ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Greeting & Announcements – Rev. Val
- Call to Worship, and Opening Prayer – Rev. Val & Congregation
- Hymn – O Come, All Ye Faithful (UMH 234)
- Responsive Reading – Bulletin
- Gloria Patri (UMH 70)
- Pastoral Prayer – Rev. Val
- Scripture Readings – Jeremiah 31:7-14 (NRSV), Ephesians 1:3-14 (NRSV), John 1:1-18 (NRSV) – Rev. Val
- Hymn – Send Your Word (UMH 195)
- Message: Where There’s Light – Rev. Val
- Hymn – I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light (UMH 206)
- Offertory Prayer – Rev. Val
- Doxology (UMH 95)
- Service of Holy Communion
- Benediction – Rev. Val
WELCOME, CALL TO WORSHIP, & OPENING PRAYER
Good morning! Whether you’re joining us in-person or online, welcome and please make yourselves at home! A special welcome to our visitors.
Our small groups, Thomas Talks and Wednesday in the Word Bible Study, will resume this week and will be on Zoom as usual. I believe we are up to Chapter 5 in our Bible study?
Also, please remember that “Read Together,” the Bishop’s call for all of us to read the Bible together for the coming year, starts today. You can visit Holston.org to find more information on the plan and explore the wonderful new resource page they just added for it.
On January 16, we will begin a new worship series called Afterfaith, and I have some pre-series “homework” for all of you. As I’ve explained, Afterfaith is going to look at all the movement in and away from the church on both personal and communal levels. So between now and next week, I would like you to write down questions you have about the church, about your faith, about your beliefs, about things you have trouble accepting when it comes to your faith … all those things you wrestle with when it comes to God, Jesus, the Spirit, the church. I want you to write them down but do not … again … do NOT put your name on them. Just write them down, fold the paper, and put them in the offering container when you come in next week. Then, over the course of the series, I will do my best to try to address them.
Call to Worship
Written by the Rev. Bonnie Tarwater and posted on the United Church of Christ’s Worship Ways website, http://www.ucc.org/worship/worship-ways. Reposted: https://re-worship.blogspot.com/2012/10/call-to-worship-prayer-jeremiah-31.html
L: Sing aloud with gladness:
P: God is gathering the people!
L: From the farthest parts of the earth we come:
P: All who struggle; all who labor with new life!
L: Those who are weeping, God will console:
P: Those who get lost find a clear path home.
L: Let us worship the God who gathers us! Let us pray in his name together:
Written by the Rev. Bonnie Tarwater and posted on the United Church of Christ’s Worship Ways website, http://www.ucc.org/worship/worship-ways. Reposted: https://re-worship.blogspot.com/2012/10/call-to-worship-prayer-jeremiah-31.html
We give thanks that you have gathered us into your church
and graced us with your faithful presence.
We ponder our history, ancient and still developing,
and marvel at the many expressions of your church.
Grant us the vision to be a part of a new reformation for the church
that will bring ever more joy and justice to the world.
Continue to gather us, the diverse lot of us,
into Jesus’ vision and dream
that your faithful people may be one in you.
“I Believe” by Written by Bruce Prewer and posted on Bruce Prewer’s Homepage, http://www.bruceprewer.com. Reposted: https://re-worship.blogspot.com/2012/06/affirmation-of-faith-john-1.html “Litany” Adapted from a prayer by Christine Sine on Godspace, http://godspace-msa.com. Reposted https://re-worship.blogspot.com/2014/01/litany-light-of-god-has-come.html.
L: Jesus Christ, brother of Light, I believe.
L: I believe
P: that in the beginning was the Promise
and the Promise was with God
and the Promise was God.
L: I believe
P: in the infinite, nurturing creativity of God,
in the incarnate, crucified humility of God,
in the intimate, inspiring liberality of God.
L: Jesus Christ, brother of Light,
P: I believe.
L: Come and see!
P: The light of God has come into our world to proclaim God’s justice and love; it has overcome the darkness and brought new life.
L: Come and follow!
P: Christ our companion has redeemed our world. He draws us into a loving family from every tribe and family and culture.
L: Go and tell!
The Spirit has equipped us for service – to love our neighbors as we do ourselves, to bring God’s salvation to the ends of the earth.
L: Come and see, come and follow, go and tell!
All: In God’s Love the nations of the earth will put their hope.
Adapted in part from Posted on the Fresh Worship website of Grace Church, an alternative congregation in London, England, http://www.freshworship.org. Reposted: https://re-worship.blogspot.com/2012/10/opening-prayer-reveal-yourself.html
Creator God … swirling, formless one, hovering over creation and bringing new things to life you speak new worlds into being with language that creates and liberates.
Eternal God … living, limitless one inhabiting the vast universe with the rich complexity of your being you reveal yourself to your creatures and invite us to know you.
Friendly God … nurturing, welcoming one, opening yourself wide to the joy and pain of loving your people, you place us in communities and families that echo your true nature.
Holy God … We thank you for the ways in which we have known and understood you; We thank you for the metaphors that have opened our eyes to more of who you are; We thank you for the language that has brought the transcendent, timeless, mysterious God within our grasp.
Holy God … We are hungry for more of you. We ask you to reveal more of yourself to us, to take us beyond the confines of familiar habits, to free us from the restrictions and distortions of our language, to expand our understanding of you so that we can love you whole heartedly, we can communicate you faithfully, and we can reflect your full image to a world that needs you.
And, Lord, we need you if this world is ever going to come close to resembling the kingdom you’ve called us to build here.
Strengthen this church, Lord. Strengthen us to go forth and share the Good News and make disciples. Strengthen us to not just see the needs of our community but find ways to meet those needs. Guide us to the lost, the lonely, the broken, the outcast, and the rejected and lead us to encourage them to come home by showing them the Love of the One that came to walk among us through our words, actions, and deeds.
Bring comfort, joy, healing, and peace to those who are ill, who are grieving, who are struggling, who are addicted, afraid, or suffering any kind of affliction at all. Make them known to us and make us your hands and feet in caring for those we can and finding care for those we can’t help ourselves.
Give us courage to speak out for those who are being oppressed, to speak truth to power, and to seek justice for those being treated unjustly. Help us to be a voice for those others would silence, and give us the words to change hearts and minds that have been hardened with fear and hate.
Come, Lord Jesus, and hear our prayer.
Dearest Lord, 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, in our living, and in our loving.
Jeremiah 31:7-14 (NRSV) – For thus says the LORD: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O LORD, your people, the remnant of Israel.”
See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here.
With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.”
For the LORD has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.
Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the LORD.
Ephesians 1:3-14 (NRSV) – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.
He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.
In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
John 1:1-2, 9-18 (NRSV) – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”)
From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Where There’s Light
The italicized portion of the following message was written by Dr. Derek C. Weber, Discipleship Ministries, “The Light of Home.” https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/come-home-for-christmas/second-sunday-after-christmas-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes/second-sunday-after-christmas-year-c-liturgical-resources
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
Full on confession this morning. I did not write the majority of this message. Not because I couldn’t or didn’t want to or was being lazy, but because there are times when someone else simply says what I want to say better than I ever could, and this is one of those times. So the majority of this message is not mine. Credit goes to Rev. Dr. Derek C. Weber of Discipleship Ministries. Who begins with a personal story. He writes:
My wife’s father died after a long and difficult struggle with cancer. Her mom had died a few years earlier under similar circumstances. We had a funeral for each of them, but they both chose to be cremated, so we didn’t process to cemetery and instead waited some time to bury the ashes ourselves in a family plot in the little town cemetery where they lived for many years. So, four months after the funeral, on his birthday, my wife and kids and I took her father’s ashes the nearly two hours to Crumstown Cemetery. It was gray and rainy as we drove, sleeting part of the time, or rain with chunks in it, as my wife says. We didn’t say a lot as we drove, but I know all of us were praying that the rain would let up before we got there. And it did. The wind still whipped across the little open ground cemetery, making us wish we had reclaimed the winter coats, but at least it was dry.
We had the little vault that would hold his ashes, but we were also searching for Mom’s ashes, which were just in the black box and buried there almost six years ago. We wanted to put them together in the same vault and then re-bury it all together there in front of the stone that had been newly carved with Don’s date of death. My wife’s brother dug in the rocky ground, and we tried to remember how far down the first box was placed. After a couple of attempts and nearly giving up and burying them separately, we found her, a little deeper than we remembered, a little closer to the headstone than we thought. But we put them together and squeezed the little tube of epoxy that the funeral home gave us to seal the vault; and then we set it in the hole.
Shivering, we pushed the dirt over the top and then re-laid the sod, stomping it down as best we could. When it was done, we stood, shivering in the wind for a moment, unsure what to say or do next. Until my wife, ever the practical one, looked at me and said “Well, say a prayer and let’s get in the cars where it is warm.”
We all laughed at that, and I obediently prayed. With tears in our eyes from the cold air and the months old grief, we said goodbye on a gray and windy day. We hustled to our cars, shrugged into our inadequate coats, ready for warmth and another drive home. But, we lingered, as though unwilling to release the moment. We stood on the grassy gravel of the drive and talked about our lives since last we were together. My wife had some business with her brother, farm business. I watched her walk over to his truck with papers in hand. Things have not been good between them since their father died. Differences of opinion on how to proceed, how to honor the past and prepare for the future. Anger and hurt, threats even; it is sad. It happens in families, I must have seen it a thousand times, but it is hard to watch from this vantage point.
I don’t know what the business was, or what they needed to talk about, but I watched them every moment, in case. In case of what, I don’t know, but just in case. After a few moments, I saw her laugh at something. It seemed genuine and true, as if the clouds had parted for a moment and the sun had peeked through. I relaxed, just a little bit.
[The Prophet] Jeremiah had a tough job, [too]. It was a cold and windy period in the history of God’s people. There were enemies without and disagreements within. And as is so often the case when the prophets were called to speak, the people seemed to have forgotten who they were.
Or maybe not who they were, but whose they were. They had released their grip on the vision that had brought them through a wilderness; they had settled back from the hard work of living in the community that had given them an identity. They had abandoned the law that was handed them and chose to live by the law of convenience or circumstance, the law of every man for himself, the law of expediency and profit, of power and getting even. The law that felt good when feelings were raw.
So, Jeremiah was charged with poking them in those raw feelings, correcting them when they didn’t feel like they were doing anything wrong, or not doing anything that anybody else wasn’t doing. He had to point out their flawed logic, their self-centered motives. He had to remind them of their failings as members of a covenant community.
Worse than that, he had to point out the consequences. You keep doing that, he would say, sounding a lot like their mothers, then here’s what is going to happen. The rot at the center of their thinking would take them over, eating away at them until they were nothing but shells, empty and hurting and not understanding why. They would turn on one another, eating away at whatever dignity they thought they could cling to.
Who would want to listen to that? He was hated, to put it mildly. Tossed in prison, thrown in pits, ignored by most, jeered at by others. His name has become descriptive of a rant of negativity – a jeremiad is “a woeful, wrathful bad-news bearing message or messenger,” says one commentator.
Hardly a source for a sermon on the “[Where There’s Light],” you’re thinking by now. At least I hope you are thinking that. But it makes perfect sense to get a hopeful, joy-filled message from Jeremiah, if you know where to look. We are in the “Little Book of Consolation”; chapters 30 through 33 in Jeremiah take on a completely different tone from the rest of the book. It is as if God knew that Jeremiah was wearing out and needed a respite, or the people were languishing under the bad news and needed to hear something else, so these chapters were tucked in here as an oasis to keep us going in the dry and thirsty desert. Our reading for this week comes from that little book of consolation and sounds just the right note.
“I will give them gladness for sorrow.” Gladness isn’t just relief; it isn’t just a grim smile in a difficult moment. Gladness is about joy abounding. In the Bible, the word “gladness” is usually used to talk about weddings. And for the people of Israel, there was no better party than a wedding party. Gladness appears seven times in the book of Jeremiah, and four of them are about the end of gladness. It is taken away; it is ended; it is no more, because of the hard-headedness of the people. But three times (all of them in the little book of consolation) it is a promise and a hope.
The sweetest joy comes in the midst of sorrow. The deepest laughter comes bordered by tears. Or perhaps the most healing laughter, the most transforming joy comes in the midst of struggle and brokenness. It is about trusting with more than resignation and the burden of slogging our way through our own lives, but with the lightness of heart that allows there to be laughter in the cemetery. I will give them gladness for sorrow. It is a promise we can live with.
We’re wrapping up our series about coming home for Christmas this week. Part of what we realize is that home isn’t always easy. Whether it is the homes we grew up in or the home we long for through our faith, we must admit that there are as many tears as there are laughs. But at the heart of any home can be that source of light and love and joy that is Jesus the Christ.
And who is this Jesus? What is this light from which we light our lives and our homes? He is the awaited one, the God with us one, the incarnated one, the one we have been singing about all season long. But how do we sum up this one?
We could read the creeds, those attempts to define this one. While useful, they are hardly adequate to give us this sense of light and joy that we are seeking this Christmastide. Their words seem heavy.
“And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”
Or even more dense: We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.”
They … [the authors of those creeds] … wanted to try and define him; they wanted to comprehend him; they wanted to nail him down. But they should have learned from the first attempt to nail him down. This Jesus who defies definition. This Jesus who is beyond our comprehension. He defies our attempts to categorize him, simply because once we have him figured out, then we wouldn’t need him anymore. This Jesus would become one more thing that we have conquered, one more thing that we have figured out and then left to the side as we move on to other puzzles to solve or other mountains to climb.
So, what is left? We need some handles, don’t we? We need some way of grasping, of clinging, even if we don’t have full comprehension. Without a place to grab onto, then Jesus becomes another of those incomprehensible realities like black holes and quantum physics that wrinkle our brows but don’t really impact our lives.
What’s left is poetry. At least that is John’s response. When explanation fails, go for poetry. Or for music. Our Gospel text for this week is a song of praise to the nature of Christ. It is a theological doxology. Well, what would you call it?
We could, of course, analyze these words to wring out every thought. That would be a way of approaching understanding. But in the end, it is the power of the words that speak most profoundly. Or if not power, then beauty. There is something here that catches our breath when we gaze at it. There is something that makes our hearts pound and tears come to our eyes. It may be unexplainable, but it speaks clearly to the deepest longings of our soul.
In this hymn that John has written we discover that it is about us as much as it is about Jesus. Yes, it adds a layer of eternity to the man from Nazareth. And it wrestles with that thorny doctrine called Trinity. (Is He Son or is He God, separate or the same – or somehow both?)
But when the song begins to include us, we move to the edge of our seats. When John sings of the life that is the light of all people, we hold our breath because we have both seen and touched it and have wept for the lack of it. We lean forward toward that light, like a plant seeking sustenance from the sun. We have beheld that glory. And we have known him not. We are both—acceptors and deniers—often at the same time. “Too good to be true,” we find ourselves saying. Too good not to be true, we hope.
We have tasted, we have received grace upon grace, and sometimes it is enough. Other times, we wrestle with the world, with our doubts, with our sin. We do lose our grip from time to time. And we wonder what it is all about. We wonder if it is worth the struggle, the misunderstanding. Don’t we all believe the same thing in the end? Wouldn’t the world be better if we just stopped worrying about what it is that we believe?
This Jesus, according to John, is nothing less than life itself. Life in all its fulness. Life in all its depth and meaning. Life as we long to live it. We can’t be who we are, or who we long to be without him. He is, he told us, the light of the world. But in this moment, what we need to acknowledge is that he is the light of home, our home, where we live and breathe and have our being. He is our light.
Thank you, Dr. Weber. I truly couldn’t have said all that better myself. But I will say this. Throughout this series, we have invited all who have ears to hear to Come Home … come home where there’s hope, come home where there’s love, come home where there’s joy, come home where there’s peace, and now we extend that invitation to come home Where There’s Light. And to come knowing you are welcome, you are loved, and you are valued here.
Please join me in a prayer for our gifts this morning:
God of this day and all days! We can only imagine the darkness of the world into which you sent your son – a world that believed that salvation rested on our ability to follow the rules. Jesus came to bring light into that darkness, and into our darkness. As we bring our tithes and offering to you this day, transform them into light for the hungry, for the hopeless, for the forgotten and the oppressed. We will share his light in us! In Christ, we pray.
SERVICE OF HOLY COMMUNION
Rev. Rob McCoy
We do not provide a transcript of this portion of our service.
Benediction by Allen Vander Meulen III, (c) 2016
God, I have one more prayer this morning. I know, I know, but it’s a short one. For the sake of those worshipping here and online and especially for the sake of our occasional visitors, I’m asking … I’m petitioning … I’m begging … would you please send us a choir, someone to lead it, and one or more musicians to accompany them? And if that’s not possible, then starting next week, can you at least make me sound and sing a lot better? Amen.
Thank you, everyone here and those viewing online for being here this morning. Remember … Read Together starts today, and our small groups resume tomorrow.
Now hear this benediction:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen its glory, full of grace and truth. And, all who receive the Word are children of God, born of God.
The Word is the light of all people. It shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. And, so that all might believe, we are called to testify to this light.
So, go forth! Rejoice in the Love of God made manifest through the Child of God. Go forth, testify to that Love and share it with all of God’s Creation, just as God shares it with each and every one of us. Go forth in peace to love and serve the Lord.
- All works cited within the text above.
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