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.
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan.
This is the story of the family of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father.
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves.
But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem.
And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.”
So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron. He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?”
“I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.”
The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.'” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan.
They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him.
They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer.
Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”
But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.”
Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him” –that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father.
So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt.
Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?
Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed.
When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.
And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.
But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.
But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.
But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – What Are You Seeking? (Take Thats and Gotchas)
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.
I wonder if those of you hearing this message have siblings. I do. I’m the oldest of four. I can remember the spats, arguments, out and out wars we used to get into from childhood right through adulthood. I don’t think my dad ever had a favorite, but we each knew who Mom’s favorite was and three of us knew it wasn’t any of the three of us. Oh, she loves us all passionately, but there was a favorite son, and the rest of us knew it. A golden child that could do no wrong even when he did the occasional wrong. The one she never argued with, lectured, or even scolded much.
We didn’t gang up and conspire to … eliminate the golden child like Joseph’s brothers did, but we understand, I think, why they might have felt the way they did.
There are many dimensions of the Joseph story in the book of Genesis. But the one that stands out is the family dynamic. One preacher once said, “Show me one well-adjusted family relationship in the Bible.” Jacob and his boys put the “fun” in “dysfunctional.” The way Joseph is introduced into the story makes you shake your head. Talk about getting off on the wrong foot!
The story of Joseph begins with him as a tattletale, and it gets worse from there. It ends with him being thrown into a pit, then sold or stolen (it gets a little vague in the telling) and carted off to Egypt. A kind of fraternal “take that, you little ratfink.”
It is such a messy story that we are tempted to jump ahead to the end to see if there is a rainbow after this storm. There is, but that is cheating, it seems to me. It is cheating because some family stories don’t end well. Some family symphonies don’t resolve in the final chords. So, if we get to an “all’s well that ends well” kind of message, what about all the others?
To add to the problems, the God who has been amazingly present so far and will be again is absent in this story. There are no messages in the night, no calls to accountability, no wagging of divine fingers, or sending of glittering angels with flaming swords to sort it all out. There is just emptiness and a growing gap between brothers. So, what’s left in this story?
A search for peace? Verse 4 says that the brothers “could not speak peaceably” to Joseph. But then Jacob, winner of the clueless dad of the year, sends Joseph off to “see if it is well with your brothers” (37:14). Speaking peaceably and being well are both forms of the word, “shalom.” There was a constant search for peace, even when peace eluded them, even when peace was rejected.
We tend to think that God is where peace reigns. The end of this story tells us that this is true. But this part of the story of Joseph and his brothers tells us that God is in the search for peace, even when it isn’t found, even when it seems far away. God is in the search, in the effort, in the longing for shalom. That’s what Joseph means much later – years later – when he says to his brothers, “What you intended for harm, God intended for good” (Gen. 50:20). God was in the search, in the attempt to find the way to shalom. Even when it is not realized in this life, in these relationships, we continue to search. We continue to hope.
This means, I guess, that even in the midst of our struggles with brothers (or sisters, parents, or neighbors) and when we are feeling the sting of their “take that, “underneath it all, God has a “gotcha”. Even in the struggle, God says, “I gotcha, never doubt my beloved child, never doubt.”
“I’ve gotcha” is what Peter desperately needed to hear as he sank into the waves short of reaching Jesus. I’m sure you’ve heard messages on this passage before, usually urging you to “keep your eyes upon Jesus…”. It’s a familiar theme in the New Testament. Paul tells us to keep our eyes on the prize that is the upward call of Christ Jesus our Lord. The writer to the Hebrews tells us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Keeping your eyes on Jesus is a smart thing to do, but I’ve got a couple of questions for you: “First, did Jesus want Peter to get out of the boat? And then was the reprimand about Peter’s lack of faith really because he couldn’t walk on water?”
In our story for this week, it’s when Peter looks at the wind and the waves that he begins to sink. It is when he takes hold of Jesus’ hand that he rises above his struggles and finds his way back to safety. It doesn’t take a lot of study to come to the conclusion that keeping focused on Jesus is a better way to walk – whether on dry land or on water. Certainly, we should keep our eyes upon Jesus.
But … I wonder whether Jesus is really asking us to walk on water. I know, I know. We are told in many places that we can do mighty works in Jesus’ name. I know too that we shouldn’t shy away from difficult tasks because we are given the power of the Spirit. I know that there are labors that the Lord needs doing, and his plan is that we are the doers. I know that there are many unexplainable things that I have encountered, and others have encountered, for which the only proper response is to give praise to God.
But go back to the beginning of the story. Jesus sends them away. In the story, he is trying to have some time alone to pray and rest in the presence of the Father. He got interrupted by the crowd earlier and ended up having to cater a meal no one was planning for (except maybe him). So, now he sends them off so that he can stay back for a little while. Of course, there was nothing said about how he was going to catch up to them later. The trains didn’t run that late and the airport was closed due to fog. It could be argued that Galilee was a pretty busy lake, and Jesus had already commandeered one boat, who’s to say he couldn’t do it again?
But there is a layer beyond the immediate story. This is the tale of the church that has been sent on ahead without the physical presence of Christ. This was the environment in which Matthew was writing the Gospel—a church adrift on the sea of persecution, and the storms were rising. If not persecution, then perhaps confusion, or apathy, or antagonism. But here we are drifting, wondering if we can make it to the other side on our own.
Then we see a ghost. Or something. That’s all we get, isn’t it? A ghost. A vision. A hope and dream that we dare not place too much trust in. We are, after all, left to our own devices … Aren’t we? We’ve got to make this thing work on our own. We’ve got to solve all the problems ourselves … Don’t we? We’ve got to conquer the enemy all by ourselves now … don’t we?
Of course not. In the story beyond the story, Matthew’s readers knew that the sea represented all that opposed God. In the ancient world, the sea was the source of death and pain. When sailors set out for deep-sea work, their families would perform rituals that were essentially funerals, because they didn’t expect them to come back. And if and when they did come back, the reception was as though they had returned from the dead. The sea was the absence of God —at least in popular belief. The biblical witness is that God is the God of the sea and the dry land.
Jesus reaffirms that He is lord of all. He is the one who can calm the storm; he is the one who is present even when it feels like he is absent. When the disciples see him from their beleaguered boat, they can’t really believe it is him. “It’s a ghost,” they cry in fear. It’s something else to trouble us. It’s no real help to us in this desperate situation.
But Jesus says, “No it’s really me.” Actually, what he says is, “I Am” —just like the voice from the burning bush, just like the force that freed a nation from despair. “I Am”, he says. “Trust me,” he says. “I am with you even when you don’t think so.”
But Peter isn’t sure. He needs proof. He needs to step on the waves, to conquer his fears on his own. He needs to see that which oppresses him beneath his feet. So, with a sigh, Jesus says, “All right. Come on.” And Peter does it … for a moment. Then he fails and asks for help. “You of little faith, why did you doubt” (14:31), Jesus says to him. But was it because he couldn’t walk on water or because he got out of the boat?
I believe that the great work of faith that Jesus asks of all of us is to trust in his presence, even when, or perhaps, especially when, we can’t feel it. When there is no external reason to believe that Christ is with us, that’s when we need all the faith within us to get in the boat and sail. Sure, I’d like to walk on water sometimes. But in the end, I’d rather get in the boat with Jesus and ride out the storm all the way to the other side.
As we move forward in our work to become better disciples of Christ, there are many questions for which we seek answers: “What drives us from within? What are we hungry for?” “What is before us; what is the vision toward which we move?” We ask not just ‘what does God look like’ or ‘how do we recognize God’s presence in the world,’ but what would the world look like when it is aware of that presence? What would we look like, what would our community look like if we really believed what we say about Jesus and about grace and salvation? How would it be reflected in our relationships, in our conversations, and in our lives day by day?
When we ask, “What are you seeking?” we are talking about kingdom living. We are talking about the community of faith representing the body of Christ. As we worship this week, we celebrate the signs of God’s presence among us. We lift up our acceptance, our hospitality, our fellowship, and our service to the wider community. We give God thanks that we can be and are a sign that God is at work in the world.
At the same time, we confess that there are times when we fall short of that ideal. We ask forgiveness for those we have not made welcome in our midst, for the brothers and sisters we have feared or ignored around us and even within us. What voices are silenced by how we conduct our worship and how we have arranged our learning and growing in faith? We ask God to open our eyes to our shortcomings and blind spots, even as we rejoice in the hope that lives within us.
What is the picture that emerges as we seek to describe the church that we are becoming? Do we dare name the dreams and visions, dare lift them up, dare ask for God’s blessing and direction as we continue to seek the face of God in our midst?
It’s ultimately up to us. We can trust in Christ’s presence or, like Peter, become a man overboard in need of rescue.
Lord, if it’s you, we need to hear from you
When we are alone
When we go away to pray
When we have little faith
When we are battered by the waves
When the wind is against us
When we get in the boat
When we’re terrified by our ghosts
When we seek you on the mountain
When we cry out in fear
When we start walking on water
When we begin to sink
When we are far from land
Lord, if it’s you,
speak to us,
calm our fears,
calm our storms
Strengthen our resolve
Remind us who you are
Walk to us
Call to us
Reach out your hand and catch us
Quiet the wind around us
Lord, if it’s you, we worship you for “Truly you are the Son of God.”
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