“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.

“Searching for Good News”

Mark 6:14-29

July 11, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 6:14-29 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=398399510)

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

| Centering Prayer |

I went to bed on that Saturday night

Quite confident that morning worship

Was well planned and my sermon is ready to go.

About 2:00 a.m. my pager woke me to a different reality.

A man had been stabbed in front of the church,

Right across the street from where I slept.

I went from sleep to warp speed in zero point one of a nano second.

I was called to put to work years of training, practice, and experience.

It was a futile attempt,

Even though my crew on the ambulance and I

Did everything possible to save the man’s life.

Three hours later,

I was showered.

The paper work was done.

I was back home.

Lying awake in bed I remember thinking to myself,

“Where is the good news?”

Where is Good News to be found?

If you are like me,

The Gospel lesson for today

Probably left you wondering

“Where is good news to be found

In this narrative about King Herod,

Herodias and her daughter, and

The beheading of John the Baptist?”

I mean, Holy cow!

This scene is more like a steamy romance novel that ends in an ISIS death camp.

Any volunteers to clarify the Gospel lesson?

Would anyone like to expand on the beheading of John the Baptist

And pitch an idea of how we can apply the Gospel to our life today?

My guess is that

Most of my colleagues in their pulpits this morning are punting;

Preferring to preach on the Old Testament or Epistle lessons

Instead of tackling sex, partying, and murder.

(Full disclosure.

In 36 years of pastoral ministry,

I also avoided preaching on the beheading of John the Baptist

Ten out of twelve times. I’ve only preached on this passage in 1997 and 2018.)

So, here we go.

It is helpful to step back and take in the larger picture,

The 30,000 foot perspective,

To obtain deeper understanding of the Gospel.

Our narrative follows

Jesus teaching in his hometown synagogue,

In Nazareth.

He was marginalized and scorned by his own family and neighbors. (6:1-6)

Indeed, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house,” Jesus observes. (6:4)

I love how Jesus gives himself just enough cover by using a double negative.

It left his critics scratching their heads trying to think it through.

Jesus leaves Nazareth behind, shaking the dust off his feet.

He teaches in the surrounding countryside.

He sends out his twelve disciples in six pairs,

Instructing them to take nothing for their journey except a staff.

No bread.

No bag.

No money.

Only the clothes on your back.

Stay, Jesus instructed them, with those who welcome you.

If there are those who do not welcome you,

Do as I did back in Nazareth,

Turn around and leave.

Shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them. (6:7-11)

The strategy of Jesus was successful

Because his six teams proclaimed repentance and

“cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” (6:12-13)

That’s quite a party Jesus throws:

Austerity.

Poverty.

Dependence.

Disciplined behavior.

Faithful attention to God’s will.

Fast forward to today’s Gospel.

Concurrently, while Jesus and his six pairs of disciples are out in the countryside

Living off of God’s grace and the hospitality of the population,

Herod is throwing a different kind of party.

Depart the 30,000 feet perspective

And let’s take a close-up view of what’s going on.

Herod was the proxy king for Rome,

One of many sons of Herod the Great.

You remember him,

The one who slaughtered innocent children in an attempt to kill baby Jesus.

Herod the son wielded great power

So long as he kept the population in check and under control.

He was an impulsive, undiscipline fool Saddled with a lot of power and wealth.

(Not like we haven’t seen this kind of story today)

Sex sells;

Especially if it’s a public figure

Who would delight the crowd with

Public humiliation and a fall from grace.

Herod divorced his wife.

Okay…

He divorced his wife to marry his brother’s wife.

Now we’re talking…

He divorced his wife to marry his brother’s wife because he was apparently infatuated with her daughter…

Bingo! Ding! Ding! Ding!

We’ve got a genuine sexual scandal of the most salacious sort!

John the Baptist,

A righteous and holy man, Mark reports 6:20),

Spoke up and spoke out in blistering criticism 

Of Herod tawdry behavior,

Bringing forth the wrath of Herodias.

What to do? But to have John arrested and innocently held?

(I hope you and I appreciate Freedom of Speech, because Herod didn’t!)

It’s Herod’s birthday.

Pop! Goes the corks, and wine begins to flow.

Unable to control his impulses,

Herod paints himself into a corner.

In this Gospel narrative where neither Jesus or John the Baptist appears,

We experience events spinning out of control.

Herod is unable to back down.

Pay attention to detail:

“What should I ask for?” daughter asks mother.

“The head of John the baptizer.” (6:24)

Daughter inflates the request,

“I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” (6:25)

At once!

On a platter!

Hyperbole sells.

Exaggeration emboldens.

Why settle with mere pennies when millions will do?

Presentation is everything!

Pay attention to detail:

“Immediately the king,” (that would be Herod)

“sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head.” (6:27)

Instead of bringing the head as ordered to the king,

The soldier of the guard brings it to the girl

Who then gives it to her mother. (6:28)

Obviously, even the soldier of the guard could read between the lines.

A common soldier could see where guilt lay

In the midst of wanton excess and debauchery.

The contrast between Jesus and his disciples

Living in austerity, preaching and healing in the countryside,

Living on absolutely nothing but the hospitality of the people and the grace of God

Stands in polar opposite

To the banquet Herod is hosting

That spins out of control in a drunken haze

Of adultery, murder, corruption, and greed.

That’s the close-up view.

Where is Good News to be found?

In this Gospel narrative of the beheading of John the Baptist,

There may be none.

Yet, the Gospel begs the faithful,

When considering the contrast of Jesus and Herod,

To ask the question,

What kind of banquet does Jesus host?

What kind of banquet does Jesus host?

Jesus gathers his disciples close

Takes the bread,

Gives thanks to God who gave it,

Breaks the bread,

And gives it to them, saying

“This is my body broken for you for the forgiveness of sin.”

This is the banquet Jesus hosts.

Jesus takes the cup,

Gives thanks to God who gave it,

Pours the cup,

And shares it with them, saying

“This is my blood, the cup of the new covenant, shed for you.”

The new covenant is simply this:

Believe in Jesus Christ and receive eternal life.

This is the banquet Jesus hosts.

More than merely a martyred life,

The banquet Jesus hosts points to

The forgiveness of sins by his death upon a cross

And the salvation of the world by means of his resurrection.

Where is Good News to be found?

About six months later

I was enjoying our weekly breakfast meeting

With area colleagues in ministry

When an elderly woman entered the restaurant.

Carefully navigating with her walker

She made her way over to our table.

“Would any of you, by chance, be Rev. Goddard?”

The table fell quiet.

“O boy,” I thought to myself.

“What am I in for now?”

“The police told me that you worked on my son, the night he was stabbed in front of the church.”

I swallowed hard.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“We all did our very best to save his life.”

“I’m very sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you,” she said.

After a pause she said, “I only have one question,

‘Did he suffer?’”

“No, ma’am. He did not suffer.” I answered her honestly.

“Oh, what a relief!” she said.

She stood up straight, as if the weight of the world had been removed from her shoulders.

“That’s all I needed to know.”

Sometimes we’re so bogged down

In the hand-to-hand combat of daily trials and temptations

We can’t even imagine there is a 30,000 foot perspective

That God has been working on all along.

Redemption is God’s plan.

Forgiveness and salvation are God’s gifts.

That’s Good news.

Good news, indeed. Amen.

“Soon I Will Be Done”

Mark 5:21-43

June 27, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”

So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

| Centering Prayer |

The story of Buster Kilrain,

Though fictional,

Could have been the story of scores of soldiers

Set off to war

For some nobler cause,

Never to return home.

Kilrain,

Michael Shaara wrote,

(The Killer Angels, 1975)

Was a sergeant in the 20th of Maine,

Under the command of Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain,

Who on July 2, 1863

Was wounded twice defending Little Round Top

In the Battle of Gettysburg

From repeated Confederate uphill charges.

His second wound would prove to be mortal,

Though not immediate.

Shot in the stomach

Kilrain endures through the end of the day.

He survives the long night,

And dies the next morning in a gruesome field hospital.

His life ebbs away;

Slowly draining,

Spilling forth emotional visits from fellow soldiers,

Even from Colonel Chamberlain himself.

Each come to pay their respects

Before the darkness falls and his light is extinguished.

How would life be defined?

What values and ideals did he stand for?

What legacy must be forwarded to the next generation?

The story reminds me of the old spiritual we sang in High School chorus.

It’s been done numerous ways, but this is how I remember it:

          Soon I will be done with de troubles of de world,

          De troubles of de world, de troubles of de world.

Soon I will be done with de troubles of de world,

Goin home to live with God.

I want to meet my brother,

I want to meet my brother,

I want to meet my brother,

Goin home to live with God.

Life draining away.

Life draining away.

Day in and day out,

For twelve years

This ostracized, unclean woman

Had been hemorrhaging out her life blood,

Wasting away the best of her childbearing years,

So anemic her strength had simply vanished.

Chronic fatigue had become routine,

Life defining,

And soon,

Unless something miraculous this way comes,

Life ending.

Life was draining away.

About the same time this woman began to hemorrhage

Twelve years earlier,

A little baby girl was born.

She was the daughter of a leader from the synagogue.

Yes,

A daughter would have been disappointing on the one hand,

But, on the other, a good Jewish daughter

Grows up to be a strong Jewish mother.

The promise of grandchildren,

The strength of maternal wisdom residing in the home,

The wisdom that flowed from the mother at the head of the family table,

Would have made the new father, Jairus,

Beam with pride.

This was his daughter,

Who would grow his family

And deepen his legacy.

However, his daughter,

Just arriving at the age when Jewish girls

Would begin the process of courtship and marriage;

Right when she was so filled with potential,

Abruptly died.

Childhood mortality was common at the time of Jesus,

So it wasn’t unexpected.

But that doesn’t mean that it was any less painful

Than the death of a child today.

In poignant contrast,

Our Gospel lesson

The Healing of the Hemorrhaging Woman sandwiched between The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter

Sets the table

For Jesus to act and speak to us today.

So what do these stories say?

First, let’s talk about healing.

There is one school of thought that believes

That anyone can be healed simply if they have enough faith.

Proponents will point to Jesus lifting

This unnamed, newly healed, formerly hemorrhaging woman

And speaking to her,

My “daughter, your faith has made you well.”

(Mark 5:34)

If only your faith is sufficient,

Then anyone can be healed,

Or so some believe.

This places the entire responsibility upon the one who is seeking healing.

This line of thought victimizes the sick.

When life doesn’t turn out the way one had expected,

The rest of the world is left with the message

That their faith had been inadequate.

By couching this one story within the larger story

Of Jesus raising Jarius’ daughter from the dead,

St. Mark the Evangelist is clearly making a powerful counter-point.

The twelve-year-old girl was dead.

It wouldn’t be her lack of faith

Or her super abundant faith that would determine her outcome

Because she was already dead.

With masterful strokes,

The message is loud and clear:

Healing is not dependent upon the faith of the person being healed.

Healing is about faith,

Yet, more than just about faith.

There is another school of thought

That healing can only come from one who is divinely gifted as a healer.

You and I have heard and seen this many times

Especially via the tele-evangelist and their dramatic,

Emotion wrought demonstrations of faith healing.

“Just say the name of Jesus and be healed!”

The healer will shout

As they smack their palm against

The wheelchair bound individual’s forehead.

It is as if God selects certain individuals

To go away to some secret healing seminary

To learn the top-secret potions for healing individuals.

The cookbook says,

If they’re in a wheelchair, do this.

If they aren’t in a wheelchair, give them one.

If they insist on standing, smack them this way.

If they reach out to touch you, let them only touch the hem of your garment.

Yet, here again, St. Mark the Evangelist

Uses these two contrasting healing narratives

To complete debunk this school of thought.

One does not have to be uniquely gifted,

Or trained to follow some divine recipe,

For healing to take place.

Indeed, Jesus mixes it up.

He employs different methods with each miracle.

The observation that healing power

Had already passively flowed from him

Through her touch

And into her body,

Is very different than our Lord’s stern command,

“Little girl, get up!”

The message that we are able to hear today,

Is that

Healing comes from God.
Healing comes to whom God chooses.
Healing is on God’s terms.

Sometimes healing is cure,

But, many times it isn’t.

Other times healing is the restoration of broken relationships.

Jesus didn’t have to stop

When he felt the power of healing had gone forth from him.

Jesus didn’t have to “out” this woman.

But by doing so,

This woman’s healing, faith, and testimonial

Restores her

Into the community

She had been forced to leave twelve years earlier

Due to religious laws about cleanliness.

Healing restored her social, emotional, and spiritual relationships

With her community of family, friends, and neighbors.

The unclean was now clean.

Return to your life …. and live.

This woman’s social fabric

Was now mended.

Her life was transformed

Into a living testimonial to the power and presence and love of God.

Sometimes healing is resurrection.

Other times healing is spiritual revival.

Just when our soul feels

Like all faith is lost,

Every breath is labored,

Each drop of blood has drained us spiritual dry,

God’s touch of healing

Can revive our soul right out of the grave.

Endless church debates,

Disagreements over money and morality,

Discontent with the pastor or leaders,

And a lifetime of tedious board meetings

Can kill a person.

Lots of people lose their soul in organized religion.

(Pssss: it even happens to clergy.)

Yet, by God’s hand,

In God’s time,

And by power that can only come from God almighty,

God is able to resurrect the dead

Both literally and spiritually.

God is in the resurrection business, people.

So get in line!

Secondly, it is important to recognize fear,

Especially since this passage comes on the heel of last Sunday’s narrative of Jesus stilling the wind and calming the waves.

In today’s Gospel,

The hemorrhaging woman isn’t afraid to approach Jesus.

She isn’t afraid of the fact that by touching him, she would make him unclean.

What makes this woman afraid?

It was when Jesus stops and asks

“Who touched my cloths?”

(Mark 5:30)

By the act of “knowing what had happened to her,”

She “came in fear and trembling,

Fell down before him,

And told him the whole truth.”

(Mark 5:33)

Knowing caused her to fear.

Likewise,

A Father’s fear is palpable

When Jairus seeks out Jesus,

Falls at his feet,

And begs for him to heal his daughter.

Knowing God

And knowing what God is capable of doing

Should cause all of us to get down on our knees before the Lord

With fear and trembling.

Knowing what God has already done for us

Should cause each of us to come clean,

To confess ourselves spotless,

To witness to the whole truth of our less-than-perfect lives.

Fear is a double-edge sword.
Fear can keep us away from Jesus,

… For a time.

But at the end of the day,

The same fear that drove us away

Is the same fear that can bring us round back home to our Lord’s feet.

Fear is a good thing when it drives us home to Jesus.

Weather it is when we are in a storm tossed boat

Or when Jesus has outed our sins

For all the world to see,

Fear is God’s bucket of ice water in the face …

… “snap out of it” …

And get yourself back into the presence of Jesus,

Because that is where healing takes place.

Few things sap the life right out of us

Like illness or injury,

Like fatigue or death.

Similarly, rolling in the slop of sin

Can cause a hangover of regret

That can bend and break even the strongest man or woman.

Know this to be true:

Healing comes from God

At the feet of Jesus.

Fear not!

Healing is reconciled relationships.

Healing is sometimes cure.

Healing is salvation.

Healing is leaving behind the troubles of this world.

Healing is going home to live with God.

Amen.

“Get In the Boat”

June 20, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 4:35-41

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

| Centering Prayer |

“Why are you afraid?” Jesus asks.

Why are you afraid?

There are many things in this world that frighten us.

This being Father’s day,

I recall the feeling before each of my two sons were born;

Wondering if I’d be a good enough father.

I was afraid of failing,

Of not loving each child enough,

Of not passing to each child the values and faith

My father had passed on to me.

My fears, so far, – knock wood – have proved to be baseless.

God has shown me the way.

God has provided.

Why are you afraid? Jesus asks.

According to the Mass Shooting Tracker project

Between January 1st and May 31st  Mass shootings in the United States have killed 283,

Injured 1,005,

For a total of 1,288.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mass_shootings_in_the_United_States_in_2021)

Why are you afraid? Jesus asks.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

28 people die every day

– one person every 52 minutes –

– 10,142 people in 2019 –

Due to drunk-driving crashes.

(https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drunk-driving)

Why are you afraid? Jesus asks.

According to the New York Times

599,485 Americans have died of COVID-19 as of June 15, 2021.

(https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/us/covid-cases.html)

Is it the apparent randomness?

Is it the frailty of life?

We fear that life is a gamble

Every time we walk out of the house in the morning.

The angry driver committing road rage,

The moronic fundamentalist,

Or, for many of our sisters and brothers of color,

The possible knee on the neck;

They all cause us to fear,

To hibernate,

To gather weapons,

To throw down neighbors

And build up walls.

Anyone, anything, at any time

Can end life as we know it in a millisecond

And there isn’t a thing we can do to stop it.

We are afraid

Even though God has provided silent protection all our days.

We are here today,

Because God has wanted us to be here today.

By His mercy,

Our fears have been unjustified.

Why are you afraid?

The older we all get the more aware we become of our mortality.

Family and friends receive that dreaded life-ending,

Often life-defining,

Diagnosis,

And we stand vigil

Hoping and praying with all our heart

That they survive.

Yet, many have gone,

Disappeared,

And we can only hope and pray we meet our loved ones again

Gathered around God’s heavenly throne.

There is no greater fear than

The harm or death

Of a child, grandchild, or soul mate.

Fear can be paralyzing.

When will the sword of Damocles drop?

I wonder about

My own mortality,

Of pain, suffering, and the potential of life being cut too short.

With every sunrise,

With every breath and heartbeat,

Our fears have yet to be realized,

Wholly and simply

By the grace of God.

Why are you afraid? Jesus asks when he is roused.

It’s it obvious?

The boat is sinking and we are all going to drown!

Keep calm

and consider for a moment

The God of creation.

Out of chaos,

God created all things.

From the far corners of the cosmos,

God gathered the seas and filled them with life.

God raised the land,

And filled it with plenty.

God created the wind and filled it with birds of the air.

God created man and woman in God’s own image.

All this is God’s!

When seas roll and the wind howl

And our ship is tossed towards the rocks,

Jesus commands, “Peace! Be still!”

Our God, Father and Son,

Created it

and can

Still it

– SNAP –

In a New York minute.

Let there be no doubt,

When the police officer comes to your door,

When standing in the ICU,

Even when looking down the barrel of a gun (God forbid),

Jesus is with you,

Ready to loose his thunder:

“Peace! Be still!”

But, we protest,

Evil still acts,

Cancer still strikes,

Alzheimer’s steals memories and neurons one-by-one.

Bad things happen to good people,

And hatred, oppression, and injustice

Continues to suck humanity dry!

“Peace! Be still!” Jesus commands the wind and the sea.

“Have you still no faith?” Jesus asks.

But I don’t want to adult!

I don’t want to grow up.

I just want to be left alone.

I just want to return to the simplicity of my spiritual childhood

When Andy Taylor was Sheriff and

Captain Kirk streaked across the universe.

Ah! There we have it.

Jesus teases the fear right to the surface,

Just as he instantly saved his disciples and filled them with great awe.

We long to return to Egypt, even though we were slaves to Pharaoh.

We want to go back to our “Leave It to Beaver” household of our childhood.

We remember life when it appeared simpler and as pure as a mountain stream.

We just want a safe, predictable, pain-free life for our families and ourselves.

“Have you still no faith?”

Buck up, Buttercup,

Jesus commands today.

Get in the boat with Jesus

The storms of life will certainly take your life

If you’re not safe and secure in the boat.

Get in the boat,

Which symbolizes the Church,

Because this boat protects us.

This boat

Holds us together

Through every storm.

Get in the boat and stay in the boat.

Oh, it’s tempting to abandon the boat,

To fish other seas,

To explore on our own,

But there is no fate quicker than death,

Than to be caught outside the boat.

“Have you still no faith?”

Buck up, Buttercup.

The consequence of sin is death.

Biology drives cellular senescence, damage, and death.

Physics drops the anvil, the piano, the random bolt of lightning.

We try to rid the world and our lives of sin.

We attempt to prolong life even at the expense of living.

We spend billions in the attempt to create a risk-free world.

Yet, in the end,

We can’t save others.

We can’t even save ourselves.

That’s why we’ve been given a Savior to still our storms.

This boat is Christ’s boat.

This is where Christ resides.

This is where Christ abides.

So, get in the boat!

The same God who created the wind and seas can still them.

The same God who granted free will to man and woman to sin

Sent his Son to wash that same sin away.

The same God who breathed life into our lungs and gave us His Spirit,

Is the same God who will one day,

Safely bring each of us home.

Sometimes we float lazily on inner tubes along this river of faith.

Other times we batten down the hatches, hoping to survive the hurricane.

The apostle Peter accurately reports,

“… that with the Lord

One day is as a thousand years,

And a thousand years as one day.”

– 2 Peter 3:8

There isn’t a storm Jesus hasn’t stilled.

There isn’t a gale that God hasn’t quelled.

Spiritually, it is time to grow up,

Claim our Savior,

And dive deep into a discipleship relationship with Him.

Let us always

Have the will and the faith

To cry out to Jesus in the midst of our storms

With confidence

That Jesus is here to save us.

Amen.

“Kingdom Parables”

Proper 6B, June 13, 2021

Mark 4:26-34

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 4:26-34

    He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

    He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

    With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

| Centering Prayer |

We have two different, but similar, parables from Jesus this morning.

The intent of each is to describe the kingdom of God.

One is about one who scatters seed,

Goes to bed,

And rises to find that the seeds mysteriously grew.

The second parable is about a tiny mustard seed,

When sown

It grows to become the greatest shrub.

Jesus often taught in parables,

– Teaching by telling stories –

As opposed to speaking plainly and forthrightly.

Behind closed doors,

and in the presence of his disciples,

Jesus was obviously more direct.

But when in public,

Jesus often chose parables as

A literary style of choice.

Many have hypothesized why.

1. Some suggest that Jesus taught in parables as a means of self-preservation.

If the religious authorities witnessed Jesus challenging

their corruption of God’s perfect institution,

they may have him prematurely put to death.

So, Jesus could be just obscure enough

to keep him out of trouble,

yet clear enough

to get his point across.

Plausible deniability.

2. By their very nature, parables are simple,

memorable, using common, humble imagery.

Like a great joke, parables are easy to remember and retell.

Their memorable nature suggest

Jesus wants his message to be retained and spread.

Teaching in parables reveals

Jesus thinking and planning for a future growing Church.

Think: Grow deep; grow wide.

Think: Discipleship and evangelism.

3. Still others hypothesize

Jesus used parables as a means

of provoking thought and coaxing the listener

Into participating more actively in the story.

Scholars generally caution preachers

Of over-explaining parables,

Of pushing them too far.

When the listener has to do mental work to figure out a parable

It makes the parable much more personal and memorable.

Jesus probably had these three reasons, and more for speaking in parables.

This is my approach when preaching or teaching his parables:

Keep it simple.

Don’t over analyze them or try to push them too far.

Speak parables aloud,

Reflect on them,

Maul them over in your mind.

Let the Spirit speak.

And draw your own conclusions.

The two parables Jesus teach this morning are about the kingdom of God.

They are kingdom parables.

Kingdom is a word not often used today,

Especially in western, American culture.

We held a revolution and fought a war to break free from a king and his oppressive kingdom.

However, kingdom certainly had meaning in ancient times,

during the Middle Ages,

through the renaissance, and has meaning today for many people of the world.

Kingdoms have kings;

Rulers who are men,

Holding massive wealth,

Inheriting both fortunes and authority.

Some became king by birth,

others by violent insurrection from within,

or victory on the battlefield from without.

Still others become king by marriage.

Kings create the rules,

enforce the rules,

and passed judgment upon those accused of breaking the rules.

Every member of the kingdom works for the benefit of the king

in exchange for safety and protection.

Benevolent kings ran good kingdoms.

But often, power, riches, and authority cause many to turn bad.

City-sized kingdoms grew into regional kingdoms,

like Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome.

Seeking ever more size, wealth, power, status, legacy

Kings turned upon Kings.

Kingdoms turned on kingdoms,

Each rising and falling in cyclical fashion.

Prosperity is followed by weakening, fall, regeneration, and prosperity all over again.

People tire of the cycle.

People tire of sacrificing their youth to war,

Their prosperity to taxes,

Their freedom to slavery.

But each new charismatic despot takes advantage of people’s short memory and the promise of personal gain or glory.

Original sin finds a way to endlessly mutate and replicate.

Holocaust becomes a cycle of sin.

War and violence continue with unending ferocity.

Creative depravity knows no end.

Such was the kingdom of Rome in the time of Jesus.

The search for God

May be just as motivated by a desire to get out of this place

and these cruel cyclical circumstances

as much as it might be for higher or nobler reasons.

The serf or slave thinks to themselves:

Let’s dump our king

And follow God instead.

Applying the human metaphor,

We make God king,

Give God all authority to create law, enforce the law, and pass judgment upon those who transgress the law.

We return gifts to God.

We learn God’s ways.

We follow God’s will.

It isn’t a perfect metaphor,

Applying the imperfect to the Divine,

But it works pretty well for Jesus.

The metaphor works because kings and kingdoms was the environmental reality.

So he teaches about God’s kingdom.

To the dull or the uninspired,

kingdom talk may have been received as a threat to those in power;

Namely Rome, and the Jewish authorities.

But to those who were tired of this earthly cycle

and were searching for something more,

Thinking about the kingdom of God

was like

A key that unlocked the imagination of how life can be lived

Under the dominion of

A benevolent, loving, heavenly king.

Dream with me, people.

Dream with me of rewarding life that can be lived with God as our king!

Today we have two parables about the kingdom of God.

(Explanations for these two parables and conclusion can be attributed to the exceptional work of Sharon H. Ringe, Professor of New Testament, Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, DC; as found at: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=6/14/2009&tab=4)

In the first parable, the search for the cast of characters is difficult.

If God is the sower

Like we often think of God as being a sower

We are puzzled by the fact that the sower doesn’t know how the seed grows.

That doesn’t work.

So, try this: we are the gardener and God is responsible for the growth.

Yet, the harvest belongs to the sower.

But this doesn’t work either because we know the harvest belongs to the God, not to us.

Hum.

Time to step back and take a look at the big picture.

Mark’s audience was the first century Church.

They expected Christ to return at any moment.

All would be judged.

The kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven.

This was the confident expectation.

Consider the possibility that

this parable is designed to

provoke the audience to respond

in a predictable way.

Consider

The reign of God is not “like”

The farmer

The seed

The earth

The process of growth

Or, the harvest.

Rather, consider the possibility that

The kingdom of God is “sorta like

each of them

and all of them taken together.

In God’s kingdom

Seeds are sown

Germinate

And grow.

God’s kingdom grows.

In God’s kingdom,

Judgment

– the harvest –

is unavoidable.

The harvest comes to every citizen of God’s kingdom

Like it

Or not.

I’m suggesting this parable demands a response.

Prepare for judgment, people!

Get ready for the harvest.

How will you respond?

What kind of changes can you make in your life this very moment

To prepare to stand before Jesus

And face his judgment?

Are you following God’s laws?

If not, this would be a good time to make a necessary course correction.

Are you loving God, neighbor, and enemy just like Jesus tells us?

If not, consider ways to become more loving.

Are you a living vessel in which the Holy Spirit can live and work?

If not, perhaps it is time to invite the Spirit in.

Are you bearing witness, leading the world to Jesus?

If not, this is the time to go bold.

Are you prepared?

The second parable

Is also simple and easy for our Lord’s

Agrarian audience to grasp.

One would think.

The problem is

In the next breath

Jesus compares the kingdom of God with a weed!

They just seem like un-natural dance partners.

Farmers in the crowd would scratch their heads

Because not one of them would intentionally plant mustard

Any more than one of us would plant dandelions or thistles.

They spent their days toiling to rid themselves of mustard.

They wouldn’t plant it.

Members of the audience also would notice

Mustard seeds aren’t the smallest

And mustard bushes aren’t the biggest.

Exaggeration follows absurdity.

What gives, Jesus?

Again, consider the big picture.

Jesus creates contrast between the small seed and the large plant.

This works well as an image for the reign of God.

This is good news to people aware of Jesus’ humble beginnings.

This is good news to people with struggling faith.

The predatory ability of an aggressive weed like mustard

Would crowd out EVEN the orderly but oppressive kingdom of Rome.

Even birds taking shelter in their branches

Would peck away at the carefully planted crops.

Understanding would have produced a cacophony of chuckles in the crowd.

The idea that God empire would subvert the enterprises of Rome,

Now that’s Good News!

The days are coming

When the powers and principalities of this world

Will fall

And be replaced by God’s emerging kingdom.

Deeper still,

The faithful farming community would have been drawn to the similar imagery from Ezekiel 17:22-24:

“Thus says the Lord God: I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar; I will set it out. I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs; I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind. All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord. I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the Lord have spoken; I will accomplish it.”

Ezekiel is a book that paints a picture of end-times.

This sacred Hebrew text is referred to as apocalyptic.

God plants a tiny cedar twig on a high mountain.

The twig becomes a large and fruitful tree

Under whose branches every kind of bird finds shelter.

The birds are like all the nations of the world.

All who flock to Israel’s God,

Who find shelter in the Lord’s branches,

Will be saved on the glorious day when the Lord returns with judgment.

This picture in both Ezekiel and referenced by Jesus in today’s Gospel

Envisions a day when God’s sovereignty and life giving power

Will embrace, shelter, and save those under God’s protection.

Now that’s Good News!

Pay attention all you birders!

So, what’s the take home?

How should you and I respond?

The answer isn’t easy,

But consider this.

We live in an ordered, planned, linear, logical world

Filled with cyclical violence, sin, and evil.

The world is consumed with greed and lust for power.

Injustice and oppression are pervasive.

There are many in this world

Determined to drag each of us straight to hell.

Contrast this with what Christ is offering:

A new life

A fresh start

In God’s kingdom.

“Behold, I make all things new,” our king proclaims. (Revelation 21:5)

God is making new a different world,

One filled with mysteries and surprises,

Abundant grace and love,

Forgiveness and salvation.

In this new world

We are invited to work on the Lord’s behalf.

God’s emerging kingdom clashes with this world.

Powerful kings of this world

Are threatened by God and each of us

Who seek to follow God’s ways.

This makes you and me troublemakers

To the kings and principalities of today’s society.

As disciples of Jesus

Work to break the cycle of oppression and sin.

Labor to oust the false rulers and principalities of this world.

Seek to replace

every oppressive despot and

every false messiah.

In their place  

Recognize the Lord as our only king.

Christianity is revolutionary –

– In a dumping over the money changing tables sort of way.

We seek to turn the world upside down,

Breaking open vaults and treasuries,

Re-forging swords and hammer them into plowshares.

God’s people are called to crowd out the high and mighty,

To raise up those left behind in the shadows of dark valleys.

When the last, the least, the lost, the left behind, the other-ly abled, the widows, children, and the aged

Are raised from dark valleys

Rough places are made plain.

Emancipation is granted.

Freedom is won.

Each child of God is brought into the light

And invited to take a seat at our King’s banquet.

We test the “sorta like” stories.

We dip our toe into God’s kingdom.

What we discover

Is delightful,

Refreshing change.

A new wind is blowing.

This is Good News

The business-as-usual of this world

Isn’t going to last forever.

Not if we can help it.

Not with God as our King.

Amen.

“The Only Unforgivable Sin”

June 6, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 3:20-35

“and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.””

| Centering Prayer |

If you are troubled by persistent thoughts of

Wanting to harm yourself or others,

Speak up, tell someone you trust, and ask for help.

If you suspect someone else of thinking about homicide or suicide,

Be direct.

Tell them you care for them.

Ask them directly if they are having persistent thoughts

Of harming themselves or others.

If so, use every influence you possess

To lead them into the care of a physician or mental health professional.

Occasional thoughts are normal;

Persistent thoughts of suicide or homicide are not.

They are a sign of an illness or medical condition

That is treatable with proven interventions.

Relief is achievable.

Lives can be saved

If only we 

Overcome the stigma,

Speak up and speak out, and

Commit our lives to wellness.

I’m leading this message

With straight talk about suicide and homicide because

The Church taught from the mid-13th century on

That suicide was an unforgivable sin.

This terrible legacy continues to this day.

It was Thomas Aquinas who listed six unforgiveable sins

That go against the Holy Spirit,

The first being despair,

Which consists of thinking that

“One’s own malice

Is greater than Divine Goodness.”

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternal_sin)

The flaw:

God’s goodness is limitless,

The intention to do evil or ill will is finite.

God wins, all the time.

Goodness overcomes evil.

God’s amazing grace saves even those

Who harm themselves or others.

So, no.

Suicide is not an unforgiveable sin,

Nor does it condemn one to hell.

Suicide is not an act of despair.

Suicide is always a personal, family, and community tragedy.

Hearts are broken by suicide.

God’s heart is broken.

Healing comes with time, faith, and the love and support of others,

Redeeming the life and memory of the loved one

Who took their own life.

Hearts are repaired when we experience God’s empathy,

Relating our loss to God’s loss of His beloved Son,

Who, through his resurrection,

“We die into the loving, tender arms of God.”

(https://www.franciscanmedia.org/franciscan-spirit-blog/7-things-to-know-about-suicide)

Jesus speaks about one sin that can not be forgiven

In this third chapter of Mark,

Blasphemes against the Holy Spirit. 

He teaches,

“whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit

Can never have forgiveness,

But is guilty of an eternal sin.”

(3:28-29)

Blaspheme is a verb meaning

To “speak irreverently about God or sacred things”.

(Oxford Languages, as found at Google dot com)

You might think this harsh of Jesus.

Simply speaking irreverently is worse than

Breaking one of the Ten Commandments or

Breaking one of the Seven Deadly Sins?

It doesn’t sound right.

There is more to the story.

Understanding comes with context.

Allow me to set the Gospel playing field.

Jesus had just been baptized by John and

Endured forty days of temptations by

The head of the Department of Evil,

Satan in the flesh.

Jesus had started his Galilean ministry,

Called his first disciples, and

Casted out an unclean spirit from a man in the synagogue. 

He heals, preaches, calls followers, and

Appoints twelve of his followers

He named “apostles” to do three things:

“Be with him,

Proclaim the message, and

To have authority to cast out demons.” (3:14b-15)

Jesus is in the exorcism business

And business was booming.

Jesus wants his apprentices to

Take up some of the demand and follow in his footsteps.

Today’s gospel is like an Oreo cookie.

It is one narrative

Split by a second story,

A common characteristic of the Gospel of Mark.

It begins with a family context,

Pauses,

Speaks about accusations made by scribes from Jerusalem,

Pauses, and

Concludes with a return statement about family.

Let’s talk about the family of Jesus.

Jesus returns home,

Bringing a crowd with him inside his house.

His family comes to restrain him,

But they can’t get to him because the room was too crowded.

Their assessment of Jesus?

He was insane,

Beside himself.

He, and his brother love traveling salvation show,

were just plain nuts.

Someone is going to get hurt.

Get the straight jacket on him.

Get him out of there.

Take Jesus to a safe place,

Cool his jets, and

Talk some sense into him.

His own family look at Jesus from the outside

And make an incorrect assessment.

His mother, brothers (plural), and sisters (also plural) ask for Jesus. (3:32)

He hears the request, then teaches

“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (3:35)

If his own family didn’t get it right,

What chance do you or I have?

What do we fail to hear or see in Jesus

That God longs for us know?

Let’s talk about the cream in the middle

That separates the two ends of the chocolate cookie.

Scribes are like pop up killers throughout Mark.

They pop in and out of the story,

Taking pot shots at Jesus

Throughout his ministry.

Scribes come from Jerusalem to confront Jesus

In a similar way his family confronts him.

But they come to a different, incorrect conclusion.

They didn’t fear for his sanity.

The scribes made a theological claim that

Jesus was the ruler of all demons,

Named Beelzebul,

Associated with the pagan, Canaanite god Baal.

The scribes did not attribute the power of casting out demons to the Holy Spirit.

They claimed Jesus was able to cast out demons

Because he was the head demon,

The leader of the Department of Evil.

Their recursive flaw is obvious:

Satan vs. Satan means the self-destruction of evil.

“If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come,” Jesus teaches. (3:26)

They look to Jesus and see the work of the devil,

Not the work of the Holy Spirit.

This is the context for “unforgiveable sin.”

The unforgiveable sin, Jesus explains,

Is more than blasphemous or disrespectful talk about God.

It is claiming that the work of the Holy Spirit

In Jesus’s words and actions

Is the work of Satan.

To attribute the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan

Is to thwart the dynamics of forgiveness,

Is to walk away and close the door to redemption,

Is to reject the grace God is granting to us.

To claim that Jesus does Satan’s work

Is to remain shut outside the house,

With the scribes and Jesus’ family,

While his true kindred are inside the house

Doing the will of God

At the feet of Jesus.

Therein lays hell.

Hell is of our own creation,

Our choice to shut ourselves outside,

Making false and misleading claims about Jesus.  

It isn’t so much as belief or unbelief,

Hell is about a stubborn refusal to come into the house of Jesus

And attribute his power and grace to God.

Free choice implies

The free choice to walk away from God.

I can’t make you behave, and neither can God.

It’s a bad choice, but

It is yours to choose. 

Look to Jesus.

What is it that you see?

I see Jesus inviting us to come in from the outside.

There is a place for you and me

To abide in his house,

At his feet.

I see the Holy Spirit,

God working in the words and actions of Jesus.

I see Jesus victorious over Satan,

Casting him and every other demon out from those who are possessed.

I see Jesus winning over the power of evil

Every single time.

Look to Jesus.

What is it that you see?

Amen.

“Born of Water and Spirit”

John 3:1-17 

Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 3:1-17

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.

Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”

Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

| Centering Prayer |

Have you ever been with another person,

Such that both hear the same words,

But each derives a different meaning?

Recently, I heard this illustrative story:

People in a hot air balloon are swept up in a storm.

When the storm breaks

They come out the other side

Of the wind, rain, and pitched darkness

Into completely unfamiliar territory.

They reduce altitude

And spot a farmer standing in the middle of a wheat field below.

“Where are we?” yelled the pilot.

“You’re in a balloon!” the farmer shouted back.

Thinking of a better way to rephrase it

The pilot shouted back again, “Where are you?”

To which the farmer replied, “I’m in a wheat field!”

Such is the case of Jesus and Nicodemus.

A leader of the Jews,

Schooled in the law of Moses,

Nicodemus clandestinely approaches Jesus

Under the concealment of darkness

Seeking understanding about the signs Jesus performs.

Clearly in the mind of Nicodemus,

These signs show favor or power from God.

The word in question

Is spoken by Jesus:

You must be born anõthen.

This is one Greek adverb with multiple meanings.

Nicodemus clearly hears it as “again,”

As demonstrated with his silly follow-up question

(“How can anyone be born after having grown old?

Can one enter a second time

into the mother’s womb and be born?”).

However, Jesus’ continuing commentary clearly demonstrates

He meant it to be heard as “from above.”

(Considerable linguistic insight provided by: Sharon H. Ringe, Professor of New Testament, Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, DC, as found at: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/the-holy-trinity-2/commentary-on-john-31-17-3)

“No one can enter the kingdom of God

Without being born of water and Spirit,” Jesus teaches.

In other words,

The only way into our Heavenly Father’s kingdom

Is to have one foot in this world

And the other foot firmly planted in heaven.

Being born of water = think “this world,”

“Think the great flood with Noah and his ark,”

“Think the Red Sea parting for Moses and our Hebrew ancestors,”

“Think the baptisms of John the Baptist for repentance of sins.”

Being born of water

Should cause one to consider

how the God of creation

has a long history of rescuing God’s people;

saving us from unrighteousness, warring intent, and sins of the flesh.

But the world is not enough.

Baptism by water is not enough.

Perfect attendance in church isn’t enough.

Attending seminary and being ordained isn’t enough.

There is nothing humanly possible,

No human effort, no righteous deed, no feat so worthy

That will, on it’s own, open the doors to the kingdom of heaven.

“We are not saved by our works,”

the apostle Paul correctly interprets the Gospel,

“We are saved solely by the grace of God.”

And that grace is the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Being born of the Spirit:

Think the presence of Christ in the absence of his body.

Think wind, Jesus tells us,

“It blows where it chooses,”

(which is to say Christ’s mind is not our mind)

“you hear the sound of it,”

(our senses are aware of the presence of the Spirit)

“but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”

(In other words,

don’t spent wasted time

attempting to understand what the Spirit’s next move may be.

Just let it go,

Just let it be.)

Simply be aware;

Watch for signs of the Spirit’s presence and movement.

Listen for it’s rustling.

Discern it’s intent.

Follow where it leads.

Let the Spirit guide you

From the here and now

Forward to God’s deepest desire.

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” – Jesus, John 3:3

Not “again.”

“Born from above!”

Baptized in this world and

Adopted by the Spirit of Christ

From above!

Though we struggle in a world filled with sickness, sin, and death,

The apostle Paul writes in his epistle to the church in Rome,

We have not been abandoned.

In Christ, God has adopted us

As God’s very own children and heirs.

(With thanks to Elisabeth Johnson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, Watertown, MN)

We have not been left behind

Simply with four historical books of the Bible

That tell us the story of Jesus.

We have been claimed and named,

Bought and paid for,

Accepted and included,

into God’s heavenly family.

The power of adoption,

Or huiothesia in the Greek

(Phonetically: hwee-oth-es-ee’-ah)

Cannot be overstated.

Think chosen,

Preferred over all others.

Parents who have adopted children may understand.

Adopted children might gain understand with age.

It is one thing to give birth,

It is something altogether different

To intentional lay claim to a child,

To gather them in and make them your own.

That intentional selfless act

Is but a taste,

Just an inkling of

The enormous gift of love the Spirit provides.

Grace is an order of magnitude beyond our comprehension.

We don’t have to understand it.

We simply claim it,

Live in it,

Bathe in it,

Drink it in.

Our scriptural lessons for today

From Isaiah, Romans, and the Gospel of John

Help to paint a picture of our Triune God;

A Father’s love that created us,

Made covenant with us,

Taught us how to live,

And desires our obedience;

A Father’s love who sent us his own Son

As a gift to humankind,

To forgive our sins

And to save us into eternal life.

The Gospel is a portrait of

A Son’s love

That taught us to love,

That showed us how to love,

That laid down his own life because of his love

For you and me.

This is what a Son’s love looks like:

Jesus refused to abandon us in the Garden.

By fulfilling His Father’s will

He enables us to call upon God

With the same loving intimacy we heard

Our Lord cry from the cross:

“Abba! Father!”

Jesus paints a picture for Nicodemus of

The Spirit’s love

That has chosen us,

Preferred us,

Adopted us as God’s own.

The Spirit’s love

Desires to abide with us, and in us.

The presence and guidance of the Spirit

Connects us with Christ and

Connects us with each other

As fellow children and heirs of God.

Dearly beloved,

Jesus is talking about

A God that will not let us go,

A God who loves us

We are His children,

Siblings with Christ,

Heirs to the divine inheritance

Of eternal life in God’s completed kingdom.

Come,

Be the Body of Christ.

Cry “Abba! Father!”

And lay claim to God’s grace and love

Given to you.

Amen.

“The Holy Spirit: Proving the World Wrong”

John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

May 23, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

”When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them. “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts.

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

| Centering Prayer |

As “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) is the shortest verse in the Bible,

Pentecost is the shortest season in the Church year.

Pentecost is exactly one day long.

Every Sunday following Pentecost is known and organized

Simply by the number of Sundays following Pentecost.

For example, three weeks from today will be

The Third Sunday Following Pentecost.

Pentecost must be a big deal to liturgical peeps.

This liturgical numbering system continues until Advent!

Pentecost comes from the Greek Πεντηκοστή (Pentēkostē) meaning “fiftieth”.

(Wikipedia)

Generally speaking,

Many of our Jewish ancestors hosted

an annual harvest celebration called “First Fruits”.

Ten percent of newly harvested fruits and vegetables

Would be given to the Temple or local Synagogue

To support the Rabbi and to feed the poor.

The culture of the tithe is rooted in the gifts of First Fruits, and

50 days later, Pentecost.

Following the ascension of Jesus

The second chapter of the Book of Acts

Reports the coming of the Holy Spirit

Fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus.

The Spirit descended with “divided tongues, as of fire.”

The Holy Spirit gave each the power to witness

In every language

To all the world.

In Peter’s following sermon to the crowd

He gives his first-hand, eyewitness testimony to

The resurrection of Jesus,

His ascension, and

Being seated at the right hand of his Heavenly Father.

Thus the beginning of a new Messianic Age.

Peter’s testimony led to the first converts to be

Baptized by water and the Spirit and to be taught the ways of Jesus.

The Church was born.

One can loosely say that Pentecost is the birthday of the Church.

Happy birthday, Church!

You just turned 1,989 years old

(assuming Jesus was killed at age 32 and his birth was in 0 AD).

As there are two different Creation stories in the Bible,

Coming from two different sources,

So, too, are there two different Pentecost stories,

Reporting when the Holy Spirit came to the disciples.

The most popular one is the one I mentioned, from Acts 2.

The other Pentecost story is found in John 20:19-23

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

I hope Jesus was fully vaccinated before he breathed on them!

With his promise to send the Holy Spirit,

Our Gospel lesson for today is fulfilled.

Jesus ascends.

His replacement,

God in the world,

Is the Holy Spirit.

While Jesus could interact one-on-one,

The reach of the Holy Spirit is global.

Back to our Gospel lesson,

Prior to his death.

Jesus is instructing his disciples in the Upper Room.

Much had been taught and demonstrated about discipleship

Over the final three years of his life.

After Jesus washes the feet of his disciples,

He teaches them about the primacy of love.

He informs them that He is the way to the Father.

Then he pivots.  

Jesus changes the focus from himself

To the promise of the Holy Spirit to replace Him.

Most Christians, especially most Protestants,

Know precious little about the

Third Person of the Holy Trinity,

The Holy Spirit.

In sweeping statements

Jesus gives us a gold mine of information,

Here in the Gospel of John.

First, the Greek word used for the Holy Spirit is “Paraclete”,

(Par·a·clete /ˈperəˌklēt/ noun (in Christian theology) the Holy Spirit as advocate or counselor (John 14:16, 26) – Google search.)

Which means Advocate,

One who speaks and acts on behalf of another.

In antiquity a paraclete was a mediator, comforter, and counselor;

One who instructed, assisted, and enter pleas on behalf of others.

A paraclete’s comfort was more than condolence,

It was sound advice and direction.

(This, and the following portion of the sermon is indebted to the excellent exegetical work found in “Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary”, Soards, Dozeman, McCabe, p.175-177, 1993)

The Spirit provides

True advice and direction.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth,

Testifying on behalf of Jesus Christ.

Disciples do the talking;

It’s the Holy Spirit of Truth

Dwelling in us

That gives us words, strength, and conviction.

Don’t sweat it.

We may be agents of the power of the Spirit,

But the work of Christian conversion is done by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit of Truth –

– Truth:

Jesus is God’s son,

Born and dwelt among us.

(John 1)

– Truth:

Jesus was sent to the world as an act of love

That all the world would believe and follow him,

Not to condemn the world,

But that the world might be saved into eternal life.

(John 3:16-17)

– Truth:

Jesus taught and practiced a life of love,

Suffered and died on a cross to atone for our sins,

Was risen from the dead 3 days later, and

Ascended into heaven.

Testify to this truth and let the Spirit convict.

The Holy Spirit proves the world wrong about sin.

Condemnation under the Law is replaced

By the sacrificial, atoning death of Jesus.

The redemptive and saving grace of Jesus Christ

Extends to all the world,

Including those who have yet to come to believe.

The Holy Spirit proves the world wrong about righteousness.

The resurrection and ascension of Jesus

Clearly identifies who he is and

The authenticity of his teaching and love.

Righteousness is following in the way of the Lord,

Not unrealistic adherence to the Law.

Righteousness is loving the Lord,

Loving our neighbors,

Even loving our enemies.

The Holy Spirit proves the world wrong about judgment.

Though there may be setbacks and exceptions,

The overall trajectory of God’s kingdom is ever upward.

Good wins over evil,

Light prevails over darkness,

Jesus Christ prevails ultimately victorious over Satan and the forces of evil.

Lastly, Jesus teaches

The Holy Spirit will teach and guide you to all truth.

When the Spirit takes up residence in your life,

It is at work to expand your understanding of Jesus.

As the Spirit works

We develop a deeper comprehension of Jesus, …

… a deeper perception, thankfulness, and intimacy with God.

I use visualization to open myself to become

A welcome dwelling for the Holy Spirit to descend and take up residence.

I see the Spirit in the air that I breath.

In every breath,

The Spirit fills me,

Teaches me,

Guides me,

Advocates for me,

Gives me words, and

Develops and deepens my intimate, loving relationship with Jesus.

To recognize the movement and work within myself,

Is to also recognize and honor the movement and work of the Holy Spirit within others.

Watch, listen, learn, discern.

Find truth. Speak truth. Come to truth.

Set the Holy Spirit free

And watch it set our church on fire.

Come, Holy Spirit. Come.

Happy birthday, Church.

Amen.