“God’s Been Here Before”

Ezekiel 37:1-14 and John 11:1-45

29 March 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

1

Prayer.

 

On the shore of the Chebar River in modern day Iraq

Slept a faithful prophet of our Lord.

He, and many other exiles from Judah,

Lived in a prisoner of war camp,

Enduring terrible suffering, deprivation, and humiliation.

Babylonian captivity was the Lord’s punishment for

The House of Israel defiling their own soil by their own sinful ways and deeds.

(Ezekiel 36:17)

 

There is no more profound example of quarantine or self-isolation

Then a prison.

 

As is often the case

God uses dreams as a means of revelation.

On this evening twenty-six hundred years ago

The prophet was visited in his sleep.

He described his Divine vision

 

The Lord informed Ezekiel

That when he preached to those dry bones

They’d all come together in a rattle.

Flesh, skin, and sinew would be knit together, and

The breath of the Lord from the four winds

Would bring them life.

 

The dead would live again.

Graves would be opened and the people of Israel would be restored to their land.

 

“I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.”

(Ezekiel 37:14)

 

And so, it came to pass.

Babylon fell.

Israel was restored.

God kept the promise.

 

God is faithful;

Even when we do not know what to do.

 

The Exile and Restoration

Wasn’t the Lord’s first plague, redemption, and restoration;

Remember Moses and Pharaoh?

 

In the isolation of our homes,

I hope we can recognize the fact, that,

While none of us has ever seen a pandemic of this scale

God has been here before.

 

God’s been through this and has prevailed.

 

…………………..

 

The Gospel narrative of Jesus raising Lazarus is long and well known to most of us.

 

From my Sunday school days, I remember …

  • Jesus delay in going to Lazarus bedside,
  • Mary’s complaint for Jesus failing to make haste,
  • The danger Jesus was in by those who wished to stone him to death,
  • His grief, raw, human grief, streaming down his cheeks, as he cried over Lazarus.

 

I remember …

  • Jesus praying fervently that resurrection may lead the crowd to belief,
  • Jesus calling out to the tomb where the body of Lazarus lay,
  • Thinking to myself, wow, he must have stunk being four days dead.

 

I was a volunteer medic on the local ambulance.

I know what four days dead smells like.

 

In the privacy of my own self-isolation this past week,

Studying the text, meditating and praying upon it,

I have come to see a part of the story of the resurrection of Lazarus

That I had never seen or experienced before.

 

A house that is in mourning

Is no different than a house in Babylonian exile,

Is no different than a house that is in isolation or quarantine.

 

Jesus becomes the same

Divine vision of restoration

When he meets Martha

Who comes forth from her Bethany home to greet him as he approached.

 

Jesus tells her,

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

(11:25-27)

 

Resurrection and life,

Opening the eyes of belief,

Revealing Jesus to the world,

That all – the whole world – may believe.

 

Resurrection and life.

Life abundant?

you betchya!

 

Jesus is resurrection and abundant life.

 

We learn in the following chapter of John how abundant life can be

When the resurrected Lazarus, Mary, and Martha entertain Jesus for dinner.

They feast abundantly.

Lazarus reclined at table with Jesus.

Martha waited on them.

Mary anointed Jesus with oil, filling the house with fragrance.

(12:1-3)

 

………………

 

Jesus is resurrection and abundant life.

 

Hang on to this anchor,

This stake in the ground,

For this is a cornerstone of our belief.

 

Jesus is resurrection and abundant life.

Burn it into your memory.

 

Lazarus was dead, and his loved ones were in mourning.

Jesus raised him to life.

God breathed life into his old dry bones.

 

Life became abundant once again,

As abundant as Israel being returned from Exile,

As abundant as life will become when science wins,

And this pandemic is defeated, destroyed, and fades away.

 

Jesus is resurrection and abundant life.

 

God has been through this before;

And prevailed!

God is with us now;

And winning!

God will see us through these days, too,

As difficult as they may be,

And God will bring us life,

Life abundant.

 

Beloved,

God’s always faithful.

God is always is true.

Rest assured, God’s greatest gift of grace

Is Jesus Christ;

Our rod and our staff,

Our good shepherd,

Our resurrection,

Our abundant life.

Amen.

…………………………………………………………………..

Lenten Reflection on Holy Communion

 

We are fasting from Holy Communion this Lent, anticipating the moment the fast will be broken at Maundy Thursday worship during Holy Week.

 

It’s a big deal; the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Take. Give Thanks. Break. Give.

 

We follow the 4-step example of Jesus when he fed the crowds and served his disciples. 1) Jesus took the bread. 2) Gave thanks in prayer to his Heavenly Father. 3) He broke the bread. 4) And Jesus shared the bread.

 

I’ve spoken about the first three actions of Jesus on prior Sundays. Today, let us think about Christ’s act of sharing the broken bread and poured cup.

 

Bread and cup are given to modern disciples, just as Jesus gave to his disciples at the Last Supper. All who desire to draw close to Christ and intend to lead a Christian life, together with children, are invited to receive the bread and cup.

 

United Methodist do not refuse or deny anyone who presents themselves desiring to receive; though John Wesley regrettably did so on one occasion, which brought scandal and hurt, resulting in him fleeing the American colony of Georgia. Because God is the primary actor in a Sacrament, human subversion or denial is not allowed.

 

The consecrated bread and cup may be delivered by lay members of the church. When bread is given, we are reminded of the body of Christ, broken for us; God’s great sacrifice for us and our salvation. When the cup is shared, we are reminded of the blood of Christ, shed for us; washing us clean of our sins.

 

Barriers that inhibit belonging and full participation of those desiring Holy Communion must be identified and overcome. Intellect, ambulation, disability, diet, physical distance are some of the challenges that must be addressed to ensure full inclusion. Consecrated bread and cup may be taken by assistants after the service to those who are homebound and others unable to attend.

 

Giving should be personal: using the individual’s name (if possible) while making eye contact. Serving each other acts out our faith that Christ is the giver of this holy meal and that we are receivers of Christ’s grace.

 

Some celebrants will commune first. My preference is to be the last served. After all have been served, the table is to be returned to order. Left over bread and cup may be distributed to the poor, as was the early church practice, respectfully consumed, or returned to earth and God’s creation.

 

Next Sunday, I’ll conclude our Lenten discussion of Holy Communion. Amen.

 

[“The United Methodist Book of Worship”, 1992. p.27-31]

“Ten Simple Things”

22 March 2020 – 4th Sunday of Lent

John 9:1-41

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

1

Prayer.

 

Jesus is the light of the world,

The solution to sin,

The promise of our eternal future.

On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand.

 

The current pandemic reminds me of how dependent we are on God. Life is fragile. It is as if our efforts to serve the Lord became stale, predicable, too easy and the Lord wants us to be more creative, daring, fresh, and bold. Perhaps God is calling the faithful to create new ways of Christian engagement to deepen faith, strengthen the church, and meet the needs of the world. Talk with me … phone, video, text or email. Let’s work together to identify and address the new opportunities for ministry this current crisis provides.

 

We are all anxious about unfolding events. The Lord woke me at 4:00 am Thursday morning to give you ten simple things to bring immediate relief to fear, replace anxiety with joy, and wrap each of us tightly in the confidence of God’s love:

 

1) Turn off the news. The constant stream of information is exhausting. Take a break. The quickly changing environment that upsets routine will begin to slow. Rest. Update yourself with current events on your terms, only to keep yourself and your family safe. Restore. Use the break to grow strong; physically, emotionally, spiritually. Sleep more, eat better, play. Restore.

 

2) Get outdoors. Spring is here. Go for a walk or run. Revel in God’s glorious creation. Find the Divine Awe creek side, along a hiking trail, overlooking a waterfall, in the smell of a patch of emerging Jack-in-the-Pulpit, raindrops falling on the cheeks, the wind making its way across a field. This is God’s majesty at work. We are a part of God’s greatest masterpiece! Release the joy!

 

3. Touch the Eternal. Place a small stone in your pocket and carry it with you. Allow the stone to serve as a reminder. The Eternal God who created that stone long before we were born, who loves us so much we are given Jesus, is the same God who will save us to an eternal home long after our mortal bodies are gone. Touch that stone; touch it often.

 

4. Take your pulse. Lightly touch your wrist. Gently touch your neck. You’re alive! Every heartbeat is a gift from God, a constant reminder of how much we are loved, and an ever-present source of God’s gift of life. Set a routine for taking your pulse, such as before and after every meal, or at waking and before sleep.

 

5. Breath. Breath deep and slow. Long inhales and long exhales. Purse your lips. Position yourself for maximum effect. Invite the Holy Spirit to enter your ebb and flow. Feel the Spirit’s fullness in your lungs. Experience the tide like movement in and out of your body. Breathe the Holy Spirit upon another (from more than 12 feet away!). Breathe the Spirit as a blessing, using your arms and hands to send it on its way.

 

6. Check in with your neighbors and each other. Call. Text. Write a note. Stop in Rush Connections using Zoom video. Watch for God at work in others. Be alert to needs that may emerge. Strategize how to meet those needs. When you experience God at work, report it! Witness it to others! I call these observations “Glory Sightings!” Keep a list of your Glory Sightings and share them often.

 

7. Practice charity. Where there is a need, give. Give joyfully. Give generously. Give sacrificially. Give in the name of God; the One who has given to you and me all good things. Sacrifice means giving something up. Think about what can be surrendered to make your act of charity more vibrant, more real. The happiest, most joy filled people on the planet are those who give. Spread some happiness.

 

8. Read your Bible daily. Connect with God through the Word God has provided. It’s a tool; use it! The more you use it, the more proficient you’ll get. Experience develops muscle memory in the body, mind, and heart. Set a time every day to experience God’s holy Word. If it has been a while, start by reading the Gospel of Matthew. Read it slowly. Pace yourself. Read small chunks at a time. Read the Gospel from start to finish. Watch for key words and allow God to speak to you through them.

 

9. Practice Sabbath weekly. Take one day a week off to do nothing except to thank God for the expanse of grace we’ve been given. Make a list of everything God has given you, for which you are thankful. You’ve been given a whole day, so make it a long list! Once you’ve wrung every ounce of thanks out of your body, turn your attention to praise. Give God praise. Praise God in prayer, song, worship, and Sacrament.

 

10. Wash your hands. Every time you wash your hands, say a prayer. Make it a good prayer, because hands need to be scrubbed frequently and thoroughly. End your prayer while washing with The Lord’s Prayer. Do this and you’ll successfully wash for two minutes or more. You will have made that connection with God that gets you through that very next moment.

 

Thank you for supporting our congregational leaders and staff with your encouragement, prayers, and kindness. We’re doing the best we can, relying on the grace and love of God.

 

Personally, thank you for your prayers and kind words.

 

Beloved, God loves you, and so do I,

“A Woman’s Witness”

A Reader’s Theater of John 4:5-42

 

Cast:

  • Narrator: DAN G.
  • Jesus: TODD G.
  • Samaritan Woman: KELLIANNE W.

 

_________________________

 

Set:

  • The set is composed of 3 chairs, facing the congregation, in front of the altar table, in a semi-circular arrangement
  • Cast is seated, each reading from the script
  • Cast are amplified by microphone
  • There are no props or costumes

 

_________________________

 

Script:

 

DAN: Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her,

 

TODD: “Give me a drink.”

 

DAN: (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

 

KELLIANNE: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”

 

DAN: (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

 

TODD: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

 

KELLIANNE: “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”

 

TODD: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

 

KELLIANNE: “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

 

TODD: “Go, call your husband, and come back.”

 

KELLIANNE: “I have no husband.”

 

TODD: “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”

 

KELLIANNE: “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”

 

TODD: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

 

KELLIANNE: “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”

 

TODD: “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

 

DAN: Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”

Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people,

 

KELLIANNE: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”

 

DAN: They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them,

 

TODD: “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”

 

DAN: So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?”

 

TODD:  “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

 

DAN: Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony,

 

KELLIANNE: “He told me everything I have ever done.”

 

DAN: So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

1

March 15, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

 

Prayer.

 

There are times the Gospel lesson

Just shocks me

With a new awareness,

With a new revelation,

With a new way of being presented;

Like in the form of a Reader’s Theater.

 

What new have we learned from this familiar story from John?

 

I’ve read and heard many sermons based on the Woman at Jacob’s Well

Where the preacher expounded at length

About this woman

Who came from a morally corrupt background,

Met Jesus at the well,

And had her sins forgiven.

I may have even preached a few of those sermons, myself.

 

Did anyone present today,

Who just experienced the proclamation of the Gospel,

Hear a statement proclaiming this woman was a sinner?

Did anyone hear Jesus forgiving her

Her sins?

 

No!

 

This woman wasn’t morally corrupt!

She had been widowed or abandoned

By no fault of her own

By five …

…. Count them …

By five different men.

This woman wasn’t a sinner seeking forgiveness.

 

 

This un-named woman at the well was a victim of men who treated her like property.

She was abandoned, isolated, marginalized, dehumanized.

 

There are times the Gospel

Just shocks us.

 

So, if this isn’t a narrative about sin and forgiveness,

What is this previously-assumed-to-be-familiar Gospel passage about?

 

….

 

In the preceding chapter of John

We heard last Sunday about Jesus in Jerusalem

Being visited under cover of night by Nicodemus,

A leader of the Jews.

(John 3:1)

 

Jesus is in the seat of power,

Being visited by the personification of power.

That narrative ends with one of Jesus’ most memorable statements:

“God so loved the world …”

(John 3:16)

 

Today, Jesus gives us a glimpse of what that world looks like.

He’s traveled north, into rural Samaria,

Meeting a woman

Who the world thought of as property.

She was a Samaritan, mixed race, abandoned, widowed, and marginalized.

She was the personification of someone who has no power.

 

The contrast …

Samaritan woman v. Jesus …

Powerless v. All Powerful God of Creation …

couldn’t be more profound.

 

 

Jacob’s well is significant.

Jacob met Rachael here.

In the days before Tinder, Match Dot Com, and online dating,

This is where people came together to socialize, network, and, yes, to flirt.

The local water source was where people congregated.

 

This woman

Who has no name

Was at the well

To not only draw water,

But also seeking something else.

 

She hoped to find a friend.

She is seeking opportunities to belong.

She is searching for someone or a group of people

That will add value to her lonely, isolated, tragic life.

And it is here,

At Jacob’s well,

That she meets Jesus.

 

There are times the Gospel

Is just shocking.

 

….

 

In the Gospel of Matthew we have heard Jesus identified

On multiple occasions

As the Son of God.

At his baptism,

At his transfiguration,

We’ve heard the voice of God pronounce,

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

 

There are no such pronouncements in the Gospel of John.

 

 

There are, however, famous “I Am” statements,

The first of which occurs here:

“The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.””

(John 4:25-26)

 

“I am” harkens back to Hebrew scriptures,

To our Jewish heritage,

To the mountain where God encountered Moses.

“I Am who I Am” the Lord proclaims.

Since then, “I Am” is shorthand for Yahweh,

For the Creator and Lord of all.

 

John takes “I Am” and runs with it:

“I am the Good Shepherd”

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”

“I am the Vine, you are the branches”

Today’s Gospel from John is the first pronouncement of Jesus’ identity.

 

We not only learn who Jesus is,

Yahweh, the Creator, and Lord of all,

John reveals why Jesus has become God in the flesh.

The one and only time the Gospel of John uses the word “Savior”

Is found right here in verse 42:

 

 

The Samaritans … “said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.””

(John 4:42)

 

This narrative from the Gospel of John

Is a Rosetta Stone for his theology;

The belief of the Early Church community

That sprung up around the Apostle John.

 

John identifies Jesus as God

And reveals his foundational theme

Of why he has come:

 

 

Jesus has come to be

The Savior of the world.

 

….

 

Jesus is calling us to a new understanding of “Savior” and “Salvation.”

Salvation is more than one-dimensional salvation from death.

Salvation is more than two-dimensional being saved into than eternal life.

The Savior of the world brings three-dimensional salvation

By leading us from isolation and marginalization

Into friendships, relationships, and community,

With God and with one another.

 

 

God’s power doesn’t come from force or violence,

It comes from love.

God’s love might be academically explained

To people of power,

In positions of power,

In places of power.

 

But God’s love is experienced,

Poured out as life-giving living water

To people who have no power

Who exist on the fringes

Who, through no fault of their own,

Have been kicked to the side of the road, abandoned,

Left for dead.

 

This woman is searching for relationship

Jesus gives her relationship, and more.

 

….

 

A major criticism of younger adults,

Millennials and GenX-ers,

Is that the Church has lost its relevance;

That we love God,

But that we’ve forgotten to love our neighbors.

The salt has lost its flavor.

The power has gone out and so has the light.

 

“Go to church on Sunday

But forget about Jesus the rest of the week”

Is a biting, but astute, well-earned observation.

Why isn’t the Church feeding the hungry,

Instead of writing a check?

Why isn’t the Church building a wheelchair ramp

For a neighbor newly immobilized,

Instead of hosting a Bible Study or gathered for a meeting?

Why isn’t the Church standing up and speaking out

On behalf of the environment;

Against racism, homophobia, and antisemitism?

Instead, many see the Church as judgmental, uncaring, and unconcerned.

 

Jesus is what younger adults,

Millennials and GenX-ers have been waiting for all along.

 

 

Jesus goes to this woman and rescues her

Like a lifeguard on Bay Watch.

 

Just as Jesus goes,

So too should the Church.

Just as Jesus swings,

So too should we.

 

Break out the swim trunks, Ray Bans, and get into the lifeguard stand.

One by one, the world needs to be saved.

We’re deployed by our Lifeguard in Chief;

To swim down from behind

Those caught in the undertows of life.

Bring them back to shore and

Revive them with the breath of the Spirit.

 

….

 

 

Salvation is a saturation of love.

 

This essential, foundational passage from the Gospel of John

Prods us to go with love,

With God’s love, and

Use it to save the world.

 

Use God’s love to

Make healthy relationships,

Founded upon Christ,

the solid rock upon which we stand.

 

Love others.

Serve others.

Save the powerless.

Rescue them back from the margins

And give of yourselves.

 

Offer friendship, relationship, companionship.

Keep a lookout for those everyone else misses:

Often the last, least, lost, and left behind.

Target them.

Love them.

Lead them to Jesus Christ.

 

….

 

 

The concluding point that is important to make

Is to recognize the result of this woman being saved by the Savior:

She runs back to town and tells everyone

“everything I have ever done.”

 

The Samaritan villagers were so convinced of her witness

They came to Jesus.

They sought Him out.

They invited Christ into their lives

They asked him to stay in their homes for two days!

And Jesus did!

“We know this is true!” They witnessed in-turn.

Jesus “is truly the Savior of the world.”

 

This is what the salvation of Jesus Christ does to people’s lives.

Salvation snatches people from loneliness, isolation, powerlessness, and the margins,

Gives and receives life-giving relationships,

Nurtured by Christ’s living water.

Salvation results in conversion, discipleship, and witness.

 

….

 

Our local church (little c)

And our catholic Church (big C)

Is alive and well today,

In part, because of the salvation of this woman by Jacob’s well,

Her encounter with Jesus,

Her testimony to her fellow Samaritans.

We are alive and well today because

her continued testimony

Has trickled down,

Generation upon generation,

To us today.

 

Jesus saves.

Because of a woman’s witness,

So, too, dearly beloved, salvation has come to you and me.

 

 

Continue the legacy of Christ’s salvation.

Reach out with his love.

Reach out with Christ’s love to the edge

And beyond.

That’s where the marginalized are found.

 

Reach out to save another …

And another …

And another …

That, one day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess

That Jesus Christ is Lord;

the Savior of the world.

Amen.

“Nicodemus”

John 3:1-17

8 March 2020, 2nd Sunday of Lent

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.

 

Prayer.

1

Four of six Sundays during Lent this year will feature the alternate Gospel of St. John.

Fitting 4 Gospels into a 3-year rotation requires an occasional dipping into the odd Gospel out.

The four passages from John this year are unique to John,

not found in the parallel Gospels of Matthew, Mark, or Luke.

So, our lesson today about Nicodemus visiting Jesus, is only found here in chapter 3.

 

When you think about the Gospel of John, think Holy Spirit.

 

Scholars call this “Pneumatology”

–  Pneuma- : from the Greek, meaning air or wind –

– Tology: from the Greek, meaning the study of the ways of God –

Or, the study of God, whose presence is like air or the wind.

 

Think Gospel of John, think Holy Spirit.

 

Each Gospel has its own unique character, flavor, worldview, development, and audience.

John places a large emphasis on the character and actions of God as Spirit,

the Holy Spirit.

 

Here are some examples:

 

John the Baptist testified to the presence and action of the Holy Spirit

at the baptism of Jesus. (1:32)

 

John reports Jesus teaching that

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (4:24)

 

Jesus promises his Heavenly Father will send the Holy Spirit,

as an Advocate on behalf of his disciples,

after his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. (14:15-31)

 

In the 15th chapter Jesus teaches,

“When the Advocate comes,

the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father,

Will testify on my behalf.” (15:26)

 

The Spirit will be a substitute for Jesus,

Who will guide disciples to

the truth. (16:12)

 

The Gospel of John even has its own unique record of the Pentecost,

When and how the Holy Spirit comes,

Differing from that which is recorded in Acts of the Apostles.

John records that after the resurrection,

Jesus visits the disciples locked away in an upper room,

He breaths on them, saying

“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.” (20:22-23)

 

Think Gospel of John, think Holy Spirit.

 

So, we should hardly be surprised today

When Jesus responds to the questions from a Pharisee named Nicodemus,

Inquiring under cover of night:

How can anyone be born a second time

So that they can see or enter the kingdom of God?

 

“No one can enter the kingdom of God,” Jesus teaches,

“without being born of water and Spirit.” (3:5)

 

Nicodemus wants to see and enter the kingdom of God.

Jesus tells him you must be born of water and Spirit.

 

Life is a dichotomy of choices, Jesus observes in this Gospel passage:

There is flesh and there is spirit. (3:6)

There are earthy things and there are heavenly things. (3:12)

There is punishment and condemnation under the Law and

there is faith, belief, and eternal life with Jesus Christ. (3:15-18)

There is darkness and there is light. (3:19)

 

There is water and there is spirit.

One must be born of water and Spirit to see and enter the kingdom of God.

Here, I would not suggest that being born of water is a reference of baptism.

Jesus internally cites the dichotomy of flesh.

Because of this, I’d suggest Jesus is speaking of human birth;

The mother’s water breaking,

Releasing new life.

Human flesh born of water.

 

One must be born of water and Spirit to see and enter the kingdom of God.

What does Jesus mean to be born of the Spirit?

 

First, we don’t control the Holy Spirit.

God doesn’t fetch our sticks.

 

Jesus rightly observes,

“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.” (3:8)

 

Nicodemus can’t force the wind to comply to his demand

Any more than you or I can.

God acts according to God’s own will,

In God’s own time.

 

Therefore, it is God’s initiative and will

for the world – that’s you and me –

to see and enter God’s kingdom.

 

Our responsibility is simply to claim

God’s initiative for our own.

Claiming God’s initiative is called “belief”.

Believe in Jesus and claim eternal life.

This is God’s will and greatest desire.

 

Don’t think of God as passively twiddling away time

planning to someday give birth to you through the Holy Spirit.

 

God is in active pursuit;

giving relentless chase to you and me.

God is at work through the Holy Spirit

With the tenacity of the Hounds of Hell.

Once the hunt is on

The Spirit isn’t going to give up or give in.

 

Game on.

 

The God who made time

Has all eternity to hunt you and me down.

 

The God who made you

Is going to be the God who claims you.

 

The God who made you

Is the God who loves you so much

He gives you Jesus.

 

The God who made you

Sacrificed his Son for you.

 

The God who made you

Comes as the wind,

Blows when and where it chooses, and

Sweeps you and me away.

 

There isn’t a thing you or I can do about it

Except to say

“Yes Lord.

I believe.”

 

Resist if you want.

Hunker down in the bathtub of life.

Take shelter and hope God doesn’t

Blow your roof off,

Kick your doors in, and

Knock your walls down.

 

Like a tornado in a trailer park,

Or a State Trooper on a manhunt,

God is coming after you.

The Spirit will arrest you, and

Hold you

Until you believe.

 

How do I know?

The Bible tells me so.

 

The Gospel of John played itself out

With Saul on the road to Damascus,

With John Wesley on Aldersgate Street,

With Todd Goddard in front of March Chapel

at Boston University 40 years ago.

 

Next time some well-meaning person asks you

“Are you born again?”

Tell them

it’s hard not to be!

 

It’s hard not to be born again with a God who so loves the world that he sent us Jesus.

It’s hard not to be born from above with a God that wants us to believe.

It’s hard not to be born of the Holy Spirit with a God who desires to save us from death and give us eternal life.

 

Tag.

You’ve been caught.

All that’s left

is to believe.

 

Surrender.

Come out with your hands up.

Let the Spirit take you and do with you as the Spirit will.

Come into the light.

Breathe and believe.

Amen.

“Who Provides?”

Lent 1, Year A, March 1, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Matthew 4:1-11

 

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

 

1

 

Prayer.

 

The Word of God is way more mysterious than we give God credit.

 

The Word is God’s literal words.

The Word is God’s truth, given through history, complete with a mixture of direct commands, truth, symbols, metaphors, and myth.

 

There’s more:

The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

The Word is Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

There’s even more:

The Word is sacred, Holy Scripture.

The Word is the Bible, which has been shaped by church leaders over the centuries into a collection of books and letters.

The Word of God is translated from one language to another, many times, over thousands of years, in numerous cultural settings and contexts.

The Word of God is as tempting as a juicy apple to take out of context and use to support personal beliefs and biases.

The Word of God can be used as a weapon, or as a means of God’s grace.

 

There is more than any of us can imagine.

 

I humbly dismount my high horse,

And invite you to do the same.

Let us swallow our pride,

Give room for God to speak,

And listen for His whisper.

 

 

Matthew’s Gospel reports that,

Following his baptism,

Jesus was led by the Spirit

Into the wilderness

To be tempted by the devil. (4:1)

 

Because Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit,

I’m inclined to believe his temptation is part of a larger divine plan,

One that we can not fully see or comprehend;

A plan shrouded in mystery,

Which may or may not be fully revealed.

 

Our Creator, through his imminence, presence and intimate love,

Is working for our individual and collective wellbeing.

The Spirit leads Jesus to the wilderness for our wellbeing.

The Temptation of Jesus is the benchmark start to Lent and it serves for our benefit.

 

The setting is wilderness,

We assume just up the hill from where Jesus had been baptized.

Wilderness is a place without sustenance or comfort.

It’s a place of danger; where one can become a victim in a New York minute.

40 days in the wilderness is a long, long time.

Fasting this length of time leaves Jesus uncomfortable and weak.

 

The devil.

Satan, as he is named,

Confronts an uncomfortable and weak Jesus.

The playing field is intentionally set on unequal ground;

Tilted in favor of evil.

 

It doesn’t matter how you interpret the devil,

Whether he is a personified male named Satan,

Sporting horns, wings, and sharpened trident;

Or, whether you understand Matthew’s text to be a symbolic metaphor of evil.

The result is the same:

Every disciple of Jesus must be told the truth, that

Evil is a very real and dangerous threat to God and God’s people.

 

Life and death is held in the balance:

If evil wins, darkness takes over, and we die.

If goodness wins, the light of Jesus Christ shines, and we live!

The conflict is winner take all.

No second place.

No whining.

No excuses.

No victims.

 

The choice is ours:

Fight evil with everything we’ve got, or,

Suffer the consequences.

 

 

With such blatant, open defiance opposing our God,

How are we to fight back against evil and

The attacks of the devil?

 

A weakened, uncomfortable Jesus shows us the way.

 

  1. First, if you’re going to use scripture as a sword,

Use it to slay the devil.

Never us scripture to slay one another.

 

Jesus counters each temptation with

“It is written …”

“It is written …”

“It is written …”

Three times Jesus returns the thrust and parry of the devil

By going back to the foundation of the Word,

Scripture, for his defense and strength.

 

Therefore, beloved fellow sister and brother followers of Jesus,

Learn scripture.

Become scripture’s most dedicated, life-long student.

Study scripture inside and out,

Cover to cover,

Starting with the Gospels:

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Just when you or I think we know all there is to know about scripture,

Have a slice of humble pie.

Get back to the Word.

 

The only means of discerning the mind of Christ and the will of God

Is through the study of scripture,

Meditation upon scripture,

Prayer through scripture,

Devotions with scripture.

 

My goal?

To know the Gospel so thoroughly

I become the Gospel.

That’s what John Wesley would call “perfection.”

 

  1. A weak, fasting Jesus shows us the way to confront temptations:

Yield nothing to sin, evil, or the devil.

Nothing.

No compromise.

No negotiation.

Not one inch of God’s kingdom.

Nada. No. Nothing.

Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

 

Compromise is as good as surrender.

Surrender is death.

 

Even in his weakened state,

Jesus refused to yield, and

So, too, should we.

 

Through his stubborn refusal,

Jesus reveals to us how evil truly works in the world.

 

Evil is more dangerous than plutonium.

Evil is as seductive as opioids are to an addict, or booze is to an alcoholic.

Evil is in search of justification to explain away its motives.

Evil makes excuses.

Evil camouflages power, prestige, and wealth as entitlements,

Or, as signs of God’s blessing,

Instead of revealing the naked, ugly truth about sin.

Evil must be aggressively, relentlessly indicted.

 

  1. Jesus shows us the way.

The words and actions of Jesus clearly reveals who provides for our every need.

 

Only the Lord provides.

 

The devil tempts Jesus to “provide for yourself.”

“Command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

To which Jesus replies, “God is my provider.”

We live “by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (4:3-4)

 

Only the Lord provides.

 

The devil tempts Jesus a second time, “let’s see if God provides.”

“Throw yourself down, … command his angels … on their hands they will bear you up.”

To which Jesus replies “My faith is in the Lord my God”.

“I don’t need to put my faith to the test. (4:6-7)

 

Only the Lord provides.

 

The devil tempts Jesus a third time, “let me provide for you.”

“All the kingdoms of the world I will give you,

if you fall down and worship me.”

Jesus replies, “That’s not going to happen!”

“Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” (4:9-10)

 

Only the Lord provides.

 

We don’t provide for ourselves.

Accept nothing from the devil.

Don’t allow the devil to provide anything for  us.

We are dependent wholly, and utterly upon the Lord, his providence, and his grace.

 

For everything, all good things,

Come from God, and

Will return unto God.

 

 

My concluding thought about

Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by the devil

Jumps forward to the end of Matthew,

Chapter 27, verses 38-45,

When Jesus is crucified between two bandits.

 

At the beginning of Lent

We are given a glimpse of the conclusion of Lent

When Jesus is tempted by two thieves crucified with him,

One hanging at each side, and

The chief priests, scribes and elders

Taunting and tempting him from below.

 

As he hung helplessly on the cross,

With the Temple curtain – the only remaining barrier between heaven and earth – starting to tear,

Jesus felt their spit,

heard their taunts and jeers:

“You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (27:40)

“He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” (27:42-43)

 

My goodness,

Consider the love Jesus has for you and me

To overcome the temptation to save himself.

 

“Amazing love, how can it be?

That you, my king. would die for me

Amazing love, I know its true

Its my joy to honor you

Amazing love how can it be?

That my king would die for me

Amazing love I know its true

Its my joy to honor you

In all I do

I honor you.”

(“You are My King,” Authentic, by Chris Tomlin, 1998)

 

 

Dearly beloved,

Sisters and brother disciples of Jesus,

Know that evil and sin are very dangerous and real.

Evil and sin threatens our very lives.

Don’t touch the hot oven.

 

Let us

Strengthen ourselves with scripture.

Let us

Never, ever yield to sin or evil.

Let us

Rely completely on God for our every need.

 

And know this also to be true:

God wins,

All the time,

In the battle between good and evil.

God triumphs over the grave.

Resurrection vanquished death.

God wins

Because God loves you.

Amen.

“A Transcendent Breakthrough”

Matthew 17:1-9

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

1

Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

 

Prayer.

 

That moment in Introduction to Theology class

Changed my life

And the way I think about God.

Dr. Ty Inbody put the word “Transcendent” on the chalkboard.

He began a discussion about this important adjective.

Finally, I found a word,

A tool I could use to articulate my faith;

Or, more exactly,

A word that could serve as

one piece of a foundation

upon which I could begin to construct a framework for my beliefs.

 

Dr. Inbody spoke about a concept

Where the God of Creation

Made the world and all that is in it.

God set it spinning on its axis

And walked away,

Never to visit us again.

 

Transcendent.

 

A transcendent concept of God

Is one where God stands back,

Is a passive observer,

Wholly independent of the material universe,

Beyond all known physical laws,

An unwilling participant,

An uncaring and unloving heavenly Father.

 

Divine Transcendence is a concept I reject

Because I know better.

My Wesleyan / Methodist DNA has taught me better.

My experience is not that of a God

That stands off and has no concern for His children.

In my opinion,

It is not reasonable

That God would spend eternity creating

And not maintaining what He has built.

My Bible teaches me better.

My interpretation of scripture is not that of a God

Who watches human history without a care, simply going about His business.

 

In terms of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral,

Our uniquely Methodist standard for faithful evaluation

– Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience –

I can confidently reject a Divine Transcendence concept of God

Because it doesn’t square itself

With Experience, Reason, or Scripture.

Transcendency misses on three of the four Wesleyan standards.

 

The God that I’ve come to know and experience in my life

Is a God that not only created all that there is,

All that there was,

And all that ever will be,

Is also a God that relates deeply, personally, and intimately

With each of his created children,

And with communities of faith, as a whole,

Expressing love, grace, and Divine parental affection.

 

When I mourn and cry,

I have experienced the powerful presence of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit,

Crying right there with me.

When I’m desperately trying to avoid temptation,

I experience the reassuring presence and power of God right by my side,

Willing, able, and experienced in fighting off every thrust and parry of the Devil.

When I dance and sing because of blessings and love being showered upon me,

I know from whence it comes:

All goodness comes from God

Because of His love and grace.

 

All goodness comes from God.

 

In my life,

God breaks through,

On regular occasion,

Often, daily, even hourly.

From moment to moment

I experience the presence of God

In my life.

 

The opposite of Transcendent is Imminence.

God is imminent and always prepared to break into my life

At a moment’s notice.

How about you?

 

When I look at the expanse of Scripture,

We are told of numerous times that God makes a breakthrough into Creation.

God can’t hold back any more than a thunder cloud can refuse to rain.

 

Imminence often takes place on a mountain.

 

God comes to Noah,

Whose ark settled on a mountaintop when the floodwaters receded.

– Genesis 8

God comes to Abraham on another mountain, Mt. Moriah,

And intercedes in the unthinkable sacrifice of his son, Isaac.

– Genesis 22

 

When reading the Gospel of Matthew, think Moses.

 

I think of young Moses,

Tending his sheep on Mt. Horeb,

The mountain of God.

God breaks through,

Comes to Moses in a flame of fire,

“he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.”

– Exodus 3:2

God calls Moses to free His people

From Egyptian slavery.

 

I think of Moses leading God’s people home to the Promised Land.

On the top of Mt. Sinai

God breaks through,

Shakes the mountain,

Smoke rose like the smoke of a kiln,

And God answered with thunder!

 

“Leave my people behind,” the Lord commanded,

“and come to the top of the mountain.”

– Exodus 19:9-20:21

There, as we all know,

God’s imminence ripped through the divide between heaven and earth

Delivering the Law to Moses.

 

The Ten Commandments, and its many associated laws are

God’s intention for His people,

– For our people –

To live in peace and love with one another,

And with our God.

 

God breaks through the transcendent divide

To speak with the prophet Elijah on Mt. Horeb.

– 1 Kings 19

 

Time and again,

God intercedes.

Biblical examples of God becoming Imminent and Present on mountaintops

Are too numerous to mention them all.

 

So let me fast forward

To our fading season of Epiphany,

Low these past 7 weeks,

The presentation of the Lord,

When our ancestors in Israel see and experience the launch

Of Jesus and his ministry.

 

Out of his baptismal waters,

We heard the voice of God

Identifying Jesus:

“Behold this is my Son,”

The Messiah.

Clearly, this is

God stepping through the divide

And becoming fully human as well as fully Divine.

 

You want God on a mountain?

The last three Sundays,

We’ve heard the Gospel proclaimed

Directly from the lips of Jesus,

To the crowds

In His Sermon on the Mount.

 

Have you heard God speaking?

He’s been tweeting!

 

God has been speaking blessings;

teaching his people

Who he favors and blesses.

 

He teaches us

To be the salt and light of the world.

Reject the bland and

let the light of Jesus overcome the darkness of sin and evil!

 

Jesus goes directly to his people

To teach about anger management,

Adultery and divorce,

About retaliation and turning the other cheek,

And to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you.

 

That all in the first chapter.

The Sermon on the Mount goes for another two.

 

Today, the opposing bookend to the Season After the Epiphany,

The final Sunday before the onset of Lent,

We experience God’s imminence and presence

On yet another mountain,

The Mountain of Transfiguration.

 

Jesus takes Peter and James and John

“Up a high mountain, by themselves.”

– Matthew 17

Here, Moses and Elijah appear.

Jesus’s face shone like the sun,

And he was transfigured, or changed,

Right before their very eyes.

Again, from a cloud,

The voice of God repeat,

“This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him.”

– Matthew 17:5

 

Salvation history takes a turn in the road.

 

The people expected Jesus to keep on trucking.

Instead, he veers right.

The people expected Jesus

To keep on teaching and healing and conducting miracles

Up north in Galilee.

Instead, he veers right, and heads towards Jerusalem.

 

The people expected Jesus to return to the Mount of the Beatitudes

Instead, Jesus heads to the Mount of Olives,

And, of course,

To another mountain:

Golgotha.

Calvary.

 

The people expected Jesus

To win

In a final, all-consuming battle with Rome,

Instead, Jesus redefines the word “win.”

Winning for Jesus

Is being cleansed, regenerated, and brought back through the divide

Between heaven and earth,

Into God’s eternal kingdom.

 

Winning for Jesus

Is becoming intimately touched

by the imminence of God.

 

Perhaps the Transfiguration is a glimpse of what eternity looks like?

(As many have suggested)

Clouds.

Light.

Presence.

Glory.

 

This is the time to ask deeper questions.

The Transfiguration of Jesus compels us to dive deeper.

 

Why are you here?

What is it that you are looking for?

What do you need

To get from Sunday worship

That will help get you through the week to next Sunday?

 

God’s presence is here,

But is often not named or identified.

Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us,

And we are his Body,

But the presence of God,

Let alone His might voice,

Are only occasionally discernable.

What gives?

 

These are the questions I’m asking.

What does communication with God look like? Sound like?

What does it mean to encounter God

And how can we trust those moments?

 

If you are like me

We long for those breakthrough moments,

When transcendence is shattered,

When God breaks through the thin divide between heaven and earth

and transfigures us

Just as He transfigured Jesus.

 

In your experience,

Do these moments happen during the week?

Do these moments happen every Sunday?

Only at Holy Communion?

Only when we approach with broken hearts?

Only when we are prepared to repent of our former ways

And are prepared to begin life anew?

Does God break into your life

When you took that first step,

Being born again,

Regenerated and living in the Spirit?

 

If it hasn’t happened this Sunday,

If it doesn’t happen every Sunday,

Keep coming back.

Keep coming back.

You’re safe here.

You’re in good company.

Let’s figure this out together.

Let’s experience the presence and grace of God together.

 

Let us live together in ever growing faith

Even as we begin the upcoming journey of Lent

That will lead us to yet, another mountain

Where God is certain to break through.

Amen.

 

“Consider the Stakes Raised”

Matthew 5:21-37

16 February 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Matthew 5:21-37 (NRSV)

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

1

Prayer.

 

Jesus pours on the pressure

With this third act

Of his Sermon on the Mount.

 

The Sermon on the Mount

Is bedrock material for Jesus.

He is outlining foundational values

Upon which God’s kingdom can be advanced.

 

Jesus is giving us a glimpse of what life looks like

As his faithful disciples,

Discerning and following God’s will.

The Sermon on the Mount is a description of

What it is like to live a full, meaningful, purposeful life in Christ.

 

 

The opening act of the Sermon on the Mount were the Beatitudes.

The Beatitudes are a great start, right out of the gate:

Jesus teaches the crowds that

God’s favor rests upon those society rejects:

The wretched, despised, and poor.

 

The Beatitudes conclude with a dose of harsh reality:

Life lived in God’s kingdom will result in people reviling and persecuting you.

If you’re not getting push-back and eye-rolls for following Jesus,

If you’re not on getting unfriended, the cold shoulder, or outright persecution because of your faith,

You’re probably not doing it right.

 

Weigh the risks and rewards,

Danger and opportunity, and

Make your decision.

As for me and my house,

We’ll follow Jesus, love God, and love our neighbors, and

Let the chips fall where they may.

 

 

Last Sunday was the Sermon on the Mount’s second act.

The substance was bold.

Be bold for Jesus and his message!

Be salty in your witness, mission, and ministry.

Shine the light of Jesus that all the world might see.

Jesus cannot be hidden

Anymore than a city on a hill can be hidden.

If you’ve got Jesus, flaunt it.

Wear it like Wendy.

Go big or go home.

 

Jesus follows up teaching about salt and light

With a transitional narrative that serves as a pivot,

An essential set-up,

For today’s third act.

Jesus sets the stage with a discussion about the Law and prophets.

The crowd would have been intensely interested in

Christ’s position on the nature of the Law of Moses,

The Ten Commandments, and all their supportive laws and ordinances from Deuteronomy.

 

What’s his policy?

 

Is Jesus the teacher and healer the One?

… the One sent by God,

… the One anointed to be a savior, liberator, redeemer of the Jewish people?

Is Jesus

God’s personal selection

To reign as the Jewish king during the Messianic Age and the world to come?

Just like primary voters from Gobbler’s Notch

People wanted to know where Jesus stood and what he believed.

 

How would Jesus rule? The Jewish crowd wanted to know.

Was God going to do a new thing?

Perhaps replace the Law of Moses with a new Law? Or

Would Jesus enforce the Law as it had been given?

 

Jesus clearly states his position:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (5:17-18)

The Law stands.

 

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (5:20)

Jesus intends to expand, intensify, and amplify the Law.

 

Jesus wants his happy meal, and he wants it super-sized.

 

Jesus has come to fulfill the Law: this means righteous adherence is our goal.

In the case of his next three topics:

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not bear false witness.

No lying, cheating, or killing.

Any questions?

Get to work.

 

That’s the happy meal, but Jesus wants it super-sized.

The third act of the Sermon on the Mount

Is Jesus expanding, interpreting, and intensifying these three basic commandments.

 

 

Thou shall not kill.

Righteous adherence seems obvious.

Either you do, or you don’t.

Few things are more binary than life or death.

If you’re not a murderer, you’ve kept the commandment, and

You win a gold star.

 

Wait a minute; Jesus has more.

The commandment isn’t just about physical life or death,

It’s about the relationship you and I have with each other.

Angry? You’re liable to God’s judgment.

Insulting? You’re going to get dragged before the church council.

Call someone a fool, and you better get used to the fires of hell.

 

In other words

Killing a brother or sister with anger, insults, or treating them like a fool,

Is just as bad as if you murdered them in cold blood.

Don’t do it.

 

That’s the super-size.

God’s grace follows, however, with the solution Jesus lays before us:

Reconcile with your brother or sister before you approach the altar and Divine Judge.

Reconciliation is as good as resurrection from the dead.

Reconciliation repairs and restores mortal wounds.

 

Using the justice system as a teaching metaphor,

Settle out of court, Jesus teaches.

Failure to reconcile before you get to the judge

Will result in being thrown in prison

Until reconciliation is made.

 

And you thought being quarantined in your stateroom for two months

for the Coronavirus was bad!

Being locked in the same cell

With the one you’ve killed with a poisonous tongue and poor treatment

Is my definition of hell.

The only key to unlock the cell door is called reconciliation.

Hell is a great incentive for getting down to business and

Living according to the will of Jesus.

 

Don’t kill.

Likewise, reconcile before you get to the altar and face our heavenly Father.

Check your anger at the door.

Learn to hold the tongue.

Don’t call or treat anyone like a fool.

Reconcile early and often.

 

 

Let’s have a candid talk about adultery.

You heard me right.

Adultery.

Don’t do it.

 

Adultery is defined as

“voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse.” (Google)

Like murder, adultery appears to be a binary affair;

Either one engages in adultery or one doesn’t.

Righteous adherence is the standard Moses came down the mountain with.

Stick true to the vows made at your marriage,

In front of your family, friends, and pastor.

Keep your word;

The vows made before God Almighty,

And you’re good to go.

You win a second gold star.

 

Wait a minute; Jesus demands more.

Jesus super sizes the commandment and raises the bar of expectation.

Look with lust, and the heart commits adultery.

Look with lust, and you’re as guilty as Jimmy Carter working his peanut farm.

 

As a life-long United Methodist,

I’m waiting for Jesus to deliver his characteristic follow-up dose of grace.

It just doesn’t come.

Not here, anyways.

It’s better to cut off an offending hand or pluck out an offending eye

Than to go into hell.

Yikes.

 

Jesus is talking a lot about hell, here.

Kind of makes us want to pay attention.

 

But, there’s more here than meets the eye.

Responsibility is shifted from the social norm of the woman

And placed solely on the shoulder of the perpetrator of adultery.

In a patriarchal society,

Men are now being called accountable for their actions, and

Women victims, Jesus is declaring, are no longer subjected to blame or humiliation.

Women are not objects, Jesus teaches.

Women are children of God,

made in the Creator’s image, and

are to be treated with the same respect.

 

Jesus shakes the snow globe and turns the whole male dominated world upside down.

 

Men: you don’t like it that Jesus favors women?

Get over it.

He favors the poor, the meek, the hungry, and the peacemakers, too.

 

You thought he was done?

Jesus is just getting started.

 

Like completing a check list

Jesus super sizes Deuteronomy 24,

Which explicitly lays down the law on divorce.

This is where the preacher pauses for effect and

half the congregation shifts nervously in the pews!

 

According to scripture,

A certificate of divorce was required

as a means of protecting women and children

From being discarded and destitute

For something as simple as “being objectionable.”

 

Divorce was, and remains, a reality.

Jesus was focused not so much on divorce as he was on remarriage.

 

Jesus takes divorce and elevates it to

the higher standard he just established for adultery.

Divorce pressures the x-wife to commit adultery by the assumption that she must marry again.

Marry and live in adultery or live homeless and starve with your children?

Talk about being caged in a corner.

You know what Jesus says about causing another to sin?

It would be better to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned. (18:6)

 

Divorce, Jesus teaches, equates with adultery,

With only one exception …

… if she is the one guilty of unchastity.

In other words,

Women, you’re not off the hook.

There’s no free pass for adultery, for men or women.

 

Adultery and divorce, we know,

Results in broken families and ruined communities.

Jesus would rather have us blind or an amputee

Than to have us crawl into the hell of adultery or divorce.

 

Adultery rots the heart.

It’s impossible to have the heart of Christ if it’s rotten to the core.

 

Avert the eyes.

Discipline personal behavior.

Honor your vows and treat your spouse with love and respect.

These are teachable skills.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

Marriage takes work.

It is possible to improve.

Practice makes perfect.

Jesus expects his disciples to improve.

It is possible to rise to the high standard Jesus sets.

 

Life in a healthy marriage and a loving, healthy family

Is to taste the joy of living a life fully in Christ Jesus.

 

 

Lastly, for today,

Jesus speaks about swearing an oath and keeping your word.

 

Granted, the language here is difficult.

The cultural context in the time of Jesus for swearing oaths is uncertain.

No translation does the text justice.

But, let me give it a try.

 

First, don’t lie.

This is consistent with the Commandment prohibiting one from bearing false witness.

Resist the temptation to justify lying words with phrases like

“fake news”

“alternate facts”

“it’s just a little white lie”

“everyone does it”.

 

Conversely, tell the truth.

Always, without exception, tell the truth.

Speak truth when it’s easy.

Speak truth when it’s hard.

Speak truth to power, even when you’re so scared

It feels like your legs won’t hold you.

Create your life narrative as

one who was always known

to be honest and true.

 

Truth is a high standard.

Jesus raises the bar.

He super sizes the commandment about honesty

With the directive to

“carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” (5:33b)

 

In other words,

Keep your word.

Keep your promises.

Follow through is the new gold standard.

Follow through with behavior that is consistent with your words.

 

Inconsistency is hypocrisy.

Promises unkept

Undermines trust,

Corrodes integrity, and

Damages relationships.

 

Avoid the trap of dishonesty and hypocrisy

By keeping promises modest.

Make promises that have a low risk of failure and a high degree of success.

 

This places a high priority on knowing our boundaries and keeping them.

This requires a commitment to the self-examined life and

A growing, maturing relationship with Jesus Christ.

 

 

Jesus takes the Law

And sets the bar higher.

In his Sermon on the Mount,

Jesus will press the limits on issues of

Retaliation, loving enemies, giving to the poor, prayer, fasting, and wealth.

Jesus will amplify the Law when it comes to

Fidelity to God, anxiety, judging others, profanity, and living according to the Golden Rule.

 

The standards are set

such that, pretty much,

everyone is convicted by sin

and in need of redemption.

 

We are given a vision of how wonderful a life can be when its lived in Jesus Christ.

The only way to get to this abundant life is through

Personal repentance,

Accountable behavior,

Inter-personal reconciliation, and

the redemption Jesus offers by his cross.

 

Indeed, the blood of the cross washes us clean.

 

Repentance.

Reconciliation.

This is a tall order.

It’s a long, but necessary reach,

That we are taught and called to complete.

 

Amen.