“Crying Out Loud”

October 24, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 10:46-52

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

| Centering Prayer |

Crying Out

Growing up, I loved the Bob Newhart sit-coms;

Both the early series where Bob is a Psychiatrist

And the later series where Bob and his wife own and operate a bed and breakfast in Vermont.

Three characters in the second series have left an indelible impression on my memory:

Larry, his brother Daryl, and his other brother Daryl.

It was absurdly funny to think that two brothers would be named the same.

Neither spoke; they didn’t have to.

Their introduction each week kept the laughs rolling.

If they could have spoken, what would they say?

Were they silent due to an intellectual challenge?

Or were they quiet because of an overbearing older brother?

Maybe they were just the quiet sort?

Two brothers with the same names;

Now that’s funny.

In a similar funny sort of way,

We are introduced to our main character in today’s Gospel:

Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus.

Now that’s funny!

Did you catch the joke? It was meant to make you laugh.

The Gospel author named this blind beggar twice:

Bartimaeus, would have been Bar, or, son of, Timaeus.

In the translation from Hebrew to Arabic

Every New Testament scribe would have burst out laughing and slapped their knee in delight

When they copied the Gospel from one scroll to another:

This man is redundantly named: Son of Timaeus son of Timaeus.

Every town has its character

And our Gospel author is painting a portrait of Jericho’s.

Jericho was an Arab settlement at the time of Jesus (and still is today),

So unlike Jewish towns,

The beggars would be right downtown.

Think small town life.

Everyone knows the son of Timaeus.

It was such a shame that he lost his sight in his younger days.

Now he sits on Main Street (Jericho really only has a Main Street) all day long,

Rattling his tin cup and shouting out to anyone he hears passing by.

The unknowing traveler gets the

Bartimaeus treatment.

#BartimaeusTreatment should be trending on Twitter, by the way.

The Bartimaeus treatment was

The loud, bombastic appeal of a persistent, blind ragamuffin. 

At the same time,

Other travelers would be quietly sneaking past on the other side of the road

Hoping the brash and obnoxious son of Timaeus with two first names

Wouldn’t hear them.

Those who know the son of Timaeus son of Timaeus

Avoid him.

They go out of their way to not deal with him.

They marginalize him.

They keep him contained.

Take a moment to reflect on the people in your social circles.

Who do you avoid?

Who do you marginalize?

“Life would be so much easier if I didn’t have to deal with ____________”

Who are the people in your life with two first names?

<Silence>

Being Healed

Like a fisherman watching a group of anglers headed towards a secret fishing hole

The crowd of enthusiastic people are encroaching on Bartimaeus’ turf.

That gives an edge to

son of Timaeus son of Timaeus.

It makes him a bit cranky.

If he was going to be heard, he had to amplify his message a bit,

Add some spice,

Up his game,

Stretch the truth.

The crowd expected Jesus to become king,

“So why not stretch it out a bit and give him a royal title,”

son of Timaeus, son of Timaeus probably thought to himself.

Look at me!

Pay attention to me!

Coins don’t magically appear in my cup.

Making a scene draws attention.

Attention puts coins in my cup!

“Jesus, son of David!”

A king has money to spare,

“Have mercy on me”

He says as he rolls his diseased eyes and extended his cup

Giving it a little rattle.

Members of the Chamber of Commerce probably had a conniption.

“Can someone please shut that man up!”

That’s just asking for it,

Like poking a hornets’ nest twice,

Like pouring gasoline on a fire.

When Bartimaeus wouldn’t be silenced

The annoyed crowd stopped attempting to mussel him.

They said to him,

“Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

Something profound begins to take place in his soul.

How do we know?

Consider his actions.

Here’s a hint.

Bartimaeus throws off his cloak.

Blind, begging, homeless ragamuffins

Don’t just jettison clothing, even if they are just rags.

Throwing off his cloak means

The son of Timaeus knew his life as he knew it

Was over.

He isn’t coming back to retrieve it.

Hey! Rich, young ruler: take note.

Son of Timaeus son of Timaeus gives away all that he has

When he tosses his cloak,

Leaving it for the competition,

Leaving it for his fellow beggars.

Faith throws a cloak.

Jesus doesn’t make spit.

Neither does he touch his eyes.

Jesus simply commands him to be healed:

 “Go; your faith has made you well.”

Imagine that.

The one person the crowd wanted to marginalize in the worst sort of way

Ends up having more faith than all of them put together.

And that faith is sufficient to restore a blind man’s sight.

Those people in your life I had you reflect upon just a few moments ago?

Those who you’d like to forget, avoid, or just wish they’d go away?

What faith might they have? …

That causes Jesus to stop,

Stand still,

Call them close,

And heal them?

Faith is contagious.

Allow yourself to be exposed to the faith of those you’d prefer to avoid or make disappear.

Like a virus

Faith exposures

Can, and will, deepen your faith

grow your life,

draw you closer to God.

Following Him on the Way

With the immediacy of Mark

Son of Timaeus son of Timaeus

Regains his sight and

Follows Jesus on the way.

Like some tech companies who leave special Easter Eggs in their web pages,

Our Gospel author

– The same one whose humor is given voice by the naming redundancy –

Leaves us another delightful Easter Egg.

Here, then, is a deeper hidden message for Christians to hear:

“The Way” was a coded phrase,

Often repeated in the Aramaic oral tradition with a wink and a nod,

Meaning the journey of discipleship;

Following Jesus that leads to suffering, death, and resurrection.

To follow Jesus in “The Way” means

You are willing to join with Jesus as your companion;

You’re willing to suffer with him in his humiliation, whips, scorn, and crown of thorns;

You’re willing to die with him on a cross;

And You expect, simply by shear faith,

To be resurrected with him into eternal life.

Son of Timaeus,

Who had sight and lost it by some unknown circumstances,

Only to have his sight miraculously restored by Jesus,

Now leaves his begging cup and cloak behind and

Joins the journey with Jesus that leads to the cross and empty tomb.

The son of Timaeus will suffer like Jesus,

Will die like Jesus,

And will live again in the resurrection of Jesus.

Many of us hope “the Way” for us

Is suffering and death LITE,

With a special second helping of that whole eternal life bit.

“I’d like to have a sharp mind and healthy body, die in my sleep, and have those pearly gates swing wide open for me to enter.”

Isn’t that what most hope for?

Truth is,

To live is to suffer.

To die is universal.

To be resurrected is our Christian expectation.

Truth is,

If we want to follow in “The Way”

We must follow the divine One who was marginalized

And is largely relegated to the sidelines as irrelevant by today’s society.

If we want to follow in “The Way”

We must join a crowd

Of those we’ve previously marginalized, avoided, and treated with contempt.

If we are going to journey with Jesus together

We better start building bridges with one another,

Especially with those who cause us to shrug our shoulders

And we’d rather not even think about.

Following in “The Way”

Causes us to confront our own biases and prejudice.

Following “The Way”

Invites each of us to a deeper spiritual life.

Life’s journey is easy with friends;

But there is not much growth with such shared experiences.

Jesus didn’t come to heal the healthy!

He came to heal the sick and save the sinner!

Life’s journey along “The Way” of Jesus

Is where faith is nurtured, grown, and deepened.

It is where healing pours into the vessel of faith.

It is where lions lay down with lambs,

Opposites attract,

And disagreements are put aside.

Going with the flow on “The Way”

Makes us One with Christ and

One with each other.

Let us be united

On “The Way.”

Amen.

“You Want Some of This?”

October 17, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 10:35-45

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

| Centering Prayer |

I was a big fan of the HBO series, The Sopranos.

Tony Soprano was a New Jersey crime boss who ruled his criminal empire with an clenched, iron fist.

His captains: Christopher, Sil, and Paulie …

Each climbed their way to the top of the organization.

All three of them were constantly maneuvering to be Tony’s favorite and successor.

A good boss has a succession plan.

Tony Soprano was no different.

He was constantly testing and grooming his captains.

On numerous occasions Tony and one of his boys

Would get into a BIG DOG confrontation.

Tony would emerge triumphant.

Enraged, he’d ask, “You want a piece of me?”

Then he pinned them to the floor and showed him his clenched fist.

“You want some of this?”

The message was clear: if you want to be the Boss, you have to best the Boss.

I must confess,

Our Gospel message for this morning made me think of The Sopranos.

Three observations.

1. You want some of this?

You must be baptized into Christ, and  tempted by the Devil.

“So, John and I were thinking,” James stammers.

<Eyes shift left and right>

“Can we ask you a favor?”

“What is it?” Jesus asks, knowing full well the answer to his question before he asks it.

<Eyes roll back>

“Can we sit at your right and left hand when you are crowned king?”

James and John had expectations that didn’t include a cross.

They were hoping for a throne instead.

“If you want some of this” Jesus points to himself,

“You have to join me in my baptism.”

On the surface, this sounds like a simple request.

James and John fall for it without thinking it through.

“We are able.”

They were probably thinking of that glorious moment

When Jesus rose from the water,

The heavens parted,

The dove descended and

The voice of God spoke from the heavens,

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

“We are able,” they boldly proclaimed with sugar plums dancing in their heads.

<Jesus closes his eyes and shakes his head>

This probably was not Jesus’ intention.

My guess is that Jesus was thinking about what happened after his baptism.

The launch of his public ministry began

With him driven into the wilderness,

Cold and hungry for 40 days,

Enduring multiple, repeated, merciless temptations from the Devil personified.

You want a piece of me?

Those who are baptized in Christ,

As each of us are here today,

Will face the same severity of trials and temptations Jesus did.

We will not be sheltered, protected, or hidden away by God.

Rather, being baptized in Christ,

Disciples of Christ are given the assurance

That the same Jesus who bested the Devil in the wilderness

Will be the same Jesus who is right by your side when you face your 40 days with the Devil.

I’m counting on it.

I don’t know about you;

But I’m not strong enough to endure the world’s pain and suffering, trials and temptations alone.

The only way I’ve been able to survive to this point in my life

Is by keeping Jesus by my side.

During a formative period in life

I swam laps three times a week

At the local High School.

My goal was not to lose weight or count laps.

I was the slowest swimmer in the pool.

Others sported fancy Speedo’s.

I wore high drag cargo suits.

I was there for other purposes.

My goal was to discipline my mind and focus on Jesus for 40 minutes at a time.

No cell phone.

No interruptions.

Just the silent sound of rushing water.

I had two strategies.

The first was to say the Jesus prayer one time for every two or three strokes:

“Lord Jesus Christ,

Son of God,

Have mercy on me.”

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Pull, breath, glide, repeat.

The second strategy was to recite in my mind as much of the Gospel as I could remember:

Starting in Matthew with the descendent list from the line of Jesse, and

Ending with “Low, I will be with you always, to the end of the age” as the risen Jesus ascends into heaven.

There is a lot in between.

There is great treasure in the details.

It would take me multiple days to complete even snippets of a narrative.

Recall, recite, rinse, repeat.

It is amazing how much can be reconstructed after a lifetime of reading, studying, and preaching the Gospel.

As you go through your regular routine,

give it a try.

In silence

Feel the river,

Watch the fire,

Walk the trail,

Hike the woods,

Peddle your bike,

Paddle your kayak forward

With Christ at your side.

2. You want some of this?

You must drink of the cup that Christ drinks, and die with him on the cross.

“Yes, we’d like to sit at your right hand and your left hand,” James and John requested.

You want some of this?

Then “you must drink of the same cup that I drink,” Jesus responds.

One thing about Jesus,

Is that when he hosts a gathering and he shares a meal

He does it nearly the same way every time.

Remember when he fed the crowds with five loaves and two fishes?

He took the bread,

Gave thanks to God,

Broke the bread, and

Shared it with the people.

It was the same formula in the Upper Room.

It was the same formula after a day on the road to Emmaus.

And it was the same formula remembered and written down in Paul’s first epistle to the church in Corinth.

Undoubtedly, Jesus had fed his disciples, including James and John,

Numerous times,

Both recorded and not recorded,

Following the same Sacramental formula.

James and John had expectations that didn’t include a cross.

They were hoping for a free meal instead.

“We are able,” they eagerly replied.

Their response reminds me of

A candidate for ordination

Giddy with anticipation

Of the new privilege about to be entrusted to them;

Celebrating the Sacraments for the first time.

What an incredible privilege it is to

Baptize a baby and

Celebrate the Eucharist.

36 years later,

It remains a humbling, fearful, exhilarating, awe-filled experience.

“We are able,” James and John declared.

What a guy.

What a pair.

When we share in the cup of Christ,

We also share in his death.

Death is not nearly as cool or glamorous as giving thanks, breaking and sharing bread and cup.

Twelve hours is a long time to hang and bake in the hot Middle East sun.

Hands and feet pierced.

Flies buzzing around.

Sweat dripping.

Thirst growing.

Breathing labored.

The crowd watching for that final  breath.

Twelve hours is a long time to hang there and think

About what you’ve done and what has remained undone.

It is a long time to have a dirty sponge filled with vinegar shoved into your face.

It is a long time to be all alone in the middle of a crowd.

Have you ever set vigil with someone dying?

It is an experience that can’t be forgotten.

There is fear of what is coming.

Anxiety grows as

The diaphragm weakens,

Fluids migrate,

Pain medication is applied.

Often, there are words that need to be said.

There may be good-byes to be made.

There is darkness that descends.

And the abyss comes into view.

I’m a pretty brave guy

– except when it comes to snakes and heights and death.

I don’t fear dying.

I fear dying alone.

I would be a mess of anxiety and depression

If I only had my thoughts with me

When I’ll step through the curtain that defines the end of life,

Hoping on a wing and a prayer that eternal life is waiting on the other side.

My guess is that I’m not alone in very natural mortal fears.

This is what I know:

I know I must have Jesus with me.

That is why I drink of his cup.

When we share in Christ’s cup

We welcome Jesus into our lives.

We walk side-by-side.

We become companions and friends.

Christ is right there,

Present with us when we face our final breath.

Jesus died the death we fear.

He has stepped through the curtain to the other side into God’s glory.

Jesus knows the way.

Jesus is the one I have to have with me when I die.

I hope and pray that you do, too.

The Apostle Paul and many others tell us

To live every day prepared to die.

That means inviting Christ to journey with us,

Right by our side,

Every moment of every day of our life. 

Regardless of the circumstances of our death;

Quick and painless,

12 hours in the hot sun, or

12 years suffering greatly from the agony of a terminal disease;

Jesus Christ,

By our side,

Is the only way to step through into eternal glory.

3. On the right and left of Christ in his glory, is reserved for servants, who like Christ, have given their life for many.

You want some of this?

“Are you able …” Jesus says,

To become a servant and slave of all?

Oh, yes! “We are able!” James and John proclaim proudly.

‘One will sit on the right-hand side of the throne,

The other will sit on the left.

We’ll even arrange for some scantily clad Egyptian women

To stand behind us and cool us with palm branches,’

They are probably thinking to themselves.

Not so fast!

Jesus cools their jets.

“Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,” Jesus tells them,

“And whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”

Dismiss the Egyptian slave women,

Pick up their palm branches,

Start cooling the air.

Oh, yes, we want Jesus to be at our side,

Right by our side,

Every moment of every day,

Because, well, you know;

<air quotes>

“That time” will eventually come.

God’s grace might be free, but it isn’t cheap.

Jesus tells his disciples,

And those of us who are here today,

That if you want Christ by your side,

Then dedicate your life to be at the side of others.

As Jesus serves you,

So must you serve others.

As Jesus taught us,

So must we teach.

As Jesus showed us how to live,

So, too, we must follow in his example.

As Jesus forgives,

So must we forgive.

As Jesus loves,

So must we love.

Live a life dedicated to living at the side-by-side serving others:

Don’t pass by on the other side of the road; stop, come to the side of the bloodied man in the ditch and see to his recovery.

Don’t ignore the hungry; stop and feed them.

Listen to the blind calling out from the side of the road, stop, and heal them with God’s love.

Reach out to the prostitute who wants to be made clean, and offer her living water.

Cast out demons from those who have the Devil in them.

Give your life, and I’ll give mine, for the service of others,

Just as Jesus has done for us.

‘You want some of this?’ Jesus asks.

If you want some of Jesus, invite him to your side.

Invite Jesus to travel life’s journey with you.

He will be with you during good times and the dark nights of your soul.

He will be with you when you step through the divide into God’s eternal glory.

Journeying with Jesus

Means dedicating our lives

To the service of others

That, all of us

Might taste and see

God’s grace and eternal glory.

Amen.

“Getting to ‘Follow Me’”

Mark 10:17-31

October 10, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 10:17-31

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

| Centering Prayer |

In 1989 I was left an inheritance.

Our neighbor George

Left me his tackle box and all of his fishing equipment.

It was enough to fill the back of his son-in-law’s pickup truck.

George loved the fact

That I led a fishing camp for Junior High boys at Casowasco,

One of our United Methodist Camp and Conference Centers

on Owasco Lake.

I recruited volunteer staff and led this six-day camp

Each summer for many years.

Most of George’s equipment went to support efforts to teach kids to fish.

What remains today, 25 years later,

Is safely tucked away at the family cottage.

It was a privilege to have had George remember me in his will.

With his inheritance has come a few lessons I still ponder.

I didn’t do anything to earn his inheritance.

We were simply friends and neighbors.

Over the years our families grew together.

We both loved to mow our lawns at the same time on our

Nearly identical gray Sear’s lawn tractors.

We both loved being members of the Dresden Fire Department.

During the day when most others were at work

George and I put out a lot of fires together;

Just the two of us.

Inheritance can’t be earned.

Rather, inheritance is about belonging.

Inheritance is about growing, developing, maturing relationships;

Sharing together this journey of life and faith.

I’ve also learned that for there to be an inheritance,

Someone has to die.

This is a bitter lesson.

I’d give back all George’s fishing equipment ten fold

Only to have an afternoon with him talking over the back split-rail fence.

I loved George dearly, and still miss him a lot, 32 years later.

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

(Mark 10:17)

All of us who follow Jesus

Belong to a pretty special group.

We are known by our love,

Our authentic desire

To lead our lives the way Jesus led his life,

Our desire to discern and follow God’s will, and

Our commitment to live according to God’s Law.

At our baptism we were accepted by God,

Hereafter, we belong.

We are accepted and included.

Period.

Inheritance is about belonging.

According to the researcher Erik Carter

Belonging in a community

United by faith

Is about being

  • Present,
  • Invited,
  • Welcomed,
  • Known,
  • Accepted,
  • Supported,
  • Cared For,
  • Befriended,
  • Needed, and
  • Loved.

(Thanks to Professor Erik W. Carter, as found at erikwcarter.com/belonging)

Jesus, the Good Teacher first correctly steers this anonymous man

Towards that which gives identity to Christians,

And to our Jewish ancestors:

Living according to the Law of Moses,

Which came as a gift from God.

We don’t follow laws to belong.

We belong, therefore, we desire to fit in.

We want to follow God’s Law.

Jesus establishes the Law as the bare-bones foundation,

Upon which he builds out the rest of his kingdom.

Eternal life cannot be earned any more than an inheritance.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ grants eternal life for all who accept it.

There isn’t enough righteousness, or right living,

To earn someone a ticket to heaven.

Saying “yes” to Jesus Christ,

Accepting salvation as a divine gift of grace,

Means living in relationship with God and others.

Belonging to the “Eternal Life Club” individually, and collectively,

Means changing priorities.

We don’t live for ourselves.

When we live according to God’s Laws,

We live for others and

We live for God.

When Jesus tells us

“go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor,”

He is calling us to reorder our priorities in life.

Place the needs of the poor before your own needs.

Make the last first.

Making the last first in our lives

Is all about belonging,

Of being in community,

Of living as benefactors of God’s inheritance;

Of God’s amazing grace.

Jesus does one other amazing thing here.

Belonging to the “Kingdom of God Club”

And accepting the inheritance,

Is about rejecting the idols of this world.

When we think of idols,

We are most likely to think of a golden calf and pagan worship.

Not so fast, partner!

An idol is anything that is owned, possessed, or sought after

That steals attention from God,

Impairs our ability to discern God’s will, and

Damages our ability to fulfill God’s will for our lives.

Stuff becomes our idols.

The house, the car, our property, our savings;

All of it, from man-caves to the Mercedes in the driveway,

From flower beds to 401k’s,

… all of it has the ability

To become the focus and purpose of our life

In place of …

In substitution for …

Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Property and wealth can become a barrier between us and those Jesus calls us to serve.

It makes it nearly impossible to follow him

Unless and until we remove those barriers.

Give it away.

Simplify.

Even still, recognize the fact

That we are dependent on God

If you and I are ever going to get through the eye of a needle.

Getting to “follow me”

Means that we are willing to go out on a limb.

We are willing to stop trusting in ourselves and our own accumulated resources.

It means that we are willing to place our trust in Jesus, and

Follow him wherever he leads.

I have to sit on my hands, close my mouth, and submit my will

All the time

If I am to faithfully follow Christ.

This is my choice.

It isn’t a simple one.

But, for me, it’s the right choice.

I invite you to make the same personal choice.

Allow Thy will be done; not my will be done.

Getting to “follow me”

Means belonging to a community of people

Who are crazy enough for Jesus

To place the needs of the poor in front of our own.

Being Christ’s disciple doesn’t fit in American politics.

We don’t comfortably fit in an

Endlessly consumer driven, materialistic, self-centered world.

Christians don’t belong in a world that is racist,

That doesn’t welcome the sojourner, the alien, or the refugee.

We don’t belong in this kingdom, or any other earthly kingdom;

We belong in God’s kingdom!

We belong kneeling beside Jesus

Washing the feet of others,

Serving the poor;

Those who live in poverty

And those whose spirit is broken.

Stop blaming welfare abusers.

Start thinking about single parent moms trying to raise a family.

Think about elders, spent down and spent out,

In the twilight days of life,

Feeling warehoused until they die.

Think about our neighbors who weave cloth

Sunup to sundown

For seven bucks a month,

So I can wear beautiful stoles and

My Thanksgiving table can be adorned with a lovely table runner.

Think about our friends whose delayed development

Means a lifetime of dependence, isolation, segregation, and loneliness.

Think flood victims, hurricane victims, and those who have lost their homes to wild fires.

Think about refugees at the boarder yearning to be free.

Think about people who lost everything to addictions, medical conditions,

Or just plain lousy circumstances and tough luck.

Think about the poor.

Think about others first.

Serve others

Before thinking about ourselves.

“Blessed are the poor,” Jesus preached.

Who are the poor in your life?

Who are the poor Christ is calling you to include in this belonging community?

It is time to act:

“go,

sell what you own, and

give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then

come,

follow me.”

Go. Sell. Give. Come.

“Follow me,” Jesus commands.

Getting to “follow me”

Is a daunting, yet awesome task.

I’m here to assure you,

It is well worth your effort.

Finally, to receive an inheritance

Someone must die.

To lead our lives the way Jesus did,

To discern and follow God’s will,

Means we must be willing to follow Jesus to his cross.

Selling all that I own and giving the money to the poor

Is relatively simple

Compared to being willing to give up my own life

For the sake of Jesus and his Gospel.

Christ died to grant us this inheritance.

Where, death, is thy sting,

Come Easter morning and

Our resurrected Lord steps out of his tomb?

Death no longer has a hold of us.

Will our death be painful for our family and loved ones? certainly.

Mourning and grief still cuts like a knife.

Yet, belonging

Provides a divine inheritance;

The gift of eternal life.

Dearly beloved,

Don’t work for a place in heaven.

There are no tickets to be had.

Simply belong.

Take your place with me,

Side-by-side with Jesus.

May we trust Jesus enough

To sell as much as we can,

To give all we can to the poor.

May the bonds of belonging to the Body of Christ

Give us the courage

To make the last first and

To take our place at the end of the line.

Belong, and invite others to belonging.

Be one with Christ and one with each other.

Claim your inheritance.

Eternal life is already yours.

Amen.

“Divorce”

Mark 10:2-16

October 3, 2021, World Communion Sunday

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 10:2-16 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=405569750)

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

| Centering Prayer |

I am often asked about my position on theology and sexuality:

Where I stand on the Church and gay marriage,

And the ordination of homosexuals.

My stock answer remains:

When Jesus teaches about it, I’ll preach about it.

Jesus doesn’t bring up the topic once.

Not once.

Jesus teaches at length about not judging others,

How God so loves the world,

And the universal, unconditional nature of God’s grace.

I’ll preach about these Gospel topics all day long. 

Jesus doesn’t address homosexuality,

But he does teach about the issue of divorce.

In fact, he teaches the crowd,

the Pharisees (Jewish lay leaders),

and his followers

quite a lot about divorce.

(My comments on Mark 10:2-16 are heavily dependent upon the exceptional scholarly work of Matt Skinner, Associate Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN.)

………..

Here are four points of context:

1. We assume divorce is a modern phenomenon;

It isn’t.

In the first century, during the time of Jesus,

Divorce was a generally accepted part of the cultural landscape.

It was just as painful and prevalent then as it is today.

2. Marriage in the ancient world

was primarily a means of economic and social stability.

Women were considered property of the father,

Women were sold to a husband in marriage

through the exchange of a dowry.

Marriage united family, created offspring, increased wealth,

strengthened the tribe, kept the peace, and maintained the family lineage.

When a marriage failed, …

Everyone lost.

3. Jewish leaders in the time of Jesus

spoke about how divorce was bad for society,

The debate was mostly focused on the legal imperative.

The legal foundation for their belief is found in Torah, Deuteronomy 24:1-2:

Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house and goes off to become another man’s wife.

In other words

Deuteronomy assumes divorce will occur

and prescribes legal procedures for carrying it out.

This legal procedure ensured dependent women and children

A defense against rumor and slander;

A very important consideration for survival,

Let alone remarriage.

Some hardhearted Pharisees who question Jesus

Conveniently fail to mention the strong, moral imperative in the Law

That provides justice for the vulnerable: women and children.

Other Pharisees who question Jesus and attempt to trap him,

Call into question the permissibility of divorce

Citing Genesis 2:24 and Malachi 2:13-16, which read:

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Experts in the Law were not in agreement on the issue of divorce.

Scripture appeared contradictory and could be read both ways.

What better controversy to trap Jesus

Than one that is hotly debated by religious authorities?

4. Which brings us to the setup for the Gospel passage;

this narrative is one of many in a long succession

about how religious authorities attempt to trap Jesus,

to find cause to have him arrested,

and to have him put to death.

Jesus is riding the razon’s edge.

His life and death hung on every word.

This passage, and Jesus’ response, must be viewed through this lens.

……………..

What does Jesus teaching about divorce

Mean to you and me?

Let’s look carefully at his words:

1. Jesus answers a question with a question.

He knows the minefield the Pharisees have laid.

He knows they are divided among themselves.

He knows their absolute devotion to the Law.

He knows that Hebrew scriptures, the Law and the prophets,

are in conflict and less than clear.

‘Jesus,’ they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

“What did Moses command you?” Jesus questions back.

“Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”

Good answer! They know the Law; at least Genesis and Malachi.

But Jesus sees their callous and hardened heart:

“Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Better answer! Jesus favors two becoming one.

He moves beyond the simple justice advanced by the Law

Takes it a step further

And advocates for the value of equality and unity and eternity.

Jesus makes the point that this is what the institution of marriage is all about:

Two equal partners.

One without the other breaks the whole thing.

Two cogs that drive the wheel;

Take one cog away and the whole process brings the wheel to a stop.

God joined two into one,

Therefore, no one can break the one.

Two equal partners that are so unified

They become one flesh,

One body,

Until death do they part.

What sensible Pharisee will discount Genesis 2 in public?

Not one of them.

They slink away, like the snakes they are,

defeated once again in their attempt to trap Jesus.

They lost the debate because

Jesus uses the Law as the foundation for his teaching.

He builds upon the Law with a new covenant

That is rooted in grace.

2. Jesus uses the early confrontation with the adversarial Pharisees

as a talking point later in the day

in the privacy of a house

surrounded by his disciples.

They, and we, want to know more.

Jesus continues.

“the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Jesus is speaking specifically against those who leave their spouse for others,

Be it the husband or the wife.

His point is that

Divorce does not offer a legal loophole to justify adultery.

Be warned, Jesus tells us frankly,

Do not initiate divorce as a means to get something or someone else.

Do not sacrifice a spouse to satisfy one’s desires or ambitions.

It is no accident that this passage is immediately followed by

The disciples attempting to keep children away from Jesus

And his powerful response:

“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Jesus’ approach to children is hardly surprising

Given the way he so frequently

Held them,

Loved them, and

Used children as teaching examples.

Do not sacrifice a spouse,

Do not sacrifice the children,

To satisfy one’s sexual desires or ambitions.

Jesus doesn’t throw anyone away.

He doesn’t throw anyone under the bus.

And neither should we.

3. Women, take heart.

Men, listen carefully.

Jesus elevates women to a place of equality in marriage,

Hardly seeing women as passive objects or property.

To Jesus’ first century audience,

Equality in marriage was revolutionary.

Responsibility is balanced:

If a man leaves for another – Guilty of adultery, according to Deuteronomy.

If a wife leaves for another – Guilty of adultery, according to Deuteronomy.

This wass such a volatile position to take in the ancient world

The parallel narrative in Matthew 19:9 conveniently omits it!

Also, by speaking of a man committing adultery against a woman,

Not against her father or past husband,

Jesus implies that adultery involves more than the violation of property rights of another man.

Adultery concerns accountability to a partner.

Jesus is calling us to accountability in marital relationships.

If you make a wedding vow,

Keep it.

Failure to keep your word is an offense

Against your spouse,

Against every witness of your wedding, and

An offense against the Lord.

4. I applaud Jesus for not avoiding the issue;

Especially later in the day when

His disciples asked him to elaborate on the issue of divorce behind closed doors.

His words help us better understand why failed marriages

Bring such pain to couples, extended families, and communities.

Jesus explains the pain our God experiences when marriages fail.

Jesus brings into laser focus the hurt and brokenness that come,

Even when divorce appears to be the best choice among all available options.

Divorce is the final option only in the case of abuse.

Abuse breaks the vows

“To have and to hold” and

“To love and to cherish.”

Jesus brings special attention to children.

The most vulnerable are often the most traumatized when parents divorce.

The church has learned over the centuries

That to impose these words uncritically,

Without interpretation,

as inflexible commands,

is to do violence, deny protection, and withhold grace

to the women and children who need it most.

Dearly beloved,

Yield not to the temptation to avoid Jesus teaching about divorce,

For it teaches us far more than first meets the eye.

Jesus urges us to regard marriage in stark contrast

To our culture’s tendency to treat commitment and love as conditional.

Jesus is opposed to adultery.

The Law is followed.

Women and children are elevated,

And women are afforded equal accountability in the marriage relationship.

No one is to be thrown away.

In marriage, the self becomes sub-servant to the married whole.

Two become one.

One flesh,

Connected to the One,

Lord, and savior of us all, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

“Non Sequitur”

Mark 9:38-50

September 26, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 9:38-50

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

| Centering Prayer |

Non sequitur.

I had to look it up.

A non sequitur is a statement that does not logically follow

From the previous argument or statement.

From the Latin, non sequitur means “it does not follow.”

In this, his first recorded statement in the Gospel of Mark,

The disciple John demonstrates that he’s a candidate for

King of the non sequitur!

John clearly had not been listening.

The lessons of the teacher,

As he addressed Jesus,

Weren’t being heard or comprehended.

This Gospel passage is a continuation from last Sunday’s Gospel.

Jesus was teaching his disciples that

He would suffer, be killed, and three days later, rise again.

They couldn’t believe him.

Jesus taught his disciples who were debating who the greatest was;

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

They didn’t hear him.

Jesus took a child in his arms as a teaching example

(visual aids can be really helpful)

And teaches that

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

A child was a metaphor for welcoming new followers of Jesus.

No one was listening.

The disciples couldn’t believe Jesus.

They didn’t hear him.

No one was listening.

It’s not like that’s never happened to you and me.

(Snoring differentiates those who are closing their eyes to focus on my sermon from those who close their eyes to nap!)

John drops the mother of all non sequitur’s

When he broaches the topic of

Others casting out demons in the name of Jesus.

‘Well, if they’re not against us,” Jesus replies,

‘they’re for us.’ (9:40)

Let’s get this train back on the track.

What was Jesus talking about?

Oh, yeah.

He’s holding a child.

He was talking about welcoming children,

New followers, in his name.

Welcome others.

Hold new followers of Jesus tenderly.

Welcome every new follower with respect, acceptance, and love.

Jesus puts the train back on the track

And tells John, and the rest of the disciples,

Exactly what NOT to do.

Do NOT be a stumbling block for a new follower.

Do NOT set a bad example that would cause another to stumble.

It would be better to go to hell

Than to cause a new follower to stumble.

Hell.

You know,

That place we don’t like to talk about.

Yeah, where there is an unquenchable fire,

Where worms never die. (9:43, 48)

Gehenna

Is the word Jesus uses to give hell a name;

Not the more neutral words Sheol or Hades.

Gehenna, by definition,

Is the destination of the wicked.

Gehenna is quite fitting.

Holding a child,

Jesus says that causing a child-like follower to stumble

It would be better for one to go to Gehenna,

The valley outside Jerusalem

That, in prior years,

Was known to be a location

For pagan child sacrifice.

By the time of Jesus,

Gehenna was a garbage dump;

A garbage dump with a nasty, haunted history.

Jesus is literally trying to scare the hell out of his disciples.

Now that’s some salty teaching!

Do NOT be a stumbling block to any other follower

On their journey with Jesus,

Especially, don’t be a stumbling block for new followers,

Children in faith.

Jesus should be scaring the hell out of us, too.

Think with me, for a moment,

The many ways we become a stumbling block for other Christians.

Hypocrisy.

Deceit.

Behavior that is inconsistent with the teaching of Jesus.

It’s easy to criticize and dismiss other followers of Jesus

Because their beliefs are different than ours,

Their denomination is different than ours,

Their worship is different than ours.

They like different music.

They pray differently.

They might even say “Amen” if the preacher gets on a roll!

High church, low church.

Charismatic, reserved.

Too catholic, not orthodox enough.

“Whoever is not against us is for us,” Jesus taught. (9:40)

In other words: STUFF IT!

Stop the criticism.

Criticizing other Christians

May be the greatest of all non sequiturs:

Diverting our thoughts

Derailing our efforts,

Threatening us with a wicked eternity.  

Christians criticizing Christians

Is the stumbling block Jesus wants us to avoid

To keep our focus on what is truly important.

Ending the criticism begins with me.

I can’t control the behavior of others,

But I can discipline myself.

I can remove stumbling blocks for others

By setting a good example of following Jesus.

Keep a laser focus on what is truly important,

What Jesus is teaching:

Welcome visitors and others.

Invite them to follow Jesus.

Set a good example for how Christ followers should behave.

Lead by serving

Those who Jesus served.

Keeping that laser focus on Jesus

Is what I’d call

“Salty.”

Amen.

“Greatness on Jesus’ Terms”

Mark 9:30-37

September 19, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

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

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

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

Prayer.

A while back,

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

It is a detailed corporate history from 1969 to the present

Of the Union Pacific Corporation (UPC),

A holding company that ran businesses in numerous market sectors:

Energy, Information, Real Estate, and Transportation.

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

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

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

Finding the right employee for the right job,

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

Tearing down stifling, inflexible, historical culture

And replacing it with analytics, nimbleness, and efficiency.

When billions of dollars are on the line,

Egos must be stroked,

Compensation must be generous,

Scandals need to be swept under the carpet,

And job titles reflect more pride than purpose.

Though enjoyable, this isn’t pleasure reading:

I can apply this history

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

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

What makes a company great,

And what makes an employee great,

Is debated just the same.

What defines greatness?

Who says what is great?

….

Jesus weighs in on the topic of greatness.

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

As his followers,

We should pay attention.

Jesus catches his disciples arguing amongst themselves.

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

It must have been like

Asking a child whose face is covered in chocolate

What they’ve been eating.

Of course, Jesus knows the answer.

He knows what they’d been arguing about.

He knows the answer before he asks.

Here is a teachable moment;

An opportunity that Jesus won’t let slip away.

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

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

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

2. Making the self last of all.

3. Making the self servant of all.

Beloved, strive to be first

By seeking Christ and his kingdom first

This day and

Every day of your life.

Take discipleship with mortal seriousness.

Learn about Christ, follow Christ, behave like Christ

To the very best of your ability.

Make the spiritual journey with Jesus Christ

Our ultimate concern and

Our deepest passion.

Making ourselves last means

That others eat first.

The needs of others,

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

Must take priority over our needs. 

Serving all means

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

In Christian ministry.

It is vitally important to

Push ourselves away from the conference room table

And take our place in the serving line.

The only way to serve all

Is to descend the social ladder

And to welcome those who Jesus associates with.

“Throughout his ministry,”

Elisabeth Johnson writes,

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

Gentile women (Mark 7:24-30),

bleeding women (Mark 5:24-34),

lepers (Mark 1:40-45), r

aging demoniacs (Mark 5:1-20),

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

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

(As found at Working Preacher dot Org)

……

What defines greatness?

Who says what is great?

…..

Jesus takes a little child into his arms

And teaching his disciples

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

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

1. He uses a child as a teaching illustration.

2. He takes the child into his arms.

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

A child, except the first-born male,

Was considered as property,

An asset of their father.

A child was equal in social status

With women, slaves, and gentiles.

Go to the bottom of the social ladder

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

Taking a child into his arms

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

We are called to serve with the same quality,

The same tender loving care,

As we would hope to be treated.

Welcome, Jesus teaches.

To serve one

one must be committed

to welcoming one.

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

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

Let the benefactors of our service know

That we serve because Jesus teaches us to,

And that, just as Jesus has welcomed me,

So, too, is Jesus welcoming you.

Service and following Jesus go hand in hand.

Missions and evangelism can never be separated.

Mission and evangelism are brothers from other mothers.

…..

What defines greatness?

Who says what is great?

…..

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

About his suffering, death, and resurrection.

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

They’re so ashamed they didn’t get it

They were afraid to ask or inquire further.

The Gospel of Mark has its own unique characteristics.

It culminates in the crucifixion of Christ,

Treating the resurrection almost as a post-script.

This characteristic is highlighted when one conducts a careful comparison

Of each of the three narratives where Jesus

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

The scale tilts heavily in favor of atonement;

To a lesser degree, on resurrection and eternal life.

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

It is important to note that not one of his disciples

Make it all the way to the cross with Jesus.

Peter denies Jesus.

Judas betrays him and goes out and hangs himself.

Everyone else scatter, for fear of the Jews.

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

Where’d they all go?

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

Women “looking from a distance,

Mary Magdalene,

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

and Salome.” (15:40)

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

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

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

All our earthly days?

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

Allowing the atoning blood of Christ to wash us clean

All our earthly days?

Great faith doesn’t come from believing;

Greatness comes from following Jesus,

From cradle to grave, and beyond.

Follow Jesus to the cross.

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

And you, my beloved,

Will taste greatness.

….

What defines greatness?

Who says what is great?

Jesus tells us:

Serve others.

Lead others to become his followers.

Follow Christ to his cross.

Amen.

“From Mourning to Joy”

Two Meditations on Pandemic and Faith

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

September 12, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

From Mourning …

Psalm 116:1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Mournful Meditation

| Centering Prayer |

When faced with death,

when hell threatens,

while enduring suffering, distress, and anguish,

let us join with the Psalmist.

Call on the name of the Lord, saying

“O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

The world has suffered greatly the past 21 months.

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

have been infected with Covid-19, and

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

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

We’ve lost much.

Today, we pause to mourn,

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

Beloved,

name aloud

WHAT you have lost or

WHO you have lost due to the pandemic.

After each, let us collectively reply

“O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

[ What or Who you have lost … ]

Beloved,

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

Nail it to the cross of Jesus Christ.

When we take up our cross

we suffer together.

We become one with Christ,

one with each other, and

one in our faithful expectation

that joy will come in the morning.

Healing will spread across the land.

The tomb of this epidemic will soon be emptied.

“Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;”

the Psalmist reminds us.

“Our God is merciful.”

By God’s mercy

may you experience the healing touch of God.

Amen.

… to Joy!

Gospel Lesson                                  Mark 8:27-38 (NRSV)

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

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

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

A Joyful Meditation

| Centering Prayer |

The Good News is that Jesus is the Messiah,

sent by God

to save all God’s people.

Jesus is our Messiah, our Savior.

Jesus saves us from sin and death

by forgiving us,

healing our imperfections,

and by God’s amazing grace,

welcomes each of us into eternal life.

Jesus is our Companion.

Christ’s suffering upon the cross

is to us our gain.

When we deny ourselves,

take up our cross, and

follow Jesus,

we become as brothers and sisters,

sharing the journey of life,

facing all the trials, temptations, pain, and suffering

together, as one. 

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

Christ has remained steadfast by our side

throughout this terrible pandemic.

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

It has not been easy.

But we’ve learned, we’ve loved, and

we’ve grown stronger

in our individual and collective faith

each and every day.

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

Our family bubbles have redefined us.

Every aspect of our lives has changed.

We continue to dream,

to imagine,

to discern where Christ is leading us.

Unexpected joy has been found along the way.

Who knew?

Who knew a pandemic was coming?

Who knew sickness, illness, and disease

could also bring with it

the joy of discovery,

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

Who knew Covid and all it’s variants

could result in living in the joy of the Lord?

This joy is God’s gift,

the blessings of our faithful Companion, Jesus Christ, and

the benefits of abiding in the Holy Spirit.

What joy it is to be filled by the Spirit,

led by the Spirit,

strengthened by the Spirit,

loved by the Spirit!

When we name aloud our joys and blessings

we affirm God’s active presence in our lives

and our privilege to take an active role

in God’s emerging kingdom.

Beloved,

WHAT joy have you found

as a consequence of this pandemic?

Through WHOM have you witnessed God at work

to bring you joy?

[ Where have you found joy? ]

Who do we confess is Jesus?

He is our Messiah.

He is our Companion and friend.

Jesus is the source of living water,

the pathway

from sickness to health,

from sin to forgiveness,

from death to eternal life.

Be filled with joy, beloved followers of Jesus,

for he is the joy of our salvation.

Amen.  

“Faith Finds Access”

Mark 7:24-37

September 5, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 7:24-37

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

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

| Centering Prayer |

Our Gospel lesson for this morning

Follows on the heels of last Sunday’s passage

With Jesus telling the religious authorities, crowds, and disciples

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

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

Today’s two narratives,

The Syrophoenician woman and

The Decapolis man,

Complete the seventh chapter of Mark.

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

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

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

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

Before and after,

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

Jesus is surrounded by great crowds of followers,

Accompanied by his disciples.

Before and after today’s Gospel

Jesus brings deliverance from hunger with

Miracles of multiplication,

With the added benefit of abundant leftovers.

Today,

Jesus sets out alone.

No crowds.

No disciples.

He leaves Jewish territory.

He ventures north to the region of Tyre,

Predominately gentile territory, and

He makes effort to escape notice.

One can only speculate why.

Mark’s set-up for Jesus’ encounter

With this desperate mother

Is a textbook example of what not to do

In the Safe Sanctuary training!

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

He is in her territory,

On her ground,

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

Jesus is sailing uncharted waters.

The desperate mother holds the upper hand.

She seeks out Jesus,

Bows at his feet, and,

Like any mother in a similar situation,

Begs Jesus

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

Christ’s response is more than disappointing.

It is outrageous and offensive.

His response is outrageous and offensive

On two points.

“Let the children …”

That is, the children of Israel …

God’s chosen people …

“Let the children be fed first.”

(7:27)

In other words

The focus of Christ’s mission and ministry

Was first to the Jews.

Up to this stunning confrontation

His mission and ministry had not been

Directed beyond the Jewish community.

Jesus employed an “Israel first” policy.

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

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

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

God needed to cut back and

Jesus needed to ration his miracles.

The second outrageous offense comes

When Jesus completes the sentence,

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

(7:27)

Yes, you heard correctly,

Jesus compares this woman and her demon possessed daughter with

Dogs.

Sub-human.

Not worthy of crumbs

Even in the presence of abundance.

You can’t save Jesus, and

Neither can I.

Don’t even try.

Don’t try to explain his offense away.

Don’t limit the woman’s agency.

Don’t try to minimalize his contemptible errors.

And certainly don’t try to justify them.

Jesus has big shoulders and

Is more than capable of

Taking responsibility and

Correcting his error.

Only Jesus can save himself.

Which is why, I believe,

Mark includes this important confrontation in his Gospel.

This un-named, Syrian-Phoenician mother

Is desperate,

Tenacious, and

Persistent.

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

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

(Genesis 32:22-32)

“Like Jacob,

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

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

The gem here?

When God stands you up,

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

Whether or not your life,

Or the life of a loved one,

Depends on it,

This desperate mother

Gives you and me permission

To contend against God.

When life is desperate

Go to the feet of Jesus.

Scream at God!

Cry!

Beg!

Rage!

Don’t take “no” for an answer.

And don’t be turned away.

Faithful, persistence grants access

To Jesus and

God’s grace.

“But she answered him,

‘Sir, even the dogs under the table

Eat the children’s crumbs.’”

(7:28)

BOOM!

Jesus is caught with his compassion down.

He takes her left hook,

Spinning him around, and

Throwing him in a different direction.

Like the wrestling Jacob made God relent,

The desperate resolve of this woman

Forced Jesus to make a course correction

And set out in a new direction.

Grace isn’t a zero-sum game.

Twelve baskets of bread and fish

Were left over after feeding five thousand.

Seven baskets of bread

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

There is more than enough of

God’s amazing grace to go around.

There is room for everyone at God’s table.

Dogs may eat scraps under the table,

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

Jew and gentile, alike.

It is a fine line between desperation and faith.

It is her begging word …

… her persistence petition …

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

“For saying that, you may go-

The demon has left your daughter.”

(7:29)

Exorcism from a distance.

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

Yet, she did.

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

This confrontation

Made Jesus theologically and geographically change direction.

He doesn’t return home to Capernaum or Nazareth.

Jesus is rerouted.

He travels from the northern Mediterranean coast

To the interior region of the Decapolis,

Ten cities built, developed, and remaining ethnically Greek.

Jesus goes whole hog gentile,

Where the Gospel reports he cures a deaf man.

Jesus’ mission and ministry extends beyond Jewish horizons

To all the world.

It takes place most certainly

More quickly than he anticipated.

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

What are today’s key take-aways?

Desperation counts.

Desperation counts as faith.

Go to Jesus in your desperate moments of life and

Contend with God.

Put on the gloves,

Get in the ring and

Spar with the Lord.

The give and take with God

Is empowering.

Our relationship with God isn’t one sided:

Where God directs and we follow like mindless Lemmings,

Taking whatever God serves up.

God responds to our encounters,

Changes course, when necessary,

Is rerouted

As a compassionate, loving, response

To our deepest, most desperate, human needs.

God’s amazing grace  

Is abundant, too.

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

To support the whole world,

With plenty left over.

Beloved,

Be of good faith.

Be tenacious in your faith.

Be persistence and insistence in your faith.

That faith will deliver you.

That faith will grant you access

To God’s amazing grace.

Amen.

“From Within”

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

August 29, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

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

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

‘This people honors me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me;

in vain do they worship me,

teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

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

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

| Centering Prayer |

By the seventh chapter of Mark

Jesus had become a very popular itinerant

Preacher, teacher, healer, and exorcist

Traveling throughout the region of Galilee

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

In today’s Gospel passage

Jesus is speaking to three different audiences,

Offering us insights, truth, and direction in each.

First, Jesus is speaking to Pharisees and scribes,

Religious authorities,

Who had traveled from Jerusalem

… about 90 miles on foot …

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

They went to this effort to publicly question him about

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

The “tradition of the elders”.

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

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

Dating from the third to sixth centuries before Christ.

It is called the Talmud,

A process of analyzing the Law of Moses,

Commenting on it,

Expanding it,

Even, commenting on prior comments about the Law.

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

Very strict conformity to the Law of Moses and Talmud.

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

Cleanliness.

Who is clean and who is unclean?

What makes one clean and unclean?

What are the consequences of becoming unclean?

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

Legalism.

Ritualism.

Rigid adherence to authority.

Jesus responds to their question with a quote from Isaiah,

Calling them hypocrites:

“This people honors me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me;

in vain do they worship me,

teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

– Isaiah 29:13

Jesus rejects religious legalism, and

So, too, should we.

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

Drives the hearts of people away from God.  

An insistence on strict legalism makes a hypocrite

Out of its most sincere, conservative advocates.

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

Jesus has a different way.

Jesus demonstrates that faith flourishes in an environment of grace.

If given a choice between Law and Grace.

Choose Grace.

Grace is the way of Jesus and

Grace should be our way, too.

The second audience Jesus is addressing

Is the crowd gathered around.

The only thing that defiles an individual

Is not from the outside,

But from the human heart,

Jesus teaches them.

The human heart,

The center of life, soul, and spirit,

Is vulnerable to persuasions of both good and evil.

Love is the virtue the apostle Paul observed

When the heart is flooded by the grace of God.

The heart is drawn closer to God.

The heart is at peace.

In a similar but opposite manor,

When persuaded by evil intentions,

The heart is driven away from God.

The heart is at war.

A heart at war

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

Some forms of self-defilement may be easily understood.

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

These are signs of a heart at war,

Behaviors of a person defiling themselves:

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

(all definitions obtained by Google dictionary searches)

I list these definitions,

Not for the legalistic condemnation of others,

But for spiritual self-examination and improvement.

this appears to be the intent of Jesus.

Ask yourself,

“Do any of these evil behaviors identified by Jesus

Describe me?”

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

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

If these acts of defilement are not you,

Be aware.

Watch and listen

For the first signs of pending danger.

Awareness is essential to identify temptation and evil when present;

Awareness is helpful for setting appropriate boundaries

For individual and community behavior

Without being legalistic.

Absence of evil behaviors

Reveals a heart at peace,

A heart that is clean,

A heart being drawn ever closer to God.

The third audience Jesus is addressing

Are his current and future disciples,

Some who would be coming from a Jewish background,

Others coming from a Gentile background.

A Gentile is a person who is not Jewish.

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

For Jesus

This would include new disciples

Who had previously believed in Greek or Roman gods.

This might include new followers of Jesus

Who had previously worshipped the Egyptian emperor or king.

The Pharisees and some of the scribes from Jerusalem

Criticized Jesus’ disciples,

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

Jesus defense is

Similar to the condition of the early church,

Accused from synagogue and Temple

That Christians violated tradition

And misinterpret Scripture.

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

Some of the Disciples,

Most certainly those following Jesus

But coming from a Gentile background,

Simply were not informed of the rules

About eating with defiled hands. 

Would formerly Gentile disciples of Jesus

Be expected to follow Jewish Law and the Talmud?

Once Jesus ascended and the first century Church began to form

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

How about former Jews who now followed Jesus?

Early Church fathers and mothers

Met to hash out the rules.

It has played out in our Bible.

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

But the Talmud is not included;

Instead we have the apostolic letters of the New Testament.

In between the Old and New Testaments

Is the heart of our faith:

The Good News,

The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Early Church fathers and mothers,

Filled by the Holy Spirit,

Worked to create the Christian Church

Replicating the virtue, teaching, and characteristics of Jesus.

Love.

Grace.

Forgiveness.

Salvation.

This is the Christian experience of a pure heart,

A heart at peace and in love with God.

The Apostle Paul made his own laundry list

In his fifth chapter of his letter to the Galatians.

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

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

(Galatians 5:22-23)

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

What comes from within

Defines or defiles the heart,

Keeps it clean or make one unclean,

Is a heart at peace or a heart at war,

Is a soul approaching Jesus or a soul walking away.

Beloved,

May your heart define you

And your God given values.

Keep it clean.

Be at peace.

Stay in love with Jesus.

Amen.

“We Sing Together”

August 22, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 6:51-58

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

| Centering Prayer |

Sing!

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

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

Ephesians 5:15-20

Sing!

Orpheus

Was an ancient Greek prophet,

Poet, and musician.

He was able to charm all things with his music

Even stones.

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

His music and voice, it is said

Could charm birds, fish, and wild beasts,

Coax trees and rocks to dance,

And divert the course of rivers.

In the epic poem, Argonautica,

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

When their ships pass the Sirens Island

The beautiful, alluring Sirens began to sing.

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

Orpheus saved the day when he

Drew his lyre and played music

Louder and more beautiful,

Drowning out the Siren’s bewitching songs

Leading the Argonauts to safety.

The old music failed,

And a new song began to take its place.

The 150 poems that we know as the Psalms

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

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

Songs sung to a U-shaped harp

That lead a collective people to join their songs

Together in one voice.

Singing together as one people of faith

Is a unique religious experience

Epitomized by the Psalms.

Feelings are shared.

Praise is lifted to God!

Pain and struggles are mutually carried.

Empathy is given

And is received.

Many voices make one voice to

Complain to God,

Confess to God,

Exult God,

Thank God.

Making music of Psalms

Opens a collective space within each individual

That can only be filled with God.

As the old music faded,

New music emerged that defined a people of God

Within whom God dwelt.

One of the great fathers of Methodism,

Charles Wesley,

Lived in a time where the music of the church

Was being drowned out by the music of the pubs.

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

From the poor living in economic slavery,

And the back-breaking factory floor.

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

Revival comes from within …

And no one understood this better than Charles Wesley.

While his brother, John, preached revival,

Charles led in the emergence of a new song;

The means to reopen the collective hearts of the people

And invite the Spirit to enter

Through the means of music.

Sing praise to God who reigns above,

The God of all creation!

The God of power, the God of love,

The God of our salvation!

With healing balm my soul is filled

and every faithless murmur stilled:

To God all praise and glory!

Charles revived music:

Writing over six thousand hymns,

Authoring the lyrics to a further two thousand.

His hymns fill our hymnal today:

51 hymns, 8 poems, and 6 sung responses.

Where else do people gather to sing?

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

Collective music today is most deeply experienced

As a phenomena of the faith community.

We do it to create the sacred space

Where God can abide in us

And we can abide in God.

Meno’ (pronounced Men’-o)

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

Abide.

Jesus is the living bread, we are told.

“Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

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

In a very Eucharistic way

The metaphor is cast that leads us to believe

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

Jesus fills our empty space,

Abides in us and we in him,

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

Partaking in the Eucharist

Fills us with the same Spirit

As does singing

“psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves,

singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts,

giving thanks to God the Father at all times

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

As Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus.

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

To abide with Christ and in Christ,

To take up residence both ways:

Christ in us, and

Us living in Christ.

When we live within Christ

We begin to look through his eyes

Listen with his ears

Speak with his voice

Work with his hands

Heal with his love.

We live within Christ when we forgive others,

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

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

even by the example of our own death and resurrection.

In a similar way

Christ abides within us

By eating his bread and drinking his cup.

Christ abides within us when we

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

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

There are many critics today

Who believe the Church has lost its way,

That we have lost our music.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I only know that I can sing.

And so can you.

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

Just don’t sing alone.

We sing together;

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

You only have to lift your heart and open your mouth

And allow yourself to be filled with the Spirit.

Abide in Christ,

And allow him to abide in you.

Amen.