“Closing the Gap”

Luke 10:1-11, 17-20

July 3, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 10:1-11, 17-20

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.

Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

| Centering Prayer |

The X, Y, and Z planes are quite easy for most of us to comprehend.

If I remember my high school and undergraduate mathematics correctly,

X gives width

Y gives height

and Z gives depth

to a three-dimensional world.

“Ah, yes; but what about time?” one might ask.

Yes, of course.

When one adds the element of time passing to a three-dimensional space

The world comes to life,

objects appear to move.

A two-dimensional photograph is converted into a three-dimensional movie.

Instead of a looking at a snapshot,

it is as if George Eastman had a stack of Kodachrome

or Walt Disney had a stack of cartoons,

and by the magic of stop motion,

a continuous sequence of frames over time gives the illusion of real life.

X, Y, Z, and Time gives us four dimensions,

but is there a fifth?

Rod Serling seemed to think so.

He often opened episodes of The Twilight Zone speaking about a fifth dimension,

a parallel universe,

and the gap between our world and the other was narrowing.

Elon Musk and Neil deGrasse Tyson agree.

They call the fifth dimension the “simulation hypothesis”.

If there is an argument against

Living in a parallel, simulated world,

they can’t find it.

“Scott Aaronson, a computer scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, is more expressive … “If there were bugs in the program running our universe, like in the Matrix movies, those could clearly have observable effects,” he says. “Just like God appearing in a thundercloud could be pretty good empirical evidence in favor of religion.””

(https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/what-simulation-hypothesis-why-some-think-life-simulated-reality-ncna913926)

The kingdom of God,

The kingdoms of this world,

Converging.

I wonder if Serling was familiar, and

if Musk, Tyson, and Aaronson are familiar,

with our Gospel for today?

(Probably not.)

It appears that the closer Jesus comes to Jerusalem,

the closer the gap is closed

between the kingdom of God and humankind.

Jesus had just been transfigured right before the eyes of his disciples.

He had preached, taught, exercised, healed

and even foretold of his own death

(as if that did any good).

Immediately preceding our text today,

Luke reports “When the days drew near for him to be taken up,

he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51)

If you were a Samaritan,

this meant you weren’t Jesus’ vacation destination.

He planned to travel through you

to get where he was going.

Where he was going was to the Temple in Jerusalem,

whose authorities had questioned Samaria religious authenticity for the past 500 years.

Being the spurned and shunned stepsister of Jerusalem based religious authorities,

disdain and resentment festered throughout the Samaritan countryside.

At best, Jesus could expect a cold shoulder from the locals.

At worst, Jesus probably expected to be tarred and feathered

and run out of town on a rail.

Isn’t discipleship boatloads of fun?

Yet, the closer Jesus comes to Jerusalem,

the closer the gap is closed

between the kingdom of God and ourselves.

“Pair up!” Jesus commanded,

probably reminiscent of Noah organizing the world’s animals.

One would think that Jesus would have had six pairs,

totaling 12 disciples,

however, it appears that his traveling salvation show

had picked up some interns, Klingons, and hippies along the way.

The prior chapter of Luke reports Jesus feeding five thousand.

Some had wanted to follow, …. just as soon as they got their father buried.

Others wanted to follow, …. just as soon as they finished plowing their fields.

But Jesus rejects such nonsense

like Ken Jennings dismisses a frustrating attempt to buzz into a Jeopardy answer.

“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)

Snap.

Game.

Set.

Match.

Jesus.

5,000 is cut down to 70 eager volunteers

for his next missional foray.

The high standards of discipleship come at a cost.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;” Jesus observes. (Luke 10:2)

Some things never change; do they?

I mean, look at ourselves.

We had 111 people present last Sunday (online and in person)

and we recognize,

we know,

that we are a tiny boat adrift a seemingly unlimited ocean of un-Churched neighbors.

You know the statistics.

The fastest growing religious demographic are

those who have no religious affiliation or backgrounds.

Today, Jesus is sending thirty-five pairs of willing disciples

into a hostile and foreign land,

where the risk of rejection is about 99 percent.

Who would think of walking away from 99 to go after that lost one percent?

Pairs are a beautiful thing.

Especially in the face of rejection.

The message?

The message was the problem.

On top of bluebloods traveling from the north,

the mixed breed Samaritans were going to have their world turned upside down by the message:

The sick, who had grown accustomed to excluding,

would be healed and would have to be reassimilated.

Those possessed by demons

who had been cast as the antagonist for every one of life’s malaise,

would be cast out.

If they couldn’t blame the demon possessed people from across the tracks;

Now who would they blame?

Peace proclaimed on every house?

How could this be,

unless debts would be forgiven, jails emptied, and the dirty washed clean?

And, oh, by the way, expect free room and board.

Yea, like that is going to happen.

If you are not received, simply walk away.

Apparently rudeness is cross-cultural, multi-ethnic, and is multi-lingual.

“We won’t stand for it!” I can hear the Samaritans howling

as they hurl the 35 teams out of their villages

and shut their doors

to keep the night out.


“What? Does Jesus expect us to change?”

With embellished hand gestures:

“Reject us?

We reject you!”

So, “wipe the dust off your feet and move on,” Jesus instructs his disciples.

In a world of self-promotion,

self-made men and women

struggling to climb the ladder of social success

or employment ranks,

the thought of taking on a lab partner

or a project collaborator

just rubs our rhubarb the wrong way.

We might be raised dependent upon our parents,

but if there is any lesson to be learned in our adolescence,

it is the idea that adults must stand on their own two feet.

We don’t depend on others.

Dependence is almost a dirty word

reserved for the poor, the last, the least, the lost, the left behind;

yes, even the widow.

Pairs are a beautiful thing,

Jesus teaches us by his example.

Pairs teach us humility,

shared strength,

mutual support.

The professor of preaching, David Lose, correctly recognizes

“When one falters, the other can help.

When one is lost, the other can navigate.

When one is discouraged, the other can hold faith for both for a while.

That’s what the company of believers does

– we hold on to each other,

console each other,

encourage and embolden each other,

and even believe for each other.”

When it comes to pairs,

nearly everyone is eligible to pair up.

All are welcome to the table.

Pairs might even teach us the value of dependence upon God.

With every new village Jesus visits,

where the way has already been prepared by his ministry teams,

– in the face of ridicule and rejection

and in an environment whose foundation is –

on the one hand, total vulnerability,

and on the other hand, complete and utter dependence –

we get the picture

that

the gap is closing

between heaven and earth,

between the kingdom of God

and the kingdoms of this world.

Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem where the gap will be closed

once and for all.

Convergence.

“The kingdom of God has come near,” Jesus repeats twice today

to his willing ministry teams.

Pay close attention to what Jesus repeats,

an old seminary professor once taught me.

“The kingdom of God has come near,” Jesus proclaims today.

With every new town visited,

with every passage of every one of our life events

– marriage, children, career, retirement, and the final twilight –

the gap narrows

until it closes in on the cross of Jesus Christ,

we meet Jesus in his death,

and are washed clean by his complete and total redemption.

Sometimes, I know,

Loneliness can be overwhelming.

It is possible to be feel

So isolated from God.

There are times I feel the same way, too.

Yet, today, we are given the encouragement to

pair up!

Everyone, take a partner

with whom we can share the spiritual journey,

a friend to lean on,

a confidant with whom you can depend.

Pair up!

and move forward.

Because when we faithfully lead the way for Jesus,

we draw nearer to the cross,

the gap is lessened,

convergence is imminent,

the kingdom of God comes near.

Amen.

“No Room for Mediocrity”

26 June 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 9:51-62

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

| Centering Prayer |

There are two essential Christian tasks

Every faith community faces

which draws a chorus of groans and eye-rolls

from even the most loyal and faithful:

suggesting a stewardship drive, and

deciding to recruit new members.

Today’s message is not about stewardship.

It is about discipleship: making disciples for Jesus Christ.

For the first 200 years of the Methodist movement,

we were the leaders in evangelistic

disciple making efforts.

Circuit riders won the West on horseback,

planting more than one church per day,

building more churches than post offices.

It is quipped that Methodist won the west on horseback,

The Presbyterians by stagecoach, and

The Episcopalians by Pullman coach.

We Methodist were rightly called “Evangelicals;”

Back when evangelical meant

Recruiting and instructing disciples of Jesus.

Over the past 40 or 50 years

Most mainline, Protestant denominations,

Have been in decline.

Then, the pandemic.

Now, the impending schism of our own United Methodist Church.

Many well-meaning programs have been implemented

to plug the leak in the dike,

to keep the dam from breaking,

to stop the flow of people leaving the denomination

… but to no avail.

We carefully inspected our motives and metrics,

“It’s not a numbers game.”

“It is not to build up the budget.”

“It’s not growth for growth sake.”

… but to no avail.

We observe the freedom of independent churches

Where the message is a fundamental black-and-white simplified gospel

of prosperity, works righteousness, and cheap grace.

… yet the decline continues.

Be careful of what you wish for.

Dangerous, unintended consequences wait at every turn.

We desire commitment,

but we’re afraid to say the “C” word

For fear of scaring even more people away.

It is frustrating to observe boomers, gen x, gen y, and gen z folks

searching for religious meaning in their lives,

being easily led astray by political operatives,

motivational speakers,

fortune telling psychics,

and salespeople of good feet shoe inserts.

.

We know that people’s hearts are warmed when they are introduced to Jesus.

Still, we have not had to radically change our passive evangelistic approach

From one of basic hospitality welcoming the occasional visitor

to a more transformational or effective means.

Nope.

We will not go door-to-door.

“We don’t want to be like Mormons or Jehovah Witnesses.”

What then are we to do?

We are out of practice making disciples.

Where do we start?

….

Today’s Gospel lesson is a great place to start!

Luke 9:51-62.

It is part of the travel chapters in Luke,

Where Jesus makes his way from Galilee

To his final destination, Jerusalem.

Our lesson identifies four essential elements to bring disciples to Jesus:

1) How NOT to be effective disciples for Christ,

2) Ability to travel required,

3) No excuses accepted for family leave, and

4) No “but first…” clauses.

First, how NOT to be an effective disciple for Jesus.

Disobey Jesus at your own risk.

In the first 6 verses of this 9th chapter of Luke,

Jesus teaches his disciples what to do if they are rejected.

“Where ever they do not welcome you,

as you are leaving that town

shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (6:5)

In our Gospel lesson for today,

messengers sent ahead of Jesus into a Samaritan town are not welcomed.

James and John asked if eternal fire would be sufficient punishment.

“But he turned and rebuked them.”

Bottom line: Disciples of Jesus do not punish,

or threaten those who refuse to welcome Jesus.

Do what Jesus tells you; “shake the dust off your feet” and move on.

Don’t be easily discouraged.

When Jesus began his Galilean ministry

and today when Jesus turns and starts to head to Jerusalem,

he is rejected and turned away in disappointment by hostile locals.

In Galilee, he was turned away by family and friends in his own hometown.

Here, Jesus is a failure in reaching out to people in a Samaritan village.

Fact is, failure is to be expected when ever we make attempts to introduce Jesus to others.

Neither should we be wishy-washy, spineless, or passive.

In today’s lesson, it says Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

He set a goal and was determined to follow through with it.

Jesus was so determined because he had YOUR life on the line.

He knew that he was to suffer,

die for our sins,

and be resurrected from the dead

for our salvation.

He did not ask for a vote, or even seek consensus re: going to Jerusalem.

It is what had to be done to be faithful to his heavenly Father,

so Jesus went.

Secondly, ability to travel is required.

The first of three potential disciples states:

“I will follow you wherever you go.”

This is an absolute, unqualified promise.

We are led to assume he is willing to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, even unto death.

Jesus couldn’t ask for a better prospect, could he?

This person is willing and presumably able to follow Jesus wherever he goes.

There are certainly many wonderful places and opportunities

followers of Jesus may be led.

This first potential disciple could have been put in front of the parade

leading Jesus to Jerusalem:

everyone would take notice of him

carrying Jesus’ flag through towns and country.

But there are also many other places Jesus goes that are less rewarding.

Jesus tells him that foxes and birds have homes to go to,

“but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Jesus has no home.

Jesus may lead the follower to homelessness,

to live among the homeless,

to spread the Good News to the lonely, the poor, the last, least, and left behind.

Luke doesn’t tell us if man followed Jesus;

if he is willing to give up his home.

Neither does Jesus tell this man

That he may have to travel with him to the cross and death.

Thirdly, as painful as it may be, there are no excuses accepted for family leave.

The second of three potential disciples come to Jesus.

He extends to him the open-ended invitation “follow me.”

What a sad story this potential disciple had to tell: his father had just died.

Most of us know how painful it is to experience a death in the family.

The proper, honorable, respectable thing to do

Is to take part in all the funeral and burial arrangements.

If anyone would have a legitimate excuse

to put on hold a decision to follow Jesus for a day or two,

it certainly would be a man whose father just died!

In a rare glimpse of Jesus’ dark humor, he replies,

“Let the dead bury their own dead.”

But it is also an important metaphor: “as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

If you are dead, go and bury your father’s corpse.

Don’t be dead.

But if you are alive, then proclaim the kingdom of God.

Jesus is calling this man to life!

Only those who are truly living can proclaim the kingdom of God.

Life in the kingdom of God is good and grace filled

Even in the midst of mourning and grief.

Life in the kingdom of God

Weeps forgiveness, reconciliation, and love.

It is overjoyed by the right.

It is always moving on to perfection.

We never learn if this man follows Jesus;

if he is truly dead and he returns to bury his father,

or if he is alive to Christ,

and goes with Jesus to proclaim the kingdom of God.

Finally, there are no “but first…” excuses.

The third of three potential disciples come to Jesus.

We can assume that he received the same invitation from Jesus

as the second man,

“Follow me.”

He begins with a promise, “I will follow…”

(Notice the future tense, will)

“but let me first…”

Oops!

This man has a conditional clause.

He has a higher priority than following Jesus;

something more important than proclaiming the kingdom of God.

I call these “butt first clauses”

because it’s like he wants to back into the agreement to follow Jesus,

to take an inside track,

or expect preferential treatment.

We generally prioritize our time;

do what is most important sooner rather than later.

So when this man says, “let me first say farewell to those at my home,”

he is telling Jesus that

while he may be leaving family for a time,

those back home will continue to be more important to him than Jesus.

“Let me put you on hold.

I have a more important call coming in.”

Jesus calls upon an image from Jewish heritage,

citing the story of Elijah calling Elisha as he was plowing the field.

If one is a disciple of Jesus,

charged with making other disciples

and teaching them the teachings of Jesus,

charged with proclaiming the kingdom of God,

charged to follow all the commands of Jesus,

then, discipleship to Jesus Christ comes first.

The plowed field is straight when eyes are forward and concentrated on Jesus.

Looking back, and the plow goes off course.

Jesus first.

Eyes on Jesus.

All other demands are secondary.

We never learn if this man follows Jesus;

if his priority is with Christ,

with family back home

or someplace else.

These travel narratives in Luke

Rewires the brain,

From our expectations of what we think discipleship involves

To what Jesus expects of those who follow him.

Passive evangelism,

Of waiting for visitors to just walk through our doors is

Like taking our hand off the plow and looking back to the good old days

When worship and Sunday school rooms were filled.

Post-pandemic and denominational division

Mean only the strongest will survive.

Survivors will be those who keep their eyes ahead,

Focused on Jesus Christ,

Making discipleship

… Making disciples …

Our top priority.

Let us be resolved

to walk with Christ,

to go wherever he leads.

Today’s lesson tells us what not to do:

don’t disobey Jesus,

don’t get discouraged by failure,

and don’t get wishy-washy or lazy.

In other words, obey his call, be determined, and just do it.

Following Jesus is a call to homelessness.

It is a call go wherever Jesus calls you to go.

Following Jesus means that we choose life over death and burying the dead.

Life is fulling lived when we witness to the emerging kingdom of God.

Following Jesus finally means that we are required to make priorities in life.

Jesus needs to be at the top of the list.

Each person must decide for themselves

whether or not they will follow Jesus;

whether or not they will pay the price of discipleship,

whether or not they’ll keep the hand on the plow

and eyes on Jesus.

Amen.

“Living with Demons”

19 June 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 8:26-39

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)

Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.

Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

| Centering Prayer |

157 years ago

General Gordan Granger

Arrived in Galveston, Texas with his Union troops

To proclaim General Order No. 3

Proclaiming freedom for enslaved people in Texas.

Though freedom was pronounced by President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation two years prior,

Enforcement relied upon the advance of Union troops.

Last year, Juneteenth,

Also known as Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day,

Was made a federal holiday.

Every June 19th moving forward

Will be known and remembered as Juneteenth.

The chains of slavery in America may have fallen

But the chains of racism, oppression, and suppression remain,

Binding our sisters and brothers of color

Just as tightly as if they were still working the plantation.

The morally bankrupt system of racism

Leads me to believe that evil is alive and well

In our day and age.

To dismiss it,

To diminish it, or

To ignore it,

Places us at great peril.

Where does an 18-year-old have his mind filled with such hate

That he would slaughter

Innocents in a supermarket or a classroom?

Do you believe in demons?

Our Gospel lesson for today requires of us to ask the question:

Do you believe in demons?

Are there really demons?

Is there one waiting for me under my bed?

Is there a demon waiting for me behind the shower curtain?

Are there demons in that Facebook group,

Shouting at me on cable news, or

Waiting for me to visit that conspiracy website?

Some would suggest that what our Gospel describes today is simply a mental health issue;

Someone who was experiencing a psychotic break,

Raging out of touch with reality,

Or who was experiencing some type of brain infarction.

I’m not buying it.

It would be easier to make a diagnosis,

(Though I am not a physician)

That spans cultures, geography, and time,

Than it would be for me to attempt to explain

That which cannot be explained: personified evil.

In other words,

It would be easier for Jesus to

Pronounce Legion crazy,

Dust off his hands,

Get on the boat and leave.

But he doesn’t.

Jesus doesn’t walk away from the demon possessed Legion.

Neither will I.

I do not believe it is possible to simply

Dismiss demons as mere mental illness.

Do you believe in demons?

From both ancient and Renaissance art

To Hollywood motion pictures,

We’ve all had images painted in our brains of

What demons look like:

Devils with bat wings,

Horned monsters armed with tridents,

Human like creatures with

Hanging, mottled skin,

Blood red eyes,

And long, dripping fangs,

Dark hoods and monsters make for good blood curdling screams.

Demons make for good Halloween masks and costumes.

Do you believe in demons?

Luke takes special effort to not speak of Gadara,

A Greek city of the Decapolis,

Just east of the Sea of Galilee.

Instead, he calls it “the country of the Gerasenes.”

Gadara had a reputation under Roman rule.

It was one like

A church in Charleston, South Carolina,

A neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma

A Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York.

The Romans had captured and destroyed the city

Less than a hundred years before Jesus.

Evil spilled blood in Gadara;

A lot of it.

In a fit of rage, barely thirty years after Jesus visited

Rome would again go on a murderous rampage

Throughout the region in response to the Jewish revolt.

Rome’s rage spilled over into the largely Gentile Gadara.

The Jewish historian Josephus recorded:

“So Vespasian marched to the city of Gadara. He came into it and slew all the youth, the Romans having no mercy on any age whatsoever. He set fire to the city and all the villas around it.”

  • Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 7.

I’m guessing

Legion wasn’t the only demon in town.

Do you believe in demons?

I’d suggest demons are very real.

A demon filled with evil and hatred pulled a trigger

And killed 17-year-old Jeremiah Baker last Sunday

While riding his bicycle on William Warfield Drive in the City of Rochester.

An evil filled demon pulls the trigger.

Ripping apart sister and brother,

Parent and child,

Student from his teacher.

Evil rips into communities across our land

Spewing hatred like poison

From the mouths of politicians

And throughout timelines on Social Media.

Demons are ugly.

Demons divide.

Demons destroy.

Demons are cunning.

And demons inspire us

To open up our inner demons

And dive into the poison-filled mosh-pit of sin.

Do you believe in demons?

Jesus had just sailed through a storm.

When the disciples woke him,

Though many were experienced fishermen themselves,

They thought they were going to perish.

Jesus rebukes the wind and raging waves

And “they ceased, and there was calm.”

“Where is your faith?” He asked them.

“Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?” – Luke 8:24, 25

Indeed.

Who then is this?

It takes a demon to tell the disciples who Jesus is.

The disciples, at this point in their journey,

Are uncertain who Jesus is;

But every demon in the land is knew exactly who Jesus was.

“When he (Legion) saw Jesus,

he fell down before him

and shouted at the top of his voice,

“What have you to do with me, Jesus,

Son of the Most High God?””

– Luke 8:28

This is the first characteristic of a demon:

Demons know who Jesus is.

It is important to note:

This man, who is filled with demons is

Naked like a Gentile, and

Violently raging out of control.

He had broke chains and shackles

And escaped from guards to terrorize those throughout the countryside.

Jesus,

Who personifies all that is good in this world,

Is then asked by Legion:

“I beg you, do not torment me.”

– Luke 8:28b

Right here you have it,

The second characteristic of demons:

Demons attempt to bargain with Jesus.

The demons inside of Legion

Will wiggle, giggle, and try to squirm their way out of taking responsibility for their actions.

Goodness torments evil,

And demons just cannot tolerate goodness or love.

Therefore, to overcome demons of this world,

To overcome evil of this world,

Christians must wrap ourselves in everything that is good,

Starting with Jesus Christ.

There is no bargaining with evil.

There can be no diplomatic consensus building

Or negotiating away concessions to sin.

This should come as a shock to both theological conservatives and liberals.

On the one side

Are those who want to bend the rules in favor of grace,

While, on the other side,

Are those who favor law

And will attempt to steal the place of God

As the sole judge of our existence.

Both positions are losing propositions.

There is no bargaining with evil.

Period.

Jesus doesn’t,

And neither should we.

Jesus torments the demon with his compassion.

He commanded the unclean spirit to come out.

(How comfortable are you with exorcisms?

Hint: Jesus does a lot of them.)

Jesus demands to know the demon’s name.

Yes, demons have names.

“Legion” he said.

There are between four and six thousand soldiers in a Roman legion.

Holy Ghostbusters!

That’s a lot of demons being cast out of Legion.

Having a proper name for this demon possessed man

Gives Jesus another essential advantage:

Jesus knows him by name.

Good knows evil.

God calls out evil.

God overcomes evil.

Did I say demons attempt to bargain?

“They begged Jesus not to order them to go back into the abyss.”

– Luke 8:31

Yep. That’s where demons live.

When they are not embodied in some poor soul:

It was believed demons lived in

Deep, bottomless chasms.

Our Lord’s actions

do not mean he grants the demon’s request.

Jesus has a better idea.

Before him are thousands of demons possessing one man.

On a hillside nearby are

Thousands of pigs.

Coincidence?

I think not.

The demons saw the opportunity to avoid the abyss

And asked

… They requested …

To be embodied into all things non-Kosher / non-Jewish:

They asked to go into the swine.

As soon as Jesus grants their petition,

The pigs run down the hillside and drown themselves in the lake.

(A little side note:

At an estimated market price of $3.50 per pound,

Five-thousand 250-pound pigs represent a

$4,375,000 loss to some unknown farmer.

That’s not the end of it.

Call in the Department of Environmental Conservation.

The NY State DEC advises that

Every carcass should be removed from the lake,

Triple bagged, and buried.

Jesus’s action would cost taxpayers now-days approximately $250,000.

Way to go, Jesus.)

News gets back to the locals

And they rush to find the truth for themselves.

Everyone loves to rubber-neck, am I right?

Watch the line of cars back up

So everyone can get a good look at

A motor vehicle accident or

Last night’s house fire in town.

The formerly naked, wild, raging escapee named Legion

Is found

Dressed

In his right mind

At the feet of Jesus.

Do you believe in demons?

Do you believe in Christ’s ability to exercise demons?

Today, we have an example of a previously demon possessed man

Now demon free

Sitting at the feet of Jesus.

I’d suggest demons are very real.

I earlier mentioned external demons,

Demons that threaten us from the outside;

Those who scare and terrorize us

For no good purpose other than to spew and spread their evil.

Allow me to lead your thoughts in the opposite direction to close the loop.

I’d suggest that there are demons that threaten us from the inside.

Internal demons can be just as dangerous,

If not more so,

Then demons from without.

For some,

Internal demons may be childhood trauma, incest, or abuse.

Demons of regret may infect both victim and abuser.

Demons drive obsessions.

Demons tempt addicts to have a drink,

Shoot up one last time,

And hold gamblers at the table.

Demons can emerge from religious fanaticism, fundamentalism, extremism, or exceptionalism.

Internal demons enslave narrow minds to narrow opinions

And kill every desire for empathy or love.

Demons haunt the mind with would of, could of, should of.

Demons can trap us when we are most vulnerable:

When we trust not in God and

Trust only in our own resolve, resources, talent, and strength.

It is very possible for anyone to become

Possessed,

Poisoned.

Powerless.

Jesus is our Savior

When we can’t even save ourselves.

Jesus comes to the possessed, the poisoned, and the powerless.

Demons know who Jesus is.

Demons know Jesus has power over them,

Just as he has power over creation, the wind, and the wave.

So why don’t we know him as well as demons?

By wrapping ourselves in Christ,

We, too, can be freed from every demon that stalks us,

Every terrorist who threatens us, and

Of every demon churning deep inside that threatens to consume us.

Demons are all around us,

Sin and evil are all around us,

So be forewarned and prepared.

Christ can exorcise every demon.

He’s in the demon busting business.

He’s got lots of references,

And he knows what he is doing.

With Christ, exorcism is possible and salvation is assured!

Just as the formerly naked, wild, raging escapee named Legion

Was found clothed,

In his right mind,

At the feet of Jesus,

The Good News of this day is that,

So too, can you and I be exorcised,

Freed from our fears,

Freed from our demons,

Freed from everything and everyone

That threatens us with sin and death.

Christ is greater than any demon of this world.

The power of creation is greater than the power of destruction.

Good overcomes evil.

Ten out of ten times,

The demons flee and are drowned in the lake of evil’s failed ambitions.

Living a life in Christ

Leads demons to flee and

Be drowned

In the lake of

Evil’s failed ambitions.

Wrap yourself in Christ.

Live in Christ.

Place your trust in his power and authority.

Let yourself be freed.

Amen.

“Trinity Sunday”

John 16:12-15

June 12, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 16:12-15

12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

| Centering Prayer |

Today is “Trinity Sunday,”

as set forth in the Revised Common Lectionary

and the Orthodox Liturgical Calendar.

It is a truly rare day on the Liturgical Calendar,

in that it celebrates a doctrine,

as opposed to just about every other liturgical day,

with the exception of All Saint’s Day.

Other liturgical celebration focus on Biblical occurrences.

You won’t find

the doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible

in its whole form,

although the Revised Common Lectionary

has attempted to cram as much of the Trinity as possible

into our scripture lessons for today.

Scholars and church leaders,

apostles and bishops,

down through the ages have pieced together

partial Biblical truths to compose a completed doctrinal mosaic,

which we have come to know as the Trinity.

In short, the doctrine of the Trinity states

that Christians share a common belief that

“God self-reveals in three persons:

God the Father,

God the Son (Jesus)

and God the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost),

but these three persons are one and indivisible.”

(Dictionary of Christian Lore and Legend, by JCJ Metford, 1983.)

A little bit of history …

It took about 300 years after the

death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus

for the concept of God in three persons

to come into a unified, coherent form.

The early century church was deeply concerned

with a belief in the imminent return of Jesus

and the consummation of God’s kingdom.

They were waiting,

and waiting,

all the while,

enduring great persecution

at the hands of the Roman Empire.

Imminent Parousia was a more important kettle of fish

Then a refined doctrine of the Trinity.

When Constantine Christianized the empire

in or around 322 AD,

the persecutions ended.

The Church could breath and think freely for the first time.

Church leaders were free to gather,

Indeed, encouraged to gather,

discuss and debate

the essential articles of faith

that are central to the life of every Christian today.

The Councils of Nicea in 325 AD

and Constantinople in 381 AD

solidified doctrine in the Nicene and Athanasian creeds.

The English translation of the Nicene Creed

can be found on page 880 in your hymnals.

700 years later,

at about 1,000 AD,

the Eastern Church split from us in the Roman Catholic Church,

primarily over the understanding

of the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Eastern Orthodox tradition

believed the Holy Spirit comes from the Father.

Our Western tradition maintains the belief

that the Holy Spirit comes from both the Father and the Son.

The difference was one verb in the document.

Silly, isn’t it?

that such an enormous split could take place over one little word, filioque, as opposed to, filius.

Roman churches in England, especially,

devoted themselves to the “Holy and Undivided Trinity.”

Cults developed during the time of the Norman conquests.

Societies sprang up,

Starting in 1198 AD,

calling themselves “Trinitarians”

for the purpose of rescuing and ransoming captives in Moslem hands.

Instead of the love and grace of God being associated with the term,

Trinitarian became associated with the tip of the sword.

It was only in 1334 AD that the feast day

known as Trinity Sunday

was proclaimed by the pope

and established on the calendar

as the Sunday following Pentecost.

My favorite rendition of the Trinity

is by Albrecht Durer,

a great artist of the Renaissance.

His 1511 AD painting

is an altarpiece for the chapel

at an almshouse

for poor artists in Nuremberg, Germany.

Crucified Jesus is under the cloak

of God the Father,

a king with crown and a long, white beard.

Above Jesus and the Father is the Dove,

signifying the Holy Spirit.

What makes this message today

much more than a history lesson

is our Gospel for this morning from John 16.

Here is substance to the doctrine of the Trinity.

Our Gospel is a small piece of the larger 5-chapter section

describing the narrative and events of the evening

before Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified.

It is known as the Farewell Discourse.

Jesus knows he will be put to death.

His desire is to prepare his disciples for the event.

In our Gospel lesson for today,

Jesus promises his disciples that the Spirit of truth will come.

It will come to guide them to all truth.

The Spirit will declare all things to Christ’s disciples.

It is not too much of a reach

to extend the fact that Jesus was teaching about the Spirit

declaring all things to us here today, too.

A few thoughts.

The word “declare” is used 3 times

in this short 3 verse statement of Jesus.

The Greek root is –angellein,

which means, to declare, preach, proclaim, or announce.

But here, the Greek prefix “an” is used;

much like the way we would use the prefix “re.” 

So Jesus is more correctly making the promise

that the Spirit will come and re-declare,

or re-proclaim

what Jesus has already declared and proclaimed.

Jesus tells his disciples outright

“I still have many things to say to you,

but you cannot bear them now.”

– John 16:12

That is, there are many things they have already heard,

but they just haven’t been able to understand them yet.

It will be the work of the Spirit

to unfold the grand and complete significance of Jesus Christ

to our simple, constricted minds.

(Pulpit Resources, June 6, 2004. William Willimon)

Retired Bishop, William Willimon,

correctly observes that

“the Spirit continues to teach us,

continues to disclose to us the truth of Jesus,

finding just the right time and place for us to receive such teaching.

Discipleship is,

as all of the Gospels depict it to be,

a journey,

a pilgrimage

in which we who follow the Christ,

learn more about Christ as the journey continues.

The truth of Jesus is too large and grand

to be mastered in a moment.

We must be ready for insights that are fresh and new to us,

though as ancient as Creation,

for the work of the Spirit of Truth continues among us.”

(Pulpit Resources, June 6, 2004. William Willimon)

(10:45 am Service)

To our newest confirmed members,

Hailey, Sarina, Eli, and Danielle,

May the Holy Spirit fill you afresh every day,

To teach you the truth of Jesus,

To guide you in The Way of Christ,

That you might be receptive to the Spirit’s movement.

Indeed, this has been

the reality of my experience

on my own personal journey of faith.

The more I’ve learned and explored

about the life and teaching of Jesus,

the more I feel within my heart

the curious desire to explore further and dig deeper,

into new and yet-to-be revealed pathways

along my Christian journey.

I have never felt moved to the mainstream,

into the well-worn pathway of most Christian experience.

I have always felt moved to employ my native wonder,

to search for Christ,

in fresh and unsuspecting settings.

Secondly, Jesus promises his disciples,

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”

– John 16:13

Now that the Spirit has come,

Does this mean that

we understand a lot more than the original disciples?

What does this knowledge mean?

We can look back to the experience of the Holy Spirit

In the Early Church

In order to understand “all the truth” to which Jesus is speaking.

The Spirit transcends division,

Be it Paul and Barnabas,

Or disagreements over circumcision.

The Spirit brings people into conversion,

Opens jail house doors,

And gives power to endure persecution.

“We boast in our sufferings,” Paul proclaims,

“knowing that suffering produces endurance,

And endurance produces character,

And character produces hope,

And hope does not disappoint us,

Because God’s love has been poured

Into our hearts

Through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

– Romans 5:3-5

That’s right;

The Holy Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts.

(10:45 am)

Newly confirmed members,

God’s love has been poured into your heart by the Holy Spirit.

Let’s God’s love overflow into the lives

Of your family, friends, church, and those we serve.

With the experience of the past two millennium,

It is possible to confirm the truth to which Jesus was speaking.

The Holy Spirit does bring

love, joy, peace,

patience, kindness, generosity,

faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

– Galatians 5:22-23

This is the fruit of living in the Holy Spirit.

Nine gifts are given to those who are disciples of Christ,

Who live according to his will,

And follow in his ways.

It was love that first motivated God to create all there is.

It was love that led God to repair that which had been broken.

It was God’s love that sent us Jesus.

It was our Lord’s love to die upon the cross

to take away our sins and repair our broken lives.

It is because of God’s love for you and me

And for this gathering, local and universal, that we call Church,

That we have been given the gift of presence,

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit

To guide, direct, and to one day lead us back home to our Creator.

Just as all love is from God,

Be the love of God everywhere

With everyone,

Throughout the world.

Amen.

“On Behalf of Those Who Will Believe”

John 17:20-26

May 29, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 17:20-26

”I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

| Centering Prayer |

It can be a powerful experience to be prayed over.

Forty-two years ago

During the first week of June

I attended the Central New York Conference

Local Pastor Licensure School at

Casowasco Camp and Conference Center,

On Owasco Lake, south of Auburn, New York.

Think of this as boot camp for pastors.

At age 19,

I was, by a country mile,

The youngest and least experienced member of the class.

Nearly everyone else were middle-aged, second-career, budding candidates for a Local Pastor’s License.

By the end of the week

Each of us had been chosen

To be prayed upon.

When my turn came

I was centered in a living room on my knees,

Surrounded by about 25 pastor-teachers of the school and fellow students.

Everyone reached out and place their hands on me.

People took turns praying out loud for me;

To strengthen and support my ministry,

For the Spirit to guide me,

For my future parishes to be cooperative and vital,

For my family, and

For my protection from temptation and evil.

You name it, it was prayed for!

This went on for a very long time until my knees hurt and everyone was all prayed out.

It was an extraordinarily powerful event.

It brought me to tears.

This event became one of many milestones in my call to ordained ministry

And has been branded forever into my memory.

It can be a powerful experience to be prayed over.

Fight the temptation to allow prayer to become superficial, shallow, or rote.

The closing passage from the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John

Is the conclusion of a five chapter section

Scholars have titled “The Farewell Discourse.”

Jesus is preparing his followers,

His disciples,

His soon-to-be apostles,

For his ascension into heaven

And his physical absence.

As we heard last Sunday,

Jesus tells us that he is ascending to the Father,

To prepare a place for us

Where we will dwell forever,

One with Jesus and the Father.

The Farewell Discourse concludes with Jesus praying.

His prayer, in its entirety, is encompassed in John, chapter 17.

Jesus prays, not in the Garden of Gethsemane,

As is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke,

But in the same location

Where he washed the filthy feet of his disciples;

In the Upper Room.

It is important to note

That Jesus prayed aloud,

With intention that all his disciples should hear him.

It is important to note

That Jesus first prays

To the Father

For himself;

That his forthcoming Passion, suffering, and death

Would give glory to the Father. (17:1-9)

It is important to note

That Jesus prays secondly

For his disciples;

That they be protected from the evil one,

That they may have the joy of Jesus completed in themselves,

That they may be sent into the world sanctified in truth. (17:10-19)

It can be a powerful experience to be prayed over,

Especially when the one doing the praying is Jesus.

Imagine how the disciples felt

When Jesus prayed aloud

Just for them.

It is important to note

That Jesus concludes his prayer,

Immediately before the beginning of his Passion

With his betrayal and arrest,

By praying for those

Who will come to believe in Jesus

At some point in the future

Based on the testimony of the disciple’s word. (17:20-26)

In other words,

Jesus is praying for you and me.

It can be a powerful experience to be prayed over,

Especially when the one doing the praying is Jesus.

Instead of being swept away with anxiety, humiliation, or impending betrayal

Jesus turns his prayerful mind and heart towards future disciples,

In his generation, and in generations to come.

He prays aloud

So that his prayer

Might be recorded for the benefit of his eternal, universal Church.

Jesus petitions his heavenly Father,

Calling him “Righteous.” (17:25)

He asks him for two things:

One, unity, and

Two, intimacy.

Unity and intimacy.

….

Let’s talk about unity.

Jesus desires us to be united,

That all may be one,

For the purpose of …

For the purpose that …

All the world may believe.

Our unity is to become

The perfect means

By which the Holy Spirit can empower

The Church to make disciples of all the world.

Unity is not conformity.

Christian unity expects that we will not all agree

On issues of dogma, theology, or social principles.

Denominational plurality is good, so long as we are united by Christ.

Christian unity does expect us to be united

Just as Jesus and our Righteous Father are united.

The substance of Christian unity is God’s love.

The purpose of unity is belief in Jesus Christ.

Love brings about the transformation of the world

From our temporary and transitory kingdoms

Into the eternal kingdom of God.

….

Let’s talk about intimacy.

Jesus prays that his current and future disciples

Might share in the same intimate love that he and the Father have shared

Since before the foundation of the world.

The love that was the sole agency of God,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Is extended to all disciples of Jesus.

God’s love is given as a gift of grace

To you and me.

“God loves you, and so do I,” I am often known to say.

When speaking about members and friends of the parish

I often use the word “beloved.”

This is entirely intentional!

And I’d encourage you to do the same.

Sharing in the intimate love of our Heavenly Father

Unifies us with God and

With one another.

This gift of sharing in the intimate love of God

Is truly, amazing grace.

….

Dearly beloved,

Know that Jesus had you in mind.

Know that Jesus keeps you in mind.

Jesus prayed for you aloud

Right before his betrayal, arrest, Passion, and death.

Jesus looked upon your face.

Jesus traced your fingerprints and

Counted the hairs on your head.

If Jesus prayed so personally,

So intimately for you,

Shouldn’t we also pray for one another?

Know this to be true:

Jesus prayed that you and I might be unified

That all the world might believe.

Pray with Jesus,

That it might be so.

Let’s you and I become the answer to Jesus’ prayer for unity.

Jesus prayed that you and I,

And all the world who comes to believe,

Now and hereafter.

He prayed that we

May enjoy the same loving intimacy that

Our Heavenly, Righteous Father shares with His only Begotten Son.

Pray with Jesus,

That it might be so.

Glorify God!

The source of our unity.

The source of all love.

Amen.

“Unwilling and Ungrateful”

John 5:1-9

May 22, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 5:1-9

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”

The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” 

Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.

| Centering Prayer |

Is healing a matter of having enough faith?

That is, if I don’t have enough faith, I won’t be healed.

But, if I have enough faith;

If I develop such deep conviction and belief,

If I surpass some divinely created threshold of faith,

Will I be healed and made well?

Jesus had just traveled from Cana, of Galilee in the north

To Jerusalem,

90 miles south,

To attend an unidentified festival of the Jews.

The Gospel of John reports to us

Jesus enters the city by means of the Sheep Gate,

The location where Stephen would soon be stoned.

Today, it is called the “Lion’s Gate”

Due to the 13th century animal carvings in the walls that flank it.

Because of his entry through the Sheep Gate

Jesus probably had traveled the valley route;

That is, south, down the Jordan River valley,

Then up the mountain from Jericho to Jerusalem.

In the time of Jesus

It was called the Sheep Gate

Because the Temple

bread and raised

In the southern, Judean hills

unblemished sheep

Worthy of sacrifice.

The sheep

Would be herded through the gate,

Past the pools of Bethesda,

To the shops near the Temple entrance.

Unblemished sheep were made available

For purchase by visiting pilgrims.

It was only a short walk from the Sheep Gate to the Temple.

The pools of Bethesda are quite interesting.

Think of a spring fed creek running down a mountain side gully.

Build a dam, such that the reservoir was 40 feet deep.

Give the dam a spillway to maintain a steady water level.

Square off the reservoir and call it an “upper pool.”

Build a second dam downstream,

Such that the second reservoir backs up to the first dam.

Square off the reservoir and call it the “lower pool.”

Lay pavers around the two pools and across the upper dam.

Erect a roof overhead the deck for shade and call each a portico.

Walla, you have the pools of Bethesda.

The name Bethesda comes from the Hebrew beth hesda,

Meaning “house of mercy,” or “house of grace.”

The same word could be flipped and used to mean

“house of shame,” or “house of disgrace.”

This dual meaning may have sounded appropriate

Since this location was both

A place of disgrace due to the presence of invalids

And a place of grace, due to the granting of healing.

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

Remember, in the ancient world,

Being blind, lame, paralyzed, or disabled in any way

Relegated an individual as unclean

And permanently segregated them away from family, friends, and loved one.

The pools of Bethesda

Were given their healing attributes

From legend, and the Greek god Asclepius,

The god of medicine.

A pulse of flowing water through the pools

Were earlier attributed to the Asclepius and were thought to bring healing.

By the time of Jesus,

It was believed that an angel stirred the water,

Bringing God’s favor to the one who first entered the pool.

Is healing a matter of having a sufficient quantity of faith?

In the time of Jesus at the Pool of Bethesda,

Healing came to the one who was attentive and quick!

Of all the people in John’s Gospel,

The man in today’s lesson is the least willing and the least grateful.

Allow me to explain.

Jesus enters, conducts a quick assessment of the blind, lame, and paralyzed.

For some unknowable reason,

He picks out this one man.

I don’t know why he chose this man.

Let’s call it “the luck of the draw.”

Jesus knew he’d been there a long time,

(thirty-eight years, John reports),

And he must have looked like a wreck.

See his bed sores.

Smell his body stench.

See the resignation in his eyes.

Jesus asks the most obvious question,

“Do you want to be made well?”

You and I would jump and flail!

“Pick me! Pick me! Pick me!”

Some might respond with jubilee or with sarcasm:

“Look at me. What do you think?”

The obvious answer was, “Yes, sir. I want to be made well.”

But this was not the unnamed man’s response.

He responds with a complaint!

“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up;

and while I am making my way,

someone else steps down ahead of me.”

– John 5:7

In other words,

He didn’t have faith in the help of a stranger.

He didn’t have faith in the kindness of others.

He only had faith in the stirring of water.

It is obvious,

The man didn’t know Jesus

And had not heard of his reputation.

They were strangers to one another.

Jesus told him to stand and to take his mat with him;

A blatant violation of the Sabbath.

The man stands and is healed.

On the spot.

Right there.

He’s healed.

Is healing a matter of having enough faith?

It certainly doesn’t appear to be in this case.

This man’s faith was in the stirring water,

Not in an unknown stranger who tells him to stand and to take his mat with him.

Jesus is silent.

There is no response from Jesus,

Unlike in other healing narratives:

“Go. Your faith has made you well.”

Today, Jesus remains silent.

Our Gospel reading is about the least willing part of this healed man.

Yet, if we continue to read on,

We learn the healed man was also the least grateful.

He was challenged by Jews

Who called him out for carrying a mat on the Sabbath.

He tells them

‘The stranger who made me well,

Told me to go and take my mat with me.’

You heard it.

The healed man throws Jesus under the bus.

Later in the day,

The man runs into Jesus in the Temple plaza.

He learns his name,

And promptly runs to the Jews and tattles on him.

Talk about ungrateful!

“Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus,

Because he was doing such things on the Sabbath.”

– John 5:16

And thus began the slow burn

Of our Lord’s Passion.

Unwilling and ungrateful.

There you have it.

Is healing a matter of having enough faith?

Our Gospel from John makes it abundantly clear that

Healing is not a matter of having enough faith

(as if faith could be measured).

That isn’t how Jesus operates in this circumstance.

Jesus doesn’t heal for the benefit of himself,

In gratitude,

Or praise,

Or devotion.

Jesus heals people simply because this is the work of his Father.

– John 5:17

“Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life,

So also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes.”

– John 5:21

(Thanks to Elisabeth Johnson, Professor, Lutheran Institute of Theology, Meiganga, Cameroon. As found at: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2839)

We don’t know why certain people are healed and others are not.

Recently I heard the testimony from a father

Of his child who could not hear in one ear.

She returned for her annual checkup

And the doctor proclaimed her hearing was equal and perfect in both ears.

Just like that.

Boom!

God acted.

At the same time,

In the same room,

Listening to the same witness,

Was a young woman with two cochlear implants.

She was probably wondering to herself

When it was her turn for a miracle.

With one voice I said, “Praise God!”

Yet, with another voice I asked, “God, when is it her turn?”

There is an unsettling sense of arbitrariness to this world.

Some suffer and die.

Others suffer and live to suffer another day.

Still others are healed and miraculously recover.

Just as it mystifies you, so it remains a mystery to me, too.

Two thoughts.

First, we are reminded by Jesus

In his dialogue with Nicodemus in the third chapter of John, that

“The wind blows where it chooses,

and you hear the sound of it,

but you do not know where it comes from

or where it goes.

So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

– John 3:8

In other words

This is God’s kingdom, not ours.

God is in control.

God has a greater plan.

We can only see or know a fraction of what God is doing.

But know this,

God always loves us.

And God always works for our best interest.

If we knew all there was to know about God,

We’d become god-like ourselves.

That wouldn’t be a good thing

On so many different levels.

Therefore, one could say,

It is a part of our necessary human nature

To always know and respect the mysterious nature of God.

Secondly, we are reminded in our own United Methodist Book of Worship that

“The root of the word healing in New Testament Greek, sozo,

is the same as that of salvation and wholeness.

Spiritual healing is God’s work

of offering people balance,

harmony,

and wholeness of body, mind, spirit, and relationships

through confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation.”

All healing is of God.

Healing does not spare one from suffering.

Healing does not promise cure.

“The greatest healing of all

Is the reunion or reconciliation of a human being with God.”

– The United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 613

From the point of view of this man

Who languished for thirty-eight years besides the pools of Bethesda,

He was healed

And Jesus was responsible.

He was reunited with his family, friends, and the crowds in the Temple.

He was reconciled with God.

He was healed in spite of himself.

Do you want to be healed? Jesus asks.

I see three different specialists.

My arthritis is bad

And shots of steroids in my knees are becoming less effective.

My aches, pains, and complaints are getting worse the older I get.

Yes, I want to be healed.

What I want, however, more than a cure,

(For I know I will live to only die another day)

I want to be reconciled with my neighbor and with my God.

This is my desire.

This is how I answer our Lord’s question.

What do you want?

Jesus is asking you,

“Do you want to be healed?”

What is your answer?

What is your prayer?

Amen.

“Loving the Bookends”

John 13: 31-35

May 15, 2022 – Fifth Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 13: 31-35

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

| Centering Prayer |

Jesus just washed the feet of his disciples;

An act of humble service.

I wonder how the world would be different

Had Christianity adapted the

Pitcher and Bowl as our symbol

Instead of the Cross?

The tool of the state

(Rome, that is)

To impose its ways

was the cross.

The means of the state was death by public crucifixion.

Take one, make an example of him.

Then take another.

And another.

Splay ‘em.

Nail ‘em.

Hang ‘em high for all to see.

Crucify and leave them to die outside of city gates,

where everyone passes.

The longer and more drawn out the affair,

the better.

Wails, screams, cries, and word of mouth is better than social media.

No pay per view: it’s free, sponsored by Rome.

Bring lots of towels and hand sanitizer because it’s

Bloodier than a butcher shop.

Crucifixion projected

Domination. Cruelty. Oppression. Death.

Crucifixion reminds me of Bucha;

Prisoners restrained, tortured, slaughtered,

Leaving streets littered with corpses for all to see.

Crucifix or bowl and pitcher?

My inherent pessimism and privileged bias

Leads me to counter my internal conflict;

“No, it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Our sinful nature and love of evil probability

Would have led to the same outcome;

Regardless if we wore a shiny cross with a crucified Jesus on a necklace around our neck

Or a sterling charm molded in the shape of a bowl and pitcher.”

Maybe I’m wrong.

Had the Church adapted a bowl and pitcher instead of the cross,

We might be living in an age of peace and tranquility,

Where service is above self,

Where the Light has overcome the Darkness, and

God’s kingdom has come.

Patience, beloved.

God’s time is God’s time, not our time.

Jesus had just washed the feet of his disciples;

An act of humble service.

Our Gospel narrative from St. John is far more familiar

On Maundy Thursday of Holy Week,

Yet, we revisit it five weeks later.

Why?

The core characteristics,

That make the Gospel of John unique and distinct,

From the paralleled synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are

Abundance,

Discipleship,

Love, and

Glory.

Let’s examine each.

1. Abundance.

Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.

Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and

Whoever believes in me will never thirst.” 6:35

Eucharist symbols are related to the abundance of God’s grace:

Jesus feeding 5,000 and their families with five loaves and two fish,

Jesus turning water into an abundance of wine to save a wedding feast,

Jesus directing his disciples to fish on the other side of the boat,

Having them pull in 153 fish that nearly broke their nets.

That’s abundance.

Abundance is the fingerprint of God.

2. Discipleship.

In the final scene from the Gospel of John,

Jesus has a face-to-face with Peter.

A life of discipleship is one of service, Jesus tells him.

Tend the Lord’s flock.

Feed the Lord’s flock.

Lead the Lord’s flock.

In the physical absence of Jesus until his return.

Serve the flock just like the Good Shepherd has served you.

If you claim that you are a follower, a disciple, of Jesus Christ

And you’re not engaged in an intentional ministry of service

You’re doing it wrong.

James, the disciple sums it up:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” – James 2:14-17

Faith without anything to show for it is dead.

Roll up the sleeves.

Get your hands dirty.

Put to work the talents God has given you.

Get to work in God’s name for God’s benefit.

Everyone can do something.

Volunteer your time and talents.

If you can’t work, write a check. Donate from your treasure.

If you can’t work or write a check, pray.

Everyone can pray.

Excuses

Reveal the depth of faith,

Or lack, thereof.

Discipleship and service are inseparable.

3. Love.

The Gospel of John oozes love

Like blood from a wound.

God’s love for the world, and

Christ’s love for his followers.

We hear from this Upper Room narrative

Immediately after Jesus had washed the feet of his disciples, Jesus teaching

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” (13:34a)

Taken in its short form, we know this isn’t true.

There is nothing new about it.

God had already put commandments in the book to love others.

Leviticus 19:18 reads

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

Leviticus 19:34 reads

“The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

Allow this commandment to speak for a moment,

In context of our immigration policies and the

Trench warfare of the partisan body politic.

What is new

Is the longform command of Jesus:

“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (13:34b)

“Just as I have love you,” is what is new and set’s the love of Jesus apart

From anything the world had ever seen.

Jesus pushes the envelop of love even further.

“I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44)

Jesus’ love is new, fresh, different, … revolutionary.

Case in point:

The context of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

This narrative is bookended

By Judas’ betrayal before and Peter’s denial afterwards.

Yet, Jesus loved Judas and Peter enough to wash their feet anyways.

It’s easy to love the center,

Those who everyone loves.

It’s much harder the further you pull away from the center.

It’s hard for me to love those on the outer edge.

It takes the love of Jesus

To love the bookends.

Who are the bookend people in your life?

Those who are most difficult for you to love?

Are they people who have betrayed you, like Judas?

Ask Jesus for the strength,

And wash their feet anyways.

Are they people who have denied knowing you, like Peter?

Pray for strength, courage, and direction,

And wash their feet anyways.

Are they people with whom you have become estranged?

People who you approach as if walking on eggshells?

Those who are broken?

Those who you dread?

Just as Jesus sucked it up and loved his disciples,

Wash feet anyways.

Having Jesus by your side

It is possible to love the bookends

When it is beyond your capacity to love.

If you have Jesus in your life,

It’s possible to draw upon his love

… to tap into his divine reservoir of unlimited love …

When our love reaches it limit and runs out.

4. Glory.

When it comes to interpretation

Sometimes the Gospel gets in its own way.

I mean, what is this “glorify” thing?

What is this “glorification” thing all about?

It’s hard to read, untangle, understand;

Even for me!

Jesus teaches

“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” (13:31b-32)

Traditional Christianity defined “glorify” as

Words and actions that direct praise, honor, and adoration

To the penultimate act of God’s salvation history:

The cross,

The empty tomb, and

The ascension.

God is glorified in the words and actions of Jesus.

The death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus brings praise, honor, and adoration to God.

Likewise, Jesus is glorified in God’s initiative and actions throughout salvation history.

God sent his Son, Jesus, into the world,

Not to condemn the world,

But that the world might be saved through him.

This glorifies Christ.

This is a great definition of “glorification”

For a sterile, academic discussion,

But it falls short of the target if we are seeking application to our lives.

Are you daring?

Let’s push the thinking of traditional Christianity just a nudge:

Let us consider

“Glorify” is a recognition of the presence of God in our midst.

Imagine; had Judas and Peter

Recognized God present in Jesus.

Judas didn’t recognize the presence of God in Jesus, so he

Walked out and betrayed him.

Peter was so caught up in the murderous, frenzied crowd,

He was unable to think beyond self-preservation

And he denied Jesus three times.

Too often,

I am so focused on navigating through secular life –

Paying bills, working long hours, juggling responsibilities, being a dad, and,

Oh, what’s for dinner? –

That I, too, fail to recognize the presence of God in my presence.

I suspect I’m not alone.

I’m not suggesting the cliche

“Slow down and smell the roses.”

I am suggesting engaging in an intentional spiritual discipline

Known as mindfulness.

Mindfulness means tuning our spiritual antenna to achieve maximum efficiency and sensitivity.

Mindfulness means we

Watch.

Listen.

We stand alert;

To recognize the presence of God.

When we become conscious or aware of God’s presence, direction, power, grace, and love … Right here, right now …

We become the glorification of God

Of which the Gospel of John speaks.

Glorify God.

Recognize God’s presence.

The Gospel of John is about

The abundance of God symbolized by the acts of Jesus;

Living the life of a discipleship;

Loving one another, neighbors, enemies, and aliens,

Loving those who are easy to love and

Loving the bookends,

Just as Jesus loved his disciples, Judas, and Peter alike;

And living a life of glory,

A life lived with Jesus Christ,

A life lived in the presence of God.

Dearly beloved,

Love, just like Jesus loved;

Love with no strings attached.

When your love runs out, ask the Lord to make up for our deficits.

Live in the presence of God.

Be aware of God at work in and through you,

Your thoughts, words, and deeds.

Testify to God’s presence.

That brings glory to God. 

That’s how you truly glorify his name.

Amen.

“The Father and I are One”

John 10:22-30

May 8, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

| Centering Prayer |

It is a bit of an awkward transition

During this season of Easter,

The season of resurrection,

To move from last Sunday’s final resurrection appearance of Jesus

To this Sunday’s narrative from the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John.

This narrative takes place before our Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection.

It is like being whiplashed back into the pre-passion life and ministry of Jesus.

‘So what’s the connection?’ the inquisitive are certain to ask.

As I spoke about last Sunday

In Jesus’ final post resurrection appearance in the Gospel of John,

Abundance is a characteristic Jesus puts forward

For living a life as one of his disciples.

An abundant life is not one of material abundance,

But one recognizing the amazing grace of living in God’s abundant love.

It is symbolized

When 153 fish strain and nearly break the disciples’ nets,

With 6 stone jars of water being turning into wine,

When 5 loaves and 2 fish are multiplied to feed crowds of thousands.

Are you aware of God’s amazing, abundant love?

It’s been supporting you all your life

Whether you know it, or not.

In your experience

What is it like having it support you?

What is it like to drink it in?

What is it like to have the abundant love of God move in and take up residence in your life?

Let’s have a conversation about sheep.

The metaphor of sheep

Is the common ligament that connects

Jesus teaching

About what a life of discipleship is like

With those who are called to follow Jesus.

Jesus tells Simon Peter what a life of discipleship looks like:

“Feed my lambs,” Jesus says.

“Tend my sheep.”

“Feed my sheep.” (21:15-17)

Feed: i.e. Nourish. Sustain. Abide with and in.

Tend: i.e. Encourage. Direct. Lead.

Look around;

These are the sheep of Jesus.

We are the stand-in shepherd,

Until the Good Shepherd returns.

Are we feeding each other?

Tending one another?

Teaching each other?

Calling each other and holding each other to accountability?

Are we abiding with each other,

Even when sometimes that means we walk with each other

Through the valley of the shadow of death?

Have no fear!

We are not alone!

Take comfort!

God abides with us,

And we are invited to lean on his rod and staff!

(Psalm 23:4)

Are we each other’s biggest cheerleaders, supporters, and fans?

Are we using the skills God has given us

To discern God’s will and ways, and

To faithfully steer ourselves and God’s flock

In the direction of God’s will?

What a glorious Church we become

When we all pull together,

When we all steer a common course,

Fixing our eyes upon Jesus!

“I have told you, and you do not believe,” Jesus told the crowd of Jews

Who asked if he was the Jewish Messiah. (10:25)

I told you.

Is there something you don’t understand?

I told you.

If you understood,

The only possibility is that you must have chosen to not believe.

You have chosen not to follow.

Belief begins with a choice:

Become familiar with the voice of Jesus? and

Choose to follow?

Or,

Choose to remain a stranger?

Keep Jesus at arm’s length.

Don’t let him into our lives, and

Don’t let Jesus guide or call us?

Free will means the final decision is up to us, to you and me.

Choose wisely.

There are consequences to choosing not to believe or follow Jesus:

1. There is not the protection of the Good Shepherd.

You will be vulnerable to

The evil of this world

That snatches and steals like a fox.

You will face evil and temptation.

The question will be if you choose to face it with Christ or without him?

2. Without a shepherd

Life occurs in isolation, away from the flock, disconnected from the body.

Abundance is replaced by dependence,

Dependence becomes desperation, and

Desperation leads to death.

Lone sheep don’t last long in the wild.

On the other hand, there are benefits to choosing to believe.

There are benefits to choosing to follow Jesus:

1. Choose Jesus and you will be protected.

The Lord’s protection is largely unnoticed for

It is largely unrecognized

The Lord’s protection often

Happens outside of our awareness, or

Happens outside or our timeline.

2. Choose to believe and follow Jesus, and

You will have eternal life and never perish. (10:28)

John’s Revelation gives us a glimpse of what this might mean:

Forgiveness, worship, and a great banquet.

No more crying or mourning.

You will be sheltered from the scorching sun by day.

You are promised to be

Refreshed and replenished by the water of life.

(Revelations 7:14-17)

When the choice is death or life,

Always choose life;

Life in his flock,

Life with Jesus Christ.

I told you before,

But I’ll tell you again:

“The Father and I are one.” (10:30)

‘The Father and Jesus are one’

Is more than a second confirmation

Of Jewish messianic expectation.

‘The Father and Jesus are one’

Is more than a theological detail

Necessary for early Church fathers

To stitch together a trinitarian doctrine. 

‘The Father and Jesus are one’

Is an invitation to unity, Christian unity.

With Christian unity comes the promise of

Christian perfection and immortality.

Christian unity is not about maintaining

the organizational integrity of the denomination.

Christian unity is only about abiding in Christ, and

Allowing Christ to abide in us.

Abide!

This is Christian unity.

We are one:

One in the Spirit,

One in the Lord;

One united with each other, and

One united with Jesus.

The Father and Jesus are one.

We are one united with the Father,

Our creator, and

The Creator.

We are one with the Creator of all things before all things.

We are united with the Creator who is transforming the kingdom of this world into the kingdom of God.

We are one with the Creator who will continue to create all things for ever more.

Eternal unity is confirmed with God’s pronouncement in Revelation,

“I Am the Alpha and the Omega,

the beginning and the end.”

(Revelation 21:6)

Dearly beloved,

Let us be united in our belief

That Jesus is Messiah;

The fulfillment of our expectation,

That he is one with our Father,

The Creator of the heavens and the earth.

Let us be united in our choice

To follow Jesus and become the benefactors of God’s amazing grace and love.

Let us be united in our discipleship

Feeding others,

Tending others,

Good stewards of Christ’s flock

Drawing others towards the same Good Shepherd.

May his flock grow!

Let us be united in our forgiveness and our salvation.

Let us be one.

To God be the glory!

Amen.

“Sent to Do What Jesus Has Done”

John 21:1-19

May 1, 2022 – Third Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 21:1-19

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.

Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?”

They answered him, “No.”

He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”

So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.

Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”

Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.)

After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

| Centering Prayer |

When I was in seminary

I was afforded the privilege of

Serving as a student intern

At a community mental health organization

Where I was taught,

Over a three-year period,

The art of Psychiatric Assessment

For individuals suffering a psychiatric crisis.

The first year I observed.

The second year I took part.

The third year I led.

I had to write up every assessment

In a detailed, prescribed format.

My mentor, Dr. Thomas Ruth,

A leader in the field of crisis intervention,

Would debrief the assessment and intervention

One-to-one, teaching me the art and science

Of a good intervention, assessment, and referral.

I distinctly recall Dr. Ruth teaching me

That a good assessment is only as good as the moment it is conducted.

It is but a snapshot of a moment in time in the life of the individual.

It records the past.

Clarifies the present.

It gives an impression of a possible diagnosis

and a suggestion for safe treatment and care.

Yet it is nearly impossible to foretell the future.

A person may be a danger to themselves yesterday,

Be safe today,

But there is no way to know with absolute certainty

How dangerous they may be to themselves or others tomorrow.

Life changes.

Circumstances and context changes.

Drug and alcohol use changes with time. 

Brain chemistry changes with seasons and aging.

People come into and out of our lives.

To live is to change.

Change.

Change is the difference between

Where you end up and

From where you started.

Mathematics has a name for change: Delta.

(The lower-case Greek is a squiggly d.

The upper-case Greek is a triangle.)

Here we are three weeks into the season of Easter.

We’ve heard the witness of Mary Magalene that she had seen the resurrected Jesus.

We’ve read the account of Jesus coming to the disciples locked in the upper room,

Not once, but twice,

To convince the previously absent Thomas,

To breath on them the Holy Spirit,

And sending them to forgive sins of those who seek forgiveness.

As you have journeyed from Lent,

Through Holy Week, and

Are now solidly engulfed in Easter,

My question to you is

“What’s changed?”
“How have you changed?”

What is demonstrated in the post-resurrection accounts,

Including today’s narrative from the Gospel of John

Is that there is a delta relative to discipleship.

What it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ changed

Due to his resurrection.

Allow me to explain using the following table:

Delta of Discipleship

We can see the change, or the delta of discipleship relative to time.

There are four stages.

  • Answering the call to discipleship: doing what Jesus had done
  • Holy week: denial, betrayal, passion, and death
  • Resurrection: witness, forgiveness, and feeding Christ’s sheep
  • Ascension: making disciples, baptizing, and teaching

Let’s dig in!

1. The first stage of discipleship

Is the behavioral change that takes place

When one answers the call to

“Come follow me.”

This largely takes place during Jesus’ early ministry in Galilee and Samaria.

When one responds positively,

they are charged

With doing what Jesus had done:

Preach the Good News,

Teach what the Good News means and how it transforms lives,

Heal the sick,

Exorcise demons,

Resurrect the dead,

Prepare and watch expectantly for the Lord’s return,

Focus discipleship ministry on those who are marginalized

(the outcast, sinners, the poor, and the least members of society).

….

2. The second stage of discipleship takes place when Jesus steps foot into Jerusalem and Holy Week begins.

On the graph I show this as a negative delta,

A negative change.

In other words,

Don’t do this.

Peter denies knowing Jesus.

Don’t deny Jesus.

As the old hymn says:

Stand up, stand up for Jesus,

the strife will not be long;

this day the noise of battle,

the next the victor’s song.

To those who vanquish evil

a crown of life shall be;

they with the King of Glory

shall reign eternally.

(UMH #514, v.4)

Judas betrays Jesus to the authorities.

Don’t betray Jesus.

Taring down the Church is a betrayal of Jesus.

If you’re not building up the Church,

Strengthening the Body of Christ,

You are doing it wrong.

You are betraying Christ

Just like Judas.

Members of organized religion cause Jesus to suffer degradation, torture, and humiliation.

The world, both church and state, killed Jesus dead.

….

3. Jesus rose from the dead completing Holy Week,

Leading to the third delta of discipleship.

In his post resurrection appearances

Jesus builds upon the foundational stage of discipleship

(Doing what he had done)

And adds witness, forgiveness, and feeding Christ’s sheep.

Jesus tells Mary, “Go and tell.”

Witness to the fact that you have encountered the risen Christ.

Christ had died.

Christ is risen.

Last week we heard Jesus tell his disciples to forgive or withhold forgiveness.

Forgive those who seek forgiveness of their sins.

Withhold forgiveness for those who resist forgiveness,

Presumably with the hope of future repentance and request for forgiveness.

Today’s narrative from the Gospel of John

We experience Jesus instructing Peter to feed his sheep.

Yes, his three-fold request matches Peter’s previous three-fold denial.

However, in the context of fishing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee,

With the catch of an astonishing amount of fish,

One is invited to think of abundance.

Feed my sheep with abundance,

Jesus is directing the first of the Apostles,

The emerging Apostolic leader of the birthing Christian Church.

The message is clear:

God is keeping God’s promise.

God is not giving up on us.

Jesus has confidence in Peter despite his shortcomings,

Just as Christ has confidence in you.

Feed my sheep harkens back to Jesus’ teaching

In the Tenth Chapter of the Gospel of John,

Where Jesus teaches that he is the Good Shepherd.

Today, Jesus looks Peter in the eye

And tells him, “now it’s time you become that good shepherd.”

It’s time for Peter to take over the work of Jesus.

….

4. Which leads us to the fourth change in discipleship,

Which will take place in the near future,

Upon the ascension of Jesus Christ

Into the heavens to be seated at the right hand of the Father,

The God of Creation.

Jesus uses this opportunity

To outline his final curriculum for mature discipleship.

He commissions his disciples, his followers to do three things:

Make disciples, baptize, and teach them everything that Christ has taught.

Jesus commission his disciples to go to all the nations of the world and make disciples.

Which is to say,

Lead people into a relationship with Jesus

And allow God to transform their heart.

Jesus commissions his disciples to baptize

And he tells us how to do it.

Baptize with water and the Holy Spirit.

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

Baptism forever confirms Christian discipleship;

What God has done no one can undo.

Jesus commissions his disciples to teach all that Christ taught.

It is our responsibility to Train the Trainer,

For this generation to teach the next, and

When their time comes,

For them to teach those who follow.

Disciples are teachers.

Choose you course:

Children, youth, or adults.

Teach by both word and example.

Provide learning opportunities through activities of love and support.

This final, most developed phase of discipleship,

Sits on top of witnessing, forgiving, and feeding,

Sits on top of doing what Jesus had done,

And avoids the pitfalls of denial, betrayal, passion, and death.

….

Has your delta of discipleship kept pace

With Lent, Holy Week, and Resurrection?

In every stage of Christian development

Jesus speaks the language of love,

Acting with compassion and love.

Do the same.

You and I are taking over Christ’s work.

Speak the same language.

Love, just as Christ loves.

How does God love the world

Without the physical Jesus?

God loves the world through you and me.

Be the delta.

Be the change.

Together, we can.

Amen.  

“Life in His Name”

John 20:19-31

Second Sunday of Easter, April 24, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 20:19-31                                                                                        

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

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

| Centering Prayer |

The mission of the United Methodist Church is simple and straightforward:

“The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” (2016 Book of Discipline)

A disciple of Jesus Christ is a believer;

One who believes

That Jesus taught us how to live,

That Jesus died to forgive our sins and to reconcile us with God and creation, and

That Jesus rose from the dead, bringing victory over death and the salvation of the world.

A believer comes to know that

Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.

There are numerous ways to come to believe

That Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead.

The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus,

As recorded in the Gospel of John,

Highlight a few that deserve our attention.

1. The first means of belief is to have a physical encounter with the risen Jesus,

Like Mary Magdalene at the garden tomb,

Like his disciples on the first day of the week behind locked doors,

Like Thomas a week later,

Like Paul on the road to Damascus, one to five years later. (Acts 9)

When the risen Good Shepherd

Recognizes Mary, one of his own, by name,

It is no wonder Mary cries out “Rabbouni! (Teacher)”.

It is no wonder Mary enthusiastically complies with Jesus’ command,

Returned to his brothers,

Delivered his message, and proclaims

“I have seen the Lord!” (20:18)

As the Gospel of John reports,

Belief is complicated for those who see with their own eyes a resurrected corpse.

Jesus appears.

He stands among them.

Confirms peace.

The complicated becomes simple.

When the evidence of resurrection stands right before you,

Wounds from his hands and side gaping and raw,

It is no wonder the disciples rejoiced when they too saw the Lord,

And believed. (20:20)

When the one whose death and burial was witnessed

Now appears and stands before you a week later

It is no wonder Thomas gasps

“My Lord and my God!” (20:28)

My Lord … is a statement about the human Jesus who Thomas had followed,

Who lived, died, and had risen from the dead.

My God … is a profession of faith,

Witnessing to the fact that

God is inherently and completely present in the life of Jesus Christ.

Only God could do

What God has done.

Jesus ascended into heaven, and

With the exception of the conversion of Saul,

His personal appearances on earth ever since are few, and far in between.

I’d like to have a meet up with Jesus,

But I’ve never have had that personal,

One-to-one, face-to-face, let’s talk over coffee

meet with him.

I do look forward to meeting him someday,

At some point in the future, when I am welcomed home to glory.

How about you?

Please note,

I would never doubt or second guess someone’s witness

Of a personal encounter with Jesus.

After all, God is capable of all things.

It just hasn’t happened to me, and

I don’t believe the resurrected Jesus has made a personal appearance

To most of us.

If only it was this simple.

Or complicated.

2. The second tactic to come to belief

That Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead

Is to be convinced by the testimony or witness from someone else.

This is where the Church must live by faith today.

This is where the rubber meets the road,

Where our confession, witness, and testimony take on paramount importance.

Dearly beloved, call or get out of the booth.

Go big or go home.

The disciples, like Mary Magdalene,

Had a story to tell the absent Thomas.

“We have seen the Lord.”

Yet, just as it was complicated with the physical appearance of Jesus,

It is so much more complicated without evidence,

Without the reanimated corpse

Standing in front of you and

Calling you by name.

The skeptic inside us all

Draws on the experience of death,

Its biological confirmation,

Mortal finality,

its complete irreversible transformation from breath to corpse, that

Every one of us must be sympathetic to Thomas and his doubts.

Unless I see …”

Unless I “put my finger in the mark of the nails” …

Unless I put “my hand in his side,

I will not believe.” (20:25)

I will not believe. Ouch.

Stubborn refusal.

How are we to overcome the stubborn refusal to believe?

How can we fulfill our mission?

How are we to bring people to the table of discipleship for the transformation of the world?

Strong arm tactics don’t work.

Think of all the kids forced to come to church

Who grew up vowing never to return.

Threats of hell and damnation don’t work.

Oh, they may work for a while;

But, in time, questions and curiosity overwhelm

Leaving behind a scorched cinder, backslider of a person.

An exclusive, literal, fundamental belief doesn’t work;

Eventually, inconsistencies reveal a foundation built on sand.

Grace always trumps Law.

This is my testimony;

This is what has worked for me:

  • A laser focus on Jesus Christ, as reported in the Gospels.
  • An invitation to come clean, repent, to be forgiven, and start new.
  • Love, that first comes from God, that builds and nurtures relationship, one person at a time.
  • Honesty and authenticity when speaking; I can only witness to the God of my experience, who I have come to know as Jesus.
  • Consistency in what I say and what I do.
  • A humble awareness of God’s amazing grace and eternal promise.

What is your testimony?

What works for you?

Our testimony and witness brings non-believers, doubters, and lukewarm believers to Jesus Christ.

Our testimony and witness warms hearts

And draws people to the table.

Our testimony lights a fire and kindles it to burning passion.

Tell your story.

Tell it often.

Let’s you and me kindle the fire, and

Let God take it from there. 

3. The third tactic to come to belief

That Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead

Is to be filled and convicted by the Holy Spirit.

This is even more complicated, if that’s possible!

You and I can’t control the Spirit.

We can invite, cajole, petition, beg, plead, …

anything short of cutting off our right arm.

But we can’t control what God will do.

Nor should we touch that third rail of idolatry.

The Spirit moves where it chooses to move.

The Holy Spirit does what it chooses to do in God’s own due time.

When the Holy Spirit makes its presence known

All we can do is to sit back, be filled with awe, and give praise!

Unlike the author of Luke and Acts,

Who describes the descent of the Holy Spirit

As celebrated on Pentecost seven weeks after the resurrection,

The author of the Gospel of John relates the coming of the Holy Spirit

With the breath of Jesus on the first day of the week,

The evening of his resurrection.

“He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (20:22b-23)

This, I can say:

I’ve seen some miraculous work of the Holy Spirit.

I’ve experienced truly awesome work of the Holy Spirit in my own life.

The key for me is to sit on my skepticism,

Don’t fall for the temptation to try to explain away the circumstance,

Nor blame it on simply an emotional experience or coincidence.

The key for me is to create space for the Holy Spirit to fill;

To enter, to work, and to have its way.

The key for me is to let God be God.

The method of belief and conversion is important from a tactical standpoint.

Tactics matter when we plan our

Outreach, evangelistic recruitment, and discipleship.

How do we bring people to conversion?

What the best way to make disciples of Jesus Christ?

Perhaps we need to employ multiple tactics to cast a wider net?

When tactics are woven together according to God’s design

And our faithful actions,

We can begin to recognize God’s greatest, overarching strategy:

“That through believing

you may have life in his name.” (20:31)

Belief is life.

Belief is the key to life.

Belief is the well from which we draw to live a meaningful life.

Belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,

Is God’s longing desire that you and I may have everlasting life.

Amen.