ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Prelude – Hymne, Pianissimo Brothers
- Welcome & Opening Prayer – Rev. Ohle
- Call to Worship – All Things New, Andrew Peterson
- Prayers of the People – Rev. Ohle
- Words of God for the People of God – Psalm 119:105-112, Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
- Anthem – Green Pastures, Fernando Ortega
- Message – Sowing Hope – Rev. Ohle
- Closing Hymn – Sow Mercy, Gaither Vocal Band featuring Mark Lowry
- Benediction – Rev. Ohle
- Postlude – Hymne, Pianissimo Brothers
God, we come here now, seeking vision beyond the limit of our earthly reality, renewal of our strength, and revival of our faith. Let us feel your presence as we worship you with praise and thanksgiving. Let Spirit fill us and rekindle the flame of hope within us. Lead us to become sowers of The Good News. In Jesus’ name, we pray.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
This is the time when we lift up our joys and concerns to God. To protect the privacy of individuals, I will not be saying any names out loud during the prayer. Please know that I am praying for any needs you’ve sent me and for your unspoken needs as well.
Let’s pray: God, we give thanks for the blessings you bestow upon us. We confess we are not worthy of you and thank you, Lord, for the grace and mercy you bestow on us. We pledge our love and allegiance to you, and you alone.
Father, your children come to you now in prayerful petition, bringing to you our burdens and those of others.
We lift up to you those among us who are suffering from cancer, one among us recently diagnosed, with heart disease, with COPD, and with other severe illnesses. We lift up all who suffer from depression, anxiety, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other afflictions. God, you are the Great Physician. If it be your will, Lord, we pray for healing for our friends and loved ones and for all those who suffer from these things. Heal their bodies and give comfort and rest to their souls. Guide their caregivers.
We lift up those who are grieving right now, God; those who have lost loved ones whether recently or not, and who still feel the pain of that loss. Lead us to find ways to hold space for them in their grief and to understand that each needs to be able to grieve in his or her own way for as long as it takes for the pain to subside. Ease their pain, God. Surround them with your presence that they might know peace and find rest.
We lift up our community and our nation, God. We ask that you lead us to be peacemakers and help us to heal the divides that have long been forming. We ask you to lead us to be good neighbors willing to lend a hand to those who need it without condition or hesitation. We ask that you help us to understand and accept one another as we are and as our neighbors are.
I lift up Union Grove, God. For months, now, its building has sat empty of your children, and right now hard and challenging decisions about its future form are being considered. Be with us, Lord. Revive this church. Refresh and renew and restore its congregation. Reveal YOUR will to the decision-makers, that they may make wise and prudent decisions. Wash away any fears they may have about the future so that this church may live and grow and be filled always with your children.
I lift up those watching today, God. You’ve led them to this worship, and I ask that you bless and protect them. I ask that you open their hearts and minds to hear your word proclaimed today, Lord, and I ask that Spirit fill and possess me to deliver YOUR word and YOUR will, not mine.
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:
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.
WORDS OF GOD FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.
Before I begin, I’m reading today from a Bible translation called “The Message” (MSG) written by author and theologian Eugene Peterson. Peterson uses the language of today to deliver the wisdom of the ages. Let’s begin:
Psalm 119:105-112 MSG
By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path. I’ve committed myself and I’ll never turn back from living by your righteous order.
Everything’s falling apart on me, God; put me together again with your Word. Festoon me with your finest sayings, God; teach me your holy rules.
My life is as close as my own hands, but I don’t forget what you have revealed. The wicked do their best to throw me off track, but I don’t swerve an inch from your course.
I inherited your book on living; it’s mine forever—what a gift! And how happy it makes me! I concentrate on doing exactly what you say—I always have and always will.
Romans 8:1-11 MSG
With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.
God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.
The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.
Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored.
But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 MSG
At about that same time Jesus left the house and sat on the beach. In no time at all a crowd gathered along the shoreline, forcing him to get into a boat. Using the boat as a pulpit, he addressed his congregation, telling stories.
“What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.
“Are you listening to this? Really listening?”
“Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road.
“The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.
“The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.
“The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.”
The words of God for the People of God. Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – SOWING HOPE
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer. Amen.
I love gardening. I don’t get to do much of it anymore, but I used to do quite a bit, growing enough extra to sell at a couple of local Farmer’s Market and still leave enough to can and put away for winter for my family.
As a gardener, I’m more than a little familiar with the importance of planting in good soil and, thanks to our horses and chickens who regularly contributed, we have some very, very good soil, soil that does not resemble East Tennessee red clay in the slightest.
That isn’t to say I only have terrifically good soil everywhere on our property. My flower beds are another story. Their soil is not so rich, and I’m pretty sure it grows rocks because I was forever finding them. I tried mixing some of that assistance our livestock provides into the soil in the flower beds. Did you know that animals don’t necessarily digest everything they eat? Weed and grass seeds included. Now my flower beds are a mass of some type of wild morning glory vine that chokes everything and has the invasive power and growth rate of kudzu.
So needless to say, Matthew’s passage on the Parable of the Sower made sense to me the first time I ever read it. It seems clear that Jesus is telling us to look for the best places to sow seeds as we carry out the Great Commission; to find those most willing to hear and accept the Good News and make disciples of them.
But, and as Doc Hall, Associate Director of The Upper Room’s Emmaus Ministries recently pointed out in a daily prayer and reflection on the same passage, perhaps the passage has more to tell us than being careful where we sow the seeds of Good News or harvest the fruit of those seeds.
Think about all those before us that God has chosen to carry His word and His will to His children.
- Noah was a drunk (Gen. 9:21).
- Abraham lied about his wife (Gen. 20:2).
- Sarah laughed at God’s word and then lied (Gen. 18:15).
- Jacob was a deceiver (Gen. 27:1-29).
- Moses was a murderer and disobeyed God (Exod. 2:11-12; Num. 20:11).
- Rahab was a prostitute (Josh. 2:1).
- Samson was lustful (Judges 16:1).
- David was an adulterer and a murderer (2 Sam. 11:4, 15-17).
- Solomon married foreign wives and embraced idolatry (1 Kings 11:1, 4-5).
- Elijah was afraid and struggled with depression (1 Kings 19:3-4).
- Jonah ran away from God (Jonah 1:3).
- The disciples argued about who among them was the greatest (Mark 9:33-37).
- James and John wanted the most honorable kingdom seats (Mark 10:35-45).
- Peter denied Christ (Luke 22:57, 58, 60).
- Paul had a sharp disagreement Barnabas (Acts 15:39).
If people were places, all those I just listed would probably be considered to have been rocks and weeds rather than good soil, wouldn’t they?
And yet … like the dandelion that grows up from the pavement or the tree that finds root in the face of the granite cliff, the seed God planted within each of them grew into a faithful servant.
In the Great Commission – Matthew 28:16-20 – Jesus gave instructions for his disciples and for us. “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Gardeners know that it’s important to be careful with their seeds, that they need to be cared for and tended to. But, as a gardener, I also know that sometimes seeds get away from me and grow where I didn’t intend for them to grow. And, as a gardener, I know that, if I take the time with them, the fruit of those seeds that got away is just as valuable as the fruit from the seeds sown into neat rows in good soil.
God knew that there were seeds among the rocks and weeds worthy of tending in Noah, Moses, and the others. Jesus knew also and spent most of his time among the thorns and weeds and hard places of society.
Shouldn’t we be willing to do the same? Shouldn’t we be willing to not only tend those we find in good soil, but to seek out and tend to those who find themselves in life’s hard places? Shouldn’t we be willing to sow seeds of mercy, of grace, of kindness and of hope wherever we find someone in whom the seed of the Good News has been sown, regardless of where they are or who they are?
God, help us to not just sow good seeds where the soil is good and easy to work, but to seek out and tend those seeds that have sprouted in the hard places. Give us courage to go where they are. Help us to nurture them and bring them the Living Water. Let your light shine through us so they can see their way home to you.
Nurturing God, you are the vine and we are the branches. You have reached out to us and fed us with your word and watered us with the love of community.
Use us to spread the seeds of your love and the pollen of peace that they may produce an abundant crop throughout the world.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
As we head out into God’s bounteous garden, may we each carry a renewed commitment to be God’s gardeners, and to keep on sowing!
Stay safe, stay home if you can, wash your hands, wear a mask if you must go out, and go in peace. God be with you. Amen.