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 and come from the Easy To Read version.
MESSAGE – Signs & Wonders
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.
“You should owe nothing to anyone, except that you will always owe love to each other. The person who loves others has done all that the law commands. The law says, “You must not commit adultery, you must not murder anyone, you must not steal, you must not want what belongs to someone else.” All these commands and all other commands are really only one rule: “Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.” Love doesn’t hurt others. So loving is the same as obeying all the law.
I say this because you know that we live in an important time. Yes, it is now time for you to wake up from your sleep. Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost finished. The day is almost here. So we should stop doing whatever belongs to darkness. We should prepare ourselves to fight evil with the weapons that belong to the light. We should live in a right way, like people who belong to the day. We should not have wild parties or be drunk. We should not be involved in sexual sin or any kind of immoral behavior. We should not cause arguments and trouble or be jealous. But be like the Lord Jesus Christ, so that when people see what you do, they will see Christ. Don’t think about how to satisfy the desires of your sinful self.” (Romans 13:8-14 ERV)
My age is no secret. I don’t hide it or deny it, nor do I deny the circumstances or beliefs or traditions I grew up in and with.
When I was a child, we had different clothes for church … our “Sunday clothes” … than we did for the rest of the week. Sometimes there were school clothes that we had to keep separate from everyday clothes, but even that got a little fuzzy. Our “Sunday” clothes were distinct, though. Oh, once in a great while if we were going to some fancy gathering of some sort, then we were told to wear Sunday clothes, but those times were rare.
The funny thing about Sunday clothes is that they were more than just clothes. Yes, they were nicer looking and worn less often. And I can remember my grandfather taking the time to polish our Sunday shoes on Saturday nights. But I knew even as a fairly young child that when mom told me to wear Sunday clothes, she was asking for more than just what I put on my body. She was asking me to put on my Sunday attitude. She was drawing attention to the fact that certain things were expected of me in this outfit. And I don’t just mean to keep it clean. Or maybe I do mean that. Keep it clean in thought and word and attitude. Keep it clean in how we treat one another. Keep it clean in what we say about people behind their backs. Keep it clean.
That is the baby that got thrown out with the bathwater, I’m afraid. When we went away from Sunday clothes, did we also go away from Sunday attitudes?
The majority of society has literally gone away from the concept of Sunday clothes by and large. I remember choir and band directors telling us to wear Sunday clothes to a concert that we were performing somewhere. By the time my kids were that age, the description of what to wear for a performance had changed completely, going from “Sunday” clothes to “wear this color, style, etc.” Which makes sense considering that most these days are used to dressing for church pretty much like they … and we … dress for everything else. I would be surprised today, even here in the heart of the Bible Belt, if the young generations have even heard the phrase, “Sunday clothes.” Not that some don’t still dress up … some do … but I’m not sure they’re doing it with the same attitude.
I know, I sound like some old lady reminiscing about how things were back in my day. The thing is, I am an old lady and I remember things … especially shifts in attitudes. I remember that, when someone asked if you went to church, the proper, socially acceptable response was, “Well of course I do!” I remember when belonging to a church was as much about social status … maybe even more so … than a desire to grow closer to God. I remember when the question wasn’t whether you were a believer, but to which religion you affiliated. Your participation in a religion was expected.
It might sound like I’m complaining and wanting to go back to that, but I’m not. I’m almost grateful it isn’t that way anymore. In fact, I think that maybe it’s a good thing that we don’t have Sunday clothes anymore. It’s pretty clear that, instead of believing that we are always in our Sunday clothes and our Sunday attitudes, we became adept at taking off our Sunday attitudes and hanging them in the closet with our Sunday clothes where they stayed until the following Sunday, instead of understanding we should be wearing Sunday attitudes no matter what clothes we’re wearing. It’s also abundantly clear that generations younger than mine (and even folks my age) recognize the hypocrisy of the “Sunday” attitude, packed up their own Sunday clothes and delivered them to the local thrift store.
I’m pretty sure that Jesus didn’t want us to compartmentalize our lives into church and non-church. I’m pretty sure that Jesus wants us to live every day as though we were in the presence of God – because we are. And that we live every day as though we are loving our neighbor as ourselves – because we are.
Yet we need reminders. We need to take a moment and take off the clothes of this world with all the expectations that go with that outfit and put on our Sunday clothes again. This process of reminding, of taking the time to reset our thinking and acting is the answer to the question: “Why do people need the church?”
Matthew is the only gospel writer who uses the word,” church.” And it appears in only two passages—here and in chapter 16 where he tells Peter that he will be the foundation of the church. That means it is pretty significant that the word appears, and we ought to pay attention. On the other hand, the word “church” appears seventy-two times in the epistles (if you count Revelation as an epistle – and all the occurrences of the word are in the first three chapters, which are the letters to the seven churches. Oh, and the book of Acts, which is the companion piece to the letters – or the acting out of the conversations in the letters). That means that Paul and the other letter writers are very concerned with helping us be the church that we are called to be. So, there were lots of choices there.
Matthew 18:15-20 says, “If your brother or sister in God’s family does something wrong, go and tell them what they did wrong. Do this when you are alone with them. If they listen to you, then you have helped them to be your brother or sister again. But if they refuse to listen, go to them again and take one or two people with you. Then there will be two or three people who will be able to tell all that happened. If they refuse to listen to them, tell the church. And if they refuse to listen to the church, treat them as you would treat someone who does not know God or who is a tax collector.
“I can assure you that when you speak judgment here on earth, it will be God’s judgment. And when you promise forgiveness here on earth, it will be God’s forgiveness. To say it another way, if two of you on earth agree on anything you pray for, my Father in heaven will do what you ask. Yes, if two or three people are together believing in me, I am there with them.” (ERV)
Here in the Gospel, it is the function of the church to be a force for reconciliation. You could argue that, from a gospel perspective, it is the only function of the church. We are in the business of putting things together, of healing the breaches between people, of overcoming that which keeps us apart. It is about making sure that no one feels like an outsider.
“Wait a minute”, you might say, “there is a call to ‘outsider-ness’ in this passage.” We have been taught to believe that we are to give reconciliation our best shot, to be sure, but that if it doesn’t work, then we can boot folks out. That is what verse 17 is saying, isn’t it? Is it? Verse 17 says that if the one who has caused the offense refuses to be reconciled, then treat the person “as a Gentile and a tax collector.” “Boo, hiss,” we say, “toss them out.” Except, wait a minute, how did Jesus treat tax collectors? He put one on his team. How did Jesus treat Gentiles? He preached to them; he invited them. Yes, there was an incident or two where he seems to be a bit harsh to a Gentile, but then after a reminder, he turns and welcomes.
In other words, despite centuries of church history, I don’t think these words give permission to cut anyone off. Instead, we treat them, the sinners, the breakers of the covenant, with love and invitation. We are always, always trying to heal what is broken. We might have to change tactics in dealing with those who refuse to be a part of the community. Jesus treated those inside the community much differently from those outside. And in fact, he was worse with those inside! Worse, as in harder on; worse as in having higher expectations; worse as in being ready to call them out and point out their failings. The outsider was encouraged and invited, challenged to be sure, but with love and gentleness.
So, when Jesus says to treat them like outsiders, he wasn’t saying to turn your back on them. He was telling us to change tactics. And all along, he was saying we ought to be doing this together. This reconciliation thing is a team effort, not an individual exercise. It is what we are about.
Wait a minute. Is the function of the church reconciliation? Or is the function of the church to worship God? Yes. Duh. And no, I don’t mean that we really have two functions. There is only one. It is in our reconciling that we worship God. It is in our worship of God that we are healing brokenness, we are putting people back together with God and with one another.
Did you realize that the invitation to the Communion liturgy says, “Christ invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another”? Loving Christ (worship) – repenting of sin (reconciling with God) and living in peace (reconciling with one another) are all part of the same thing – worship and reconciliation.
And we are to live this worship/reconciliation outwardly, in an invitational way. The church is a reminder to the world that we are all in need of a savior. And the church is the evidence that living in the “being saved” community is a more holistic, more reconciling, more joyous way to live.
Why do people need the church? Because we forget to put on our church clothes. Or wait, maybe it isn’t church clothes, but church dinner. At least if you read the text from Exodus, you’ll see there is a verse that references clothes, but the rest of the verses are about eating. Or maybe not about eating, but about how we eat. Are we getting etiquette lessons here in the Hebrew Scriptures? Sort of. If etiquette means “a prescribed or accepted code of usage in matters of ceremony, as at a court or in official or other formal observances” (according to dictionary.com), then yes. We’re getting etiquette lessons, not so that we don’t commit a social faux pas, however. No, these lessons are so that we understand what it is that we are doing, and why. It is so that even our eating is mindful.
The passage from Exodus 12:1-14 says, “While Moses and Aaron were still in Egypt, the Lord spoke to them. He said, “This month will be the first month of the year for you. This command is for the whole community of Israel: On the tenth day of this month each man must get one lamb for the people in his house. If there are not enough people in his house to eat a whole lamb, then he should invite some of his neighbors to share the meal. There must be enough lamb for everyone to eat. The lamb must be a one-year-old male, and it must be completely healthy. This animal can be either a young sheep or a young goat. You should watch over the animal until the 14th day of the month. On that day all the people of the community of Israel must kill these animals just before dark. You must collect the blood from these animals and put it on the top and sides of the doorframe of every house where the people eat this meal.
“On this night you must roast the lamb and eat all the meat. You must also eat bitter herbs and bread made without yeast. You must not eat the lamb raw or boiled in water. You must roast the whole lamb over a fire. The lamb must still have its head, legs, and inner parts. You must eat all the meat that night. If any of the meat is left until morning, you must burn it in the fire.
“When you eat the meal, you must be fully dressed and ready to travel. You must have your sandals on your feet and your walking stick in your hand. You must eat in a hurry, because this is the Lord’s Passover.
“Tonight I will go through Egypt and kill every firstborn man and animal in Egypt. In this way I will judge all the gods of Egypt and show that I am the Lord. But the blood on your houses will be a special sign. When I see the blood, I will pass over your house. I will cause bad things to happen to the people of Egypt. But none of these bad diseases will hurt you.
“You will always remember tonight—it will be a special festival for you. Your descendants will honor the Lord with this festival forever.” (ERV)
Yes, the text is establishing a ritual practice that came to be called Passover. But underneath the specifics of this ritual is the calling to see our whole lives as beholden to God. We are called to see everything we do as an act of worship. How we dress and how we eat are important to our faith. In this era of ecological awareness, we are invited to pay attention to the impact our way of life has on all of creation. We are encouraged to see ourselves as participants in a larger drama, a more profound story than just what is immediately in front of our eyes.
There is another level as well. We are invited to participate in these rituals, to wear these clothes and eat in this way, not just to make sure we are aware of our impact on the world and those around us, not just to make sure we are aware of God’s presence and call upon our lives in everything that we do, but we are also called to do these things so that others might see God through us. We are the sign that God is God and God is still at work in the world. We are the sign that what we say about God shapes how we live in the world and how we treat those around us. We are the sign.
The act of confessing our transgressions is not simply a recitation of our faults and wrongs, but also an opportunity to receive God’s mercy and share in that abundant grace. When we pray for the church and the world, we lock into the loving things God wants for humanity.
Confident of God’s love for us, let us offer our prayers:
Holy God, we ask for your help, your power, your Spirit, so that we can amend our lives and grow more each day into the image of Christ.
We confess that we fear what is different. We confess that it’s easier to lock the doors of our community than to receive those who don’t look like we look, love like we love, or vote the way we vote. We confess that we have not lived out your call to share in abundant life and unconditional love.
We believe that you have the power to turn us around to a more inclusive way of living, so we ask you to do that. We ask you to give us the courage to change. We ask that you give us the energy, intelligence, imagination, and love to be your people in all we say and do.
Loving God, Friend of the neglected and the despised folk, Friend also of the cherished and honored ones, we offer to you our prayers for this world for which Christ gave his all.
We pray for the overthrow of the arrogant and cruel, and for discontent in the souls of the greedy and the careless.
We pray for the uplifting of the meek and merciful, and for the encouragement of the poor and the pure.
We pray for the recovery of the bruised and the lost, and the peace of those who thirst for righteousness.
We pray for the feeding of the hungry in body or spirit, and for the healing of those who are dis-eased in body or mind.
We pray for the comfort of the suffering and the grieving, and for the befriending of the lonely, timid, or socially awkward people.
We pray for the humbling of the church if it becomes proud, and for courage wherever it is shunned or persecuted.
We pray for the strong and the weak in this congregation, and for the spiritual health of all other churches in the community.
You, Holy Friend, are more eager to give than we are to receive. Deal firmly with your servants gathered here now, that we get rid of everything that clutters our souls and make way for all the new blessings you have in store for us. Through Christ Jesus our Lord. We pray now in the words he 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, the power, and the glory forever.
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