“What’s in a Name?”

Matthew 20:1-16

20 September 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 

And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 

But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Prayer.

To label a parable is to interpret it.

This is always a fun way to begin a Bible study:

Tell everyone to cross out the nifty title

Slipped in-between the text

In their version of the Bible

And replace it with a title of their own.

Discuss.

To label a parable is to interpret it.

For years I’d been content to accept the title given me

By the New Revised Standard Version,

The academic brand I prefer,

For this particular Gospel parable.

It is titled “The Parable of Laborers in the Vineyard.”

One might just as easily title this parable

 “The Parable of the Just and Generous Owner,” or

“The Parable of the Grumbling Workers,” or

“The Parable of the Provocative Land Owner.”

In a similar way,

To create a sermon title

Is to give the listeners a clue

To how the preacher is interpreting the Gospel.

If I called it “Moaning and Complaining” you might believe

That my interpretation of Matthew 20

Is focused on the discontented laborers.

Had I titled today’s sermon “Grace and Generosity”

Your imagination might be led in a completely different direction.

To label a parable of Jesus is to interpret it.

What if some parables are more complicated? …

… Stacks of multiple layers of meanings?

What if Jesus desired to communicate different messages

To different audiences

Over the span of time, distance, situation, and circumstances?

What if Jesus desired a parable’s meaning to evolve over the life span

Of the person in the audience,

The disciple doing the listening?

At the risk of pushing this, or any other parable, for that matter,

Too far or too hard,

I’d like to suggest there are at minimum

Three different ways,

Three different lenses,

Three different world views,

To view this parable from Matthew 20.

It all begins with what you call it.

1. Let’s title this parable

“The Parable of the Just and Generous Land Owner.”

This is the easiest, simplest, most obvious path of interpretation

Any thoughtful disciple can take.

Indeed, I have taken this world view many times

In prior sermons on this passage.

A just and generous land owner

Assumes that the land owner is a representation of God.

God is just,

exactly like this land owner.

Certainly justice is high up on God’s list of values.

A parable of a justice minded God squares itself with other teaching of Jesus.

A just God is consistent with Hebrew scripture (the Old Testament),

And a justice abiding God fits in well with Acts and the Epistles.

Indeed, God is faithful to his word.

Just as the land owner pays each worker what was promised,

God is just,

Making certain that everyone who is willing and able to work is hired.

All are paid sufficiently to support themselves and their needs for the day.

No one goes hungry.

Everyone gets paid.

God is generous, especially when it comes to

Making certain His will is accomplished.

Likewise, the land owner pays at what amounts to be a greater rate

As the shadows lengthen and the day grows long.

Money is no barrier to God winning,

Getting work done.

Achieving and exceeding goals,

Bringing in the harvest.

When viewed through the lens of a just and generous God,

Our Lord’s parable casts God as the ultimate landowner.

It gives God the sufficient goodness

And true-to-your-word honest integrity

To be a loving, understanding God.

God uses all of the created order for God’s good and will,

Even if we fail to see it.

In Jesus’ earlier words,

God’s perfection is exemplified in God’s rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:48)

In our world of a just and generous God

Jesus chides us to stop moaning and complaining!

Stop with the envy and resentment.

Don’t complain about what others receive,

and don’t complain about what you think you deserve.

Stop viewing the world as if you’re looking with an evil eye or an angry heart!

Jesus brings encouragement to be thankful for the God we got.

Every promise is kept.

Every need is met.

Like the story of God liberating the children of Israel from slavery, and

like the story of the cross …

… of how Jesus liberates us from sin and death …

… our parable for this morning isn’t about worldly wisdom.

It is a story about divine grace;

of God’s unlimited love and concern for every last one of us.

It isn’t about what we deserve

but rather it is about what we need,

and how God generously provides,

sometimes even when we don’t deserve it.

But, perhaps today

Jesus is calling us to label his parable differently.

2. Let’s consider titling this parable from Matthew 20

The “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere Parable.”

No.

I’m not talking about justification for drinking.

If we call this parable “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”

We are freed to pull back the curtain

And have our assumptions about normal life deeply challenged.

Perhaps Jesus intends the focus of this parable to be

Those who are last hired,

Those who had to wait until five o’clock to be chosen.

In doing so,

The land owner is cast in a much more negative view.

Indeed, one could not associate God with the wealthy land owner.

Take God right out of the picture.

Think of the wealthy vineyard owner as nothing more than a shrewd businessman.

The land owner,

Desperate to bring in the harvest,

Approaches the last to be hired and asks,

“Why are you standing here idle all day?”

They said to him,

“Because no one has hired us.” (20:6-7)

Who is in the employment line at five o’clock in the afternoon?

Who are the last to be chosen?

Well, it certainly wasn’t the strongest workers.

It wasn’t the vineyard workers with the greatest experience.

It wasn’t the agri-tech researchers from Cornell Cooperative Extension.

It wasn’t the most efficient or most able.

Those hired at five o’clock in the afternoon were the disabled;

People who were physically and mentally frail.

Standing on this street corner was

The single mother who fed her 3 children tea for lunch

Because she had no food in the cupboard.

(By the way, they are home alone, without a baby sitter or day care)

Waiting in his wheelchair is the man who had been

Shunned by his parents and shamed by his peers.

At five in the afternoon there

Was that kid on the autism spectrum

Rolling his head back and forth

Who’d been bullied by others and told all his life

That he’d never amount to anything.

The homeless, the diseased, the addicted,

And all the residents from the local asylum and poor house

Were the last ones remaining on that street corner,

Waiting in the hot sun,

Patiently,

All-day long.

They were the most desperate to earn a check.

Yet, they were the most willing to work to the best of their abilities.  

“Why are you standing here idle all day?”

When I hear the landowner ask this question,

I get mighty angry.

They said to him,

“Because no one has hired us.” (20:6-7)

This makes me want to cry.

Calling this parable taught by Jesus

“It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere Parable”

Describes a normal way of life and blows it up.

Blows. It. Up.

This turns everyday life inside out and upside down.

Be careful, because

This world view is revolutionary.

It better aligns this parable with the Beatitudes earlier in Matthew.

Blessed are, Jesus teaches us.

Blessed are …

The poor,

Those who mourn,

The meek,

Those who hunger and thirst.

Blessed are …

The merciful,

The pure in heart,

The peacemakers.

And blessed are the persecuted.

Blessed are those who have waited in line all day,

Judged unworthy time and time again,

Yet, who keep the faith unto the end.

We are forced to bless others even when we feel

They’re all a bunch of freeloaders

Gaming the Medicaid system for additional food stamps.

We are forced to bless others even when we feel like

The boss is cheating me out of overtime and

I’m working myself to death at my second, part-time job,

Just to make mortgage and car payments.

We are forced to bless others

Even when we feel like we are the ones being ripped off.

This parable exposes the

Problem with identifying people’s worth with what they earn.

It reveals how wages divide the world.

And it is like a cold splash of water in the face

Waking us to the danger of assuming the rest of the world

should be the same as me.

Perhaps, Jesus is suggesting,

Every life has value.

Every person is important.

Every individual is necessary to fulfill God’s will,

To complete the Kingdom of God.

3. Let’s consider calling this parable of Jesus

“The Parable of the Provocative Land Owner.”

This world view builds on the previous example.

In the same way, God cannot be assumed to be the wealthy landowner.

Perhaps Jesus paints this parable in a way

That draws attention to the attitude of the landowner.

Let’s take a deeper look.

“I will pay you whatever …” (20:4)

It is as if he couldn’t be troubled with calculating the expense.

“Why are you standing here idle all day?” (20:6)

What are you? Blind? Or just plain ignorant?

Then, he acts like he’s poking a stick in the eye of those first hired:

“Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” (20:8)

I’m going to provoke those I hired first,

By schooling them and shaming them in front of everyone else,

That I’m paying the last hired the same amount as I paid those hired earlier.

It’s my money;

I’ll do with it what I want!

“Friend” he says to those who grumbled and complained,

“I am doing you no wrong.” (20:13)

Correctly translated,

“friend” is a sneer,

Intended to provoke a reaction!

When viewed this way

The landowner incites envy.

The landowner provokes those who brought him success.

That landowner is no God of mine!

How does it make you feel

When people of power and privilege and wealth

Talk down to you?

It makes me feel small.

It makes me feel worthless.

It strips away my dignity and my self-esteem.

Every one of those workers in Jesus’ parable

Would have to return to work the very next day

No further ahead,

With less dignity and self-respect,

More fully aware of the insurmountable gulf

That separated the rich from the poor

And the haves from the have nots.

Every one of those workers

Would return to work the next day

Knowing that there was no way to escape poverty.

There was no way up;

No way out.

Jesus reveals through this parable

A world where workers have no name and

Where laborers are identified as

“limitless and disposable fuel;

Bodies to be burned up.”

(Thanks to

 Rolf Jacobson, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner

 who discussed this approach

on the podcast

“Sermon Brainwave”

posted 9/23/17 http://download.luthersem.edu/media/working_preacher/podcast/561WPBrainwave.mp3)

I can see and hear your minds whirling.

“Workers of the world, unite!”

“That pastor Todd is starting to sound like a communist!”

Well, no.

That’s what our biased culturalism leads us to believe.

When workers are nothing more than fuel to be burned

Or fodder for cannons,

Then what Jesus is revealing about our world

Is a limited and false justice.

He is pulling back the curtain and exposing a world

Of justice available to the few who can afford it,

Where kids are drafted and blindly sent into the line of fire,

Where an organization hires its own investigator to conduct a so called independent investigation.

Oh, come on!

Wait.

That looks like our world!

Justice works just fine for

Those who are able to buy a plane ticket or fill their gas tanks to get out of the path of the hurricane,

Those able to donate enough money to have a building dedicated with their own name on it.

Justice works out swell for

Those who have friends in high places.

Justice works just fine for people with networks,

Who know politicians,

And who will never be eligible for the services of a public defender.

But,

What about those who had to ride out the hurricane?

Who are standing in a pile of rubble that used to be called “home”?

What about those who had to clean up the banquet hall after the dedication? Where good food went to waste, the bathrooms were left a mess, and where the wait staff was treated like dirt?

What about those who have been victimized,

Who filed a complaint,

Only to have it dismissed because it was decided to be “Unfounded”?

What about those who don’t have a friend,

Never knew a person in a high place,

And who lives a life alone?

Jesus is describing a divided world,

Not a world of relationships, healing and wholeness.

The contrast that Jesus creates with this parable

When we title it “The Parable of the Provocative Land Owner”

Is one that calls each of us into community,

Restoration, and

Healing

With each other

And with our God.

The world divides us;

Separates us into parties and factions,

Into casts and classes,

Into those who are saved

(those who are in)

And those who are not.

Scripture accurately describes the world

As “original sin”

Or, as the Apostle Paul describes it,

The work of “the flesh.”

Opposing this world

Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ,

Where God’s grace is inclusive of every individual,

Where God’s justice is sufficient,

Where God’s love is universal,

Where God’s forgiveness is unconditional,

And where God’s salvation is without exception.

That’s the God that I believe in.

When we remove the parable from the surrounding text

We are left with a preposition and a conclusion

That goes like this:

“The kingdom of heaven is”

Where “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (20:1, 16)

As you consider your own title for this parable,

Carefully consider this value statement:

“the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Does this lead you to any conclusions?

Can you see the mind of Christ,

Feel his heart,

And understand his will?

For some of us,

Our Gospel is a reminder of divine grace,

Not about what we deserve,

But about how our generous God provides

Sometimes even when we don’t deserve it.

For others,

Our Gospel reminds us that

Every life has value.

Every person is important.

Every individual is necessary to fulfill God’s will,

To complete the Kingdom of God.

And yet for others,

Our Gospel teaches us that

While the world attempts to divide us

Our Lord and our God

Is always at work to unite us,

To welcome into community,

To welcome into relationship,

To welcome into his kingdom

The last and the least and the lost and the left behind.

Amen.

“Over the Top!”

Matthew 18:21-35

13 September 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 18:21-35

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.

When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Prayer.

Without question,

Jesus is making preparations

For his imminent absence.

What happens with his followers after he ascends to the Father?

He’s going to great efforts to school his disciples;

Teaching them

How to become effective Apostles

Called and sent throughout the world,

How to become his living Body,

How to behave and act,

How to organize the Church,

And, of course, what to teach.

From this eighteenth chapter of Matthew

It’s quite clear that Jesus has a realistic expectation

About what the Church will face and how his disciples will respond.

To address these issues,

Jesus teaches with parables that exaggerate and are amplified;

Creating, for some, a disturbing image of the Church.

Disturbing?

Yes, disturbing.

Let’s think about it.

Cause a little one who believes in Jesus to stumble?

Anchor him down and throw him into the sea to drown. (18:6-7)

Tempted to stumble yourself?

Cut off your foot and throw it away. (18:8)

Tempted to look at something you shouldn’t?

Pluck out your eye and throw it away. (18:9)

Missing a member?

Leave the 99 surrounded by wolves,

And search for the lost until he or she is found. (18:10-14)

Have a conflict with another church member?

Go directly to resolve the issue.

If that doesn’t work, take a witness.

It that doesn’t work, take it before the church.

If that doesn’t work, keep reaching out until the sinner is returned and restored. (18:15-17)

Bind the good,

But damn to hell the sin and evil of the church. (18:18)

Church.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

His expectations were realistic.

The way Jesus taught church leadership was over the top.

(It’s not like we haven’t been exposed to hyperbole in our lives!)

The way Jesus teaches is over the top.

Then Peter came and said to him,

“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” (18:21)

Nice try, Peter.

Nice try with that attempt to impress the Master

With that hyperbolic impersonation.

Peter probably was thinking to himself,

“If I inflate forgiveness from a one-to-one

To a seven-to-one prospect,

Jesus will be impressed with my grasp of forgiveness

And with my ability to adapt to his teaching style!” 

Ha! Peter.

You’re such a smart guy.

You’re not even in the same league.

“Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (18:22)

For those of you attempting to do the multiplication in your head,

The answer is 539.

That’s a whole lot of forgiveness.

That’s over the top forgiveness,

A command to forgive

Unlike the world has ever seen before.

This Gospel passage and parable

Has caused me to consider, and reconsider,

A lot about forgiveness,

Both in the context of the Gospel

And in the context of the daily life of Jesus’ disciple.

This is what I am led to share with you:

1. First, the statement “if another member of the church sins against me”

Implies some other person in the church is actually guilty of sin

And I am the victim.

Sometimes this is the case.

Sometimes, however, we mistakenly believe ourselves

To be the victim of sin,

Blaming others,

When no sin was intended or committed.

There have been times in my own life

When I have felt like someone hurt or harmed me,

When, actually, I wasn’t.

I was wrong.

I responded like every member of the Goddard family tree

With the good old fashion Pennsylvania Dutch pout-and-silence treatment.

I responded with sin of my own: unwarranted anger, hurt, and judgment.

Many times it is my wife, Cynthia, who wakes me up to my error.

Other times awareness comes through reflection, prayer, or therapy.

Awareness of my own fault

Calls me back to the altar of forgiveness.

2. Secondly, I believe it is important to distinguish between

An apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Compare and contrast these three …

… apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation …

… to more fully explore our Lord’s Gospel instruction and intent.

An apology is simply “a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure.

(Definition by Google)

An apology begins with self-awareness

And ends with an “I’m sorry.”

Short. Sweet. To the point.

It begins internally.

Courage is revealed when it is taken externally to the one who was hurt.

Saying “I’m sorry”

Is the foundation,

The beginning step that leads to healing.

That courage is the catalyst that can propel the offended

To the next step towards healing

Our prayer of Confession Sunday during worship

Serves as our apology to God

For our prior offenses and failures.

Our Lord’s response is Holy Communion,

Sharing His Body and Blood.

The gift of the cross

Is Christ’s response to our apology.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Contrasting with an apology,

Forgiveness is the next step on the journey towards healing.

Forgiveness is intentional and voluntary.

Forgiveness does not require the participation of the offender.

Forgiveness is an internal process

“by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.”

(Definition by Wikipedia)

Forgiveness sets you free.

Working through the hurt,

Drawing insight about what happened,

Making a decision to let go of the anger and grudge,

Rebuilding your safety net …

All this is an intentional decision to move forward

And not dwell in the past.

The past isn’t erased,

But the painful memory from the past is changed

Into an optimistic hope for the future.

Pain from our past

That is transformed into hope

Is God’s gift to us when we make the decision

To engage in the hard work of forgiveness.

Jesus wants us set free;

Free from our sins,

Free from the hurt others have done to us,

Free from everything that inhibits us from moving forward with hope.

We’ve got to want it.

We are called to do it.

Take responsibility, Jesus tells us.

Forgive.

Be forgiven.

Unlike an apology and forgiveness, which are internal,

Reconciliation is interpersonal;

Between two people.

Reconciliation requires the work and cooperation of two individuals,

The offender and the victim.

Therefore, reconciliation is not always possible.

It is terribly frustrating when one desires reconciliation,

But their efforts are rebuffed by the other.

This prevents healing from taking place.  

Standoffs can take years.

Barriers can remain for generations.

Reconciliation requires dialogue;

The two parties to sit down and talk,

To sit down and listen to one another.

Stories need to be exchanged.

Hurt must be expressed.

Empathy must be given room to grow.

Like lancing a boil

Remorse must be genuine and authentic.

Restoration must be made.

Repentance, with the vow to never re-offend,

Is the beginning of rebuilding trust.

That’s reconciliation.  

Reconciliation is complete

When the kingdom of God is complete and sin is no more.

Reconciliation is complete

When the relationship between God and humankind

Is completely and eternally restored.

3. Third. Our Gospel lesson from Matthew 18

Tells us about the intensity and frequency of forgiveness.

Forgiveness isn’t a one-and-done type of thing.

One doesn’t forgive then “get over it.”

Forgiveness is a process,

Ongoing,

That never ends.

Seven times seventy-seven

Speaks about over the top quantity of forgiveness.

Perhaps Jesus is suggesting with his hyperbola that

Seven times seventy-seven

Speaks about the duration it takes to accomplish forgiveness.

Forgiveness never ends.

Early on, when one makes the decision to begin forgiveness

With the goal to be freed and have hope restored,

The intensity will be enormous.

The pain is raw and visceral.

The offense still hurts.

But, with time, and with intentional effort,

Intensity does lessen its grip.

Air returns to the room.

Despair fades.

Hope grows.

It’s almost possible to taste God’s gift of freedom.

Time doesn’t heal old wounds by itself.

Time must partner with an intentional effort to forgive.

I’m still working on forgiveness from forty years ago.

I’m still working on forgiveness from what I’ve done

… And from what has been done to me …

Just this past week.

Forgive.

Be forgiven.

Keep at it.

It gets better with time and effort.

4. Lastly, it is important to observe

From our parable for today

That forgiveness always has a social consequence.

The other slaves witnessed the injustice being committed

And reported the offense directly to the king.

There is always a ripple in the social fabric

When forgiveness is made

And when forgiveness is withheld.

The social reality of forgiveness

Is easily understood when viewed through an economic world view,

Like how Jesus constructs this parable.

Money that is loaned, debts are paid or debts are forgiven;

Or not.

Courts award fines in an awkward effort to maintain a semblance of justice.

We, western, modern Americans understand money.

Money is quantifiable. Countable.

We understand money.

So Jesus’ parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Is easily understood by most of us here today.

But what if

We view our Lord’s command to forgive

Frequently and lavishly and extravagantly

Through the world view of a victim of a violent sexual assault?

Forgiveness might take a lifetime,

Or it may never come at all.

If, thanks be to God, the victim of a violent sexual assault

Is able to bring herself to a place of forgiveness,

What happens to the rest of the world?

Other victims?

Other families?

What takes place in the thoughts of future jurors sitting in a court room?

Does this bring healing to the police officer who completed their investigation and made an arrest?

Or is the police officer disgusted with a victim’s forgiveness

And testimony at sentencing?

Are there other world views through which we can

Discover new characteristics of forgiveness?

I suspect there are.

Forgiveness not only changes the victim.

Forgiveness changes the world.

This is Christ’s intent.

Forgiveness must be frequent, lavish, and over the top.

Forgiveness must be enormous, beyond imagination.

Forgiveness must be ongoing, tenacious, relentless.

Efforts to forgive must never end.

On our journey towards reconciliation,

Jesus recognizes that

Not everyone will be able to turn that corner of forgiveness,

Not everyone is capable of forgiving and being forgiven.

This is precisely where life intersects with faith,

Where atonement compliments our failed efforts,

Where Jesus completes forgiveness

And we are set free.

What is unforgiveable to me,

Is forgiven by Jesus Christ.

Seven times seventy-seven is over the top forgiveness!

To the best of your ability

Be the forgiveness in this world.

Set yourselves free and set others free.

What happens when and where

You and I fail to forgive

Or are unable to forgive?

Leave the rest up to Jesus.

His cross will do the rest.

Amen.

“More Than Mere Recipe”

Matthew 18:15-20

06 September 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 18:15-20

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Prayer.

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

This simple statement is a core value

For many things

From successfully franchising a business

To solving advanced mathematical equations.

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

There is a beauty to mathematics

That slowly revealed itself to me in high school and in college.

As I took more classes, I understood more, and I got better at it.

My grades improved with every mathematics class I took.

I appreciate the logic that serves as the foundation for math.

It is the same foundation that served Sir Isaac Newton 350 years ago

and the Babylonians two-thousand years before Newton.

A mathematical proof that displays

Symmetry, simplicity, efficiency, and purpose

(In my humble opinion)

Provides a natural elegance that is unmatched in the natural world.

The recipe is proof,

Confirmed by theoretical mathematicians

Who have built on the historical work of predecessors.

Proofs, like Supreme Court decisions, are built on prior proofs.

There are always new hypothesis to make

and new proofs to be solved.

Like cooking, there are always new dishes to create.

The role of the applied mathematician

Is to find the right recipe for the problem or puzzle at hand and

Add the data.

In our age of server farms, artificial intelligence, and quantum computers,

Applied mathematicians simply

Feed in quality data and

Wait for the results to come out.

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

Order a Big Mac from any McDonalds on the planet

And you can be reasonably assured that your hamburger

Will look and taste the same.

From Jerusalem to Johannesburg,

From Miami to Manilla,

McDonalds franchise employs the same recipe.

McDonalds, and every other successful franchise,

Teaches managers and line workers the same curriculum,

Arranges the same supply streams for every ingredient,

And will even go to the extra effort to

Design, build, and deploy the same cooking ovens, efficient kitchen layouts, and production processes to every restaurant.

The recipe becomes baked in as dogma;

All in the name of quality control,

All in the effort to serve every customer the same hamburger

That satisfies expectation

Based on prior experiences.

The same sandwich from McDonalds,

Like the same cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts,

Is the result of a very disciplined approach to the axiom:

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

Our Lord’s instruction today,

As uniquely recorded in the Gospel of Matthew,

Appear to be the perfect application to this approach.

Jesus offers a three-step recipe for predictably resolving church conflicts.

This is how it works:

  • First, go and try to resolve your conflict one-to-one.
  • Second, if step one is unsuccessful, return with one or two witnesses, and try to resolve the offense.
  • Third, if steps one and two are unsuccessful, take your conflict before the church and allow the church to resolve the issue.

Many congregational and community churches

Have this three-step recipe for dealing with intra-church conflict

Written right into their church constitution and bylaws.

Certainly every mainline denomination

Teaches this approach to conflict resolution.

United Methodists have baked this simple and efficient

Christ directed process,

directly into our dogma:

The Book of Discipline.

Of course,

The results have been perfectly predictable:

The church is absent of conflict

and all Christians live in perfect harmony and bliss.

(Under this mask is a sarcastic smirk)

What gives?

We follow the recipe,

Yet, we still live in conflict.

Sometimes,

Jesus correctly observes,

Even these 3 disciplined steps will fail to resolve church conflicts.

Sometimes, those of us who have long experience in church leadership know, this three-step approach can be disastrous;

Even blow up in our face and cause irreparable damage.

What gives?

We follow the recipe,

Yet, we still live in conflict.

Oh, the pain of conflict.

Theological progressives are pitted against conservatives.

Biblical literalist defend ground just as fiercely as academics.

Debates over human sexuality is a blood sport.

Ultimatums are thrown like hand grenades.

Baptist churches, I once heard, Multiply by division.

United Methodist churches do it, too.

Some deeply wounded Christians

Are dragged from the battlefield of church conflict

Never to heal or return to church again.

Life has never been simple.

Each of us mix into the simple recipe

Pride and predigest,

Emotional fragility and family dysfunction,

Financial pressures, poor judgment, and bad decisions.

We juggle

Employment and the need to contribute,

Health challenges and caregiving,

Patriotism and party.

Oh, yeah.

Pour a few gallons of pandemic in the bowl and mix thoroughly.

What gives? Pastor Todd.

If Jesus gives us the cure, why aren’t we using it?

If life was only so simple, we sigh.

If only life was so simple.

Hum.

Simple.

Think about it.

Simplicity.

It’s a clue.

Simplicity is necessary for our axiom to be true:

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

Most of our conflicts are simple,

And, therefore, are easily corrected when we

Faithfully and dutifully apply

Our Lord’s three-step recipe for conflict resolution.

Most conflicts are so simple, they are resolved at step one.

“I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Can you help me fix it?”

“No problem. I always appreciate the assistance.”

“Next time, I’ll try to be more thoughtful.”

Reconciliation takes place

Everyone goes home happy.

Reconciliation is the goal Jesus desires.

Reconciliation is the goal;

Individual reconciliation and

The healing (reconciliation) of the community.

The problem that we face,

The problem Jesus correctly identifies,

Is that sometimes human nature isn’t quite so simple.

There might be too many variables,

Too many competing motives,

In our lives and intersecting world views.

Each variable threatens the predictability of the outcome.

The more variables

The higher the likelihood

Our expected batch of grandma’s delicious chocolate chip cookies

Will come out of the oven

A melted mixture of unrecognizable mush.

Once Jesus lays the foundation

For the simple application of conflict resolution,

Jesus pivots

To address the more rare

but highest profile disagreements.

Jesus steers us in an important new trajectory

When he teaches his disciples,

That these three steps fails to resolve the conflict,

“let such a one be to you as a gentile and a tax collector.” – Matthew 18:17b

This isn’t a catch all

Terms of service agreement

approved by the company’s legal team.

This isn’t a cover your backside strategy used by Jesus

to address every possible conflict and force a one-size-fits-all solution.

Treating those with whom we have unresolved conflicts with …

… as gentiles and tax collectors

Is a consistent application of Jesus’ core values.

Treating those who have sinned against us

As gentiles and tax collectors

Is how Jesus reached out in mission and ministry.

Reaching out to gentiles and tax collectors is  

Christ’s approach to a broken world.

Who did Jesus reach out to?

Gentiles!

You know, gentiles

Like soldiers and their household, Canaanite women, and widows.

Who did Jesus reach out to?

Tax collectors!  

You know, tax collectors

Like Matthew and Zacchaeus.

How did Jesus do it?

With abundant, overwhelming grace,

With lavish, exorbitant forgiveness,

With universal, unconditional acceptance.

How does Jesus bring healing and reconciliation?

Forgiveness; not once over.

7 times 77. That’s overwhelming forgiveness.

7 time 77 covers all possible conflicting complexities,

With plenty of left over.

That is what it means to be awash in grace.

That is abundant forgiveness.

That is so much love,

Christ’s outreach can only be considered Divine.

How did Jesus do it?

With amazing love,

Such amazing love

That He was willing to die for you and me.

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

In all I do

I honor you.

(Chris Tomlin lyrics)

Yes, Jesus allowed the rich, young ruler to walk away disappointed,

And, yes, I believe Jesus allows us today

To let a disappointed, disgruntled member of the church walk away.

However,

Jesus never intends this to be

The end of the story or

The final word.

Jesus died on the cross for the rich young ruler.

Reconciliation by the cross of Jesus Christ always has the last word.

Jesus gives to each disciple

The responsibility to unrelenting reconciliation.

Continue to reach out.

Never giving up.

Never letting go of the unrepentant.

A reconciliating God demands a reconciliating community.

Reconciliation and healing is God’s highest goal.

In the Church of Jesus Christ,

There are no throwaway or disposable people.

There are no irresolvable conflicts.

Conflicts may have long histories and be really complicated,

But none are beyond reconciliation.

When people get angry and church blows up,

As Jesus knew it inevitably would,

Jesus wants us to respond with abundant grace and amazing love.

Pay attention to how Jesus reached out to gentiles.

Note how Jesus reached out to tax collectors.

Watch for how Jesus approached the broken, diseased, and castaway people of the world.

Go and do likewise.

Go and do likewise.

Lastly

Jesus promises

Where two or three are gathered in His name,

Jesus is there among them.

– Matthew 18:20

This appears to be a simple enough of a principle.

With every ounce of my pastoral authority,

Allow me to encourage us

To behave accordingly.

Live as if Jesus is in the room.

Because he is.

Affirm, or bind, all that is good and Godly,

And do it with authority,

Because Jesus is among us.

Reject, destroy, or loose, all that is opposed to God,

And do it with authority,

Because Jesus is right here by our side.

Let the chips fall where they may,

But always act for what is good, right, pure, and just.

A disciplined community of faith

Strives for civility

With a goal of reconciliation.

Always err on the side of God.

Err on the side of abundant grace and amazing love,

Because this is the Good News Jesus calls us to bind and proclaim.

Jesus supports us in our worship and in our study,

In our homes and in our places of employment,

In our lives and in our hearts.

“Low I am with you always, to the end of the age,” – Matthew 28:20

Jesus promises.

May we never forget,

May we never take for granted,

Jesus presence in our lives today.

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

While this may be true for most of life,

Many times life is more complicated.

All conflicts cannot be resolved using 

A simple three-step recipe.

Love is more complicated than a mathematical algorithm.

Christ’s forgiveness and salvation is more complex than a franchise burger joint serving up a burger and fries.

There is a community component to our complexity;

There is a Kingdom of God component to it, too.

It’s complicated.

Life is complicated.

We can only do life,

We can only find abundant life

By embracing the grace and love of God;

Spreading it thick like peanut butter throughout every aspect of life.

Share the grace and love of God

Especially with those with whom we have unresolved conflicts,

With the ultimate goal of healing and reconciliation;

Knowing we can’t give up

And we can’t do it alone.

We are dependent upon Christ,

The strength and authority of Jesus,

Already present,

Already with us, and

Already by our side.

Amen.

“Our Values”

Romans 12: 9-21

August 30, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Romans 12: 9-21

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.

Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Prayer.

In our epistle for today,

the apostle Paul correlates

to the work and words of Jesus

as found in the Gospels.

Paul’s words are an echo to the Sermon on the Mount,

the Beatitudes,

the large and expansive texts

when Jesus prepares his followers

for his eventual absence.

In short, Paul, today, is staking the claim

for a more greatly defined

Christian ethic and morality.

Romans 12:9-21.

Bookmark your Bible.

These are our values.

The Law could only take us so far.

The Law defines the playing field within which

the faithful know

we can act

with a reliable assurance

that our behavior is in bounds,

that our behavior is righteous.

Jesus brings the faithful to a new, elevated level of righteousness.

Kill your neighbor; obviously, that is outside the field,

and deemed, unrighteous.

Treat your neighbor poorly, however,

or with disrespect;

and one still would have been okay,

as long as they abided by the letter of the Law.

Our God of grace wants more.

Jesus wants more.

The apostle Paul

was willing and able to

serve it up on a platter in this,

his letter to first century Christians living in Rome.

Jesus leaves the old Jewish Law in place.

The playing field of Law remains, on which he builds.

Jesus spends a lifetime of ministry

Creating an environment of Christian values;

The marks of a true Christian.

By word and deed,

Jesus describes our values and how our values should be used in mission and ministry.   

Like a stadium makeover or renovation,

many improvements to the old fence and field needed to be made.

What about the last, the lost, the least?

Jesus reached out to them,

much to the chagrin of the Jewish authorities.

What about the diseased, the unclean, the blind, and the lame?

Jesus cured their disease,

made them clean,

gave them sight,

and made them walk.

Sometimes Jesus even performed miracles on the Sabbath!

That wasn’t work.

Jesus performed merciful, loving acts of a merciful and loving God!

Jesus is God.

Jesus is

One and the same God

Who created all things,

One and the same God

Who created the Sabbath.

Paul, today,

makes a summary response to the Gospels

for the benefit of his church in Rome,

and for the benefit of the Church universal

(with a capital “C”)

(capital “C” includes both you and me).

It is in our interest to pay attention.

The words of the Apostle Paul

reflect the Gospel,

the Good News of Jesus Christ, and

clearly define our Christian values.

“Let love be genuine,” Paul begins.

Each of us believe

we are experts at being able to read the intent of others.

Paul is speaking for himself.

He is saying,

Make my motives pure.

Make your motives pure.

Let love be the only motive to define our relationship.

This may sound simple,

but, in practice, it is hard to do.

Love is easily adulterated or corrupted.

It is hard to weed out competing temptations.

“What can you do for me?”

invades our thinking

as soon as we reach out in love to another.

The love of Christ can expect no reward,

because we don’t own it.

We merely pass it on.

The Christian life serves only as a pass-through,

A channel for the love of God to flow into the world.

The only reward is

A stronger faith and deeper relationships with our neighbors.

When that is made strong,

affection naturally follows.

Hate evil.

It is the only thing Christians are allowed to hate.

Evil is anything that separates us from God.

The byproduct of evil is sin.

Evil is personified by those who wield violence for personal gain.

Evil is given life when greed is allowed to be undisciplined.

Evil replicates with division, hatred, and oppression.

Evil crushes others, feeds on destruction, and behaves without conscience.

Evil is an intoxicating drink,

when once tasted,

plants the seeds of addiction and dependency,

far more insidious than drugs or alcohol.

Evil never fully goes away.

Evil becomes the chronic illness,

that, at best, can be managed,

but at worst, can never be satisfied

until

Like locus in a tree

It kills the host.

Instead,

hold fast to what is good,

Paul tells us.

This is what is good:

being so concerned,

so involved,

so immersed in the work of the Spirit and the lives of others,

that needs can be anticipated long before they present,

and those needs can be addressed,

long before they spin out of control into problems.

People have a need to be treated with respect;

so it is good to show them honor.

People need to be treated with fairness and equality;

so do not be haughty,

as if you are better,

more deserving,

or smarter than you are.

People have a need for the basics of life:

food, shelter, and clothing.

So, if it is at all possible to extend a helping hand

to those without food, shelter, or clothing …

to meet their needs,

the world will be in a much better place.

“Live peaceably with all.”

People have a need for peace;

to be left in peace,

and to live in peace with neighbors.

Allow our Christian lives

to permeate with peacemaking,

bridge building,

problem solving,

so that we can all live in peace together.

Peace is only stable

when everyone gets a fair shake.

Until families and friends of color get a fair deal,

There is no peace.

There will be no peace.

Until families and neighbors who identify themselves as LGBTQ are treated equally and respectfully,

There is no peace.

There will be no peace.

Until neighbors with disabilities are fully included and have a voice at the table,

There is no peace.

There will be no peace.

Even in an absence of violence,

Hearts often remain at war.

What to do?

Whenever there is a lack of peace,

Start looking for a lack of justice.

Start there.

Resist evil.

Solve the problems of injustice and oppression,

create equal opportunity for everyone,

and allow peace to return to our land.

Practice hospitality,

the apostle Paul teaches us.

Hospitality is a primary concern

of Bishop Robert Schnase in his book

Five Practices of a Fruitful Congregation.

(https://www.amazon.com/dp/B074KM3MCX/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1)

Bishop Schnase describes radical hospitality

as hospitality that exceeds expectations

and goes the second mile.

It means we offer the absolute utmost of our abilities,

our creativity

and ourselves,

all the while offering the gracious invitation to others

to welcome Jesus Christ into their lives.

In a world

that encourages competition

for the title of “Number 1”

it is a radical invitation to claim the second spot as our own.

It takes a strong and confident Christian

to routinely place the needs of others before the self.

Take the me,

mine,

my,

and I

out of every conversation and occasion.

Humbly ask,

“what can be done for you?”

“Never avenge yourselves, …

If your enemies are hungry, feed them;

If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.”

Paul makes special effort

to single out those who do us evil.

It is a sad reality:

we can’t force people to behave.

We live in a dangerous world,

and it has been this way since the fall in the Garden of Eden.

There are others who would do us harm,

just because they can;

shoot us down

or bludgeon us with a rock,

just as Cain did to Abel.

There are those in this world

who will knock us down,

beat us up,

steal our last dime,

leave us in a ditch half dead,

spit on our body,

and skip away whistling a happy tune.

We cannot overcome evil with evil.

Killing others who kill us

leaves us with a planet filled with graves

and survivors bent on revenge.

Suicide bombers that are killed by drone, cruise missile or bullet

only breed more suicide bombers.

Violence begets violence.

Injustice voids the peace.

Oppression stokes the fire of revenge. 

We see it clearly when it comes to us,

when we are the victims.

It becomes hazy and a lot less clear

when it is done by us,

or on our behalf,

out of anger or in retaliation.

Jesus, and Paul, teach us a better way: overcome evil with good.

The strong show strength when using restraint,

in dealing with enemies.

Compassion towards those who would hate and hurt you

always results in a better outcome,

than overwhelming force.

Didn’t we learn this on the playground in elementary school?

Haven’t we heard this message

for years in Sunday school, Bible study, and worship?

Often when promises are made to get tough on crime,

what is really intended is to come down heavy on punishment.

This isn’t working on ways of overcoming evil with good,

like eliminating the conditions that breeds crime and violence

– poverty, discrimination, injustice, oppression, unemployment, lousy education, and barriers to health care and basic human services.

Overcoming evil with good isn’t a liberal agenda.

It isn’t democratic or republican.

It’s not conservative, socialist, or anything else, for that matter.

Overcoming evil with good is a Christian agenda.

It is our belief, because

Overcoming evil with good is one of our most precious values.

Overcoming evil with good is our value, because it is Christ’s value.

Political attempts to overcome evil with good rarely work out well.

Think Vietnam, the war on drugs, or the war on terror.

The pathway to hell is paved with good intentions

(Or so I’ve heard).

With both party conventions safely behind us,

The warning is equally shared:

Political promises are as smooth and slimy

as snakes in the grass.

Overcome evil with good by spending time, talent, and treasure

With neighbors who need you most;

people like those Jesus associated with.

Make yourself the one who reaches out to the stranger,

the visitor,

the sojourner,

the widow,

the orphan,

and invite them to become your friend.

Be the spinner of harmony

and the practitioner of peace.

Associate with the lowly.

Ease suffering.

Give hope.

Empower and encourage.

Once self-sustainable,

Set God’s people free and move on to address the next need.

Dearly beloved, friends, family, and neighbors:

listen to these words of the Apostle Paul, as found in Romans 12.

They endure, not because of his eloquence or stature.

They endure beyond the centuries

and across cultures

because these words convey

the values of Jesus Christ.

These are the values of the Christian.

Make them your values,

even as I pledge to make them mine.

Amen.

#ChurchStrong

Matthew 16:13-20

23 August 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

@ToddGoddard

Matthew 16:13-20

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Prayer.

It’s pretty apparent.

People do not agree on who Jesus is.

I have Muslim friends who consider Jesus as a great prophet.

Many of my Jewish friends think of Jesus as a wise rabbi,

While a few others think of him as a failed Messiah.

I have some friends who claim they are not people of faith,

Who think of Jesus as a wise, but mortal man.

I have many friends who are afraid of Jesus, as if the next Corona Virus might turn you into a Jesus freak.

I have a lot of friends who just don’t know what to believe about Jesus.

Even among my Christian friends and colleagues

There is a diversity of views about who and what Jesus is.

Church councils, conferences, and enclaves for generations

Have been debating if Jesus is fully human or fully divine,

Born of a virgin,

Expected to imminently return,

The nature of is imminence and his transcendence,

The substance of His body and blood in our Sacrament,

And His role in the Church today.

The aperture set by ordination boards varies by time and membership.

Clergy candidates must possess beliefs that can pass through the opening.

While there may be some debate on the periphery in the United Methodist Church,

Core beliefs about Jesus never change.

At the risk of sounding overly self-centered

Today’s debate in much of the American Church,

In both the Roman Catholic church and the Protestant house, isn’t about doctrine or theology.

Debate about Jesus around the kitchen table is about the question

“What makes Jesus relevant to my life today?”

If we have difficulty stating clearly and concisely who and what Jesus is,

There should be little mystery why

His disciples failed to come up with an answer to His question,

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (16:13)

The best they could do is to come up with a list of historical prophets.

They even hedge that bet by saying, “Some say …”

But, others say …

And still others …”

Holy non-committal, Batman!

Indeed, much of the world doesn’t know who Jesus is

Or what to do with Him.

The Gospel of Matthew runs this fine line

Of embracing the world

That is conflicted and contested

With the identity and nature of Jesus Christ.

Thirty-five years ago

Cynthia and I traveled to Caesarea Philippi.

Hopefully, my memory will serve us well … that and Wikipedia!

It is important to paint the picture of the environment

Where Jesus intentionally led his disciples

And initiated this Gospel discussion.

Caesarea Philippi is an ancient city,

Built in the third century BC by the Greeks as a center of cultic paganism.

Merriam Webster defines a pagan as a person who worships many gods or goddesses or the earth or nature … a person who is not religious or whose religion is not Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.

Pagan worship ran deep in ancient Assyrians people.

At Caesarea Philippi, they are known to have worshipped the pagan god named ‘Ba-al’.

It is located approximately twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee.

It lies on the southwestern base of Mount Hermon west of the modern-day Golan Heights.

It would have taken Jesus two days to lead his disciples

From Capernaum on the North shore of the Sea of Galilee

To Caesarea Philippi.

A two-day walk is a journey made with intention.

Jesus wants to lead the conversation about his identity specifically

At Caesarea Philippi, in an environment surrounded by paganism.

A spring gushes forth from caves in the mountain at Caesarea Philippi

Forming one of the main tributaries of the Jordan River.

Here, the Greeks dedicated shrines to the pagan god of Pan,

and related deities.

On the walls of the cave behind Jesus

Are carvings of Pan, the god of the wild, shepherds, music, and the companion of nymphs.

Pan is depicted as sporting hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat.

Behind Jesus were even more ancient carvings of Ba-al,

The pagan god associated with storms and fertility.

Sculpted icons and symbols in the rock walls around Jesus

Created a Mount Rushmore type environment from which Jesus spoke.

From the mouth of this cave, on center stage,

Set before numerous and diverse symbols of pagan worship,

Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (16:15)

At least the disciples were smart enough to choose a list of dead or ascended prophets …

… John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

Good thing no one pointed to Pan or Ba-al and say, “You’re that guy.”

That would have been bad!

Jesus brought his disciples to the Mount Rushmore of the pagan world

To make a statement,

Not only about identity,

But also about how one comes to know Him and relate to Him,

Beginning that day, moving forward.

Jesus isn’t a stone-cold monument to a distant, transcendent god.

Jesus is the living, breathing, loving, personal, caring God.

Jesus is an ever-present companion on life’s tumultuous journey.

This is a vitally important lesson Jesus taught His disciples.

It is just as important for us to learn today.

Simon Peter steps up to the challenge

With his short, succinct, persuasive elevator pitch:

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  (16:16)

Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner people.

The winning ticket is punched by Peter in a pagan cave at Caesarea Philippi.

Jesus correctly observes that flesh did not reveal his identity.

In other words,

It wasn’t the pagans,

The Romans or the Greeks,

Who revealed to Peter who Jesus is.

It was our Father in heaven. (16:17)

Peter’s statement of faith is based on

A personal encounter with Jesus

And with a living, contextual, and relevant heavenly Father.

This essential truth from this Gospel passage

Clearly marks the lines of responsibility when it comes

To establishing and implementing

God’s policy manual

For leading a Christian life.

We disciples,

Are charged with introducing people to Jesus,

Creating the personal encounter with Christ.

That’s it.

We do the introduction.

Then get out of the way.

God does the rest.

We disciples provide the foundation

Upon which God will build.

It is through that introduction,

Through our clear, concise, succinct elevator pitch,

That God finds a way to enter the lives of others.

God finds a way to nest into their contextual setting.

God finds a way for everyone

To be discipled and educated in the ways of Jesus,

That Christ may become relevant in the spiritual life and journey

Of every called and claimed Christian.

This is our pitch.

This is our song.

Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

We introduce people to Jesus.

Trust that God will do the rest.

Do not worry about our Jewish or Islamic friends;

God’s promise to our Jewish and Islamic sisters and brothers,

As is God’s promise to us, remains strong and true.

Jesus does not break that which God has vowed by sacred covenant.

Rather, Jesus comes as a living God to the Christian Church.

Our God, through His Son, Jesus Christ, desires an authentic relationship

With each of us individually,

And with us corporately, as His Body, as His Church.

Peter is likened to a rock,

Petra, in the Greek,

And upon this petra foundation,

Christ will build his ekklesia,

Jesus will build his Church.

Peter is rock strong.

Jesus is Church strong.

Many of you are social media animals.

You’re all over it like hyenas on roadkill.

I’m encouraging you to use the hashtag #ChurchStrong.

If you don’t know how to use hashtags in Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram,

Ask a friend, or ask your grandchildren.

They’ll show you how.

Drop in the hashtag #ChurchStrong as you talk about

The Gospel passage and today’s message in social media.

Doing so will allow us to search #ChurchStrong,

Read each other’s replies,

And witness to the world

That we follow Jesus,

As built upon Peter, the rock.

Let me start the conversation

About what makes #ChurchStrong,

And I look forward to reading from you this afternoon and in the coming days

Your thoughts, your beliefs,

About what makes Church Strong.

1. #ChurchStrong

A Church strong foundation comes when we

Live an honest, authentic life.

Live humbly.

Live righteously.

Follow the rules.

Nothing undermines the Christian message or the messenger more than hypocrisy.

Purge hypocrisy right out of your life.

2. #ChurchStong

A Church strong foundation comes when we

Love God.

Love neighbors.

Lead with your heart.

Be kind in every circumstance,

Especially when the spiritual forces of wickedness attack you.

Be passionate in your love of God and neighbors.

Few things undermine the integrity of the Christian life than casual indifference.

3. #ChurchStrong

A Church strong foundation comes when we

Speak and act with conviction.

Make a commitment and keep it.

Introduce a friend to Jesus and let God warm their heart.

Study together with others, the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Testify how God is at work in your life

And celebrate how God is at work in the lives of others.

Take a stand for

That which is just, honorable, and true.

4. #ChurchStrong

A Church strong foundation comes when we

Praise God.

Praise God in your waking and when you go to sleep.

Praise God in your prayers and in your devotions.

Praise God in your work and in your relaxation.

Praise God at home and together in weekly worship.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Never stop praising God.

5. #ChurchStrong

A Church strong foundation comes when we

Grow confident in being the people God has called us to be.

It doesn’t mean big, or rich, or powerful by any measures of this world.

Being Church Strong doesn’t mean taking a seat at the head table,

But giving up your VIP seat for someone else.

Being Church Strong means being the compassionate hands of Jesus

Reaching out to the last, the least, the lost, the left behind of this world.

Being Church Strong means encouraging all to become servant leaders for the transformation of the world.

If you’re not on the cleanup crew

You’re not called to be a leader.

Church of Peter,

Be #ChurchStrong!

Body of Christ,

Testify to who Jesus is:

Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Tell the world why God has sent us His Son:

Just like Peter had a personal encounter with Jesus,

God would like to have a personal, loving relationship with you, too.

Be #ChurchStrong! Amen.

“Words Matter”

A Pastoral Message for Sunday, August 16, 2020

Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Prayer.

Indeed.

“It is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” (Matthew 15:10)

Words matter.

When we speak, we make choices;

Which word to use

To match the emphasis of our choice

For the audience we intend.

We make choices all the time when we speak.

So choose carefully.

Choose wisely.

One who is vile and vulgar in one setting

May choose to be

Polite and proper in another.

Others are remarkably consistent;

Always polite and well spoken

Or endlessly provocative and inflammatory.

(Those are the ones I block on social media)

Most of us live someplace in-between.

Words matter.

Words matter.

This is why I write out every sermon, word for word.

I’m very careful about my word choices.

Is it right?

Does it convey the thought,

The spirit,

The intent of what God is saying through me?

Does it bring laser focus upon that which God intends

Or does it distract,

And should be, therefore, discarded?

Four years ago

I faced a significant challenge

When Pastor Juan invited me to preach

At his church in Tecpan, Guatemala.

His congregation spoke Spanish, with bits and pieces of Mayan.

Pastor Juan asked me the night before!

It was only by God’s grace

And the support of prayer

That the extemporaneous words I chose

Were culturally sensitive,

Historically sound,

Politically neutral,

Adequately translated,  

And, yet, still capable of allowing

The truth of the Gospel to be communicated.

Try threading that needle!

Words matter.

“What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart.” (Matthew 15:18)

Our baptism is when God

Calls us and grants us an identity as “Christian.”

There’s no going back on our part,

Because it is God who is doing the calling and naming.

You and I have been named.

We’ve been forever labeled,

Branded like a Texas steer.

Our name is “Christian”.

We are a people who God has chosen

To be disciples of His Son, Jesus Christ.

At our baptism

Three promises are made.

Promises are made by us directly,

Or, if we were baptized as infants or children,

Promises we personally confirm at our Confirmation.

These three promises have remained remarkably consistent

Over the course of two-thousand years;

Ever since the ascension of Jesus

And our Apostolic beginning.

Words matter.

Do you …

“Renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,

Reject the evil powers of this world,

And repent of your sin?”

Friends, let us not be naïve.

Neither let me beat around the bush.

In recent memory

Evil sent children of God to the gas chambers.

Evil segregates people by skin color.

Evil stakes the claim that some are more deserving

Or of greater value than others.

Evil hates, hurts, steals the rights of others.

Evil is quick to blame others for personal dissatisfaction.

Evil distorts truth by attempting to create moral equivalences, half-truths, and outright lies.

Evil is quick to resort to violence.

Jesus names evil:

“Evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Matthew 15:19)

The spiritual forces of wickedness

And the evil powers of this world

Are causing us to writhe like we are passing a kidney stone.

We find ourselves in a whirlwind of wickedness.

The Devil is personified by torch bearing hatemongers

And by those who stand silently to the side,

Failing to use our baptismal voice

To renounce wickedness and evil.

Words matter.

At our baptism

This affirmation was made by us, or on our behalf:

Do you …

“Resist evil, injustice, and oppression

In whatever forms they present themselves?”

I do.

Do you?

The word “Resist” has taken on a political nuance in recent years.

It is used by some with an agenda.

But “resist” is a politically neutral word

When the politically reality of this world can successfully

Establish and maintain

Freedom, equality, justice, and liberty for all.

“Resist” becomes energized

When leaders and principalities of this world

Take away freedoms,

Endorse inequality,

Deny and withhold justice,

Imprison liberty.

Then every baptized Christian,

By our vows,

Is called to resist.

Resist!

Not just for our sake,

But for our neighbor’s sake, too;

Less we break our baptismal vows with our God.

Jesus learned the lesson of resistance

When he came across a Canaanite woman.

When he failed to grant her request for mercy,

She schooled him.

She schooled him hard.

This Canaanite woman “resisted”

Jesus’ rejection:

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel …

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

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (Matthew 15:24-27)

Now, there, …

That, there is resistance.

There is resistance that speaks of greater faith!

“Woman, great is your faith,” Jesus relents,

“Let it be done for you as you wish.” (15:28)

Resist

Evil, injustice, and oppression.

This is our vow.

Our words matter to God.

Words matter.

The third promise that is made by us, or on our behalf, at our baptism is this:

Do you …

“Confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,

Put your whole trust in his grace,

And promise to serve him as your Lord …?”

Many of us equate serving Christ

As loving our neighbor.

I do.

When I go on mission trips,

I make friends.

I love neighbors.

I do so serving Christ.

When I support local ministries,

Food pantries, campus ministries, chaplaincy, and other similar efforts,

I do so as a fulfillment of my baptismal vow to serve Christ.

Serving Christ can be, and should be, more than doing the work of Christ.

Serving Christ should also include speaking up

And speaking out on behalf of Christ.

By our baptismal vows we are called to advocate

For Christ,

For the Gospel;

The message of grace and love,

Forgiveness and salvation,

And for the emergence of Christ’s kingdom;

Where peace and justice reign and God is glorified.

Advocating for Christ

Is hard.

It’s intimidating.

Even I struggle to speak up and speak loud

For fear of offending or crossing political boundaries.

Yet,

By our baptismal vows,

We must speak up and speak out for Christ.

Words matter.

When we rise to claim the resistance of our baptismal call,

Do so boldly;

With the conviction that Jesus Christ is right by our side.

Don’t worry about the words, we are assured.

The Holy Spirit will give us words.

Do not be filled with anxiety about those that leave, we are assured,

Even Jesus regretfully allowed some to walk away.

Serving the Lord, Jesus Christ,

Requires that we speak up, speak out, and speak loud,

To open hearts to

All people,

All ages,

All nations,

All nations,

All races.

All means all.

Words matter.

“What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart.” (Matthew 15:18)

When Christ fills your heart,

The words you choose

Are words given to you directly from Jesus.

Keep your eyes

And your heart

On Jesus.

At the same time, use your voice.

Speak up and advocate for Christ.

Resist all that is evil, unjust, and oppressive.

Resist wickedness and the evil powers of this world.

Let us not sit idly on the sidelines.

God’s kingdom is at stake.

Our baptismal vows are on the line.

Words matter.

Choose your words wisely.

Amen.

“Peter and the Sea”

Matthew 14:22-33

9 August 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Prayer.

Finally, Jesus caught a break.

The crowds were fed, so he dismissed them.

His disciples were done collecting the leftovers.

The kitchen was closed.

Jesus put them in a boat and might have told them as they pushed off from shore,

“Thanks for your help cleaning up.

I’ll catch up with you later.”

Imagine the conversation in the boat:

“Wow! 5,000 people, plus women and children. That was the biggest crowd yet.”

“Whoa! Did you see what Jesus did?”

“Completely healed; like the broken arm set itself; a miracle right before my very eyes!”

“The demon leapt right out of him!”

“Unbelievable! I saw that, too!”

“All that food left over? There were 12 extra baskets! He fed everyone with nothing more than five loaves of bread and two fish.”

Imagine the conversation Peter was having with himself.

Peter might have remembered Jesus inviting him

“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people,” (4:19)

“5,000 people, plus women and children.

Yep. Fishing had been good today.”

The setting sun.

The smell of the sea.

The lapping of waves.

Seagulls circling overhead.

The rocking boat was familiar to Peter, the fisherman.

Peter and the sea were one.

The gentle afternoon wind accelerated with dusk.

The sun set and the wind and seas rose.

The increasing storm

Might of reminded Peter of the not-too-recent past

When Jesus,

In a boat just like this one,

Was woke from sleep by his frightened disciples.

He stilled the storm and

Saved all their lives from drowning.

“Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Jesus asked them. (8:26)

Little faith.

Perhaps Peter was searching for something more than just ‘little.’

Finally, Jesus could get some personal time in this desolate place to pray.

Prayer, spending time alone with the Lord, listening, discerning,

Is a way forward when trying to sort out family issues and broken relationships.

Remember? Jesus had just been rejected by his family in Nazareth.

Family or relationship problems?

Turn to God in prayer.

Setting aside the world and focusing on God in prayer

Is a way forward when working through,

Pushing through,

Wading through,

Death, grief, and mourning.

Remember? Jesus had just received news that Herod Antipas had murdered his cousin, John.

Suffering through the pain and loss of a loved one?

Turn to God in prayer.

Jesus ascended a mountain to pray.

He climbed right to the top;

Where he could look out over the expanse of the Sea of Galilee

13 miles long, north to south,

8 miles wide, east to west.

Jesus knew from his Jewish upbringing and education

The God of creation,

Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,

Often came calling on a mountain top.

Jesus could see it all from the pinnacle,

Memories of his outreach, ministry, and healing

Were folded into the small villages, roads, and fields below in his view.

He could see it all from the peek,

Where one could be closest to God.

Reflection.

Connection.

Listening.

Discerning.

Put it all together.

Searching for meaning in life?

Trying to put it all together?

Climb a mountain.

Turn to God in prayer.

As evening fell

Jesus gazed down to the sea below.

Being a native Galilean,

He would have known the western breeze

Cascading over the high ridge,

Sweeping down,

Accelerating across the water,

Meant for a rough ride,

A true storm for the east side of the lake.

The eastern shore;

Right were Jesus knew the disciples would be in their boat.

Refreshed by prayer,

Restored by quiet time with the Lord,

Healed by the merciful grace of God’s hand and presence,

Jesus discerned what he was meant to do next.

His quick-to-answer-the-call disciples,

Were slow to comprehend what

They had experienced in Jesus’ presence.

Now they were in danger of sinking, drowning, and losing it all.

Jesus descends the mountain and

walks on water

to save disciples of little faith

from the storm.

Allow this Gospel truth to wash over you for a moment.

This is mercy.

This is God’s grace.

Jesus comes to disciples of little faith

And saves us from the storm.

What is your storm?

Where is your heart boiling over in anger?

What is threatening you life? Your soul?

Fight the fear of ghosts, prior failures, and immediate dangers.

Jesus is approaching.

“Take heart,” he assures.

“It is I,” he identifies himself.

“Do not be afraid.” Jesus commands.

The heart you have is sufficient.

Little faith doesn’t mean no faith.

Little faith is sufficient

To get someone out of the boat,

To meet Jesus halfway,

To walk on water and for

The raging storms of life to be stilled.

What makes Peter different from his eleven colleagues

Is that he wanted to go to where Jesus was.

He wanted to answer the Lord’s invitation to come.

The rest of them must have been content to roll the dice and take their chances.

I have learned like Peter that

Failure is inevitable in life.

I have failed so many things, so many people, so many times.

I can be defeated.

Or, I can learn from it,

Be better because of it.

From personal experience

I know I can trust in Jesus;

He’s not going to let me perish.

Though I might be sinking

I’m still walking on water.

Though I might be going down in defeat

I’m still making my way closer to our Savior.

Jesus comes to disciples of little faith

And saves us from the storm.

Take the little faith you have,

Get out of the boat, and

Make your way to Jesus.

Peter does great

As long as he keeps his eyes on Jesus.

He begins to sink when he notices the strong winds,

Becomes frightened, and

Calls out “Lord, save me!” (14:30)

“You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus asks

As he reached out his hand and caught Peter. (14:31)

Doubt caused Peter to sink,

Not the distraction of the storm.

Jesus’ response reveals the fact that the

God given little faith,

Freely given to each person in our creation,

Is sufficient to overcome all doubt,

Even when doubt threatens our life.

We, Methodist,

Drawing our theological lineage from John Wesley,

See the world through the eyes of God’s amazing grace.

Prevenient grace …

Pre- meaning before

-Venient meaning God’s intervention …

Means that God gives us all the grace that is necessary,

From the moment of our conception,

Before we know or become aware of needing it.

Prevenient grace is the dollop of “little faith” that Jesus repeats

Throughout the Gospel of Matthew.

The little faith you have already been given and received

Is sufficient for the living of these days,

As a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, and

For the living of every day in your future.

Your little faith is more than enough to overcome every doubt,

Now or in the future.

Little faith is all that’s necessary to lock hands with Jesus and

To let him pull you to safety. 

Dearly beloved,

It’s almost a given

There are times when you and I will

Find ourselves just like

Peter and the sea.

We will find ourselves swept up in a storm

Fearful for our future,

Fearful even for our very life.

Watch for Jesus to come.

Take whatever faith you have …

You’ve got enough …

Get out of the boat, and

Go where Jesus is.

He will catch you.

Jesus will save you.

In the end,

The wind will cease.

The storm will be stilled.

In the calm that follows,

Worship the Lord.

Worship the Lord, Jesus Christ;

For he is truly, the Son of God.

Amen.

“Five Loaves | Two Fish”

Matthew 14:13-21

August 2, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”

Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”

They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”

And he said, “Bring them here to me.”

Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Prayer.

Context is everything.

Context tells us why Jesus withdrew;

Why Jesus sought to find a deserted place by himself.

When context is revealed

Deeper truths are exposed.

Insight to God’s Word, will, and ways is provided.

The rest is up to us.

At the conclusion of the prior (13th) chapter of Matthew

We heard Jesus was rejected by his own hometown,

By his own neighbors, friends, and family.

Their offense at him

Cut Jesus deep.

“Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house,” Jesus observed. (13:57)

Untangling the double negative,

Jesus is saying there is no honor from home or family.

Honor only comes to prophets doing the Lord’s work

Who leave the dysfunction of family offense and criticism,

Who dare to follow where the Lord is leading

To people and places beyond the known,

To places beyond the horizon.

Their offense at him

Cut Jesus deep.

The Gospel of Matthew reports

“He did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.” (13:58)

Get out of the nest,

The safety and security of the nest.

Get away from the doubt, criticism, and complaints

From blood relatives, neighbors, family friends, and fellow members of the synagogue.

They will tap you dry of all the power God has given you,

Just as they did to Jesus.

It was time to move on.

“Jesus withdrew to a deserted place by himself.” (14:13)

Being cut by his own,

Being hurt and abandoned by those who are expected to be closest and most supportive of him,

Speaks of Christ’s humanity,

Speaks of Christ’s intimate knowledge and understanding

Of our shared humanity, our families, and our tangled webs.

If families could only be perfect.

They aren’t.

There is no such thing as a perfect family.

A deserted place was needed for Jesus to sort it all out.

Create a vacuum and allow God to fill the void.

God’s voice is easier to be heard in the silence and solitude of a deserted place

Then in the context of conflict, criticism, and disbelief.

Where is your quiet place?

That place deserted,

Where you can be by yourself,

Where you can allow yourself to be emptied of the world’s troubles,

Where you can allow yourself to be filled by the Spirit and revived by the Spirit’s power?

Context is everything.

Familiar conflict and hometown doubt sapped his strength.

But, it isn’t the only thing that drives Jesus into the wilderness.

The Tetrarch, Herod Antipas,

Like an ancient ancestor of modern-day ISIS,

Beheaded John the Baptist.

Word of his murder spread at the speed of viral social media.

News sent Jesus fleeing

(probably for his life)

To the other side of the Sea of Galilee,

Beyond the limited rule of Herod.

Talk about a dysfunctional family.

Herod had it in spades.

Herod the Great,

Famed at the time of Jesus’ birth,

Had five wives.

Each wife had one or more children.

There were a lot of step-sons and step-daughters,

Half-brothers and half-sisters.

“Game of Thrones” scale

Adultery and perversion were the norm,

Not the exception,

In Herod’s family line.

Herod Antipas, Herod Philip, and Aristobulus

Were 3 of 9 half-brothers of their father, Herod the Great.

Three half-brothers drink deeply from the well of debauchery.

Aristobulus had a daughter, named Herodias.

His half-brother, Herod Philip, takes his daughter, Herodias, for his wife.

Yikes! Sick!

Herod Philip takes a dive into a shallow gene pool.

They have a daughter, named Salome.

Herod Philip and Herodias divorce.

Herod Antipas marries Herodias, his step-brother’s ex-wife,

Making Salome his teen-aged step-daughter.

Yikes! Disgusting!

Cultural offenses are just as terrible today

As they were 2,000 years ago in Herod’s family.

Herod Antipas was infatuated by Salome.

Salome had her step-father, Herod Antipas, wrapped around her little finger

In a sexually perverted, Jeffrey Epstein sort of way.

Yikes! It makes me sick!

Here is the seat of power,

The palace of the Tetrarch of Galilee.

Money is no object.

Food is abundant.

Sex and lust were a Covid like forest fire raging out of control.

Attendees were drawn to power, perversion, and corruption like moths to a light.

When lust is mixed with alcohol, bad things happen.

The result was the beheading of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, who had been held in prison.

“When Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” (14:13)

Context is everything.

Jesus rejected by his hometown and family,

Left powerless by their unbelief.

Jesus, hearing news of the beheading of his cousin, John the Baptist,

Sent by God to prepare his Messianic way,

Murdered in a drunken, glutton, orgy …

Yeah, Jesus needed to get a way to a safe, deserted place for some alone time.

He needed some time to grieve.

If only … alone time was meant to be.

Jesus may not have had the hearts and minds of

His family, hometown, or Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee,

But he does have the hearts and minds of the people.

The people draw out the compassion of Jesus.

The crowds who followed him from town to town

Restored his power to cure the sick.

The people make it possible

To miraculously change scarcity into abundance,

To teach by word and deed about the characteristic of God.

Context reveals the breadth and depth of Christ’s compassion.

Rejection and grief bring out Christ’s compassion.

Whether it be the rejection and grief of his own hometown and the death of John the Baptist, or,

The rejection and grief of his own Passion and death,

The grace of Jesus Christ plays out for the crowds overlooking the lake

Just as his grace played out on the cross and at the empty tomb

For the redemption and salvation of the world.

How does this apply to our lives today?

Consider the dark valleys you travel:

Family dysfunction.

Temptation and indiscretion.

Excess, gluttony, and greed.

Mourning, suffering, pain, and loss.

You’ve seen it.

I’ve seen it.

Life has some pretty deep, dark valleys,

Filled with shadows, snares, and death.

There is no greater compassion

Then Jesus dying for you.

No greater love than God helping you through

Suffering, pain, and loss.

The compassion of Jesus Christ

Reveals the deep love God has for the world.

The compassion we show to the world

Reveals the deep love we have for God and one another.

Compassion compels Jesus to act.

His compassion intersects with the world’s greatest need:

Sickness is healed,

Hungry bellies are filled, with plenty left over.

Ask yourself this:

How is it possible to be like Jesus,

To make myself a vessel of God’s compassion

To meet the needs of the world?

Weeds and chaff don’t do a thing.

They are worthy of fire.

Grains of the harvest are compelled with compassion to act,

To do the work of the Lord.

Context reveals the power of Jesus to cure the sick and return them to health.

Jesus cures many people of their illness, injury, or disease.

Why?

Miracles bring in the crowds

Like carnival barkers,

Like event organizers with an unlimited budget,

Like a winning team and an undefeated season.

Miracles pack the stadium and draws the crowds.

Gather the crowds.

Why?

Jesus gathers the crowds

To teach …

To call …

To transform the world into God’s kingdom.

Jesus gathers the crowds

Not only by the healing of one or two selected individuals,

But to demonstrate for all the world to see

God’s amazing grace and unlimited love.

The miracle of giving sight to the blind

Saves an individual from isolation and exclusion,

At the same time,

The miracle serves as a powerful message that

Christ brings light into a world filled with darkness.

The miracles of Jesus

Give testimony to God’s amazing grace and unlimited love.

The emotional, compassionate response of Jesus to the needy crowd,

Results in the miraculous actions of a loving and all-powerful God.

How does this apply to our lives today?

It is natural to attempt to explain miracles away,

Especially in our, enlightened (so we think), scientific age.

Avoid the urge.

Accept the miracles of Jesus at face value.

Believe by faith; and leave the apparent conflict with science up to God.

At the end of the day, I suspect

There is no conflict between faith and science,

Given the fact we have a common Creator.

Recognize the seen and unseen miracles of today,

Of healing, restoration, of cure,

Not as random acts of luck,

Or the predictable reaction of science,

But of God’s presence and active participation in your life and mine.

The accident I just avoided

Can be attributed to good quality, high tech, steel belted tires and

God’s merciful, loving, miracle to spare my life

And the life of the other driver.

My recovery from the plague, HIV, or covid-19

Can be attributed to good, peer reviewed science and

God’s mercy, love, and plan for me to live another day.

Make every miracle an opportunity to witness to

The amazing grace and unlimited love of God.

Context reveals the depravity of this world and the abundance of God’s kingdom.

Contrast the abundance and waste of Herod’s gluttonous, adulterous party

With the party Jesus throws out of compassion

For the crowd out in the wilderness.

Jesus starts with nearly nothing:

Five loaves. Three fish.

That’s all.

That’s it.

Gathered from five thousand people, plus women and children.

The God of Creation,

Fully human in the being of Jesus,

Takes nothing and turns it into something.

Jesus takes scarcity and miraculously turns it into abundance.

This is God’s way.

How does this apply to our lives today?

The way disciples of Jesus think and talk about money

Reveals much about our trust and faith in the Lord’s abundance.

All my life,

As a child and preacher’s kid, and

Throughout my 35 years of pastoral ministry

I’ve heard moaning and groaning, grumbling and complaining,

About insecurity and scarcity:

“We don’t have enough …

Money, volunteers, youth, or children.”

“We can’t ask people to do more, increase their pledges, to tithe, to grow the financial capacity of the church.”

Beloved friends, the stewardship capacity of every parish

Is deeply related to this Gospel passage

Of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish.

We see 5 loaves, 2 fish, and a hungry crowd.

We think we live in scarcity.

The tendency is to hoard and save for a rainy day.

The tendency is to cut expenses to the bone and complain when income takes a similar dive.

Jesus proves us otherwise.

5,000 fed, full, and satisfied members of the crowd,

Along with women and children

Testifies to the abundant environment and nature of God.

Gather the leftovers friends.

After everyone is fed, we can still return 12 baskets of food to Jesus.

The church thrives when we come to accept the abundance of God. 

It is easy to proclaim “Our God is an abundant God”

But it is hard to trust that it is true.

Rejection and grief

Led Jesus to a very dark valley filled with shadows and death.

Rejection and grief

Led Jesus to a very deserted place.

Sickness and a desire to be cured brought crowds of desperate people to him.

Compassion compelled Jesus to act.

Jesus healed the sick,

Every last one of them.

Hunger and scarcity grew with the late afternoon sun.

Compassion compelled Jesus to act.

Jesus turned just five loaves and two fish

Into a banquet of abundance,

Feeding every last one of them,

Complete with twelve baskets left over.

God uses compassion to compel us to act, too.

Where is your compassion leading you?

What are you going to do about it?

Trust in God’s miracles.

Trust that God provides with abundance.

Amen.

“Parables of the Kingdom”

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

July 26, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

“Have you understood all this?”

They answered, “Yes.” 

And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Prayer.

This thirteenth chapter of Matthew is truly

One of the wonders of the world!

Two weeks ago we heard the parable of the sower;

Three out of four seeds sewn will fail, but …

Seeds that are sewn on good soil produced beyond the wildest imagination.

So too, will those who

“hear the word

(of the kingdom)

and understand it.” (13:19, 23)

Yeah! I want to be that guy!

I want to hear the word of the kingdom and understand it

That I can begin to immediately put the word to use

In my words and actions.

Tell me more, Jesus …

Last week we heard Jesus teaching his parable

Of the weeds among the wheat.

He starts with

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to …” (13:24)

The Son of Man sows the good seed,

Then sends out his angels

To separate all causes of sin and evildoers

In in one fell swoop of final judgment.

In the pre-pandemic world

That’s a fist bumping win for the home team.

Good wins over evil.

The righteous end up shining like the sun.

I want to be that guy;

The righteous one who ends up shining like the sun.

Boo-yah!

Jesus is teaching in parables

From a boat

To a crowd on the shore.

It is the perfect amphitheater,

Complete with natural acoustics

and the soothing sound of lake water lapping on the beach.

The momentum of the first two parables

Is like a flood surge topping an earthen dam.

It slowly erodes, accelerates, digs in, and quickly catastrophically fails.

Parables teach a lesson,

Communicate a Divine truth,

Using common themes the majority understood,

At the same time,

Providing Jesus with sufficient cover

To prevent his premature arrest.

Brilliant!

“Jesus,” voices from the crowd cry out,

“Tell us more about the kingdom of heaven!”

We want to know more …

In rapid fire succession,

Jesus fills in the details

With today’s five brief parables.

The kingdom of heaven is like …

The kingdom of heaven is like

A mustard seed.

When it comes to faith

Size doesn’t matter!

Let us not forget that the mustard plant

Is invasive as mint,

Fast growing,

And quickly becomes a tree.

From the very modest

Great things will come.

A mustard seed can move mountains,

Jesus teaches in Matthew 17:20.

What is nearly invisible

Can have an overwhelming impact.

Like in the first parable,

One small seed has the potential to produce a fantastic yield.

Every individual,

Every child of God

Has the potential to be that mustard seed

In the emerging heavenly kingdom.

The migrant farmer

will rise up and lead the fight for justice,

Sweeping immigration reform,

Fair wages, and

Appropriate living conditions.

The homeless, single mother

Will rise up and become the leader in the community

That brings nutrition to babies,

Jobs and childcare to mothers,

And affordable housing for every family.

That non-violent protester today

Will rise up and one day will become

The member of congress that replaces oppressive racism

With equality and justice for all.

That individual who overdosed or was arrested and charged with DWI?

The one who’s family tired of his relapses,

Who disowned him,

Who society had stigmatized,

And who was left for dead

In that inner-city drug house?

You know, the one

Found, revived by Narcan, and got their life together?

The one who sobered the disease into remission

And is now making two meetings a day?

Yeah, that guy or gal.

One day,

That person will become the researcher who finds the

Root cause, deep in the brain, of addiction …

And will find a way to reverse this neurological affliction

That transforms every patient

Into a model of health and wellness.

Wow.

Even I have a shot!

Tell us more, Jesus!

Can you hear the crowd clamoring for more?

The kingdom of heaven is like …

Yeast that makes flour rise.

The kingdoms, empires, and thrones of this world

Are like unleavened bread;

Dull, flat, and tasteless.

But when the kingdom of heaven comes ripping in

Three measures, or nearly

50 bushels of flour,

Will be transformed by

A teaspoon size amount of yeast.

That’s all it takes!

A teaspoon

Leavens 50 bushels.

A teaspoon is all it takes to change everything!

When Jesus steps in,

Passing through the bulkhead that links heaven and earth,

This world is transformed.

Jesus empowers all God’s children

Leavens us like yeast

To rise above life’s circumstances,

To become more than ever imagined, dreamt, or hoped to be.

The presence of Jesus in your life

Is more than just that well-meaning pep-talk from a childhood coach.

Jesus Christ is the power surging in your veins,

Blood of His blood, blood of our blood.

Jesus Christ gives life, health, and goodness.  

Wow!

Jesus, we can rise above all this.

Even I can be transformed into something worthwhile!

Tell us more about the kingdom of heaven …

The kingdom of heaven is like unbounded, exuberant joy!

Imagine, finding unclaimed treasure;

Chests of gold, diamonds, and jewels.

Keep it a secret until you can legally lay claim to it.

That joy, that inner desire to laugh, that grin you can’t wipe off your face,

Looking forward to the moment you can announce your find to the world?

Yeah,

That joy!

That joy is what the kingdom of heaven is like.

There is great joy in the justice that Jesus brings.

Others might call it “Karma”, but I don’t.

The justice of Jesus Christ levels the playing field,

Overturns the wrongs and rights the rights.

The justice of our Lord

Brings down those who hoard the abundance God has provided.

The justice of Jesus redistributes wealth

Such that every mouth is fed,

Every family has a home and every child is clothed.

The justice of God provides meaningful employment for everyone who can work

and support for those who can not.

There is exuberant joy in the peace that Jesus brings.

With peace there is prosperity.

With peace there is security.

Imagine a world without violence, terrorism, or war.

This is what Jesus is pulling through the portal from the kingdom of heaven.

This is the peace that Jesus is sowing across our flawed lands.

The peace that Jesus brings

Gives us joy!

Oh. My. God.

I couldn’t be more overjoyed!

Jesus, tell us more about the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven is like …

A merchant, a common retailer,

Who searches for and finds a valuable treasure,

Like a pearl of great value.

That merchant then is willing to

Sell everything,

Do anything,

To claim it as their own.

Obsession should be more than just the name of a perfume.

Obsession is the attitude every person of faith should take

In seeking out and obtaining

Everything Jesus has to offer.

Are we obsessed with loving God?

Then let us bring our A game to worship and

Insist on excellence instead of apathy,

Unity instead of division?

Are we obsessed with loving our neighbors?

Then why do we continue to divide, offend, and criticize?

Why do we nurture unresolved hatred and conflicts

And enjoy watching passively while neighbors suffer?

Are we obsessed with sharing the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus?

Of proclaiming to the world

Good news of God’s grace,

Redemption and salvation for all?

Faith without obsession

Is like watering a weed.

SNAP!

Sweet Jesus.

The age of passive Christianity needs to be dead and buried.

The age of apathetic Christianity has come to an end.

The kingdom of authentic, effective, obsessed Christian action is upon us.

Be a part of the solution that transforms this world into God’s completed kingdom.

Anything else we need to know about the kingdom of heaven, Jesus?

Why yes, there is.

The kingdom of heaven is like …

A net that catches everything.

The time for judgment is coming, and soon will be.

But for now,

The net catches fish of every kind.

The kingdom is diverse and inclusive.

You and I don’t have to pick and choose.

Just cast the net and bring them all in!

Stop looking for rich prospects

Who we hope will pay our bills.

Stop looking for replacements because

We’ve grown old and are worn out.

Stop looking for people who look just like us

Who we hope will share the same values and beliefs.

Stop looking for millennials, x-ers, busters, and boomers.

Cast the net and bring them all in.

Sweet Jesus,

You’ve given us more than we expected today.

There’s more here about the kingdom of heaven

And our place in it

Than we ever could have imagined.

God created you,

Gave you life,

And now

God calls you and me

to spread and grow

The kingdom of heaven.

You and I,

We play an important part

In leavening this world;

Transforming it and allowing the kingdom of heaven to rise.

This brings us joy!

This makes us obsessed!

Burn with obsession

Until all are brought in;

Until all love and serve the Lord.

Amen.

“God’s Prerogative”

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

July 19, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

Prayer.

I look out at my brown, arid, un-watered lawn,

Speckled like a mine field with

Iron weeds, dandelions, and unknown variants of thistles.

It almost appears that the Lord has given me divine insight into

Matthew’s Gospel parable of the Wheat and the Weeds.

Sometimes a parable is just a parable,

But not today.

Jesus is planting seeds today, that,

For the observant,

Results in abundant harvest,

Spanning time, culture, and place,

Generation, after generation, after generation.

A few thoughts.

This parable of Jesus, and its explanation,

Is only found in the Gospel of Matthew.

Unlike most other narratives of Jesus and his teachings,

The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds

Isn’t paralleled in Mark, Luke, or John.  

Matthew remembers and records this parable of Jesus

Because of their unique setting, circumstances, and audience.

The world’s superpower occupation government, Rome,

Had crushed the Jewish uprising a decade or two prior to its writing,

Hurling the few survivors to every corner of the world

In what is known as the diaspora.

In Matthew’s setting,

The tax thirsty, violent, oppressive occupation of Rome

Were the weeds sown by a cosmic enemy.

The destroyed Temple-centric Judaism further confirmed for Matthew

That corrupt, greedy, power thirsty organized religion

Were also weeds sown by an enemy sowing evil.

Matthew’s primary audience was the first Century Church;

One or two generations removed from the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.

They eagerly anticipated the promised return of Jesus,

Which, they believed, as we do today, when Christ returns

It would usher in a time of Divine judgment.

Divine judgment is a unique characteristic of the Gospel of Matthew.

If God’s judgment makes you uncomfortable,

Hold on to your horse,

Because this bronco of Gospel judgment is going to give you a ride for your money

Right up through November.

Matthew today surveys the landscape,

Sees the weeds, Rome and organized religion, sown by the enemy, who Jesus names, “the devil”. (13:39)

At the same time, he sees the Church as a field of grain,

A beautiful field of grain,

Newly sown by the hand of a benevolent, responsible Creator.

The sower sows with an expectation of harvest.

The first gem we find today

Is this enduring truth for all disciples of Jesus:

That you and I have been created, planted, and nurtured by our Creator,

Who expects results out of us,

Who expects us to yield a harvest of grain and seed.

In my mind’s eye, and

In the tradition of Matthew’s Gospel,

I can imagine my future self

Standing before the Lord,

The God who created me,

Being asked the question, “How did you do?”

Judgment is like two farmers at the Grange comparing yields of their harvest.

“How did you do?”

It is the Lord’s prerogative to judge,

To ask of every Christian for accountability for our actions.

Think about it.

God doesn’t hold us accountable for the quantity of wealth we accumulate.

God does hold us accountable for how we’ve put that wealth to use to maximize the harvest.

Think about God’s judgment.

God doesn’t hold us accountable for our achievements, titles, degrees, or awards.

God does hold us accountable for how we’ve used our talent and experience to maximize the harvest.

God’s judgment isn’t a thumbs up or thumbs down

Effort to decide eternal disposition,

Between a molten hell or celestial heaven.

God’s judgment is being held accountable

For our time, talent, and treasures

To maximize the Lord’s harvest.

“How are you doing?”

Newly sprouted, immature grain, like young Christians, are vulnerable.

Roots aren’t established; they aren’t mature.

Better not tear up the newly planted field of grain to go after the weeds,

Jesus teaches.

Jesus warns of misleading new Christians in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew:

“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 fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

(18:6)

Focus every effort on growing the grain,

Maximizing the harvest.

Allowing the weeds to grow among us

Is the only way we are assured of

Our survival, ability to grow, and future ability to provide a harvest.

Allowing weeds sown by the enemy to grow

Is a courageous act of faith.

Yes, we live in a world where evil is alive and mortally dangerous.

Let none of us be naïve.

Yet, we believe to the depth of our marrow,

That the Lord is our final arbitrator.

Weeds that do not bear fruit or harvest,

The Lord will judge worthy of fire.

Trust in the Lord’s judgment.

Make way for the angels to cull the weeds,

Gather them up, and

Set them on fire.

Weeds are worthy only of destruction,

Nothing more, nothing less.

Weeping and gnashing of teeth? So be it.

God’s prerogative is to judge that which has been planted,

To hold us accountable for the harvest.

I’m not responsible for judgment; God is.

This frees me to focus on what is important:

Loving God, loving neighbors, inviting the world into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Being judgmental of another’s faith, spiritual development, or effectiveness

Is too heavy a burden to bear.

Drop that millstone.

Leave it up to God.

I know I struggle keeping my judgment in check,

Biting my lip and sitting on my hands.

How are you doing?

…..

Lastly, a question I’ve been mulling over a lot this week:

Does the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds give us a pass on confronting evil?

Jesus is pretty clear that we are to leave the weeds alone.

I’m not searching for a pity opinion that preaches well.

I’m searching for an observation that squares itself with the rest of the Gospel and Scripture.

The Apostle Paul ran up against this same question …

… are Christians to confront the evil of this world, sown by the devil?

Paul outlines a standard for Christian living and engagement

In his letter to the church in Rome:

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:9-21

Instead of judgment and condemnation

Christians are called to love

Until evil is destroyed,

Until evil is no more.

Love and make room for the wrath of God.

I commend to you, beloved, Romans 12:9-21.

Make it the focus of your prayers and devotions this coming week.

….

I love the fact that God holds me accountable.

I’m expected to do something about the faith that I’ve been given.

It’s a challenge I readily accept,

A goal I strive to achieve.

Christian faith expects each of us to speak and act with love and

To lead the world to Jesus.

The Lord sets the bar of expectation extremely high and

Holds every Christian accountable.

How are you doing?

Accountable faith is confirmation of the fact that

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

God’s grace,

Especially when held in the context of Divine judgment,

Is paid for by the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.

The price of God’s grace is the life of Jesus.

God’s grace,

When each of us comes before the Lord,

Is played out in mercy by our Divine Judge.

This is mercy: Your sins are forgiven by the blood of Christ.

This is mercy: Your salvation is assured because Jesus rose from the dead.

Being held accountable to our merciful God

Is a small price to pay for such a loving gift of amazing grace.

Amen.