Oconee Street UMC Online Service
Aug. 30, 2020
Reading: Exodus 3:1-15
Sermon: “Praying With Our Feet”
Prayer / The Lord’s Prayer
Oconee Street UMC Online Service
Aug. 30, 2020
Reading: Exodus 3:1-15
Sermon: “Praying With Our Feet”
Prayer / The Lord’s Prayer
“Thoughts and prayers aren’t enough.” On Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, we need to ask ourselves, “What kind of church are we going to be?”
“The Servant Church”
Sermon by Dr. Robert Foster
January 19, 2020
”Ain’t Got Time to Die”
Words and music by Hall Johnson
Performed by the Chancel Choir, directed by JD Burnett
Soloist: Amanda Martin
The message in Luke 12:49-56 can be difficult for Christians. Jesus tells his followers that following him will cause division among their families and within society. He makes it clear that it will be difficult to live in the world as a follower of God.
Jesus is longing for a community of followers who ground their identity in God, rather than the powers of this world. Because following Jesus means we will be shaking up the power structures, speaking truth and challenging power.
Following Jesus means we will have to make people uncomfortable, because Jesus says that anyone who stands in the way of the love of God needs to be exposed — whether it’s on the streets of Jerusalem, in the halls of Congress or even in our church pews. Tribal loyalty can’t be our highest loyalty if we choose to follow Jesus.
Are we going to let our world shape our loyalty to Jesus? Or are we going to let our loyalties to Jesus shape our approach to the world?
To be a true follower, it must be the latter.
Listen to The Word in Song, “I Am With You,” performed by the Oconee Street UMC Chancel Choir.
“Wounded World that Cries for Healing”
Sermon by The Rev. Elaine Puckett
Aug. 18, 2019
The book of Isaiah is the story of how the Jews dealt with the collective trauma of their exile. Isaiah consistently reassures his people that they will be restored by God, and promises that there would be a servant who one day would restore creation.
The Spirit of the Lord never leaves us alone and is always searching the land to restore what we have broken. God is calling us to participate in what God is already doing. In the midst of darkness, do not despair — there is a hope more radical than anything our human minds can conceive of.
The problems of our world can be overwhelming, but we are called to rebuild this world. America is littered with institutions that are ruined. There is something each of us can do — right in our own community — to help.
God is looking to us to help rebuild this city. How will we respond to God’s call?
“Rebuilding the Ruins”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Isaiah 61: 1-11
Dec. 17, 2017 • Third Sunday of Advent
Why is Jesus so concerned with manners? He’s always telling his disciples where to go, when to leave, how to act, and most importantly, who to eat with.
The mystery of faith as much to do with manners as it does belief.
“Manners and Mysteries”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Aug. 28, 2016
“The Gift of Misfits”
Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
March 20, 2016 • Palm Sunday
“Hosanna!” Call to Worship featuring Youth Quintet
“What the Lord Has Done in Me” The Word in Song featuring Carla Dennis on flute
During these weeks of Lent we have been exploring the “Dark Wood,” the shadow side of our lives, those feelings and situations where we seem out of step with the rest of the world, uncertain of what to do next, lost in a place not of our own making, tempted to settle and not rock the boat, lacking the knowledge or the tools even to fake it until we make it, but occasionally being gifted with glimpses of what might be if we persevere and don’t give up. Somehow what seems to be in each case a loss, proves to be a gift when we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit to depend less on ourselves and what we think we know or must have for sure, and depend more on the revelations that come to us when we are stripped clean of all of our props, excuses and defenses.
The truth is that in vulnerability we find our strength, in losing our lives we find them; in surrender we gain victory. And through those experiences, we find the last and perhaps best gift of the dark wood, the gift of misfits, ourselves and others, all of us experiencing our own “endarkenment” and finding companionship as we help one other, taking turns being guides, mentors, and friends.
Jesus and his disciples could be thought of as a group of misfits – a carpenter, some fishermen, a tax collector – all from the country, trying to be leaders, bringing the unorthodox message that the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand to other misfits in the world – the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the persecuted, the powerless, telling them that are blessed; they are the ones for whom God has a special affection; that in the midst of the deepest challenges of their lives, God has somehow placed the most profound joys.
Jesus tells them that the Kingdom of God belongs to the poor; that the hungry will be filled, the weeping will laugh, and those who are excluded, hated, reviled, and defamed can rejoice because their reward will be great. He doesn’t idealize or romanticize or spiritualize any of these conditions; they are real evils, communal, social evils, contrary to God’s will and love for the world, and they will be addressed and eradicated. These were – and still are – scandalous promises because they upset the way things are. To eliminate poverty, to feed the hungry, to comfort the hopeless, to welcome the stranger – all these things require a overturning of conventional expectations and norms. Jesus’ mother Mary had sung about these things before he was born – “[God] has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. . . . brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; . . . filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Lk 1:51-53)
Scripture can be breathtakingly contemporary and disconcertingly political. As is so often said, Jesus was not crucified because he said “consider the lilies of the field;” he was put to death because of the incredible inversion of the social order that he was proposing – not for some time in the future, in the great by and by, but right here, right now, whether in the first century or in the 21st century. In the first century, the ordinary people had no voice, economic exploitation of the underclasses by the privileged was expected. The working poor were kept poor through restrictions on ownership of land, by taxation, and by indentured labor through default on debt. And below the working poor, were those in desperate need, unable to help themselves, the beggars, homeless, and destitute. The tendency then as now was to blame them for their misfortune; they brought it on themselves – which in some way then serves as a reason for not offering assistance – making a distinction between the “deserving” poor and the “undeserving” poor.
The rich were thought to be blessed by God, given special opportunities because of their virtue and hard work. Today some call that theo-capitalism. And today corporate wealth is joined with individual wealth and also entitled to equal blessings, because “corporations are people too,” as we were told a few years ago. Thus when Jesus-like questions are asked – why are the structures as they are? What can be done to economic systems that will alleviate poverty, so that the rising tide does truly float all ships and not just some, there is immediate objection. Richard Rohr wrote in his morning devotional today, “Because structural sin is accepted as good and necessary on the corporate or national level,” greed, ride, and ambition are considered virtues. Twenty years or so ago, Archbishop Helder Camara pointed out, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food they call me a communist.”
Now the political and religious leaders of the 1st century did not call Jesus a communist, or a socialist – they didn’t have those words – but they perhaps labeled him a misfit along with other negative terms like trouble-maker or rabble rouser, and the more directly challenged maybe chose stronger language – insurrectionist and blasphemer. It is human nature that more challenged someone is, the stronger their defensive language becomes; some things never change. And now this “misfit” had left the countryside, where he was only a distant irritant, befriending outcasts, eating with the unclean, defending criminals, breaking all kinds of rules, stirring up the poor, the oppressed, the sick and homeless, the hungry, telling them that God loves them best, reminding them of the old rule in Deuteronomy about loving God and neighbor, but insisting that they not only remember it, but actually do it. As long as he kept to the country, he was annoying but not a threat.
But then the misfit came to town, riding towards Jerusalem on a donkey, with followers galore waving palm branches, or placing them in his path and shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” The stony road into Jerusalem became a spontaneous parade route with loud, poor, insignificant, no account misfits actually having the audacity to celebrate and sing.
It was Passover, the holiday when the Jewish people celebrated their freedom from captivity in Egypt, when God led them out and across the sea, killing their Egyptian oppressors and giving God’s people a place to call home, which now unfortunately was under the rule of another oppressive regime; the Romans this time. Needless to say the current oppressors, were a bit nervous during Passover; they had their own parade of sorts going on the other side of town as they reinforced their legions of soldiers and their supply of arms just in case someone or some group got out of hand with the celebration of their long lost freedom and started to do something crazy. Jesus was headed to the temple and they were headed to the military headquarters which actually faced the temple across the plaza.[i]
Jesus must have been afraid as he entered the well-armed city. He was human after all. But he did it anyway. I wonder if it felt as much like a funeral procession to him as a holiday parade. He knew where the road ended. He’d been predicting it all along. That same road strewn with palm branches would soon enough be the rocky road he’d be dragged over, and the crowd would be shouting a different message, “Crucify him!” All because he opposed the status quo and challenged the hypocrisy of the priests and authorities. He did it anyway because it was the right thing to do. It was what he had to do. And Pilate, too did what he thought he had to do to keep the peace – get rid of one more dangerous misfit.
It has been noted that “it is important to realize that [who and] what killed Jesus was nothing unusual. [As] empires go, Rome was better than most. There was nothing exceptional or abnormal about it; this is is simply the way domination systems behave. So common is this dynamic that it can also be called the normalcy of civilization. Good Friday was the result of the collision between the passion of Jesus and the normalcy of civilization.”[ii]
We today live in a very normal civilization. The normalcy of our civilization keeps the powerful in power, protects the wealth of the rich, prevents the poor from escaping poverty. The normalcy of our civilization keeps refugees out; snatches fathers from their families and ships them off to detention facilities, and leaves mothers and children penniless and weeping. “Blessed are those who weep for they shall know joy.” The normalcy of our civilization gives white men the benefit of the doubt and puts black men in jail or worse.
Thus, Holy Week serves as a template today for us 21st century would-be misfits. Sometimes we celebrate, sometimes we stumble over rocks; sometimes we are praised; sometimes we are criticized. But if we want to be a misfit like Jesus, even knowing the cost, we, like him, must press on asking questions, looking for solutions, protesting injustice when we see it. Holy Week, is not just one week, but happens every week, every year, every lifetime.[iii]
Last week during prayer concerns, Joel mentioned Berta Caceres, a Honduran activist who was murdered on March 3 because of her work for the protection of the natural resources of Honduras. Honduras in an attempt to build the national economy granted contracts to transnational companies looking to capitalize on Honduran land. The protestors’ actions against the destruction of forests and the damming of rivers brought death threats. And Berta said, last year “giving our lives in various ways for the protection of the rivers is giving our lives for the well-being of humanity and of this planet. I take lots of care, but in the end, in this country where there is total impunity, I am vulnerable . . . when they want to kill me, they will do it.”[iv] Berta was a holy misfit.
Palm Sunday asks us to join in the misfit parade. We’ve already brought our palm branches to the altar, so we’re off to a good start. Palm Sunday tells us that we cannot stand mutely by and expect the stones to do our work for us. We must be the ones to speak out. Fortunately, we do not do this alone. We have one another; fellow misfits who want to walk fully in the path of Jesus, treating all as persons made in God’s image regardless of difference, and acting together to serve, strengthen, and extend God’s realm of love[v] whatever the challenge; whatever the cost.
I’ve told you before that if I were a church planter, two names I’d love to call the new church are St. Thomas the Doubter UMC and Christ the Hen UMC. Today I’d like to add another to the list: UMC of the Misfits. We couldn’t do much better than that.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and hosanna in the highest! May it be so. Amen.
[i] Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan, Jesus’ Last Week, 2006, 100.
[ii] Borg and Crossan
[iii] Rev. Claire Feingold Thoryn, “Power, Politics, and Palm Sunday: Which Leader Will You Follow?” Patheos, 3/12/16
[iv] Betsy Shirley, Sojourners, 3/18/16
[v] Eric Elnes, Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (and other Wanderers), 2015, 184-85,
Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
Jan. 24, 2015
In an effort to open community dialogue and address issues of racial justice, Oconee Street UMC is launching a Racial Justice Task Force.
In response to a sermon last September, several church members have been in conversation about reaching out to racial minority communities in the Athens area to address issues of racial justice, especially in the area of criminal justice. The Oconee Street UMC Church Council approved the formation of a Racial Justice Task Force to serve in this ministry for a limited, two-year period, with the possibility that the task force may continue its work beyond its initial two years.
The church is hosting an informational meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 6 p.m. at 717 Oconee Street. The interest meeting is open to anyone who would like to know more about the aims of the task force.
For more information, email Dr. Robert Foster.
“Have You Lost Your Mind?”
Sermon by Dr. Robert Foster
Jan. 18, 2015
Sermon: “Have You Lost Your Mind?”
Choir Anthem: “Creation Will Be At Peace”
Text of sermon not available.
Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
Jan. 11, 2015
Isaiah 64:1-4, Mark 1:1-11
Sermon: “Torn Open”
Choir Anthem: “Let’s Go Down to the Water to Pray”
Yesterday several of you were here to take down the decorations from Advent and Christmas. I imagine you have started doing the same thing at your homes too, maybe even finished the job. We’ve put away for another year the reminders of the star, the shepherds, the angels , the manger, the Wise Men . Tuesday was the twelfth and final day of Christmas. And now we are in the season of the church year called Epiphany.
So it is fitting in a way that our gospel reading for today is from the beginning of Mark’s gospel because there we find no reference to any of those events or people who have captured our imaginations since the end of November. No star, angel, stable, shepherds or wise men here. No mention of Mary and Joseph. Instead Mark’s gospel opens with John the Baptist prophesying the coming of the messiah, and by verse 9 the adult Jesus is at the river Jordan for baptism. After he is submerged in the historic waters, waters that his ancestors had crossed over after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, he rises to see the heavens being torn apart and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.
Mark doesn’t tell us that anyone else saw what Jesus saw or experienced what he experienced. Matthew and Luke’s descriptions make it seem as though Jesus looked up and spotted a little door ajar up in the sky, a door that could be easily shut again. But it was no little cracked open door as Mark describes it – it was the rending of the barriers between heaven and earth, torn apart as the Spirit of God, descended and brooded over the waters of the Jordan and over Jesus as it did in the beginning of creation.
Mark uses a form of the Greek verb schitzo – the same root we find in our words schism and schizophrenia. It is a more violent and dramatic word than “open.” When something is torn apart it is not easily returned to its original state. An open door may be closed again, but what is torn apart cannot easily be repaired Ragged edges cannot be put back together perfectly.
Perhaps Mark recalled the words from Isaiah that Beth read earlier, “Oh that you would tear the heavens open and come down to make your name known to your enemies and make the nations tremble at your presence.” In the baptism of Jesus, Mark is telling his audience and us that God has come down; the heavens have been torn apart, as Isaiah had beseeched; God ‘s presence and power are on the loose in the world, nothing will be the same again. And Jesus is the one in whom that presence and power are operating.
Of course those standing there at the Jordan that day were unaware of what had just happened. And outwardly nothing seemed to have changed. They did not see the heavens torn apart. Nor did they hear the voice that said, “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased. “
Jesus’ first task after his baptism was to figure out what it would mean to please God, and in the verses immediately following today’s reading, we find that the same brooding, hovering Spirit that had brought blessing, driving Jesus into the desert to struggle with the meaning of his identity, “Son of God.” That he did not receive this name in the centers of power, in Jerusalem, in the Temple but on the margins, out in the wilderness is an indication that the usual assumptions about blessing will be challenged in the life of Jesus. Where we think of power and privilege, blessing will mean service and obedience. Where we think of piety and purity, blessing will mean compassion and inclusion. Where we think of the accumulation of material goods, blessing will mean giving it all away, even giving away your life.
“At the end of his life, Jesus hung on a cross between heaven and earth,” and when he died, Mark says “the curtain of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom,” (15:38) torn – schitzo – (there’s that word again) just as the heavens had been torn apart at Jesus’ baptism. “The holy of holies no longer separated the sanctuary from the people. The curtain could never be repaired.” Matthew and Luke also describe the Temple curtain being torn in two. It is only Mark, however, who goes on to say that a centurion –a despised Gentile, a member of the occupying army—says, “Truly, this man was God’s son.” And Jesus’ identity announced by God at the Jordan, is confirmed by what we might think of as one of Jesus’ worst enemies. What God had announced at his baptism, “this is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” has travelled, who knows how, by what means, to the most unlikely of people, who is the first human being to name Jesus as the Son of God.
Jesus had an experience that day at the Jordan River that changed everything. The heavens would never again be tightly closed; and God would never again be confined to safe and sacred spaces. John had preached baptism for forgiveness of sin, renewal, and new life in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets. They used the symbol of water to represent cleansing, judgment, and new life. With the presence of the spirit at Jesus’ baptism, Jesus becomes the realization of the cleansing, healing, forgiving, and renewing that John’s baptism had symbolized. Jesus is the one in whom God’s spirit is at work; he is God’s beloved Son. I may be going out on a limb here, but I can see this is Mark’s story of incarnation. Luke and Matthew tell of the nativity; Mark tells about when the heavens were torn apart and the Spirit came down.
Once in awhile, maybe only once in our lifetime, do we experience something like the heavens being torn apart and God coming to us, entering our world, touching our lives, changing our identity, changing who we are. When we know that God is present with us and actively participating in our lives. Times when we know that our core identity is “child of God,” when we know that we are called to live differently, and to give our deepest allegiance to Christ. An allegiance that will sometimes – often times – put us at odds with somebody!
This past Friday night, students – some documented, some undocumented – stood up at the University of Georgia for equal treatment for all who want to learn. Their protest was in the prophetic tradition, calling for justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. They spoke up for the alien in our midst, the stranger among us, the one for whom God has special concern, the one whom God’s people are commanded to attend to and look out for. And several of them were arrested. Probably not the way most young people would choose to spend their Friday night – in jail. I don’t know for sure if it was faith or frustration, or both, that motivated them, but it was a prophetic act. They may not have felt very blessed at that moment, but who knows what these actions may lead to in the future.
The movie “Selma” about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is currently in theaters around the country. There again, is the story of what happens when you take your identity as a child of God seriously. The blessing of Selma – was certainly not in the beatings, the jailings, and the violence. The blessing of Selma was allowing oneself to be used to open the eyes and the conscience of our nation to the injustice of segregation, and to pave the way for the Voting Rights Act. John Lewis probably did not feel very blessed that day when he almost lost his life because of his injuries. And yet today, because of those events, he is a respected and honored member of the U. S. House of Representatives and we are blessed by his sacrifice and service. And now that we are blessed, we too are alled to be a blessing.
Today, as we remember Jesus’ baptism and the blessing it brought into the world, we should also remember our own vows of baptism and how those vows are affecting (should be affecting) the way we choose to live in the world – renouncing the forces of wickedness, rejecting the evil powers of the world, accepting the freedom and power God gives each of us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in all their forms, and placing our faith in Christ, promising to serve him with people of all ages, nations and races.
There are a myriad of ways that God calls us to be a part of God’s redeeming work in the world, “to give our lives to something more challenging than any other kind of work – and in the end, surely more beautiful, true, and enduring than any other kind of work.” A time when, as for Jesus, the heavens are torn open, and we catch of vision of what the world could be like, of what our true identity is, and of what we want to give our lives to. Thanks be to God. Amen.