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get.
“Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.
“Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned.
“Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’
“These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.
“But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.”
When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying—quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.
The scriptures of God for the People of God. Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – WALKING THE TALK …
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer. Amen.
Today’s passage concludes the Sermon on the Mount as Dr. Levine says, with a combination of assurance for the future and guidelines for the present.
He starts his conclusion with some more guidelines for how we should live as his followers. “Don’t judge,” he says, “unless you’re comfortable with being judged in equal portion.”
In Part 10 of his sermons on the Sermon on the Mount, John Wesley said, ‘Here we have a warning against vengeful judgment. If we make such judgments against others then we are determining what manner of judgment we will receive in the last day. Opportunities to judge others present themselves to us on a daily basis, and we may even consider ourselves wise and spiritual while passing out such judgments. We fail to realize that this can cause the fall of another child of God. Also, the unsaved may be hindered from coming to Christ because of this evil. Is it not true that they can often see the sins of the church more clearly than ourselves? We are so busy searching out our neighbor’s faults to recognize our own.
What kind of judgment does the Lord forbid? We may suppose He is referring to slander, but there is more to it than that. The Lord is condemning merciless judgment both in word and in thought. Any kind of judgment which is contrary to Christian love is evil in the Lord’s sight. Here are two examples:
1) Saying someone is guilty when they are not. This reveals the desire to see and present others in the worst possible light, only to make ourselves appear holier than they are. This includes judging someone else’s intentions even though we have no proof to back up what we say or think.
2) Condemning the guilty to a higher degree than they deserve. This is offensive to God’s justice and mercy. This is seen when we convince ourselves that the person in question is totally incapable of doing good or following the Lord. Love does not assume the worst in people, and it refuses to spread bitterness and hatred by speaking evil of them.’ [iii]
These days, it seems judging one another is the standard operating procedure for just about everyone. We judge people by appearance, by street address, by material possessions, by job status, by how they act or speak, by whether they go to church or where or what their beliefs are. We judge them by how they vote and who they vote for. We are even prone to judge them by the bumper stickers on the car, the car itself, and the way they drive that car.
Confession time: Personally, I struggle to be less judgmental than I am. I can be one of the most judgmental people I know. And that’s not something I’m proud of. It takes a very conscious effort on my part to not judge and it’s a battle with myself that I lose more often than I win.
And, yes, I am often judged in at least an equal portion when I’ve judged someone else. Jesus speaks the truth on this but then, Jesus speaks the truth on everything. I just need to pay closer attention to what he says. How about you?
He warns us not to be callous or cute about what is sacred. “Don’t turn the holy mysteries of God into cute or catchy slogans,” he says.
He also tells us not to bargain with God. Have you ever done that when you pray? Have you ever said, “God, please just do this for me and I will never miss church again?” Or something like that? Just ask God. Remember when he taught his prayer, he said to pray simply.
And his last teaching for living in the present is that we are to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. The Golden Rule. We’re prone to apply this one incorrectly. We kind of assume it means that we should not give what we get. In other words, if someone is rude or mean to us, we should treat them the way we would have hoped they treated us. But in this part of the passage, he says, “Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them.” Before they ever get a chance to do something for you or to you.
Thinking about your day-to-day activities, do you consistently treat people with the same kindness, courtesy, and respect that you hope to receive? Or is this an area that … if you’re like me … could probably use some improvement?
“Don’t fall for the hype of shortcuts, all those fancy advertisements for quick ways to “get God and get blessed.” For starters, you’re already with God because God is always with you. It takes a lot of energy and all your attention to realize it and stay close to him.
Just as there are those who try to sell you shortcuts to God, there are people who preach a false gospel, people who exploit the church for personal gain. Jesus warns us to look out for these false prophets and that they can be very convincing and persuasive. He tells us, though, to look at their character. Who they are is more important than what they have to say. If they’re all about notoriety, self-importance, money, or power and prestige, their characters are in opposition to what Jesus has taught us in the Sermon.
Jesus gave us “words to build a life on” in his Sermon on the Mount. A strong foundation. Not just to focus on for an hour or three on Sundays and a bit at Wednesday night Bible Study, but a life. A life that reflects his light to the world. A life that stores up treasures in heaven. A life worth living.
God of Justice and Love,
There is no greater barrier to our becoming the people you want us to be than the temptation to judge others.
The most destructive judgmental attitude is thinking about other people in any way contrary to your love: to blame others when they are not responsible, to condemn others for being wrong when they are not, to discern a bad intention when it does not exist.
Guard us, Lord, from a spirit of condemnation that looks for faults in other people and makes them feel guilty so that we might feel better about ourselves. We know this spirit is not loving.
If we believe that someone has strayed from your path, give us the courage to be honest and direct with that person, speaking the truth in love but always leaving that person in your hands.
When others turn their back on your good news of forgiveness and love, help us to turn to prayer rather than striking out at them. We know you will hear our prayers and that they will be effective fi our hearts are loving. Our prayers will change us, and others will be transformed by the power of your love that they see in us.
Your law of love is marvelously summed up in Jesus’ words: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” We do not want others to judge us, so we must not judge them. Our desire is for people to love and esteem us to act with justice, mercy, and truth toward us; so too then we should act toward them.
This is what it means to be loving, O God. This is what leads to blessedness in life and reconciliation in the midst of our brokenness.
We praise you and give you thanks because we know that we could never love in such a way unless you first loved us in Christ, and we loved him. His grace enables us to relinquish judgmental attitudes and to be loving in all of our relationships.
In Jesus’ name, amen.[iv]
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask when you go out, be a blessing and be blessed, practice piety, pray simply, worry less, forgive every time, love everyone, treat others well so you will be well treated, and go in peace. God be with you.
[i] From Chapter 6, Sermon on the Mount: A Beginner’s Guide to the Kingdom of Heaven, Amy-Jill Levine
[ii] Adapted from “Sunday Morning – The Gift of a World”, A Fragrant Offering: A Daily Prayer Cycle in the Celtic Tradition, John Birch
[iii] Hall, Gary J.. Preaching Wesley: John Wesley’s 44 Sermons in Modern English (p. 72-73). Kindle Edition.
[iv] From Praying in the Wesleyan Spirit: 52 Prayers for Today, David Chilcote
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!