Good morning! It’s Sunday, February 21st, the 1st Sunday of Lent in the year 2021. I’m Rev. Val Ohle, pastor of Union Grove United Methodist Church in Friendsville and I want to welcome you to this morning’s worship service.

For those joining us for the first time, we are journeying through Lent with Jesus. Lent is that 40-day season spent in personal and communal preparation for Easter … a season where we prepare to be made new in Christ. I touched briefly on all that we do during Lent in my Ash Wednesday message. This morning, we’re going to be focusing on Reflection – both self-reflection and communal reflection. Reflection involves remembering where we’ve come from and where we’ve been … it means digging around in our personal and communal dirt, so dress accordingly, but Reflection also means thinking about where we’re going or where we can go, about what God can do with dirt and dust, and on God’s promise to us, so put aside your plans for the next 30 minutes to an hour, stay with me this morning, and let’s see what God can do with us.

Before we begin today’s service, though, this is your gentle weekly reminder for those of you who are financially able to please resume making your weekly offerings. You’ll find information at the end of this video, on our website, and in our weekly email worship bulletin about how you can make your offering online or mail them in.

I also want to let you know that I am keeping a close eye on the COVID numbers with the goal of reopening the church to in-person worship as soon as it is safe.


Let’s start today with a Call to Worship and prayer:

Now is the time for us to worship!

Now is the time for us to come!

So, come, you who in God’s sight are perfectly imperfect!

Come, you who want more of God!

Come, you who heard God remind you that you are special and loved beyond measure!

Come, People of God, those unified in the waters of baptism!


God of the baptized, we come to the shores of your presence, reminded that it is here that you cleanse us, restore us, shower upon us, and clean us. Rain down upon us as you reign over us! May your Spirit rest on us. May we, as one body unified at Calvary, experience the blessing and favor of you being pleased with us. Come into this time and space, we pray. Move as only you can. Get the glory, not just now but forever! In Christ’s great name, we pray. Amen.


We are entering that time in the service when we lay our prayers and petitions at God’s feet and ask for His help. For those of you who have sent me prayer requests or made me aware of others in need of prayer, please understand I do not say their names in the prayer to protect their privacy, but I am lifting up any prayer requests you’ve sent me, and your unspoken prayers as well. There may be one or more moments of pause during the prayer for you to lift any prayers of your own. There may also be points in the prayer where you will be prompted to respond out loud.  Just watch the screen and if words appear in front of me, say them with me.

Now, please join me in prayer:

God, thank you for helping us to make it through another week and for giving us the means to worship you in this time and in this way. Thank you for the blessings, known and unknown, that you have given us. Thank you for your faithfulness to us and faith in us that, at some point, the dusty clay you are molding us from becomes the vessels you intend us to be.

God, we have a special petition for you this day. We lift up to you the people of Texas and the other states who have suffered great loss this past week. We know you are there with them. We ask that you pour your peace, comfort, and strength out upon them as they work to recover and rebuild. We ask a special blessing for those who are mourning loved ones lost because of the storm and the conditions left in its wake. As they and we struggle to understand how now, in 2021, in a world with the kinds of technology we have, such things can go so badly wrong as they did in Texas, we ask that you help them and help us to help them as well.

You made a covenant with us that you would not use water to destroy us and this storm was made of water, so we know that you did not will it.  Help us to understand that it comes from our own folly, our own arrogance, our own greed, our own disrespect for your creation. Help us to understand and to use that understanding to change the hearts of those who continue to deny the causes.

Guide us in what you would have us do.

Lord, in your mercy, be with them as you are with me.

We lift up to you now all those who are in need of healing from infirmities of body, mind, and spirit, all those who are facing difficult decisions about their own health or the health of a loved one, and all those who are caregivers and care guides.

Lord, in your mercy, be with them as you are with me.

We lift up to you now all those who are grieving any loss whether of life, love, job, home, companionship, financial security, faith, sense of well-being, or sense of direction for their future.

Lord, in your mercy, be with them as you are with me.

We lift up to you now all those who suffer from rejection, exclusion, oppression, and isolation, who have been pushed out, told their unworthy, feel they’ve been abandoned, made to feel less, who have forgotten, never known, or been told they are no longer Your child because of the color of their skin, the way they believe, or who they’ve chosen to love.

Lord, in your mercy, be with them as you are with me.

We lift up to you now all those who are living in a state of confusion, who are victims of misinformation and misdirection, who suffer the manipulation and exploitation of dark and malicious forces both earthly and underworldly, all those who have been taught that your scriptures justify their hate, and all those too blind to see your truth.

Lord, in your mercy, be with them as you are with me.

We lift up to you our church, the universal church, all church leaders, our nation and its leaders, and the nations of the world that you would move us and them to serve all your children.

Lord, in your mercy, be with them as you are with me.

Almighty Creator of the universe, and loving Father of us all:

Every rainbow reminds us that you are in control of the earth, of nature, of the seasons, and of the end. Your Spirit enriches the earth with the gift of life to all creatures, including all the varieties of birds and animals. Help us to care for the environment so that the earth is a healthier place to live for our children and all the generations who follow us. Help us to live like the humble earthworms who leave the soil richer and more fertile after using it, so that your name is then respected and honored by all peoples.

We thank you for your Son, our Lord Jesus, who has taken all our sins, especially those we are ashamed of from our past and paid for them on the cross even before we were born. Renew us to be more humble and loving like he is so that we can be walking advertisements for you wherever you lead us in the coming weeks.

By your Holy Spirit, help us to swim in and enjoy the waters of our baptism in the way that surfers love to live in the waters and ride on the waves each day. Let us live with a good conscience along with all your people who flock to the living waters on the shore of eternity, as we anticipate the resurrection we share with our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Have mercy on

those who want to give up on life

those who are afraid of the future

those who look for fulfillment in evil

those who are addicted to destructive drugs like alcohol and the illegal drugs in our society, as well as hatred or pride or other evils.

Send your Spirit to strengthen your children as they travel like backpackers over the earth, moving on each day a little closer to their permanent home with Jesus in heaven.

Bless the work of those who minister like angels to the sick and dying, to the people who are depressed, and to those who want to give up on life here in your world. Watch over those who work in dangerous occupations to make the world a safer place for us to enjoy.

As we come to you today, we thank you for filling our deepest hunger with the bread of life, Jesus himself. Quench our deepest thirst through the wine of his suffering, which was too deep for us to drink. We watch in wonder and praise as we focus on him during this Lenten season. In these days draw us closer to the one who died for us, for his sake.

Hear, God, our confession to you:

To you, Sovereign, do we lift up our souls. We often find ourselves struggling with shame, and we are afraid. Often, we do not know what to believe. We shrink from the rigorous pursuit of your ways. Forgive us our laziness, and make us to know your ways; teach us your paths. Lead us in truth and be mindful of your mercy toward us. Deliver us from the sins of our youth; may they not haunt us as we seek you, for your goodness’ sake, O God. Hear our prayer in the name of Jesus, the One full of grace and truth.

Hear us now, Lord, as we pray this prayer he taught us with one voice…

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by 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.”


Friends, hear the good news: God through Christ has remembered us with kindness and steadfast love. As far as the east is from the west, so has God removed our sins. Believe the gospel: in Christ you are forgiven.


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 in this manner. Make us alert and attentive as we hear and reflect on the scriptures; 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.

Today’s scriptures are taken from The Message.

Genesis 9:8-17

Then God spoke to Noah and his sons: “I’m setting up my covenant with you including your children who will come after you, along with everything alive around you—birds, farm animals, wild animals—that came out of the ship with you. I’m setting up my covenant with you that never again will everything living be destroyed by floodwaters; no, never again will a flood destroy the Earth.”

God continued, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and everything living around you and everyone living after you. I’m putting my rainbow in the clouds, a sign of the covenant between me and the Earth. From now on, when I form a cloud over the Earth and the rainbow appears in the cloud, I’ll remember my covenant between me and you and everything living, that never again will floodwaters destroy all life. When the rainbow appears in the cloud, I’ll see it and remember the eternal covenant between God and everything living, every last living creature on Earth.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I’ve set up between me and everything living on the Earth.”

1 Peter 3:13-22 (MSG)

If with heart and soul you’re doing good, do you think you can be stopped? Even if you suffer for it, you’re still better off. Don’t give the opposition a second thought. Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick. They’ll end up realizing that they’re the ones who need a bath. It’s better to suffer for doing good, if that’s what God wants, than to be punished for doing bad. That’s what Christ did definitively: suffered because of others’ sins, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones. He went through it all—was put to death and then made alive—to bring us to God.

He went and proclaimed God’s salvation to earlier generations who ended up in the prison of judgment because they wouldn’t listen. You know, even though God waited patiently all the days that Noah built his ship, only a few were saved then, eight to be exact—saved from the water by the water. The waters of baptism do that for you, not by washing away dirt from your skin but by presenting you through Jesus’ resurrection before God with a clear conscience. Jesus has the last word on everything and everyone, from angels to armies. He’s standing right alongside God, and what he says goes.

Mark 1:9-15 (MSG)

At this time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. The moment he came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God’s Spirit, looking like a dove, come down on him. Along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”

At once, this same Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by Satan. Wild animals were his companions, and angels took care of him.

After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee preaching the Message of God: “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.”

 The scriptures of God for the People of God.

Thanks be to God.


MESSAGE – Time’s Up

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.

Change your life and believe the Good News. That’s what Jesus was telling us in the passage from Mark.  Change.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating.  The word, repent … you know, that thing we’re all supposed to be doing during these forty days of Lent … that word, repent, doesn’t mean fall on your knees and flog yourself.  It means to change direction … turn around.

I want to focus on reflection again today.  Wednesday, I talked to you about reflecting on the who, what, when, where, and why of your life up to now.  To consider anything for which you may need to seek the forgiveness of others or anything for which you may need to forgive yourself. That’s the Who. The Whats are actions you took and decisions you made, the Where is the path you’ve been on, and the When is not a time or date as much as the triggers that caused you to make less than good Whats.

While we can look back and reflect on the wrongs we’ve committed and we may be able to atone for them, that isn’t the end of the work to be done. It’s only the beginning.  We have to repent … to change direction … to turn our lives back to God. And we need to understand that we’re still going to make mistakes, still stumble, still occasionally doubt, still forget to focus on having faith in the one who is Faithful to us, but we have to try.

This isn’t just an individual thing, either. Yes, as individuals, we each need to do this, but we also need to do this as a collective … as a community … as a people, which is an even greater challenge than just working on our individual selves.

It’s easy to think, “Well, if we each focus on ourselves, then that will change the community” but that only works if every single person in the community is on board with individually reflecting and repenting pretty much all at the same time.

That’s why I came back to reflection today. It can’t be just about each of us reflecting as individuals. We need to be working together within our communities to reflect on the Who, What, When, Where, and Whys, and to change direction there, too.

This isn’t as simple as mandatory prayer in school-type actions. God is already in the schools and everywhere else. He never left and never leaves the building.  No, this is more complex. Let me give you an example. 

I don’t know if that storm that hit Texas was God’s will or not. This is one time when it may have been because it has revealed some grievous sins and made very clear that Texas as a community needs to change direction.

Even though they weren’t sitting down there anticipating a 100-year storm event, the government leadership community of Texas and the energy production community of Texas knew ten years ago that their energy infrastructure needed to be improved … to be winterized and weatherized.  But those things are costly, and no one wanted to give up any of the profits to do the things they knew needed to be done so they chose not to do them. They gambled that a storm the likes of which they hadn’t had in over 100 years wouldn’t happen. They even took it a step farther. They refused to connect to power grids in neighboring states so they could avoid the nasty old federal regulations that would have forced them to do the things they knew they needed to do. Their greed was grievous sin number one.

Grievous sin number two came after the storm as members of government and energy company communities began bearing false witness – blaming everyone except the ones that should have reflected, repented for their bad decisions, and then announced how they were going to atone for it.

Grievous sin number three was in their failure to respect and care for God’s creation by their denial that climate change is real and is a manmade issue that needs to be addressed. Fossil fuel is no longer sustainable and has never been good for Creation.

Grievous sin numbers one through three ended up costing lives and horrific loss of property for the people of Texas in mass because of the sins of a few. And those were just three. There are more, like the lack of compassion for the condition of neighbors displayed by at least one now-former mayor, of those who had the ability to flee to warmer clients or at least better conditions for weathering the cold with little to no thought of those who couldn’t.

Thinking about Texas, reflecting on this event, and then thinking about today’s scriptures, we can and need to look at our own community or communities as the case may be.

Please understand, I’m not saying that the millions of Texans suffering the effects of the storm are suffering because of all their sins. They didn’t commit the sins that put them in the perilous position they now find themselves. They’re just the ones suffering for it.

Actions we take based on our personal beliefs or convictions impact those around us and we must make sure that those decisions look to the welfare of all, not just those who agree with us. This was Texas’ failing and we need to make sure we don’t repeat their mistakes within our own communities.

This is why I push so hard for Union Grove to be a welcoming and inclusive beloved community where all, especially those who are in the margins, can feel safe and able to come to learn about God and Jesus.  My job, our job, is not to judge them. It’s simply to welcome them and let God go to work doing what God does with them. It’s to be living examples of Christ for them.

I want to share a story with you written by Pastor John Partridge:

The other day I looked, and I had pickles on my feet.

Okay, they weren’t really pickles.  What I had, was a pair of socks that looked as if they said “PICKLES” written on the toe.  What they really said, or were supposed to say, was “DICKIES” but, because of a particular choice of font, the way that the ink had been applied, and a little wear, what had been intended as a brand marking suddenly reminded me of cucumbers in brine.  Obviously, the two things are in no way similar.  Or at least they shouldn’t be.

But it got me to thinking (and that’s always risky).

How often are we mistaken for something that we are not?

We’ve all heard stories about people who were assaulted, or worse, because they were mistaken for someone, or something else.  We’ve seen national stories about people of color who simply decided to go running in the “wrong” neighborhood, innocent young persons who were assumed to have bad intentions because of the clothing that they wore, or even new reporters on assignment who were attacked by police.   Many of those incidents were racially motivated, and inexcusable for any reason.  But those situations, and pickles on my feet, illustrate how easy it can be to be mistaken for something, or someone that we aren’t… or at least, that we shouldn’t be.

How often are we, as Christians, mistaken for something, or someone, that we are not?

Or, to think of it in another way, how often do we appear to be someone that we should not?

It happens.  We get tired.  We get angry.  And our impatience, anxiety, exhaustion, and frustration cause us to look different.  These normal, human, emotions, especially in times of stress (like we might experience during a pandemic), can cause Christians to say and do things that do not represent the church, or Jesus, well.  A harsh word, and angry email, forgetting to tip an overworked and underpaid server, mistreating an employee, an angry or short-tempered reply to a store employee, or a hundred other ways we can act, poorly, because of our frustration and impatience.

And so, I hope that all of us will occasionally take a moment to breathe.  I encourage all of us to pause for a moment, whenever necessary, before we speak.  And, in that moment, let us consider how we will look when we “wear” those words.  Let us ask ourselves if those words and actions will make us look like Jesus, or as his followers, or will they cause the people around us to mistake us for someone, or something else.

It doesn’t take much.

A little wear around the edges and suddenly “Dickies” looks like “Pickles.”

Now, more than ever, we should commit ourselves to doing everything that we can so that our friends, family, employers, employees, coworkers, and everyone around us can look at us and see Jesus… and not someone else.”

It’s a wonderful story and example of being mistaken for something we’re not or … being seen for something other than we claim to be. Again, reflection on our who, what, when, where, whys.

So where does the story from Genesis 9 come in? In the form of a loving and protecting God who has made a covenant with us and set his sign in the heavens.

Don’t mistake that sign for a literal rainbow although seeing a reminder in rainbows is a good thing.  God set his “bow” in the heavens.  The word translated to “bow” has two meanings: A weapon of war and also a plowshare.

God’s covenant with us was God saying, “I am setting aside my weapon that I used to bring destruction to the people. I am shifting from a warrior God to a protector God,” and also possibly a nod toward what Isaiah would later call upon our communities … our nations to perform when he proclaimed we should turn our swords into plowshares.

It’s time for us to reflect on what we need to do to stop declaring war on ourselves and one another, to turn our war-like actions into plowshares, and to work together for the good of all.

Lastly, I want to talk to you about fatigue, specifically compassion fatigue.  We are inundated with calls to help, to do, to act, to give. We’re all tired and we’re all struggling. Sometimes we need to pause and take a break, and sometimes we need to be less hard on ourselves, so I’m closing today with a prayer by Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber. Let’s pray with her:

Help me to stop feeling like everything is a test. A test of my compassion. A test of my fortitude. A test of my faith. Help me remember that I am not being graded. I am being guided. Guided to see that maybe I have a greater capacity to be ok when everything is horrible than I thought I did, but that it is not limitless, and it does not need to be.

Help us manage our compassion fatigue and the judgement we feel toward ourselves for having it. If you did not create our psyches to be able to withstand and respond to every tragedy and hardship happening to human beings right now, then nudge us to respond when it is our turn, and be gentle with ourselves when we it’s not.

Help us know when our work is done. Help us rest when we should. Help us reach out to serve when we can. Help us remember to check on our strong friends. Help us be kinder toward those who can’t do as much as we can. Help us do the next right thing. And Lord, help us not forget the ice cream when we go to the grocery store next.



Thank you, again, for worshipping with me today.

Now hear this benediction:

Go now, and speak of what you have seen of God’s glory. Do not cling to the holy moments when heaven overshadows you, but as the Lord lives, listen to Christ and follow him from the places of revelation to the places of mission.

And may God shine the light of glory into your hearts.

May Christ be with you and never leave you.

And may the Spirit renew the image of God within you.

Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask when you go out, get your COVID vaccination as soon as you’re eligible, really truly love your neighbors … even the ones you’d rather not. Ask yourselves Who, What, When, Where and Why as you Reflect, Repent, Restore, and Renew yourselves in Christ. God be with you. Now go in peace to love and serve the Lord,

……..In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.