“Greatness on Jesus’ Terms”

Mark 9:30-37

September 19, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 9:30-37 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=404358195)

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Prayer.

A while back,

I read a book titled: Union Pacific: The Reconfiguration, by Maury Klein.

It is a detailed corporate history from 1969 to the present

Of the Union Pacific Corporation (UPC),

A holding company that ran businesses in numerous market sectors:

Energy, Information, Real Estate, and Transportation.

Of course, my interest comes from my love of the railroad industry,

And this corporation finds its roots in the Union Pacific Railroad.

What caught my interest is how deeply human a corporation can be;

Finding the right employee for the right job,

Firing the dead wood and fast-tracking the best and brightest,

Tearing down stifling, inflexible, historical culture

And replacing it with analytics, nimbleness, and efficiency.

When billions of dollars are on the line,

Egos must be stroked,

Compensation must be generous,

Scandals need to be swept under the carpet,

And job titles reflect more pride than purpose.

Though enjoyable, this isn’t pleasure reading:

I can apply this history

To the non-profit boards on which I’m privileged to serve.

Though scale, service, purpose, and incentives might be different,

What makes a company great,

And what makes an employee great,

Is debated just the same.

What defines greatness?

Who says what is great?

….

Jesus weighs in on the topic of greatness.

His view of greatness is in stark contrast to the corporate world.

As his followers,

We should pay attention.

Jesus catches his disciples arguing amongst themselves.

They fell silent with shame when queried about what they were arguing about.

It must have been like

Asking a child whose face is covered in chocolate

What they’ve been eating.

Of course, Jesus knows the answer.

He knows what they’d been arguing about.

He knows the answer before he asks.

Here is a teachable moment;

An opportunity that Jesus won’t let slip away.

“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (9:35)

There are three details for us to pay attention to in his sentence:

1. A want, or desire, to be first.

2. Making the self last of all.

3. Making the self servant of all.

Beloved, strive to be first

By seeking Christ and his kingdom first

This day and

Every day of your life.

Take discipleship with mortal seriousness.

Learn about Christ, follow Christ, behave like Christ

To the very best of your ability.

Make the spiritual journey with Jesus Christ

Our ultimate concern and

Our deepest passion.

Making ourselves last means

That others eat first.

The needs of others,

Specifically, the needs of people like those Jesus reached out too,

Must take priority over our needs. 

Serving all means

We actually need to roll up the sleeves and get our hands dirty

In Christian ministry.

It is vitally important to

Push ourselves away from the conference room table

And take our place in the serving line.

The only way to serve all

Is to descend the social ladder

And to welcome those who Jesus associates with.

“Throughout his ministry,”

Elisabeth Johnson writes,

Jesus “associates with the last and the least in society –

Gentile women (Mark 7:24-30),

bleeding women (Mark 5:24-34),

lepers (Mark 1:40-45), r

aging demoniacs (Mark 5:1-20),

tax collectors and other notorious “sinners” (Mark 1:13-17).

He even welcomes and makes time for little children, much to the disciples’ consternation (Mark 10:13-16).”

(As found at Working Preacher dot Org)

……

What defines greatness?

Who says what is great?

…..

Jesus takes a little child into his arms

And teaching his disciples

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (9:37)

Jesus is making a few points about greatness that we shouldn’t overlook.

1. He uses a child as a teaching illustration.

2. He takes the child into his arms.

3. Jesus uses the word “welcome” to define what it means to be his disciple.

A child, except the first-born male,

Was considered as property,

An asset of their father.

A child was equal in social status

With women, slaves, and gentiles.

Go to the bottom of the social ladder

And there, you and I will find where God wants us to serve.

Taking a child into his arms

Reflects the love, respect, and dignity to which Jesus is calling us.

We are called to serve with the same quality,

The same tender loving care,

As we would hope to be treated.

Welcome, Jesus teaches.

To serve one

one must be committed

to welcoming one.

In other words we don’t simply serve and remain silent.

When we serve, Christ wants us to do so in his name.

Let the benefactors of our service know

That we serve because Jesus teaches us to,

And that, just as Jesus has welcomed me,

So, too, is Jesus welcoming you.

Service and following Jesus go hand in hand.

Missions and evangelism can never be separated.

Mission and evangelism are brothers from other mothers.

…..

What defines greatness?

Who says what is great?

…..

Our Gospel passage this morning begins with Christ’s second prediction

About his suffering, death, and resurrection.

The disciples didn’t understand his lesson the first time.

They’re so ashamed they didn’t get it

They were afraid to ask or inquire further.

The Gospel of Mark has its own unique characteristics.

It culminates in the crucifixion of Christ,

Treating the resurrection almost as a post-script.

This characteristic is highlighted when one conducts a careful comparison

Of each of the three narratives where Jesus

Teaches his disciples that he will suffer, die, and rise again.

The scale tilts heavily in favor of atonement;

To a lesser degree, on resurrection and eternal life.

Furthermore, when one considers the overarching trajectory of the Gospel of Mark,

It is important to note that not one of his disciples

Make it all the way to the cross with Jesus.

Peter denies Jesus.

Judas betrays him and goes out and hangs himself.

Everyone else scatter, for fear of the Jews.

Simon of Cyrene had to be volunteered out of a crowd to carry his cross.

Where’d they all go?

The only ones who made it to the end with Jesus were

Women “looking from a distance,

Mary Magdalene,

and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses,

and Salome.” (15:40)

The point Jesus is making with his predictions, response, and instructions

Is that greatness comes to those who journey with Jesus to the cross.

Are we willing to follow Christ to the point of death,

All our earthly days?

Are we willing to confess our sins and repent of our sins,

Allowing the atoning blood of Christ to wash us clean

All our earthly days?

Great faith doesn’t come from believing;

Greatness comes from following Jesus,

From cradle to grave, and beyond.

Follow Jesus to the cross.

Allow your temptations, burdens, sorrows, and pain to be crucified with him.

And you, my beloved,

Will taste greatness.

….

What defines greatness?

Who says what is great?

Jesus tells us:

Serve others.

Lead others to become his followers.

Follow Christ to his cross.

Amen.

“From Mourning to Joy”

Two Meditations on Pandemic and Faith

Psalm 116:1-9 and Mark 8:27-38

September 12, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

From Mourning …

Psalm 116:1-9

I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications.

Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.

The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.

Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful.

The Lord protects the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.

Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.

I walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

A Mournful Meditation

| Centering Prayer |

When faced with death,

when hell threatens,

while enduring suffering, distress, and anguish,

let us join with the Psalmist.

Call on the name of the Lord, saying

“O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

The world has suffered greatly the past 21 months.

More than 219,000,000 of the world’s population

have been infected with Covid-19, and

More than 4,550,000 have suffered and died.

Left behind are exhausted care partners, grieving families and friends, fear, anger, and division.

We’ve lost much.

Today, we pause to mourn,

to collectively grieve all the suffering, dying, and death we’ve endured.

Beloved,

name aloud

WHAT you have lost or

WHO you have lost due to the pandemic.

After each, let us collectively reply

“O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

[ What or Who you have lost … ]

Beloved,

take your pain, hurt, and suffering to the Lord.

Nail it to the cross of Jesus Christ.

When we take up our cross

we suffer together.

We become one with Christ,

one with each other, and

one in our faithful expectation

that joy will come in the morning.

Healing will spread across the land.

The tomb of this epidemic will soon be emptied.

“Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;”

the Psalmist reminds us.

“Our God is merciful.”

By God’s mercy

may you experience the healing touch of God.

Amen.

… to Joy!

Gospel Lesson                                  Mark 8:27-38 (NRSV)

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

A Joyful Meditation

| Centering Prayer |

The Good News is that Jesus is the Messiah,

sent by God

to save all God’s people.

Jesus is our Messiah, our Savior.

Jesus saves us from sin and death

by forgiving us,

healing our imperfections,

and by God’s amazing grace,

welcomes each of us into eternal life.

Jesus is our Companion.

Christ’s suffering upon the cross

is to us our gain.

When we deny ourselves,

take up our cross, and

follow Jesus,

we become as brothers and sisters,

sharing the journey of life,

facing all the trials, temptations, pain, and suffering

together, as one. 

As my son, Christian, wrote in sidewalk chalk on our driveway, “We are all in it together.”

Christ has remained steadfast by our side

throughout this terrible pandemic.

He has guided us to adapt to a changing world in new and creative ways.

It has not been easy.

But we’ve learned, we’ve loved, and

we’ve grown stronger

in our individual and collective faith

each and every day.

We have rethought Church, education, commerce, science, relationships.

Our family bubbles have redefined us.

Every aspect of our lives has changed.

We continue to dream,

to imagine,

to discern where Christ is leading us.

Unexpected joy has been found along the way.

Who knew?

Who knew a pandemic was coming?

Who knew sickness, illness, and disease

could also bring with it

the joy of discovery,

the joy of taking part in all things, all creation, being made new?

Who knew Covid and all it’s variants

could result in living in the joy of the Lord?

This joy is God’s gift,

the blessings of our faithful Companion, Jesus Christ, and

the benefits of abiding in the Holy Spirit.

What joy it is to be filled by the Spirit,

led by the Spirit,

strengthened by the Spirit,

loved by the Spirit!

When we name aloud our joys and blessings

we affirm God’s active presence in our lives

and our privilege to take an active role

in God’s emerging kingdom.

Beloved,

WHAT joy have you found

as a consequence of this pandemic?

Through WHOM have you witnessed God at work

to bring you joy?

[ Where have you found joy? ]

Who do we confess is Jesus?

He is our Messiah.

He is our Companion and friend.

Jesus is the source of living water,

the pathway

from sickness to health,

from sin to forgiveness,

from death to eternal life.

Be filled with joy, beloved followers of Jesus,

for he is the joy of our salvation.

Amen.  

“Faith Finds Access”

Mark 7:24-37

September 5, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 7:24-37

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

| Centering Prayer |

Our Gospel lesson for this morning

Follows on the heels of last Sunday’s passage

With Jesus telling the religious authorities, crowds, and disciples

That sin and evil that comes from the heart is what defiles peoples,

Not righteous adherence to the ridiculous “traditions of the elders.”

Today’s two narratives,

The Syrophoenician woman and

The Decapolis man,

Complete the seventh chapter of Mark.

It is sandwiched in-between two miraculous feedings of crowds Jesus attracted;

Jesus feeding 5,000 with five loaves and two fish (6:30-44), and

Jesus feeding 4,000 with seven loaves and “a few small fish.” (8:1-10)

It is helpful to place today’s Gospel in context.

Before and after,

Jesus is engaging in mission and ministry in predominately Jewish territory.

Jesus is surrounded by great crowds of followers,

Accompanied by his disciples.

Before and after today’s Gospel

Jesus brings deliverance from hunger with

Miracles of multiplication,

With the added benefit of abundant leftovers.

Today,

Jesus sets out alone.

No crowds.

No disciples.

He leaves Jewish territory.

He ventures north to the region of Tyre,

Predominately gentile territory, and

He makes effort to escape notice.

One can only speculate why.

Mark’s set-up for Jesus’ encounter

With this desperate mother

Is a textbook example of what not to do

In the Safe Sanctuary training!

Yet, it isn’t Jesus who holds the upper hand here.

He is in her territory,

On her ground,

Alone and far away from the safety of family or friends.

Jesus is sailing uncharted waters.

The desperate mother holds the upper hand.

She seeks out Jesus,

Bows at his feet, and,

Like any mother in a similar situation,

Begs Jesus

To cast a demon out of her daughter’s body.

Christ’s response is more than disappointing.

It is outrageous and offensive.

His response is outrageous and offensive

On two points.

“Let the children …”

That is, the children of Israel …

God’s chosen people …

“Let the children be fed first.”

(7:27)

In other words

The focus of Christ’s mission and ministry

Was first to the Jews.

Up to this stunning confrontation

His mission and ministry had not been

Directed beyond the Jewish community.

Jesus employed an “Israel first” policy.

His outreach wasn’t directed to gentiles or the rest of the world.

It is as if Jesus was limited by a scarcity of grace,

As if God has only so much to go around and, therefore,

God needed to cut back and

Jesus needed to ration his miracles.

The second outrageous offense comes

When Jesus completes the sentence,

“for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

(7:27)

Yes, you heard correctly,

Jesus compares this woman and her demon possessed daughter with

Dogs.

Sub-human.

Not worthy of crumbs

Even in the presence of abundance.

You can’t save Jesus, and

Neither can I.

Don’t even try.

Don’t try to explain his offense away.

Don’t limit the woman’s agency.

Don’t try to minimalize his contemptible errors.

And certainly don’t try to justify them.

Jesus has big shoulders and

Is more than capable of

Taking responsibility and

Correcting his error.

Only Jesus can save himself.

Which is why, I believe,

Mark includes this important confrontation in his Gospel.

This un-named, Syrian-Phoenician mother

Is desperate,

Tenacious, and

Persistent.

She isn’t going to take “no” for an answer.

Remember Jacob wrestling with God throughout the night and putting his hip out of joint?

(Genesis 32:22-32)

“Like Jacob,

she is not letting go until she gets her blessing.”

(With thanks to Matt Skinner, from Working Preach dot com)

The gem here?

When God stands you up,

Don’t take “no” for an answer, either.

Whether or not your life,

Or the life of a loved one,

Depends on it,

This desperate mother

Gives you and me permission

To contend against God.

When life is desperate

Go to the feet of Jesus.

Scream at God!

Cry!

Beg!

Rage!

Don’t take “no” for an answer.

And don’t be turned away.

Faithful, persistence grants access

To Jesus and

God’s grace.

“But she answered him,

‘Sir, even the dogs under the table

Eat the children’s crumbs.’”

(7:28)

BOOM!

Jesus is caught with his compassion down.

He takes her left hook,

Spinning him around, and

Throwing him in a different direction.

Like the wrestling Jacob made God relent,

The desperate resolve of this woman

Forced Jesus to make a course correction

And set out in a new direction.

Grace isn’t a zero-sum game.

Twelve baskets of bread and fish

Were left over after feeding five thousand.

Seven baskets of bread

Would soon be left over after Jesus feeds four thousand more.

There is more than enough of

God’s amazing grace to go around.

There is room for everyone at God’s table.

Dogs may eat scraps under the table,

But there is a seat at the table for all God’s people,

Jew and gentile, alike.

It is a fine line between desperation and faith.

It is her begging word …

… her persistence petition …

That Jesus identifies is what is responsible for her daughter’s immediate exorcism.

“For saying that, you may go-

The demon has left your daughter.”

(7:29)

Exorcism from a distance.

Imagine the faith it took for this mother to walk away from Jesus and return home to her daughter.

Yet, she did.

She knew she would find her beloved daughter delivered from her demon.

This confrontation

Made Jesus theologically and geographically change direction.

He doesn’t return home to Capernaum or Nazareth.

Jesus is rerouted.

He travels from the northern Mediterranean coast

To the interior region of the Decapolis,

Ten cities built, developed, and remaining ethnically Greek.

Jesus goes whole hog gentile,

Where the Gospel reports he cures a deaf man.

Jesus’ mission and ministry extends beyond Jewish horizons

To all the world.

It takes place most certainly

More quickly than he anticipated.

God’s grace is accelerated, expanded, and delivered to all creation.

What are today’s key take-aways?

Desperation counts.

Desperation counts as faith.

Go to Jesus in your desperate moments of life and

Contend with God.

Put on the gloves,

Get in the ring and

Spar with the Lord.

The give and take with God

Is empowering.

Our relationship with God isn’t one sided:

Where God directs and we follow like mindless Lemmings,

Taking whatever God serves up.

God responds to our encounters,

Changes course, when necessary,

Is rerouted

As a compassionate, loving, response

To our deepest, most desperate, human needs.

God’s amazing grace  

Is abundant, too.

There is more than enough of God’s sustaining grace to go around,

To support the whole world,

With plenty left over.

Beloved,

Be of good faith.

Be tenacious in your faith.

Be persistence and insistence in your faith.

That faith will deliver you.

That faith will grant you access

To God’s amazing grace.

Amen.

“From Within”

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

August 29, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me;

in vain do they worship me,

teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

| Centering Prayer |

By the seventh chapter of Mark

Jesus had become a very popular itinerant

Preacher, teacher, healer, and exorcist

Traveling throughout the region of Galilee

Visiting both Jewish and non-Jewish, Gentile villages and towns.

In today’s Gospel passage

Jesus is speaking to three different audiences,

Offering us insights, truth, and direction in each.

First, Jesus is speaking to Pharisees and scribes,

Religious authorities,

Who had traveled from Jerusalem

… about 90 miles on foot …

(They really, really wanted an audience with Jesus).

They went to this effort to publicly question him about

Why he and his disciples failed to live according to the “tradition of the elders”.

The “tradition of the elders”.

They didn’t accuse Jesus of breaking the Law of Moses.

The “tradition of the elders” was written down over a three-hundred-year period

Dating from the third to sixth centuries before Christ.

It is called the Talmud,

A process of analyzing the Law of Moses,

Commenting on it,

Expanding it,

Even, commenting on prior comments about the Law.

The Pharisees, scribes, and Jewish leaders of the time insisted on

Very strict conformity to the Law of Moses and Talmud.

Jesus was being accused of breaking the Talmud rules about cleanliness.

Cleanliness.

Who is clean and who is unclean?

What makes one clean and unclean?

What are the consequences of becoming unclean?

If one is unclean, how to they become clean again?

Legalism.

Ritualism.

Rigid adherence to authority.

Jesus responds to their question with a quote from Isaiah,

Calling them hypocrites:

“This people honors me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me;

in vain do they worship me,

teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

– Isaiah 29:13

Jesus rejects religious legalism, and

So, too, should we.

Jesus correctly observes that preaching, teaching, and practicing rigid legalism

Drives the hearts of people away from God.  

An insistence on strict legalism makes a hypocrite

Out of its most sincere, conservative advocates.

Faith withers under the weight of Law and threat of punishment.

Jesus has a different way.

Jesus demonstrates that faith flourishes in an environment of grace.

If given a choice between Law and Grace.

Choose Grace.

Grace is the way of Jesus and

Grace should be our way, too.

The second audience Jesus is addressing

Is the crowd gathered around.

The only thing that defiles an individual

Is not from the outside,

But from the human heart,

Jesus teaches them.

The human heart,

The center of life, soul, and spirit,

Is vulnerable to persuasions of both good and evil.

Love is the virtue the apostle Paul observed

When the heart is flooded by the grace of God.

The heart is drawn closer to God.

The heart is at peace.

In a similar but opposite manor,

When persuaded by evil intentions,

The heart is driven away from God.

The heart is at war.

A heart at war

Is evident in the laundry list of evil behaviors which Jesus cites.

Some forms of self-defilement may be easily understood.

But, if you are like me, some need a little more explanation.

These are signs of a heart at war,

Behaviors of a person defiling themselves:

  • Fornication: sexual intercourse between people not married to each other.
  • Theft: the act or crime of stealing, taking something that doesn’t belong to you.
  • Murder: the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.
  • Adultery: voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse.
  • Avarice: extreme greed for wealth or material gain.
  • Wickedness: the quality of being evil or morally wrong.
  • Deceit: the action or practice of deceiving someone by concealing or misrepresenting the truth.
  • Licentiousness: promiscuous and unprincipled in sexual matters.
  • Envy: a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.
  • Slander: the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation.
  • Pride: a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievement, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.
  • Folly: lack of good sense; foolishness.

(all definitions obtained by Google dictionary searches)

I list these definitions,

Not for the legalistic condemnation of others,

But for spiritual self-examination and improvement.

this appears to be the intent of Jesus.

Ask yourself,

“Do any of these evil behaviors identified by Jesus

Describe me?”

“If so, what am I going to do about it?”

“What can I do to stop my self-defilement and come clean?”

If these acts of defilement are not you,

Be aware.

Watch and listen

For the first signs of pending danger.

Awareness is essential to identify temptation and evil when present;

Awareness is helpful for setting appropriate boundaries

For individual and community behavior

Without being legalistic.

Absence of evil behaviors

Reveals a heart at peace,

A heart that is clean,

A heart being drawn ever closer to God.

The third audience Jesus is addressing

Are his current and future disciples,

Some who would be coming from a Jewish background,

Others coming from a Gentile background.

A Gentile is a person who is not Jewish.

They would not know Jewish history, law, or customs.

For Jesus

This would include new disciples

Who had previously believed in Greek or Roman gods.

This might include new followers of Jesus

Who had previously worshipped the Egyptian emperor or king.

The Pharisees and some of the scribes from Jerusalem

Criticized Jesus’ disciples,

“Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (7:5)

Jesus defense is

Similar to the condition of the early church,

Accused from synagogue and Temple

That Christians violated tradition

And misinterpret Scripture.

(Thanks to Preaching the New Common Lectionary, Year B, After Pentecost, by Craddock, Hayes, Holladay, Tucker. 1985)

Some of the Disciples,

Most certainly those following Jesus

But coming from a Gentile background,

Simply were not informed of the rules

About eating with defiled hands. 

Would formerly Gentile disciples of Jesus

Be expected to follow Jewish Law and the Talmud?

Once Jesus ascended and the first century Church began to form

Would Christians of Gentile background be expected to follow Jewish Law and the teachings of the Talmud?

How about former Jews who now followed Jesus?

Early Church fathers and mothers

Met to hash out the rules.

It has played out in our Bible.

We follow Old Testament Law and remain faithful to God’s covenants.

But the Talmud is not included;

Instead we have the apostolic letters of the New Testament.

In between the Old and New Testaments

Is the heart of our faith:

The Good News,

The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Early Church fathers and mothers,

Filled by the Holy Spirit,

Worked to create the Christian Church

Replicating the virtue, teaching, and characteristics of Jesus.

Love.

Grace.

Forgiveness.

Salvation.

This is the Christian experience of a pure heart,

A heart at peace and in love with God.

The Apostle Paul made his own laundry list

In his fifth chapter of his letter to the Galatians.

He calls his list the “Fruit of the Holy Spirit”.

  • Love: an undefeatable benevolence and unconquerable goodwill that always seeks the highest good for others, no matter their behavior.
  • Joy: deeper than mere happiness; it is rooted in God and comes from Him.
  • Peace: wholeness, completeness, or tranquility in the soul that is unaffected by the outward circumstances or pressures.
  • Patience: lenience, forbearance, fortitude, patient endurance, longsuffering.
  • Kindness: goodness in action, sweetness of disposition, gentleness in dealing with others, benevolence, kindness, affability.
  • Goodness: the state or quality of being good; moral excellence; virtue; kindness, generosity, character recognized in quality or conduct.
  • Faithfulness: objectively trustworthy, believing, believer, faithful, sure, true.
  • Gentleness: a disposition that is even-tempered, tranquil, balanced in spirit, unpretentious, that has passion under control.
  • Self-Control: strong, having mastery, able to control one’s thoughts and actions.

(Galatians 5:22-23)

(Definitions as found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fruit_of_the_Holy_Spirit)

What comes from within

Defines or defiles the heart,

Keeps it clean or make one unclean,

Is a heart at peace or a heart at war,

Is a soul approaching Jesus or a soul walking away.

Beloved,

May your heart define you

And your God given values.

Keep it clean.

Be at peace.

Stay in love with Jesus.

Amen.

“We Sing Together”

August 22, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 6:51-58

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

| Centering Prayer |

Sing!

The apostle Paul wrote the following to the church in Ephesus:

“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Ephesians 5:15-20

Sing!

Orpheus

Was an ancient Greek prophet,

Poet, and musician.

He was able to charm all things with his music

Even stones.

Myth tells that Apollo gave him a lyre and taught him how to play.

His music and voice, it is said

Could charm birds, fish, and wild beasts,

Coax trees and rocks to dance,

And divert the course of rivers.

In the epic poem, Argonautica,

Jason takes Orpheus with him and used his skills to aid his companions.

When their ships pass the Sirens Island

The beautiful, alluring Sirens began to sing.

They sang to lure sailors to draw close and have their ships dashed upon the rocks.

Orpheus saved the day when he

Drew his lyre and played music

Louder and more beautiful,

Drowning out the Siren’s bewitching songs

Leading the Argonauts to safety.

The old music failed,

And a new song began to take its place.

The 150 poems that we know as the Psalms

Taken together express virtually the full range of our ancient Hebrew faith.

The Psalms are lyrics set to the music of the lyre;

Songs sung to a U-shaped harp

That lead a collective people to join their songs

Together in one voice.

Singing together as one people of faith

Is a unique religious experience

Epitomized by the Psalms.

Feelings are shared.

Praise is lifted to God!

Pain and struggles are mutually carried.

Empathy is given

And is received.

Many voices make one voice to

Complain to God,

Confess to God,

Exult God,

Thank God.

Making music of Psalms

Opens a collective space within each individual

That can only be filled with God.

As the old music faded,

New music emerged that defined a people of God

Within whom God dwelt.

One of the great fathers of Methodism,

Charles Wesley,

Lived in a time where the music of the church

Was being drowned out by the music of the pubs.

Church music took a back row to music from the coal mine,

From the poor living in economic slavery,

And the back-breaking factory floor.

The state Church of England had lost its way, its relevance, its tune.

Revival comes from within …

And no one understood this better than Charles Wesley.

While his brother, John, preached revival,

Charles led in the emergence of a new song;

The means to reopen the collective hearts of the people

And invite the Spirit to enter

Through the means of music.

Sing praise to God who reigns above,

The God of all creation!

The God of power, the God of love,

The God of our salvation!

With healing balm my soul is filled

and every faithless murmur stilled:

To God all praise and glory!

Charles revived music:

Writing over six thousand hymns,

Authoring the lyrics to a further two thousand.

His hymns fill our hymnal today:

51 hymns, 8 poems, and 6 sung responses.

Where else do people gather to sing?

Besides school, concert, and the occasional sporting event anthem,

Collective music today is most deeply experienced

As a phenomena of the faith community.

We do it to create the sacred space

Where God can abide in us

And we can abide in God.

Meno’ (pronounced Men’-o)

Is the Greek word used in our Gospel of John today for the English equivalent:

Abide.

Jesus is the living bread, we are told.

“Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

In a very Eucharistic way

The metaphor is cast that leads us to believe

That we become the same flesh and blood as God’s son.

Jesus fills our empty space,

Abides in us and we in him,

With the same flesh and blood as our own children and families.

Partaking in the Eucharist

Fills us with the same Spirit

As does singing

“psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves,

singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts,

giving thanks to God the Father at all times

and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,”

As Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus.

This, quite simply, is the will of the Lord:

To abide with Christ and in Christ,

To take up residence both ways:

Christ in us, and

Us living in Christ.

When we live within Christ

We begin to look through his eyes

Listen with his ears

Speak with his voice

Work with his hands

Heal with his love.

We live within Christ when we forgive others,

even to the extent of washing away the sins of others with our own blood.

We live within Christ when we extend the invitation to salvation,

even by the example of our own death and resurrection.

In a similar way

Christ abides within us

By eating his bread and drinking his cup.

Christ abides within us when we

Turn our back on evil, foolish, and drunken ways;

When we sing and make melody to the Lord in our hearts.

There are many critics today

Who believe the Church has lost its way,

That we have lost our music.

They claim the secular pop, rap, rock, Indy and America’s Got Talent music of today

Is drowning out the sacred music and hymns that many of us hold dear.

Critics chirp and snipe, and some might even call for revival.

I don’t know if we need the cataclysmic change of an Orpheus to save us.

I don’t know if we need the new music the Psalms ushered in.

I don’t know if the hymns and sacred music of Charles Wesley can revive us even still.

I only know that I can sing.

And so can you.

You don’t have to be able to carry a tune in a bucket.

Just don’t sing alone.

We sing together;

With one voice, one melody, one song, one Body.

You only have to lift your heart and open your mouth

And allow yourself to be filled with the Spirit.

Abide in Christ,

And allow him to abide in you.

Amen.

“Many Turned Back”

John 6:56-69

August 15, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 6:56-69

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.

So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

| Centering Prayer |

Sickening.

Disbelief.

Disappointment.

Betrayal.

Each are characteristics of living a life abiding in Christ

And inviting Jesus Christ to abide in us.

Ironic, isn’t it?

That the Gospel is called Good News?

There is a mistaken perception that the Christian life

Is free from worry, pain, sin, and evil;

That, once one accepts by faith

That Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior

Life becomes filled with love, peace, abundance,

And dancing unicorns.

The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John

Is like a bucket of ice water thrown into our face.

It just doesn’t work that way.

Many will make the claim that

God blesses the faithful with abundance wealth.

Therefore, if you aren’t wealthy, you must not be faithful.

You’re just not doing it right.

Many will claim that

God spares Christians from famine, disease, poverty, and suffering.

Therefore, if you suffer, it must be due to your own sinfulness.

And, we all know

Sinners are destined to hell.

This is delusional,

And just plain wrong.

Beware of those who preach a gospel of prosperity, excess, greed, or fear;

For their gospel is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is not the Good News

God has given to his faithful.

The pessimist might observe that

It is almost as if the Gospel removes all incentives

For following Jesus,

Pulling the rug right out from under our feet.

The faithful share a different reality,

as conveyed so eloquently in the Gospel of John:

God loves the world.

God sent us his Son, Jesus.

Everyone who believes in Jesus is saved. (3:16)

I like the label theologians have applied:

John lays out for all the world to see

“The Scandal of Grace.”

It is scandalous to the powerful principalities of this world

That God loves everyone, without exclusion or exception.

Prior history doesn’t matter.

Current circumstances aren’t relevant.

Future potential isn’t of any concern.

Belief is the only metric upon which

Scripture teaches us God passes judgment,

Not for the purpose of condemnation, but for the purpose of salvation.

Each of us struggle with belief;

Some more, some less.

John Wesley taught his deployed pastors just as he had been taught as a young pastor,

“Preach faith until you have it.

Once you have it, you’ll preach faith.”

In the ninth chapter of Mark,

A  frightened father went straight to Jesus when disciples failed to cast a demon out from his son.

Faith took him to Jesus.

Yet, he recognized his own inadequacy.

He pleaded

“I believe, Lord.

Help my unbelief.”

(Mark 9:19)

It is scandalous to the economies of this world

That salvation is God’s gift to all.

Eternal life is the grand equalizer of the caste system.

Free.

Unmerited.

Unearned.

Grace is God’s gift of salvation.

The Lazarus’ of this world are raised by angels

(See Luke 16:19-31).

The mountains of social status, pride, pedigree, and wealth are made low.

The valleys of the last, least, and lost

Are lifted,

To make plain and straight

A highway for our God.

Grace is amazing when we apply it to ourselves,

But scandalous when applied to others.

… as if grace is limited

or must be rationed.

Please pray for me

That I can get over myself

And overcome my propensity for judgment,

For my tendency to marginalize and complain about others,

And I’ll pray for you, too.

….

In this sixth installment from the sixth chapter of John

Many of the followers of Jesus

Don’t believe.

Many who followed Jesus

Walked away.

Many of his disciples

“turned back and no longer went about with him.” (6:66)

Apparently, they were having a hard time stomaching

The scandal of God’s grace, too.

“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” many disciples complained. (6:60)

“Does this offend you?” Jesus replies. (6:61)

These Jewish born and raised

Bandwagon fans of Jesus,

… Multitudes miraculously fed with

Five loaves and two fish just days earlier …

Have made their way with Jesus

Back to the synagogue at Capernaum

Where they listened to him teach.

At this time

Christ’s followers had no experience of Eucharist.

They understood his words literally.

When they hear Jesus speaking about

Eating his flesh and drinking his blood, it is easy to see where their imagination takes them.

Sickening.

Their superficial assumption

Was that Jesus was teaching in violation of Jewish law.

They also assumed

That Jesus was demeaning and dismissive of Moses

Whose miracle of manna from heaven

Provided sustenance for the day,

But, was a mile short of providing for eternal life.

Like their (and our) ancestors

Newly freed from Egyptian captivity

And wondering in the wilderness,

Many grumbled.

Sadly, the disappointed and unbelieving Jews

In the audience at the synagogue in Capernaum

Didn’t have the benefit of hindsight like

The early Christian communities had

In the developing years following Christ’s ascension.

The early Church knew the narrative of the Upper Room

And faithfully practiced the Sacrament of Holy Communion

Whenever they gathered

In remembrance of Jesus.

First Century disciples of Jesus

Could understand more deeply the distinction between

Life in the Spirit verses Death in the Flesh.

Grumbling appears to be a common thread

In human DNA and

The Church is no more immune

Than the factory floor, the office place, or a Town Board meeting.

When it comes to churches

I have yet to serve one that doesn’t have

Some level of conflict amongst members and friends;

Some more, some less.

What we believe,

How things are run,

Where the money goes,

Who is in, and who is out,

There is usually much to complain about.

Grumbling is as common as two farmers talking about the weather.

Complaining members of a parish are to a pastor

Like dulling an axe by using it to cut rocks.

Grumbling members of the clergy are to a bishop

Like one hanging a rug over a close line and beating it clean of dirt.

Grumbling demonstrates

A lack of trust that God provides for today, and

The assurance God will provide for tomorrow.

Grumbling turns a community of faith inward

At the expense of loving neighbors.

Complaining disciples of Jesus

Are scandalized by God’s grace

And are quick to tell anyone and everyone with a sympathetic ear.

If left to fester too long,

Like a cancerous tumor,

Complaining becomes the new normal,

Faith begins to wane,

Belief withers,

And many disciples turn back

And no longer go about with him. (6:66)

Why would anyone chose Death by Flesh

Over Life,

Eternal Life, in the Spirit?

It is easy to condemn Judas, son of Simon Iscariot,

For his betrayal of Jesus.

His betrayal cost Jesus his life.

Then, he had the audacity to take his own life.

What a “Feckless Pud”!

(As one of my Twitter followers is prone to say)

Why would Judas choose Flesh and Death over Eternal Life?

It is also easy to look down our noses

At the followers of Jesus who jumped on his bandwagon

Only for a free lunch.

When the prospect of future charity fizzled,

They bailed faster than a sailor on a sinking ship.

By turning their backs on Jesus and walking away,

They no less betrayed Jesus than did Judas.

Yet, the Gospel presents us with a warning about

Our own moral condescension.

Consider two dangers.

First, think about the temptation for a community of faith to bail on Jesus.

When a Christian community fails to place Christ in the center of all things,

When it simply becomes a service organization,

Or worse yet,

When a church becomes an inward focused relic

Gasping for its own survival,

Is it any more of a betrayal of Jesus

Than the betrayal of Judas,

Or of the followers who lost their belief,

Who turned and walked away?

Let us keep our eyes upon Jesus!

Secondly, think about the temptation to personally walk away from Jesus.

There is a difference between faith and certainty.

None of us can claim certainty when it comes to knowledge of God.

To do so would be idolatrous,

Placing ourselves as God’s equal.

But all of us have faith,

Some grand and expansive and deep.

Others have faith that is small like a mustard seed,

Preemptively given to us by God

Before we were aware we needed it.

When it comes to faith,

Size doesn’t matter.

“To whom can we go?” Simon Peter speaking to Jesus correctly observes.

“You have the words of eternal life.” (6:68)

Indeed, we can run,

Where can we go?

There is no place to escape from the love and grace of God.

Once claimed,

Forever claimed.

There is no other place to go

Than into the loving arms of our Lord.

Let us encourage each other.

Keep your eyes upon Jesus,

And I’ll try to do the same.

….

The one who eats this bread will live forever.

That’s a promise.

We call that grace.

The fact that the table is open to all,

Without reservation, precondition, or barrier

Is, indeed, scandalous.

I constantly have to remind myself

That the bread from heaven,

The Eucharist,

Isn’t about Todd,

Or whoever is serving as the Celebrant.

The bread from heaven is about Jesus;

The Body of Christ.

The scandal is that there is a place at the table for me.

The scandal is that there is a place at the table for you.

Dearly beloved,

Keep your complaints to yourself.

Ask God for the guidance and strength to resolve disputes,

Then follow through with words and deeds.

Grumbling distracts.

Conflict destroys.

Chronic complaints tempt us to walk away,

To take our eyes off Jesus.

Just don’t.

Instead, our Gospel encourages us,

Collectively and individually,

To abide in Christ,

Keep your eyes on Christ,

And to allow Christ to abide in us.

Chose life;

Eternal life.

Eat this bread and live.

Amen.  

“Getting Personal”

John 6:35, 41-51

13 August 2006

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 6:35, 41-51 (NRSV)

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.

I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

| Centering Prayer |

What makes you … you?

What is it about yourself that makes you uniquely you?

Is it your body-

– composed of gender and gene, size and shape,

color and complexion,

ethnicity and national origin,

age and energy,

illness or disease?

If the occasion was your funeral and I was the preacher, and

I asked the assembled family, friends, and loved ones

“in a word or two,

how would you describe the deceased?”

what would be the response?

“Oh, she was a little old lady who lit up every room she entered,” one may say.

Another might remark, “She was the one who emigrated from Poland in her youth.”

Or, “he was the string bean who never understood the word ‘rest.’ He worked seven days a week and never took a vacation or a day off.”

Perhaps we are more than just a body, a mannequin upon which we simply hang our cloths,

a moving hat rack upon which we rest our cap.

Is what makes you uniquely you the fact that we are the summation of all our earthly experiences?

Is it our achievements and awards,

the places we’ve visited and the sights we’ve seen,

the degrees we’ve earned and the jobs we’ve held,

the credentials we so proudly post after our name,

the schedules we’ve balanced, and

the ceremonies we’ve attended?

“Oh, yes, I know her. She is the one who raised 5 children, went back to school,

Earned her degree, and

Landed a great job.”

Or, “he is that guy who drank too much, got sober, stayed sober, and turned his life around.”

I know that I am more than just a pastor, a seminary graduate, in my fifth appointment

Over the past 36 years.

It appears there is still something missing. We are more than people of experience, of memories, and reputation.

These may be important pieces of the puzzle, but they fail to paint a complete mosaic that adequately describes the person.

Perhaps one of the characteristics that makes you uniquely you

is the company you keep;

the people you’ve met and associate with,

the friends you hold dear and enjoy being around,

the partner or spouse you love,

the children you are raising or have raised,

the mentors whom God has graciously sent your way.

For example, to know me is to know that I am the son of Buckey and Alice,

brother of Steve, Cindy, and Bryan,

husband of Cynthia and father of Nicholas and Christian.

To also know me is to know Herb Larson, my Sunday school teacher,

Dr. Radigan, my high school physics teacher,

Si Meyers, the mathematics professor who taught me non-linear geometry.

To know me is to know that there was a man by the name of Fred Owens, a resident of the hospital and nursing home where I worked as a teenager, who greatly influenced by life.

Another was Tom and Anna Riddler, members of my father’s parish.

To know me is to know that I learned the essential tools of theology at the feet of Tyron Inbody,

crisis intervention and psychiatric assessments from Thomas Rueth,

how to do a funeral from Jack Armstrong, and

how to preach from Kendal Kane McCabe.

To know me is to know that my life intersects with blessed people here in Rush and with a few people from former parishes, like Trixie, Sharon, and Ray. In short, to know me is to know the company I keep.

Our person, our experiences, our company;

all lend themselves to the richness of life,

to the quality of life that we are privileged to lead.

But there is one last thing missing.

The clue;

the evidence of that last remaining piece of the pie can be found in our Gospel lesson for this morning.

“I am the bread of life.” Jesus begins,

“Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

He continues,

“This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

Perhaps the final component of what makes you uniquely you is

a personal relationship with God,

and in our case, as Christians,

a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Listen to the language-

Jesus is the bread, which we eat.

We consume, and in the process,

we assume the Body,

we become the Body of Christ,

at work, fulfilling God’s Will,

in the world today.

Many Christians today place unwarranted emphasis on fear, judgement, and damnation,

Even though Jesus assures his disciples that he did not come to condemn the world,

but that the world might be saved through him. (3:17)

Some Christian also place far too much attention on the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Jesus himself tells us directly –

– his mouth to our ears –

that none of us know the day or hour when this will take place.

Not one of us is given inside knowledge.

God isn’t known to play inside baseball.

There is no secret code in Ezekiel, Daniel, or the Book of Revelation.

Yes, we should always be prepared for the Savior’s eminent return;

But, we shouldn’t lose sleep because of Christ’s promised return.

When there is a disproportionate amount of attention on the second coming, rapture, apocalypse, or end of the world,

It is easy to overlook the Jesus who is in our midst.

The indictment is found in Matthew 25: 44-45,

“Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”

A personal relationship with Jesus Christ begins with outreach and mission,

taking care of the least, the lost, the most vulnerable members of society;

because that is where we meet Jesus.

The bread and cup of Holy Communion are powerful symbols of Christ.

Yet, to meet Jesus, know him, and abide in him

we must faithfully follow his example with our words and deeds;

to act with a compassionate heart and passion for others;

to actively express and work for

an end to injustice and oppression,

challenging the powers and powerful of this world,

sometimes even in confrontational ways.

Jesus wasn’t afraid to turn over a few tables and disrupt moneychangers …

And neither should we.

Christ is found in our relationship with others, when all things are working for good through Him.

Likewise, Christ is absent in those relationships that are built on all things sinful or evil;

the lies of deception,

the dis-ingenious smile and a knife in the back,

the exploitation of others,

the self-absorption and wanton consumption of resources,

the ascension to the top by treading on the dead bodies of those you’ve conquered,

burning every bridge you’ve ever crossed.

Christ is found in our relationship with others, when all things are working for good through Him, as the apostle Paul so correctly observes.

Our daily bread serves as a gentle reminder of the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

It is not academic, philosophical, or even emotional.

A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is very real, fresh,

visceral even.

A life with Christ is alive and aware,

Knowing that the Church is …

… we are …

the Body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.

Dearly beloved, take with you this day, a new and greater awareness of the relationships you keep in your life,

how you might be known in the larger community, and

the presence (or absence) of Jesus Christ in your life.

Take time this coming week to make an assessment of your relationship with Jesus.

Where is it that you are at, and where is it that Christ is calling you to go?

Amen.

“More Than Sufficient”

July 25, 2021

the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 6:1-21

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 

Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 

When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 

Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 

Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 

When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. 

When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 

But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

| Centering Prayer |

In John’s Gospel, nothing is as it first appears.

There is a small detail,

kind of a hidden Da Vinci style clue,

nestled in our lesson from John.

It is almost like a secret door,

behind which there exists something new, wonderful, and marvelous.

Our Gospel author, John,

goes to great effort to camouflage it in plain sight.

The majority of readers of this text

will carelessly read right through it

and never be the wiser.

The difference is like one who drives to the pyramids,

Gets out of the car,

Snaps a few pictures,

Then drives away …

Verses,

… the careful, methodical, organized archaeologist,

who spends a lifetime

searching for all the secrets one particular pyramid might hold.

Listen and watch what happens

when the key is revealed:

“Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.”

( – 6:4)

Our Gospel lesson from Saint John this morning,

the first part about feeding a hungry crowd,

the second part about the disciples in a boat in a storm,

is rooted in the Passover story.

This seemingly innocuous phrase

is the key to the entire passage.

A quick Old Testament history lesson:

recall the circumstances of the Passover,

two thousand years before Jesus.

The decedents of Abraham are held in Egyptian captivity.

Moses is sent to save them.

The Lord tells him to identify the house of Hebrew families

by smearing the blood of a sacrificial lamb on their doorway.

That night the angel of death passed over the Hebrew houses

and visited only the homes of Egyptians,

killing all their children.

The Hebrews are delivered.

Deliverance; the first time.

The Egyptian Pharaoh allows the Hebrews to leave,

but has second thoughts after they are gone.

While in hot pursuit

he believes he has Moses trapped by the Red Sea.

God works through Moses to part the water,

allowing the Hebrews to pass safely to the other side.

When Pharaoh attempts to cross with his army,

the water rushes back in,

drowning all the Egyptians.

The Hebrews are saved.

Deliverance; the second time.

As the Hebrews wander through the Sinai,

they grow feint with hunger and thirst.

No food.

No water.

Life is on the line.

God sends manna from heaven to eat,

and water from a rock to drink.

They are saved.

Deliverance; the third time.

Water and bread

become very powerful symbols

for deliverance and salvation.

By the bread that God miraculously provided

comes the gift of salvation.

It is more than bread that satisfies hunger.

It is bread that is all about deliverance

from pain, suffering, and death in slavery in a foreign land;

deliverance into a chosen place for a chosen people.

Water, which was at first a barrier,

a trap for the hapless Hebrews,

becomes the means of an all-powerful God

to free them,

to deliver them,

while destroying God’s enemies.

Water and Bread.

Deliverance and Salvation.

Spring forward two thousand years

to Jesus in the Gospel of John.

Here we find hapless Hebrews,

Known now as “Jews”,

gathering in crowds to see and experience Jesus.

He does miracles,

healing the sick,

raising the dead,

casting out demons.

“Certainly,” some members of the crowds think,

“if he can do these things,

perhaps he is the new Abraham,

the new Moses,

or the new Elijah.”

A new prophet!

Or, others may have thought,

Maybe, he is the new David,

one destined to be made king?

If God gives him the power to work miracles,

perhaps God will give him the power to kick Rome out of the land,

take the crown,

and re-establish the kingdom, in all its glory,

the way it was in our glory days,

the way it was in the time of David.

These were the expectations that swelled the size of the crowd around Jesus.

They hung on every word.

They watched for every sign.

Prophet or King?

Either way it worked for them.

Jesus was the one to get the job done.

It was the time of Passover.

Every family would retell the story of Moses,

Deliverance and salvation.

It was Passover.

They were with Jesus.

They were hungry.

They were thinking about where their next meal was coming from.

There is a small boy here with five loaves and two fishes

(in an era before grocery bags,

he must have had his arms full!).

Certainly five loaves of bread and two raw fish is not enough to feed a crowd.

Phillip recognizes

A half year of wages wouldn’t be sufficient to buy everyone lunch.

Jesus sits them down,

gives thanks,

breaks the bread

and feeds the crowds.

Jesus feeds the crowds with sufficient quantities

Such that

the leftovers fill twelve baskets.

Think forward a few years

to Jesus’ final hours,

to the evening before his crucifixion,

to the upper room.

It was Passover,

they were with Him,

and they were hungry.

Jesus sits them down,

gives thanks,

breaks the bread

and feeds his disciples …

naming the bread his “body,”

and the cup his “blood.”

When we consider the Gospel of John,

nothing is as it seems.

Think beyond bread …

to Jesus, the bread of life.

The bread of Passover,

that saved and delivered the Jews from starvation.

The bread brings abundant sustenance

to the crowds high above the Galilean valleys.

The bread is also the bread of Eucharist,

that feeds every hungry soul.

Water and bread are powerful symbols

for deliverance and salvation,

deeply rooted in the Passover narrative.

Water not only delivers our ancestors through the Red Sea,

it also miraculously springs forth

from the rock hit by Moses’ stick,

providing life giving water to the parched and thirsty Jews.

Remember Jesus went to the Jordan River to be baptized by John?

John had been baptizing the crowds

with a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins.

Water symbolically washed every sin away.

The sinless one steps forward to be baptized.

“For what possible purpose?” we ask.

Read on.

Up from the water Jesus is greeted

with the descent of the Holy Spirit

and the voice of God speaking from a cloud,

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Jesus begins his public ministry,

baptized by the water,

blessed by a heavenly Father.

Water marks the transition

from a life living in the world

to a life living for our heavenly Father.

Listen carefully to John’s Gospel,

when we hear in today’s lesson

that the disciples set off in a boat on the Sea of Galilee,

to cross to the other side,

under cover of darkness.

The sea was rough and the wind was blowing.

The disciples were rowing, it says,

and they were growing afraid.

When, lo, they suddenly see … Jesus,

whom they had left behind,

hiding from the Jews

(less they made him king).

They see him

walking on the water towards the boat.

Now there is something you don’t see every day!

They were terrified!

Jesus walking on water.

The storm raging, pitching them about.

Trapped in a seemingly impossible situation.

Facing death by water.

Jesus walks over to them.

“It is I; do not be afraid.” He tells them. ( – 6:20)

With the calming assurance of Jesus

The disciples immediately reached landfall.

They were saved,

Delivered from death,

At the hand,

By the will

of an all-powerful God.

It was God who created the water and the air,

and it is God who is able to reign it in,

in a moment of control,

in order to work His every will and means.

Think forward to the resurrected Jesus,

who, right before his ascension into heaven,

looks to his disciples and instructs them to

“Go into all the world.

Baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Teach them all that I have taught you.

And lo, I will be with you to the end of the age.”

– Matthew 28

Water.

The water of Passover deliverance;

Life giving water for wandering Hebrews;

The water of our Lord’s baptism;

The water that is floats the disciples to land;

and the water that is central to Christ’s great commission to His disciples …

This is the very same water

as the water of our Baptism.

There you have it.

Look and see

the wonderful treasure hidden behind

the camouflaged doors of scripture.

Bread and Eucharist.

Water and Baptism.

Signs and symbols of deliverance and salvation.

Our passage for today begs the observant

to explore beneath the surface,

beyond the horizon of two simple miracle narratives.

With the Gospel of John, nothing is as it seems.

When we look beyond the wind tossed sea to see Jesus,

we can begin to unlock the mysterious nature of incarnation.

When we look beneath the obvious connection between bread and hunger,

we reveal the mysterious nature

of God’s sustaining, sufficient grace.

Bread and water.

To the starving,

it may seem as the very least that is necessary to maintain life.

To the faithful,

water and bread are understood

as Baptism and Eucharist,

symbols of deliverance and salvation,

God’s amazing grace

and continued presence of Jesus Christ in the world.

In today’s Gospel,

think beyond the sea.

Imagine more than mere bread.

Give thanks to God.

Amen.

“Christ Alone”

John 6:24-35

August 1, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 6:24-35 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=400125113)

So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 

Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”

Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 

So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 

Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 

They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

| Centering Prayer |

“Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.” (Exodus 16:9)

The Gospel draws deep from our ancestral roots.

To understand Jesus,

To see Jesus as he is revealed,

Is to return to the Passover narrative of our Hebrew ancestors,

Released from Egyptian slavery,

Miraculously saved with the parting of the Red Sea,

Liberated and forever free.

Their future lay in the land promised,

A land flowing milk and honey;

If only they could make their way across the Sinai desert.

The journey would take 40 years,

A full generation,

The completeness of the life of Moses.

It is important to recognize in the Passover story

That it is God doing the acting.

Moses is God’s proxy,

God’s mouthpiece,

God’s servant.

In the first of ten plagues

To soften Pharaoh’s heart

God tells Moses to stretch his hand over the waters of Egypt.

When he does, God turns the water into blood

Throughout the whole land. (Exodus 7:19)

After ten plagues, Pharaoh nearly had enough.

God’s action reveals his tenacious, unrelenting desire for his children to be free.

God directs,

Moses complies,

God acts.

God directed Moses how to celebrate Passover

As a perpetual ordinance,

To avoid the destroyer,

Which struck down the Egyptians but spared our own. (Exodus 12:27)

God directs,

Moses complies,

God acts.

The ensuing grief caused Pharaoh to cry out in pain

For not a house in Egypt could be found without someone dead.

Pharaoh reached the end of his rope.

He gave in and set our ancestors free.

God’s action reveals the depth and breath of the Lord’s  faithfulness

To the eternal covenant,

God’s everlasting promise to Abraham:

God is our God, and we will be his children.

The Lord’s blessing upon us will continue

From generation to generation.

God directs,

Moses complies,

God acts.

Each time in the Passover narrative,

More is revealed about

The nature of our God.

Likewise, for the festival of unleavened bread.

Likewise, for crossing the Red Sea.

Likewise, for Mana from Heaven (Exodus 16)

Twelve days in the desert with no food or water would make anyone complain.

“Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.” (Exodus 16:9)

The Lord directed Moses to speak

“At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread;

Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” (Exodus 16:12)

Moses did as he was told.

In the evening God acted: sent quails in such quantity they  covered the camp.

Quail for dinner, every night,

In the morning God acted: the dew lifted to reveal bread,

That all might be fed.

Bread for breakfast, every day. Quail for dinner every living day,

Provided by a God whose nature is to save people from hunger.

God’s action reveals the fact that God intends

That all God’s children be abundantly nourished.

…………

Jesus is not the second coming of Moses.

Intermediaries are gone; the age of prophets is over.

The Prophetic Age ended.

With Jesus,

The Messianic Age began.

Jesus is the Son of God.

God tacks a different direction while maintaining

A consistent nature and

Keeping the same destination.

The Lord decided direct intervention was necessary

To redeem, forgive, and save the world.

It was necessary to step through the fabric that separates this world from God’s eternal, heavenly world.

Divine intervention was the only way forward

To forgive and save the world.

With Trinitarian mystery,

Jesus and our Heavenly Father

Sharon a common divine DNA. Jesus and God are one and the same.

Pay attention to the actions of Jesus in the Gospel of John.

When Jesus acts,

Like the actions of God in the Passover narrative,

Something new is revealed about our God,

In context of the new, unfolding incarnation of Jesus Christ.

After miraculously feeding 5,000 would-be followers

With 5 loaves and 2 fish,

Jesus and his disciples give them the slip,

Probably during their after-dinner siesta.

The disciples,

As we heard last Sunday,

Sail away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee,

Only to be caught up in a storm.

Jesus walks on water,

Identifies himself,

And tells them “do not be afraid.” (6:20)

The boat safely reached the land toward which they were going.

Two miracles, or, two signs, in one day.

Not bad, for the God of creation.

Funny thing about hunger:

It keeps coming around,

Reoccurring every few hours.

Food perishes, hunger returns, everyone needs to eat.

5,000 people come searching for Jesus

Because their hunger returned.

5,000 people find him.

Jesus observes,

They came searching for him because their hunger returned,

Not because they were witnesses to the sign Jesus performed

Of multiplying bread and fish.

Their bellies were empty.

They were looking for another free lunch.

Pay attention to what Jesus does:

He commands them,

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (6:27)

In other words,

I gave you …

… Past tense …

Bread and fish,

And now you’re hungry again.

I, the Son of Man, will give you …

… Future tense …

Food that endures for eternal life.

Boom!

God pulls back the veil and reveals something new.

Through context, words, and actions of Jesus we learn

That which Jesus provides is sufficient for eternal life.

That’s it.

There is no need for anything else.

There is no need for anything other than Jesus.

No need for a fountain of youth,

So, stop searching for it.

Tax cuts might put a little more money into your account,

But, as they say, ‘you can’t take it with you.’

Border walls won’t save you any more than universal health care will.

Democrats won’t save you; and, neither will Republicans.

Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, first responders may save you in the moment, but, you’ll live to die another day.

That gun you’re carrying won’t save you; and neither will going whole-hog vegan, organic, or Keto.

Stop with the idol worship!

Simply put, there is nothing God has revealed to us through the Gospel that offers salvation other than

Belief in Jesus Christ.

Everything else are mere idols;

Temptations that threaten to steal our attention,

To divert our eyes from Jesus.

Money, healthcare, patriotism, policy, politics …

All offer false promises of salvation.

Nothing of this earth can add one day, or one breath, to life.

In 100 years each of our bodies will be dead;

Yet, for those who believe in Christ?

We will be sustained,

We will endure for eternal life.

It is God who reveals to the children of Abraham

That salvation only comes through belief in Jesus Christ.

……

Whining must be in our DNA.

Our ancestors whined to Moses about their hunger.

The crowd of 5,000 whined to Jesus that they needed a sign,

A miracle,

Anything, that would confirm their belief in him.

“We want a sign.”

“Moses gave us a sign,” they complained: “bread from heaven.”

That was a pretty good miracle.

What can you do for us to make us believe?

Like Simon Cowell on America’s Got Talent,

“Show us your stuff.”

Well, it really wasn’t Moses who acted,

Who performed the miracle;

It was God.

Moses was simply the faithful go-between prophet.

It is God who provided quail and mana from heaven.

It is God who multiplied 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed 5,000.

It is God who provides for our daily nourishment today.

God is the principle.

We simply follow the Lord’s will and direction.

“What about this multiplication didn’t you see?”

“Were you blind,” Jesus probably thought to himself,

“Were you too busy eating to notice?”

The sign is the miracle of multiplication.

What God reveals through this sign

Is God’s deepest desire for us to believe in Jesus,

To abide in Christ,

To take up residence wholly and solely in a life in Christ.

Eat bread, fish, or quail,

Fill your stomachs;

and you’ll be satisfied for about 6 hours, max.

Believe in Jesus,

Abide in him;

and you’ll be satisfied for eternity.

Those who come to Christ will never hunger or thirst.

Those who come to Jesus, and abide in him,

Have already put on eternal life.

……

The Gospel of John is difficult to understand.

I get that.

Some have compared it to getting stuck in a briar patch,

Entangled in multiple, deeply woven messages of essential, divine truth.

Scholars find John difficult to map out a helpful outline.

Many wade into the Gospel of John,

Only to be quickly frustrated,

finding the waters too deep or treacherous and never return.

With the blessing of hindsight,

It is easy to laugh at the disciples of Jesus for their failure to understand.

Yet, it is a common characteristic of the Gospel of John

That just as Jesus reveals something about himself

There is a misunderstanding.

Think of the woman at the well.

“But you have no bucket.”

Think about Nicodemus

making the mistaken conclusion that Jesus was talking about entering the womb a second time.

Think about Jesus speaking about the destruction of the Temple.

Think about Jesus turning water into wine.

Understanding John is hard for everyone.

Our careful attention to the Gospel is not just about intellectual understanding.

For understanding, searching for God’s message, leads to abiding.

Understanding always leads to abiding.

Abide in Christ.

Take up residence in him.

This is why

I so passionately love the Gospel of John.

The quest always leads us back to Jesus.

Our search for understanding

Reveals much about our God

And our mutual relationship:

God wants us to be free.

God is faithful to the covenants made between us.

God wants all God’s children to be nourished, both physically and spiritually.

God wants all to believe in Jesus;

For Christ alone endures.

Christ alone satisfies.

Christ alone gives life, eternal life, to the world.

Amen.

“Driven By Desperation”

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

July 18, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

| Centering Prayer |

Today’s message will be taken in reverse order.

I’ll begin with the ending verses 53 to 56 and conclude with the beginning verses 30 to 34.

Let us begin with a question:

Why were the sick laid in the marketplace

For Jesus to heal them?

I’m fascinated by

behavioral economics.

Behavioral economics is “a method of economic analysis

That applies psychological insights into human behavior

To explain economic decision-making.”

(Google search result for “Behavioral Economics”)

There have been three Nobel Prizes in Economic in the past 16 years

Awarded to research economist in behavioral economics,

The most recent being Richard Thaler from the University of Chicago in 2017.

Thaler’s research yielded insight into why people are predictably irrational

In ways that defy economic theory.

Behavioral economics examines incentives, both positive and negative,

(what can be done to encourage a behavior)

And consequences, both positive and negative.

Unintended consequences abound in systems that support

both rational and irrational decisions.

When it comes to incentives and consequences, here is an example:

If your employer offers a benefits package to you

That has free, matching money deposited into your retirement savings plan,

Without a requirement of mandatory participation,

Enrollment rates, or opt-in rates, are incredibly low.

Free money!

Who wouldn’t take free money.

Research shows a lot of people don’t.

However, if your employer offers a benefits package

That includes a pre-established retirement savings plan set up in your name

With a set amount taken out each paycheck matched by the employer,

Most employees will not opt-out.

They will remain in the pension plan.

They may not like the fact the employer is making a decision for them,

But the level of irritation doesn’t rise to the level

For them to take the effort to go to HR and change their benefit package.

The result is more employees will be saving for retirement,

Which, most would conclude,

Is a good thing.

Supporters of behavioral economics believe it is an effective tool to improve the world,

Critics suggest that it is manipulation and social engineering.

Positive reinforcement, or economic nudges, work.

There is a reason placing fruit at eye level in a store sells more fruit

While banning junk food just doesn’t work.

Behavioral economics has applications in so many areas of life and leisure;

Health care, manufacturing, education, technology, and social media

(think about all the opt-in and opt-out policies in Facebook, Google, and others).

It has applications in business and finance, politics and public policy, public safety, law enforcement and the courts, and,

I’d suggest today, interpreting the Gospel.

The Gospel of Mark quite eloquently narrates

How the kingdom of God upends the economy of this world.

“wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.” (6:56)

Marketplace, or “agora”  (Greek) reflects a public space

In which legal hearings, elections, and debates took place,

Water is drawn from a centralized well,

Goods and services were bought and sold.

“Thus the marketplace was the political and commercial center of the city or town.”

(Elizabeth Webb, as found at working preacher dot org)

Today we learn

Family and friends gather in the sick, diseased, weakest, and most vulnerable members of the community;

Bring them in from exile,

begging outside the protection of the city walls.

They laid them in the political and commercial center of town,

Disrupting all economic and social commerce.

The marketplace in this world

Belongs to the rich and powerful.

In God’s kingdom,

The market is occupied by the poor and powerless.

In Jesus’ kingdom economy

The economy of this world is subverted,

“many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (10:31)

Desperation

Drives people to Jesus,

Where Jesus gathers them in

And heals them.

Desperation drives people to make decisions

That disrupt the marketplace and are economically irrational.

But in the Kingdom of God,

Desperation leads to being gathered together and being healed.

All who touched

“the fringe of (Jesus’) cloak … were healed.” (6:56)

Desperation drove the sick to the marketplace to be healed by Jesus.

But, be careful.

Desperation, absent of faith, can lead to irrational decisions and

Bad, unintended consequences.

Poverty, powerlessness, and sickness drive people to desperate measures.

People sell themselves into bankruptcy to pay for cancer treatments.

Individuals travel the world in search of miracle treatments and cures.

People interpret causality where there is none.

People leave family and ancestral homes behind in search of safety and security.

Individuals even pay human smugglers to be packed in a sweltering tractor trailer to cross the border.

People pack up their children and move elsewhere if food and shelter is unaffordable or unavailable.

Some even resort to running drugs, selling drugs, and selling themselves if it will help feed their children.

Absent of faith, desperation can lead to tragic outcomes.

Desperate, faithful people, however,

Gather in the marketplace,

Confident that Jesus will heal them.

Jesus heals them;

All of them,

Disrupting the economies of this world.

Faith and social action lead to healing.

Faith and social action lead to the healing of the world

and the completion of God’s Kingdom.

Allow me to pivot

To the second insight from this passage.

It is from these verses, 30-34, that I decided to title this message “Driven By Desperation.”

In this narrative,

Jesus gathered with his apostles

Who had been working the countryside in pairs,

Dependent upon the grace of God and the hospitality of the locals.

They had been

Preaching repentance, healing the sick, and casting out demons. (6:6-13)

By all accounts the apostles had been wildly successful;

So successful they drew crowds and were so busy they didn’t have time to eat.

Jesus gathers them in for a time to rest.

They attempted to slip away in a boat to a deserted place,

But their effort to take a day off

Was subverted by the persistent, relentless, pursuant crowd.

What made the crowd so persistent?

One scholar I read suggested the crowd’s behavior

Was a sign of being “driven by their own desperation.”

(Preaching the New Common Lectionary Year B After Pentecost, by Craddock, Hayes, Holladay, and Tucker, 1985, pg.100)

What made the crowd so desperate?

I don’t think it was the fact that Jesus and his apostles had been healing the sick in the surrounding towns and countryside.

Yes, Jesus and his apostles had been successfully,

Miraculously,

Healing the sick.

Certainly there would have been sick people in the crowd;

But not many.

Most sick and diseased people would not have been able to

Engage in an active pursuit of Jesus.

What made the crowd so desperate?

The three-step response of Jesus gives us a helpful clue.

1. Jesus sees the crowd.

2. Jesus has compassion on them,

because they are “like sheep without a shepherd.” (6:34)

3. Jesus begins to teach them many things.

Jesus sees they are wondering aimlessly, literally and figuratively,

Like sheep without a shepherd.

Without direction, they will become lost.

Without protection, sheep fall prey to wolves.

The expected lifespan of sheep without a shepherd is short,

Very short.

What made the crowd so desperate?

I’d suggest, based on Jesus’ response,

Came from a fear of death.

Fear of death will drive people to desperate acts.

To some extent

We all fear death;

Some more than others.

To some extent

We all fear the death of a loved one.

Death is the ultimate test of faith and

To some extent

Most of us wonder if we will live up to the test.

I know I do.  

The key for the faithful is simply this:

Allow the fear of death

To drive you to the feet of Jesus.

Let Jesus take it from there.

Which brings us to the third response of Jesus.

It is so revealing;

“he began to teach them many things.” (6:34)

Jesus taught them.

He connected the dots,

Stirred in the Gospel,

And bakes it with God’s eternal truth.

The conclusion appears before our very eyes:

Education is Christ’s response to our deepest, mortal fears.

Being informed brings assurance.

The cross and empty tomb is his faithful fulfillment of his promise and truth.

The education that Jesus taught is summed up in the third chapter of John.

It begins with

“God so loved the world.”

In other words, God loves every one of you.

God loves you.

Know it.

Wear it.

Share it.

“God gave his one and only Son.”

God makes sacrifices for you.

God made the greatest possible sacrifice just for you.

Yes, you are that important.

“Whoever believes in Jesus will not perish.”

This is Jesus’ promise:

Believe and you will not die.

Believe and receive eternal life.

He addresses the fear of death issue with crystal clarity.

Fear drives people to desperate measures.

Take over the marketplace.

Upset the economy, if that’s what it takes,

Lay the sick together, that they may be healed.

For the faithful

Desperation leads to being brought together

And being healed.

Fear drives people to desperate measures.

Chase down Jesus and his apostles.

Desperation drives one to the feet of Jesus,

That all may learn all that our Lord has to teach.

For the faithful

Desperation leads to the promise of the Gospel

And God’s faithful fulfillment of it.

This is Good News for the faithful

Driven to desperation.

Amen.