ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Greeting & Announcements – Rev. Val
- Call to Worship, and Opening Prayer – Rev. Val & Congregation
- Opening Hymn – Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus (196)
- Advent Candle Lighting Reading – Hope
- Gloria Patri (UMH 70)
- Pastoral Prayer – Rev. Val
- Scripture Readings – Amos 5:24 (NRSV), Jeremiah 33:14-16 (NRSV), Luke 21:25-36 (NRSV) – Rev. Val
- Hymn – O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (UMH 211; v. 1, 2, 6, & 7)
- Message: Where There’s Hope – Rev. Val
- Hymn – Be Thou My vision (UMH 211)
- Offertory Prayer – Rev. Val
- Doxology (UMH 95)
- Benediction – Rev. Val
WELCOME, CALL TO WORSHIP, & OPENING PRAYER
Good morning! I’m happy to say the heat is fixed in both buildings. A shout out to Everest Air in Maryville for all their help in getting us up and running again. You’ll be relieved to know that the problem with the heat is also what was wrong with the air conditioner, so we can look forward to both a warm winter and a cool summer.
- Our charge conference is this afternoon at First United Methodist Church in Maryville: 321 to Montvale, Montvale to Montvale Station. Turn right on Montvale Station. First Methodist is directly across the road from the school. It begins at 3:00 p.m. Again, please make plans to attend if at all possible. The charge conference is in-person only.
- Today is the first day of Advent and also the first day of the “Church Year” (happy new church year, everyone). The Bishop has proposed that we all read through the Bible together this year. The vehicle they’re using for this is Holston’s Daily Devotional newsletter. I’ve posted a link to subscribe to it on our Facebook page. If you have questions, see me after church.
- Don’t forget that next Sunday is our joint worship service with the Maryville College Pride Club. We look forward to welcoming guests and visitors alike.
- Last, I need a few moments of your time right after church so if you can, please plan to stay.
Save the date!
- November 28 – First Sunday of Advent (Hope)
- 3 p.m. – Charge Conference (Maryville First UMC)
- December 5 – Second Sunday of Advent (Love)
- Joint Service with Maryville College Pride Club
- Communion Sunday
- December 12 – Third Sunday of Advent (Joy)
- December 19 – Fourth Sunday of Advent (Peace)
- *December 21 – Finding Comfort*
- *December 24 – Finding the Light*
- December 26 – First Sunday After Christmas
- *December 31 – Watchnight Service*
- January 2 – Second Sunday After Christmas
- Communion Sunday
- January 9 – Epiphany Sunday/Baptism of the Lord*Online only worship. Videos will be available on our Facebook Page & website beginning at 6 p.m. Dec. 21 and 24, and at 11:25 p.m. Dec. 31.
Call to Worship
Adapted from “It’s Only Grace,” Lenora Rand (The Many, Plural Guild), and Call to Worship, Derek C. Weber, Discipleship Ministries
L: Things are broken here. Things are shared. Things are carried here, hearts bow in prayer.
P: It is grace, only grace that brings us here, holds us together here.
L: Things are dying here. Things are torn. Things are growing here, and burdens borne.
L: Something stirs deep within us – a longing, a hope,
P: A thirst for joy, a hunger for peace, a yearning for blessing.
L: We know deep within that our hopes and fears
P: Will be met by angel songs and baby sighs.
L: It is Advent …
P: Season of waiting, hoping, yearning.
L: Advent …
All: Time to come home. Amazing grace, hear the sound. Here is where Hope is found.
L: Come, let us worship God, as we pray together saying …
Adapted from The Abingdon Worship Annual 2009, © 2008 Abingdon Press. Posted on the Ministry Matters website
ALL: Righteous one, to you alone we lift our souls; in you alone, we place our trust; for you alone we wait all day long. For you are the God of our salvation, abounding in mercy and steadfast love. Help us remain alert and watchful for the coming of your promised one — the one who comes with power and glory, the one drawing near to bring our salvation.
Advent Candle Lighting
Advent Candle Lighting Liturgy 2021 – Derek C. Weber
L: We have endured these past few years and know that there is more to face before us. We don’t know if we have the strength to withstand what might be around the next corner. And we wonder who will stand with us, who will have our back, who will occupy our corner.
P: Who is with us? That is what we begin to wonder these days. Who will light our way and chart our course? Who is on our side, who will welcome us home again?
L: Home. The prophet Jeremiah speaks of a branch that will be raised. Jesus spoke of a Son of Man that will descend. Both point to a hope. A hope that calls us home. Our true home, where we’re welcomed and loved and included. Where there is justice and equality and peace. It’s time, this Advent season, time to come home.
P: We light this candle, as a sign of our hope, our strong hope that there is a way to go home. To the home in Christ, and it starts with us, and it starts here, and it starts now. It’s time to come home.
Adapted from Prayers of the People, Rick Morley, rickmorley.com
God, the days are surely coming when all your promises will be fulfilled to your faithful children. We pray for the church (especially Union Grove), that we might fulfill our promises to you, and be forgiven for all our failures.
Come Lord Jesus, and hear our prayer.
In your time, Lord, a righteous Branch sprang up and you brought justice and righteousness in every land. We pray for our nation, and all nations, that your peace would be manifest in every corner of the earth.
Come Lord Jesus, and hear our prayer.
In your Kingdom, Lord, you bring your people safety and comfort. We pray for the sick, the suffering, and those in distress of any kind (lifting their names in a moment of silence); that you would heal all injuries, comfort all grief, and settle all wrongs.
Come Lord Jesus, and hear our prayer.
Your great works of redemption, God, span the ages. We pray for those who rejoice this week (as they celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and especially those celebrating reunions following so many months of having to avoid gathering with others outside our own households) that they might be filled with joy and gladness.
Come Lord Jesus, and hear our prayer.
In the fullness of time, God, you sent your son, to be born of our sister Mary. And his name was Emmanuel: God With Us. We thank you for your Presence with us, and we pray that you might be always present with those whom we love but see no longer. We lift now those who’ve left us to be with you, and especially those who’ve left us without knowing where they are or if they’re okay, or sometimes even why they left.
Come Lord Jesus, and hear our prayer.
Come among us God, and hear our prayers; so that when your Son Jesus comes among riding on a cloud and with great power and might, we might come to adore him.
God we lift up to you our ongoing prayers and petitions …
- For the eradication of COVID-19 in every form and an end to the pandemic.
- For protection of all innocents in all war torn nations and authoritarian regimes.
- For lands and places stricken by natural disasters, drought and wildfires.
- For the healing of the planet.
- For the protection and preservation of democracy here and around the world
- For an end to discrimination and oppression in any and all forms
Come Lord Jesus, and hear our prayer.
Dear heavenly Father, whatever else You see that we need—whatever is for the good of our neighbor and redounds to Your glory—we pray that You would grant to us, Your children. We ask it Jesus’ name who 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.
Gracious God, as we turn to your Word for us, may the Spirit of God rest upon us. Help us to be steadfast in our hearing, in our speaking, in our believing, and in our living.
Amos 5:24 (NRSV) – But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Jeremiah 33:14-16 (NRSV) – The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”
Luke 21:25-36 (NRSV) – “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.
Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.
So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.
Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Where There’s Hope
With excerpts from the Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, Prof. Audrey West, Diana Butler Bass, Thomas Wolfe, and Jake Owensby
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
“Soft as snow, soundless and drifting through the air, come to us, Spirit, in your peace and your silence. Enter gently into our hearts, for there are many among us who could use a time of certainty. We are not always sure what to believe these days, Spirit. Our compass has lost sight of the center. We feel the cold winds of chaos snapping at our feet like feral dogs on the prowl. Now is when we need the majesty of your presence among us, Spirit, the clouds unfolding to reveal your steady hand at work in our world, your power unmistakable, but as light as snow, falling gracefully to the sleeping earth.”
That was a prayer offered to his online community by the Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, and I think it speaks to the feeling that most of us struggle with so often these days. The feeling that, knowing full well exactly where we’re standing, we feel lost, unbalanced, not just off-center, but almost without a center. Like one of those bad dreams where we’re tumbling backward in a giant void on an endless arc, and wake up only to find out we’re still trapped in the same bad dream and didn’t really wake up at all.
For many, that uncentered feeling is attributed to the inability until recently to go home due to COVID restrictions. For others, it’s the chaos we see happening everywhere. For most, it’s a combination of both.
Jeremiah prophesied that the days were surely coming when God would fulfill the promise He made to Israel and Judah, and that God would “cause a righteous Branch to spring up that would bring justice and righteousness to the lands, and all would be saved and live in safety.
But it doesn’t feel so safe down here, and justice and righteousness are defined by the mouths that proclaim them … whether or not those definitions and proclamations are either just or righteous to all who hear them. And then there’s that passage from Luke … again …
Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken,” and … for most of us … even folks like me who read those apocalyptic tests far differently from the ones that interpret them literally … we’re like, “Stop playing and bring it, Jesus! We’re tired. We don’t understand why this is happening. Lord, why?!? Why is this happening? We just want to come home!”
Audrey West, Associate Professor of the New Testament, relates our present reality of wars and political tumult to “distress among nations,” climate catastrophe as “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,” and the global pandemic as being “breathless from fear and foreboding.” She equates unemployment, hate crimes, racist ideologies, death-dealing illness, displacement by terror, or anything else that traps people in fear or despair as the things that “weighs down hearts.” I would add all the “phobias” rampant in too much of our nation and most of “American Theocracy” to those things that weigh down hearts, as well.
Signs of the apocalypse? Diana Butler Bass suggests ““apocalypse” is the wrong word to describe these days. Certainly, these are the times of endings. But apocalypse implies some sort of supernatural design, and turns us into victims of some sort of divine intention, foolish mistake, or random actor. Perhaps a better word to understand the banging and whimpering in these days is “rupture.” “Rupture” captures the sense of a sudden break, a breaching of what was.”
That’s where we’re at right now. Our world is ruptured. And, as a result, our sense of home is most likely ruptured, too. Butler Bass goes on to say that a rupture can be repaired, healed, or made new, that it implies possibility. To me, possibility also implies hope.
Home. Just as we’ve redefined or self-defined justice and righteousness, generally based on the secular influences in our world, we’ve secularized the definition of home, maybe even trivialized it. Sometimes we base it on map coordinates and sometimes on people with whom we have relationships. For most of us and regardless of physical place or person, home is where you come when you’re in need of rest, of comfort, of healing, or even sometimes of acclamation.
Home is where you hang your heart. It’s who you love whether blood relation or not that define “home,” and the COVID travel and gathering restrictions or precautions or whatever you call them based on whichever side of the political spectrum you land made “going home” virtually impossible, leaving us feeling disconnected from one another and the world.
Home is where you long to go when the world has beaten you so far down you’ve lost all hope and you just need to re-center yourself and someone to put their arm around you, let you sob on their shoulder, and tell you, “It’s okay. We’ll get through this together.”
For some of us, though, home may be the one place that we just can’t bring ourselves to return to because the home we know is a place where it’s hard to seek forgiveness and even harder to give forgiveness, a place where unconditional acceptance should be a given but what’s given is rejection, a place where we should feel safe and secure, but we’ve ever only been fraught with emotional, mental, and even physical risk, a place of welcome where we’ve never felt anything but unwanted, and … especially since the onset of the pandemic … a place where the pain of loss may be felt more sharply than anywhere else.
Still … we all long for “home” even when home wasn’t or isn’t or will never be as perfect as all those sappy Hallmark movies make it sound. Even when we know home is just as ruptured as the world, we continue to long to come home because Home is where there’s hope.
Now, when we can finally “re-connect,” we find a whole new kind of disconnect … one that is not so easily overcome … one that leaves us all scratching our heads and asking ourselves “Who are these people? How we could possibly be so different from the ones we love and never have noticed? How could the people we loved and missed so desperately arrive at the ideas and beliefs they had? Didn’t we sit in the same history classes in high school or college? Weren’t we raised by the same parents, taught by the same grandparents? Did they forget that great-gramma and great-grandpa were immigrants once? Didn’t we have mutual friends and relatives that are all the things they’re saying they can no longer tolerate because …?,” and the litany of “othering” begins.
You get the feeling you’re living out the life of Thomas Wolfe’s character, George Weber, who at the end of the story declares, “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting, but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
And that bad dream of tumbling backward in that giant void along that endless arc starts all over again.
So we return … and sometimes even flee … back to the safety and sanity and sanctity of our individual earthly homes and pray with Amos, “but let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness lake an ever-flowing stream,” and then we watch the news and wait for Amos 5:24 days when we get to witness justice and righteous does just that. But those days are less than occasional bordering on extremely rare.
And yet, even in the brokenness of this world, we still long for and want to come home.
There is a home we can come to, a home where we’re always welcomed, a home where no one is refused or rejected, a home where there is only love, a home where hope was born and lives eternally. In our hour a week on Sunday lives IF kickoff isn’t too early or it’s not to inconvenient, though, we’ve redefined that meaning of home as well. We’ve limited it to our final home, and we’ve looked at it as a distant goal we hope to achieve someday.
That’s not what Jesus told us, though. He told us when we saw these things … the chaos, the upheaval, the rupturing of the very fabric of the world taking place, we would know that home was near. He told us to stay alert, to be on guard so that we wouldn’t get held back squandering our resources, getting drunk on power and earthly pleasures, or worrying about everything. And he told us to be alert and to pray.
He spent his ministry telling us everything we needed to know to come to the home where hope is born and lives forever. As Jake Owensby put it, “…he told us “God is near. We can get through this together. No matter what. That’s been Jesus’s message from the moment of his birth straight through to his resurrection.
We don’t have to go back in time to Bethlehem to imagine that God was once near. Neither do we have to wait around for God to finally come down and clean up this mess. God is near. Now. Always. Healing and reconciling. Making things new. … The key, says Jesus, is to stay alert. Watch. Wait. He doesn’t mean by this that God is around the bend and will show up at some as yet undetermined moment. No. God is not missing. God is in our midst. Here. Now.”
God is not missing. God is in our midst. God came and dwelt among us. Emmanuel, God With Us, came and taught us everything we need to know to rise above and survive the chaos of this ruptured world. God is the home we can always come to. God is the home we should strive to never leave.
And, as much as it is possible for each of us to spend time with God on our own, our time with God is better spent and God prefers that we spend that time together … a community of believers … the community of God. Gathering. Worshiping. Fellowshipping. Strengthening and comforting and encouraging one another. Loving one another. Being the family of God he intends us to be.
Hope is born in the home that is God, and grows best in the company of friends. So Come Home. Come home to the church, the fellowship of believers. Come home for Christmas. Come home to where there’s hope. Come home to God.
Please join me in a prayer for our gifts this morning:
Holy God of new beginnings, as we share our tithes and offerings with you, we are filled with hope. We enter the season of Advent with expectation; we have left behind us a time of fear, isolation, and uncertainty; and we raise our heads because we know our redemption is coming near. May our gifts be dedicated to help heal the brokenness of our world and to welcome our Messiah into the world once again. In Christ, we pray.
Marilyn E. Thornton, The Africana Worship Book for Year C (Discipleship Resources, 2008), 157.
Thank you for being here this morning, whether in-person or through our live-stream, whether member or visitor, and I hope you found some value in today’s service.
Now hear this benediction:
God fulfills God’s promises. We may not know the time, but the days are surely coming when righteousness, justice, and safety will abide in our communities.
The days are surely coming when God will execute Shalom: love, peace, health, and well-being for the people who walked in darkness.
The days are surely coming when there is a cure for disease, when every gun will be beaten into tools for rebuilding, when every child will have the opportunity to develop God-given gifts, and when every adult will see every child as a gift from God.
The days are surely coming when no city will fear the hurricane, no country will fear nuclear bombs, no tribe will fear annihilation by another, and no person will fear another because God chose to create all people in the diversity of God’s image.
God fulfills God’s promises, and the days for fulfillment are surely coming.
May the light of Christ lead you out in hope.
May the hope of Christ give you peace.
May the peace of Christ lead you out in joy, now and forevermore.
- All works cited within the text above.
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If you are able, please consider making an offering or paying your tithes through the online service provided by Holston Conference. It’s safe. It’s free. It will help us continue ministry at Union Grove. Just visit https://tithe.ly/give?c=4118449 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“.