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.
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?”
I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
For this reason, they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
1 John 3:1-3
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.
And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
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:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – The In Between*
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.
Today we remember all who have gone before us, and I want to begin by acknowledging the original people of the land here in Holston Conference: the Yuchi, Koasati, Chisca, Chiaha, Creek, Choctaw, and Tsalagi (Cherokee), to welcome the spirits of their ancestors who are also part of that great cloud of witnesses, and to ask their forgiveness and thank them for allowing us to abide on the land our own ancestors so wrongfully took through acts of aggression, occupation and colonization.
My mother and I are the unofficial keepers of our family history, she those ancestors traced back from her mother and father, and I, her assistant on those histories plus the ancestors traced back through my father’s parents. We count ourselves fortunate in having been able to document literally a few thousand ancestors. To quote ancestry.com’s “tree overview,” “too many names to list here going from present to fourth century AD.” Were they all good guys, all saints? … not by any means, although there were actually a few that were sainted. Are they all in that great cloud of witnesses, that communion of saints we celebrate on All Saints? Oh, you bet they were, the good, the bad, the downright notorious and the righteous alike.
It is no secret to those of you who have been worshipping with me for some time now that I don’t believe in hell … or rather that I don’t believe in eternal damnation. I do believe we tend to create our own hell here on earth as we travel this journey called life, and I believe that we are more than capable of creating hell for others when we fail to follow The Way Christ has taught us. But, in the end, I believe even the meanest, ickiest, hateful, undesirable of people will ultimately find redemption in the arms of God in whose image they … yes even they … were created. After all, while we are not always faithful to God, while we constantly stumble and fall in loving one another and loving God, God is ever faithful to us and God is love.
There are those, however, who believe differently.
The “this” with which the text from Revelation for All Saint’s Day begins is the numbering of the saved (or the “sealed”) from the twelve tribes of Israel (Rev. 7:1-8)—the one hundred forty-four thousand that you might have heard referred to a time or two before. In fact, I have heard some say that there are only 144,000 in heaven. That is why you must pay attention and make sure you have your number!
The folks that believe this obviously stopped reading before verse nine of chapter seven: “A great multitude no one could count” seems pretty inclusive. So inclusive, my own beliefs become even more believable. We will all ultimately end up in the loving arms of God.
Then we have the question from the elder. “Who are these?” Did he not know? Was it a device to test John? Or was it just a way of starting a conversation? “Who are these?” It turns out they are those who have found their way into the kingdom. Isn’t it fascinating that they are described as people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages? What a celebration for this All Saints Sunday—that the body of Christ looks like us, but us as we could be! Not like the church as it often appears today, but the church that represents the beloved community, that celebrates diversity of every kind, that reflects the tapestry of the world in which we live. What an amazing picture and a powerful hope. This is the church that makes it into the kingdom; this is the church that stands before the throne. The church as it is in total, not just the divided pieces of it that we see.
Getting there wasn’t easy, however. There was a lot to overcome, a lot of prejudice and injustice to face in order to be this church, to represent this ideal. No, it wasn’t a walk in the park. It took some doing, some effort, some struggle on their part. It takes just as much doing, effort, and struggle on our part.
Looking again at the passage from Revelation, the elder, when he, at last, recognizes them or checks the program or reveals what he knew all along, says that this multitude has come through a great ordeal. Older versions called it the tribulation. Some say the ordeal points to a specific event having to do with the end times—the last battle or the suffering that comes along with it. Others say, and I tend to believe it, that it is the ordeal of living in uncertain times. Maybe it is something cataclysmic and world-encompassing, or maybe it concerns the ordeals we read about in our newspapers or see listed in our prayer chains—ordeals of illness or infirmity, ordeals of abuse or victimization, ordeals of hunger and poverty, ordeals of war and conflict and … well, you fill in the blank. There are so many ordeals, so many struggles, large and small, out there in the world. So, it may be the sum of all of them that adds up to the great ordeal that the elder speaks of in verse fourteen.
When it comes to major ordeals such as war, pandemics, natural disasters that impact tens and even hundreds of thousands, these ordeals which humanity has fallen victim to have each led to a period of The In Between … a period of mass grieving those who did not, do not, or most likely will not survive the ordeal, of grieving the actions or causes that led to the ordeal, and of finding ways to survive and begin to move forward. At least until the next ordeal comes along. And right now? Right now, we struggle to keep count of all the ordeals we are facing personally, within our communities, our nation, the world. For some of us, especially the most empathetic among us, it feels like we are in a constant, endless state of grief, very often for people we never knew or will never know.
Henri Nouwen reminds us, though, “It is possible to have intimate relationships with loved ones who have died. Death sometimes deepens the intimacy. . . . [I believe] that after separation certain people continue to be very significant for us in our hearts and through our memories. Remembering them is much more than just thinking of them, because we are making them part of our members, part of our whole being.
Knowing this experience allows me to live from the deep belief that I have love to offer to people, not only here, but also beyond my short, little life. I am a human being who was loved by God before I was born and whom God will love after I die. This brief lifetime is my opportunity to receive love, deepen love, grow in love, and give love. When I die love continues to be active, and from full communion with God I am present by love to those I leave behind.”
I agree with Nouwen, but I also feel it is possible to have that same kind of intimate relationship with victims of horrific ordeals even if we never knew them. To intimately love children killed by acts of aggression, war and other violent atrocities just as deeply as I love my own children. To love the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins of children orphaned by those same atrocities, even as I grieve with and for the survivors. To hold them in The In Between they … and we … now face.
Nouwen also wrote, “I am deeply convinced that the death of those whom we love always is a death for us, that is to say, a death that calls us to deepen our own basic commitment and to develop a new freedom to proclaim what we most believe in. Mourning is a process in which you were, so to say, freed from old bonds, but in which new bonds, more spiritual bonds, are being made.”
I agree, but again … would go further. I am deeply convinced that the death of any child of God caused by the violent or neglectful act of any other child of God is a death for us as well, a death that calls us to renew and deepen our commitment to stand up against injustice and those who create it. To make The In Between a time of significant change. But I digress. Returning to today’s scriptures and lesson … we were talking about surviving ordeals …
“But wait,” you say, “it has to be more than just survival; more than just getting through whatever the struggles are, more than just an eternity of generation after generation grieving those lost during each of the countless ordeals that humanity has faced.”
And you would be right. The saints came through, the elder tells us, and they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. That is one little indicator that you can’t take this literally! Washing robes in blood won’t make them white. So, what does it mean?
Blood, in the Bible, usually means life, sometimes a life of sacrifice. This multitude, then, are the ones who put on the life of the Lamb. St. Paul is always telling us to put on our faith, to put on the attributes of Christ, to put on the fruit of the Spirit. These are the ones who put on Christ—put on his life, lived it as though it were their own; lived it in front of any and all, particularly those in need. These are the ones who lived and worked for the benefit of others.
These are the ones who cared for you and loved you. On All Saints Day, that is who we remember—those who loved and cared, and now are no longer here to do so. They have left a hole in our midst; they have left tasks for others to do. They have given an example that someone has to pick up. They have left caring that others need to do.
In other words, it is our time in the laundry room. We wash our robes in the blood, in the life and witness and example of the Lamb, and then we put it on and begin to look like him. And act as he did. And love as he did. Who are these? They are those we remember. And they are us.
Us? Yes, we are part of the saints we celebrate today. At least, that is what those verses from I John are saying. By the love of God, we are called children, children who are like him, children who are purifying themselves, children who are the saints of God. All of us, not just the special ones, not just the departed ones. All of us who have claimed this faith and who stand in this hope.
But what does that look like? What do we look like as the saints of the church? Jesus told us. It is how he began the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel. “Blessed are you…” Someone said that in all the furor to post the Ten Commandments in courthouses and on city lawns, that perhaps what ought to be posted in our courts of law would be the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the merciful” might read differently on the wall of a criminal court, don’t you think? But then, we couldn’t do that, some would argue, that would simply be impractical. It wouldn’t fit in that place; that is a place of law, not grace.
And that is just the problem with the Beatitudes. They aren’t really practical. Some argue they are impossible. How in the world are we supposed to live up to that kind of standard? It is not within us to capture all these elements, no matter how great our desire. So, do the Beatitudes function like the law? Do they simply show us how far short we fall from what we are supposed to be? Do they layer guilt upon guilt on us so that we turn in utter despair to the Savior, confessing our complete worthlessness?
That is how some have presented these verses—a measuring rod for entrance into the kingdom of God. But if that is true, why did Jesus introduce each verse with the word “blessed”? Actually, the word is Maka,rioi (mah-kah-YEE), which can also be translated as “happy.” You’ve seen that before. Happy are those who… It could even be translated as “blissful.” It doesn’t seem to me that Jesus would set us up for layers of guilt and then use the word “blissful” to describe the condition we can’t reach.
So, maybe these aren’t laws. Maybe the Beatitudes are something other than a challenge to better living, or – as some have presented them – a psychology of happiness. Maybe they are something more.
What if Jesus began his teaching ministry with a word of encouragement instead of an impossible standard to attain? In the previous chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, before the Sermon on the Mount begins, an amazing number of events transpire. Chapter four begins with the temptation in the wilderness, where Jesus declares the kind of Messiah he intends to be – to himself, to God, to Satan, to all of us. Then he returns and calls together the community of followers within which he will work his earthly ministry. Finally, he teaches and heals and draws increasingly larger crowds. And then chapter five lets us know his teaching. But in between the wilderness and the calling of the disciples, he makes this statement: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt 4:17). And “repent” in this case isn’t “shame on you,” but “get on board, turn around and follow me.”
What if the Beatitudes were a snapshot of the community of faith instead of a measuring rod? What if Jesus was saying, “Blessed is the community that includes the peacemakers”? Blessed is the community that makes room for the meek, for those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for those poor in spirit. Blessed is the community that finds space for those who mourn over the brokenness of the world, for those who are unstained by the impurity of the world. Blessed is the community that knows persecution is inevitable and still decides to make room for those the world thinks are unimportant.
Jesus was getting out the albums and inviting us to look again to see who we are, see what is among us. He was opening those folders we had forgotten and showing us our true selves. Certainly, there is a call here as well; I’m not dismissing that. But it is not an impossible call because it is already among us in the community of faith. We learn from one another because we are gifted or blessed in different ways.
We learn that … The In Between where we spend most of our time can be a time of moving forward to happiness, blissfulness, blessedness that will allow us to not merely survive, but to thrive, and to know that when we are in the thick black darkness of the ordeals, there is not just hope but the promise that Christ is with us and has given us The Way as a guide to going from victim to surviving to thriving if we only just follow it and all he taught us.
So, take a look at the snapshot of the community of faith. You might be surprised how blessed you are. Today, we celebrate not just those we miss, those who died since the last All Saints celebration, but we celebrate what they taught us and what they showed us. Today, we celebrate how the community was enriched by their presence, as it is enriched by those who are still here with us.
Lord Jesus, you bless the poor in spirit
and give them the Kingdom.
But we fatten ourselves, as James says, “in the day of slaughter”;
we turn away from those whose physical poverty
reminds us of our true spiritual state,
and we build our own little kingdoms of self.
Kyrie eleison — Lord, have mercy.
You bless those who mourn and you comfort them.
But we flee grief that leads to repentance,
and we seek comfort in possessions and prestige and power.
Kyrie eleison — Lord, have mercy.
You bless the meek, and promise them the earth,
you bless the merciful, and promise them mercy.
But we are far from meek —
we try to make the world our own through pride and self-promotion;
we forget the forgiveness that was won at such cost,
and we hold grudges at the slightest offense.
Kyrie eleison — Lord, have mercy.
You bless those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—
you promise to satisfy their desires.
You bless the pure in heart, and promise that they shall see God.
But we hunger and thirst after everything else:
the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes
and the pride of life;
our hearts are not pure, and so we cannot see you.
Kyrie eleison — Lord, have mercy.
You bless the peacemakers and the persecuted and the reviled—
you call them sons of your Father
and you give them the kingdom of heaven.
But we covet each other’s things and looks and jobs and successes,
and we seek friendship with the world,
over living as heirs of your Kingdom.
Kyrie eleison — Lord, have mercy.
Living God, our Guide and Guardian,
Who sits on the throne and delivers us into eternal life,
we give you thanks for the saints of every time, tribe, and tongue
who now rest in the shelter of your embrace.
We set aside this moment of silence to remember
Those saints who are dear and precious to us
Who have died and entered into glory
during the last twelve months.
(Moment of Silence)
We bless you for the life and love of these dear saints,
and rejoice for them that they have entered
into the fullness of life in your presence.
We also remember those saints who
We hold in our hearts who have not been
With us for some time, yet whose life and witness
Continue to form and shape us as your disciples.
We honor them now by lifting their names in our hearts.
***(count to 10 silently)
On this All Saints Sunday, we also remember
that we too are living saints,
members of the family of God
with all the saints of the past, the present, and the future.
And so, we remember:
We are God’s children.
What we shall be has not yet been revealed;
but we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.
So today and every day,
may we put on Christ and live as saints
who tend the poor,
comfort the mourners,
learn from the meek,
affirm those who seek righteousness,
offer mercy alongside the merciful,
and work for peace with the peacemakers
until Christ comes in final victory
and we feast as the family of God
at his heavenly banquet.
- Unless listed below, all works cited within the text above.
- *Today’s message was adapted in part from the planning and preaching notes for November 5, 2023, at Discipleship Ministries.
Copyright Disclaimer: Under §107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for educational purposes. No copyright infringement is intended. All rights belong to their respective owners.
If you are able, please consider making an offering or paying your tithes through our secure online service provided by Tithe.ly. It’s safe. It’s free. It will help us continue ministry at Union Grove. Just visit https://give.tithe.ly/?formId=65149a30-5d42-11ee-90fc-1260ab546d11 and follow the instruction for making your offering. You may be prompted to create an account with them. There is no fee for the account or for making your offering through Tithe.ly.
If you are not comfortable using a debit or credit card online, you can mail your offerings/tithes to:
Union Grove UMC
1151 Lane Drive
Friendsville, TN 37737
Please be sure to make your checks payable to "Union Grove UMC Friendsville".
Please note that 100% of offerings received during or from Second Sunday Community of Faith gatherings are redistributed to relevant community and national organizations. If you are making an offering after viewing a Second Sunday gathering, please designate "Second Sunday" (from the drop down menu on Tithe.ly or on the Memo line of your check) so we can ensure your offering is distributed accordingly.
For more information on how our offering receipts are used and our designated funds, please visit "For Those Who Are Able" on the menu bar at the top or bottom of this page.