“Caesarea Philippi”

Mark 8:27-38

February 28, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 8:27-38

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

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

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

| Centering Prayer |

Gospel means “Good News.”

Our Gospel for today,

Our Good News for today,

Is a passage that should be quite familiar

To many of us lifetime Christians.

Though familiar, I’m with many of you

Listening intently for what God is saying new.

If this text is new to you, or

You are not a lifelong Christian,

Hold on to your saddle,

Because today’s Good News is about to give

Your spiritual journey

Quite an exciting ride.

According to Mark

Jesus recently traveled through the region of Tyre,

A Greek, non-Jewish, gentile city

Northwest of Galilee on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

From Tyre, he travels South East to Bethsaida, on the North shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Today, Jesus travels due North

To Caesarea Philippi,

Which is located on today’s Golan Heights,

At the base of Mt. Hermon,

On the border between Syria and Israel.

Geography and local history are important here.

1. First, Caesarea Philippi was the northern most extension of Israel

When it was in its greatest period of expansion and prosperity

Under the rule King David,

One thousand years before Christ.

Though it was ruled by Jews,

No Jewish culture stuck after they withdrew.

At the time of Jesus,

Caesarea Philippi was only populated by Roman and Greeks gentiles.

2. Secondly, Speaking of Romans, Greeks, and gentiles

This village was named after …

… Caesar, the Roman Emperor,

And, Philip II, the son of Herod the Great,

Who earlier named it Paneas,

In honor of the 3rd century BC Greek cult

Who worshiped the pagan god Pan,

A goat-footed god of victory in battle.

The Greek temple can be seen today,

Carved in the side of the mountain.

Pagan worship to Pan was actively taking place

By Gentiles

In this location

At the time of Jesus.

3. Thirdly, located at the base of Mt. Hermon,

Caesarea Philippi is the source of the Jordan River.

The south flowing Jordan

Starts as a mountain spring that gushes forth from a mountain cave.

It is this cave that pagans had carved out their temple to the god of Pan.

That’s right.

The source of the Jordan River,

The water that baptized Jesus,

Springs forth from a pagan temple in Caesarea Philippi.

There is no place in the Holy Lands

That is more diametrically opposed to Yahweh,

  • Our God of creation, covenant, and law,
  • The God of our Jewish ancestors,
  • The religion of Jesus and most of his disciples,

Then Caesarea Philippi.  

Jesus walked into a pagan temple

Takes center stage,

Surrounded by pagan worshippers,

Lifts his voice

And publicly, loudly asked his own disciples in trail

“Who do people say that I am?”

– Mark 8:27

Akin to today?

This isn’t simply like saying,

“One day Jesus walked into a bar.”

This is like saying,

“One day Jesus walked into a wiccan of witches.”

Jesus takes his disciples with him.

Jesus asked them publically to identify himself,

within earshot of everyone present.”

“Who do people say that I am?”

– Mark 8:27

Think to yourself:

What is the most non-Christian setting

You can imagine

or have recently visited?

Where is the voice of the Church,

Not only silent,

But unwelcome?

In your mind’s eye,

Put yourself there.

Place yourself in the center of opposition

And make a public declaration:

Jesus is Lord!

Jesus is the God I serve!

Be prepared to escape and evade like your life depends on it!

You better run, run!

Our Good News for today asks every serious disciple of Jesus

If we are prepared to identify Jesus by

Making a public declaration of faith

In those places in life where Jesus is most opposed.

Where is Jesus most opposed?

Is that where you work?

With family, neighbors, or friends?

Is that with colleagues or collaborators,

Supervisors or staff?

How about the bully on the school bus?

Be they an atheist cousin?

A devilish member of the community who thrives on disruption and destruction?

Or terrorist with a knife in their hand?

Are you and I prepared to

Stare them down and

Make a public declaration that

I serve the Lord and only follow Jesus!

Even amongst his faithful disciples

There was a bunch of mumbling, looking down, avoiding eye contact, and kicking dirt hoping the moment would pass.

‘Well, you could be John the Baptist.

Or maybe Elijah?

Heck, I don’t know.

Maybe you’re one of the prophets?’

It is Peter who speaks up.

Peter is the only one with the courage

To stand up and speak out!

“You are the Messiah!”

– Mark 8:29


Son of God,

The first use of the title

Since the opening chapter of Mark.

Ding! Ding! Ding!

Messiah is the correct answer!

Jesus has publically outed himself as the Son of God

On stage front and center  

Of a pagan temple.

So why in the world does Jesus use this opportunity

Of his public identification

As an opportunity to speak the first of many occasions

About his forthcoming

Suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection?

It would appear

That Jesus is grasping defeat

From the mouth of victory.

The argument could be made

That Jesus is throwing in the towel

Even before he begins to get started.

It is as if Jesus was staring down the pagans

– first stunned into silence

– now growing in rage for having their temple hijacked.

It is as if the pagan crowd surrounded Jesus and his disciples,

Become restless and start itching for violence.

It is as if Jesus threw up his hands and said,

“You win. I give up. Just take me away.”

You and I, like Peter, would have responded with disbelief.  

“What the heck?”

“What in the world is going on here?”

“You’re the Messiah one moment and

The next moment you’re telling us you are going to die?”

Christ’s rebuke is hardly surprising

When one considers

The fact that

Jesus’ suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection

Is as much a part of his identity,

As the fact that he is the Son of God.

Without suffering,

There would be no Son,

No Bethlehem’s baby.

Without Christ dying,

There would be no point to his immaculate conception.

Without the resurrection,

There would be no reason for God to send us his son to save the world.

It is much easier for us,

Looking through the lens of hindsight,

To better see this reality of Jesus

Then did his own followers.

Time and again,

They get it wrong.

It is only after the resurrection,

When the Holy Spirit fills the Church,

Do the disciples turned apostles

Understand Christ’s complete identity:

  • Who Jesus is: Messiah, Son of God
  • Why Jesus came: to suffer, die, and rise from the dead
  • How Jesus changes everything: that the world might be saved

God’s greater plan

Used Jesus as a principle interdiction into humankind,

For the greater purpose

Of a more expansive kingdom.

This surprised the first century Church, and

Has been stunning generations of Christ followers ever since.

How does this revelation of Christ’s greater identity

Impact us today?

Suffering is a shared experience.

It is never alone.

For even when alone,

One is with God.

Even when alone,

One can associate personal suffering

With the suffering of our Lord at his crucifixion.

To suffer as a Christian

Is to allow yourself to crawl upon on the cross,

Let nails be driven into your hands,

And be crucified with Jesus.

Suffering is not to be sought;

But neither is it to be shunned,

For suffering opens new avenues

That can deepen the relationship

Between ourselves and our God.

Death is a shared experience.

We may not like to think about our mortality.

Yet, we all die.

Death is the great equalizer.

It is the final earthly act that unites us.

It is the final act that unites us with Jesus.

As in baptism we put on Christ,

So, too, in death, we are greeted by Christ.

We take his hand

And step through the divide between heaven and earth

Into God’s heavenly kingdom.

Resurrection, likewise, is a shared experience;

For all those who believe in him

Shall have eternal life.

As Christ ascended to the right hand of his Father,

So, too, are we lifted.

Jesus welcomes each of us

And says,

“My daughter,”

“My son,”

“your faith has made you well.”

We are more than healed of our earthly disease,

Our mortality is healed,

Such that we will know death no more.

Crying and mourning will be passed away.

In the final act of today’s Good News,

… which, in my opinion, has been really GREAT News thus far,

Is Jesus challenging those who follow him:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

– Mark 8:34-35


Jesus is attempting to recruit a pagan crowd on their home turf!

He’s casting his net for new disciples.

Jesus set’s the terms:

First, deny yourself.

Make Jesus the priority of life,

Subjecting self, family, and tribe to him.

Secondly, pick up your cross.

In other words,

Be prepared to die with Jesus.

Thirdly, follow Jesus.

Learn his words.

Speak his words.

Teach his words.

Behave the way he behaved.

Live as he lived.

Love as he loves.

Others may kill your body,

But no one else can kill your soul.

The risk of not sharing the Gospel,

The risk of not witnessing to the world

about our relationship with Jesus Christ,

is that we will lose our life,

our eternal life;

that our final disposition

will be nothing more than a box in the ground

at Pine Hill cemetery down the road.

The risk of not sharing Jesus Christ with the world

Is that the church today will close tomorrow.

We will all die off

And the property will be sold.

Speak up! Jesus is proclaiming.

Discipleship means you’re

Willing to risk all things mortal for all things eternal.

Witness to Christ,

Share the Good News,

And you’re making an investment

Not only in your eternal life

But also in the next generation of the Church

And every future generation.

Be strong!

Take courage, people of faith!

There is much opposition to Christ in today’s world.

When confronted by those who would oppose our faith,

Make your witness public, loud, and proud.

Wear Jesus on your sleave and make no apologies for him.


God as our Lord

And Jesus Christ as our Savior.

Be prepared for the consequences.

Know this:

Others may kill the body.

But, only we can surrender our soul.

Live for Christ.

Witness for Christ.

And let God take care of the eternal.


Confronting Racism

A Newsletter Article to the Members and Friends of the Rush United Methodist Church

Over a six-week period spanning January and February I participated in an Upper New York Conference supported class titled “Imagine No Racism,” or INR, as most call it. It was my third time in the past five years. Why would I repeat a class that I’d already completed twice before?

Racism matters to me.

If I do not intentionally address the issue of racism, I regress in my cultural competency and ability to pastorally shepherd the Rush United Methodist family. Empathy wanes. I let things slide. I look the other way. Personal discipline is required to intentionally remain engaged in the conversation about the evils of racism and the effort to stamp it out. It is important to make the intentional effort to educate myself, to listen and learn, because I am constantly discovering how complex and pervasive the evil of racism has become today. Listening and learning lifts every voice and makes it sing.

Racism is a Christian issue. Our baptismal vows define racism as anti-Christian and must be renounced and resisted “in whatever forms they present themselves.” Jesus confronted racism often and everywhere. Samaritans were mix-race people who many Jews despised, yet, Jesus identified a Samaritan as a neighbor to be loved. (Luke 10:25-37) Nathanael resisted Philip’s invitation to come and meet Jesus because he asked if anything good could come from Nazareth. (John 1:43-51) Jesus healed a man born blind. The Pharisees investigated and terrorized the man’s parents, who feared being put out of the synagogue. Jesus challenged the religious system that supported an unjust status quo. (John 9:13-34) A Canaanite woman humbled Jesus by her faith when she begged him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. (Matthew 15:21-28)

Sisters and brothers of color depend on Christians in the white community to renounce and resist racism. Thaddeus, a member of my recent INR class, observed the fact that aggressively resisting and renouncing racism might quickly lead to him being dead like George Floyd. As a white person, I must take responsibility to aggressively resist and renounce racism when my black brothers and sisters cannot.

Too often attention is focused on individual abhorrent acts of racism. You have seen the videos on the news or in social media. Each act of racism is gut wrenching. Yet, rarely is attention focused on the institutions, systems, and laws that support wickedness, evil, injustice, and oppression. This lack of light and clarity provides cover for many of us to say “I’m not like that. I’m not a racist” all-the-while justifying apathy and inaction to break down the very systems that allows racism to continue.

Shane Wiegand, a wonderful teacher in the Rush Henrietta Central School District, opened my eyes to the history of structural racism in Monroe County in a class he gives to the community. I learned veterans of color following World War II were ineligible for home mortgages, leading to many families growing up in rental housing, depriving them of building home equity and bequeathing that wealth to future generations. Have you ever heard of deed covenants and redlining? Structural and institutional racism surrounds us. The resulting injustice continues from generation to generation. Do an internet search on “Shane Wiegand”. His class and slides are on YouTube. His research, data, and presentation is stunning.

Racism harms the church and silences the voice of the Holy Spirit. The United Methodist Church, as well as others, has a long history of being guilty of racism. Why are there black Methodist denominations like the African American Episcopal Church (AME) and the African American Episcopal Church Zion (AME Zion)? Because people of color were not welcome and grew tired of being treated unjustly. Being a life-long United Methodist, I own it. As United Methodists, it is our responsibility to own our history, to repent, and to deconstruct racism whenever and wherever possible.

Racism silences the Holy Spirit. This cannot be tolerated. The Holy Spirit speaks through all people, if only you and I listen. When I don’t listen to the Holy Spirit speaking through neighbors of color, I’m turning a deaf ear to God. Lord, forgive me.

When the membership of our church family is rich in diversity we become vital and strong, much more aware of the needs of the community in which we live, and better able to love every neighbor. I’ll never understand the needs of my black or brown neighbor if I don’t ever hear their voice. Diversity doesn’t just happen. A passive approach is insincere. Intentional effort is required to learn and employ effective means of inclusive, welcoming discipleship.

You matter to me. Your race, culture, experience, gender, values, and beliefs matter to me. I hope and pray that you will Imagine a World without Racism and will work with me to make it happen. Learn more about INR at our Upper New York Conference webpage: https://www.unyumc.org/ministries/corr/inr The content and videos are worth your time, attention, prayer, and reflection.

Learn more about the intersection of racism and my personal journey of faith from the MLK Keynote address in January for the Rush-Henrietta Interfaith Clergy Council worship service: It is located on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/BJ67MzOeNUg

With pastoral love,


“With Wild Beasts”

1st Sunday of Lent, February 21, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”


Welcome to Lent;

Our 40-day period of preparation by

Prayer, confession, repentance, charity, and self-denial.

This is what we, as Christians, do.

Prayer, confession, repentance, charity, and self-denial.

These are the disciplines we practice,

With focused intentionality,

During Lent.

What are we preparing for? You ask.

These traditional disciplines prepare us annually

To receive the message,

To be spiritually strengthened by the message,

That we might join with Jesus in proclaiming the message.

This is the message:

That by dying, Jesus Christ removes

Our sins and the sins of the world, and

That by rising from the dead, Jesus Christ

Saves us and saves the world into eternal life.

This is the Good News of God,

The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Hear the message.

Proclaim the message.

Become the living message.

There is another dimension to Lent.

Our annual journey through Lent is an opportunity to be transformed.

By reliving and retelling the story

We make space in our existence for the Spirit to enter,

To warm our soul, open our mind, and reveal God’s will.

With the Spirit’s entry,

We are drawn closer with one another and closer to God.

With the Spirit’s strength, daring, and direction

We are transformed into God’s people

Called to transform the world.

Be transformed

That God might transform the world.

The first Sunday of Lent

Always begins with the Gospel account

Of the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

Matthew and Luke give elaborate, detailed accounts

Of the confrontation between Jesus and Satan.

You’ve heard the story of Satan’s temptations before:

‘Throw yourself down from this mountain and call up angels to save you.’

‘Turn those stones into bread to satisfy your hunger.’

‘All these kingdoms can be yours, if you but fall down and worship me.’

You know the details.

I can still recall as a child in Sunday School wondering

If Jesus was alone with Satan those 40 days,

Who was writing down the details?!!!

Our Gospel of Mark is quite a study in contrast.

There are no details in Mark.

Mark is the shortest of all the Gospel books, and

Is believed to be the source document

Upon which other apostolic traditions authored their own Gospel accounts.

Over time and

By means of great effort and councils,

The Church concluded Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

Best reflected the core message of Christian faith,

And included them into the collection of sacred texts

That today we call the Bible.

The brevity of Mark

Gives us a little bit more room for interpretation.

We can allow the Spirit to influence our imagination,

To lead us where it is too difficult to go

If mired down in tedious details.

Today, we follow Jesus

1. First, at his baptism, receiving the Spirit, and

The affirmation of God’s words, to,

2. Secondly, Jesus is immediately driven by the same Spirit

Out into the wilderness,

Where he was “tempted by Satan; and

He was with the wild beast; and

The angels waited on him.”

3. Thirdly, Jesus emerges from his harrowing ordeal,

Goes north to Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God.

A few revealing thoughts.

1. The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness

To be tempted by the strongest source of personified evil, Satan himself.

This makes me wonder.

I mean, on whose team is the Holy Spirit playing?

What possibly could be the motive for the Spirit of God

To drive Jesus into a confrontation with Satan?

The two greatest opposed sources of power in the world

Are destined to clash in a cataclysmic confrontation

In the Judean wilderness.

Why? is a question I cannot answer.

What we can learn by observation, however, is

Living faithfully,

With the Holy Spirit present and active in your life

Sometimes means blessings,

Sometimes means confrontation,

Nearly always, it means mystery.

Living in relationship with God

Means getting comfortable with the fact

That there is much more we don’t know about God than what we do know.

Divine wisdom has no parity.

God’s memory never fades.

The Lord’s motives can never be fully known.

The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness.

Why do you suppose the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan?

Have you been driven into the wilderness?

Did the Spirit drive you in?

See you through?

Bring you out?

2. The site of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River is

In the Southern Jordan valley, near Jericho.

The wilderness land to the West leads straight uphill 18 miles to Jerusalem,

A difference of 3,320 feet in elevation.  

That’s a linear slope of 3.5% … quite a steep hike.

When riding from the Jordan up to Jerusalem today,

Ears are constantly plugging and popping

Due to the change in altitude.

This is the wilderness where Jesus was tempted.

Think rocks, cliffs, brown compacted gravel, and steep mountains paths.

Think dry, sediment filled stream beds at the bottom of impassable chasms.

These dry wadis see water only once or twice a year,

When rare Mediterranean storm clouds

Make it over the central mountains.

Think hot in the day and near freezing at night.

Think danger behind every scrub bush,

Bandits and Bedouins, around every turn,

Lurking in every canyon and cave,

Ready to beat you up, rob you blind, and leave you for dead.

Simply being in the wilderness places Jesus in mortal danger.

The Divinity of Jesus is never on the table or up for discussion.

However, the humanity of Jesus is placed at risk.

3. Forty days.

Forty days, or five weeks and five days,

Is a long time to

Roast in the heat of day and freeze in the dark of night.

Sprain an ankle and you’re done for.

Forty days is a long time to go without eating

(as reported in the other Gospels, but absent in Mark).

Forty days is a long time to be in search of water,

And when water is found, to manage it properly.

Forty days is long time to be exposed to wild beasts.

Forty days is a long time to think.

Forty days is a lot of time for the mind to wander.

Forty days in the wilderness makes Jesus very vulnerable.

4. Temptations.

Mark gives no details.

According to Encyclopedia dot com

The religious form of temptation

“Primarily denotes a trial in which (one) has free choice of being faithful or unfaithful to God;

Only secondarily does it signify allurement or seduction to sin.”


For the Jewish mind

Faithfulness to the Law

Is faithfulness to God.

Satan is attempting to get Jesus

To break righteous adherence to Jewish Law.

Satan was attempting to elevate the human nature of Jesus

To the detriment of his Divinity.

Tempted by Satan.

It is impossible to know

If this was one temptation drawn out over a full forty days,

Or, if this is multiple temptations over the course of forty days.

What can be observed, however,

Is the fact that temptation was for forty days and nights.

That’s enough to break anyone down.

40 days of continuous, relentless temptation

would make even the strongest person weak.

5. Wild beasts.

Therion in the Greek,

Meaning dangerous, life-threatening carnivores.

Meat eaters.

Imagine being

In the wilderness for forty days surrounded by animals that want to eat you.

Think jackals, wolves, hyaenas, leopards,

And, yes, even lions and cheetahs

Patrolled the Palestinian countryside

Before they were hunted to extinction.


Darkness falls.

Cold descends.

Insects and birds fall silent

As wild beasts approach and surround.

Listen to the sounds of animals creeping and stalking.

Eyes blink in the dark.

I can imagine the night coming to life

With the sounds of circling, hungry, wild beasts

Salivating in the shadows.

It is interesting to me that the detail

About wild beasts is left out of Matthew and Luke’s accounts.

Is this intentional? Or an oversight?

Does it make a difference? Or not?

Forty days in the wilderness is forty days living in anxiety and fear.

6. Angels waited on Jesus.

No. I don’t suppose they took his order

Or served him the daily special.


Angels waited on Jesus.

Waiting, or Diekonoun in the Greek,

Which, of course, contains the same root as deacon,

Means “to minister, to serve.”

This is what deacons do; they serve.

Much the same way as Simon Peter’s mother-in-law

Served Jesus after he healed here of her fever.

(No, I don’t believe she brought Jesus a sandwich

Or did his laundry, either.)

At the conclusion of his temptations

Angels ministered to Jesus,

Replacing his weakness with God’s strength.

Though shrouded in mystery,

Exposed to mortal danger, vulnerable, weak, anxious, and living in fear,

God takes care of God’s own.

God takes care of God’s own Son, Jesus.

And, in my experience, God can and will

Take care of you and me, too.

Those angels God places in your life?

Angels are not accidents or coincidences.

Living angels are sent as God’s gift to you

To replace your weakness with God’s strength.

Certainly, on this first Sunday of Lent

There are many unanswerable questions from the Gospel of Mark.

Pay attention to those pinch points where we can align ourselves with the life of Jesus.

Consider times and places in life that are shrouded in mystery,

(Like when the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness).

Are we capable of trusting in God to send us His angels

Even though we don’t know Why? How? When?

Even though we don’t know God’s will or motives?

Beloved, it is a sign of faithful maturity

To be at peace with the mystery of God,

Especially when apparent contradictions cause the stomach to churn.

Consider times and circumstances in life

When anxious, frightened, vulnerable, weak, or in mortal danger.

Are you able to trust that God will carry you through

Every crisis, every temptation, every disaster?

When face-to-face with death

And personal faith is in danger of failing,

Can you place your entire dependence upon God,

And come to peace

Even in the presence of remaining uncertainty?

Know this Gospel truth

Taken from Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by Satan himself,

If we depend on God,

God can take the strain.

God will carry your burden.

The Lord takes responsibility for creation.

The Lord makes it, maintains it, and, when necessary, recreates it.

God takes responsibility for humankind,

Making each person in the Lord’s image,

Giving life by the Spirit’s breath.

The Lord strengthens the weak.

God protects the vulnerable.

God calms every fear.

God is willing, able, and eager

To strengthen the sick and bring back to health the broken of this world.

After all, our God is a God of healing and restoration.

At the end of the day,

Let us discipline ourselves.

Find rest.

Find peace.

Just as the Heavenly Father took care of Jesus,

God takes care of God’s own.

God is taking care of you, too.

At the end of this 40-day journey

Through the wilderness of Lent,

Be prepared to proclaim the Good News of God:

Though Jesus was tempted, suffered, died, and rose again,

He did it for the redemption and salvation of the world.


“Approaching Inevitable Change”

Mark 9:2-9

Transfiguration of the Lord – 14 February 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 9:2-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 

Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

| Centering Prayer |

There are occasions in life

Where change becomes inevitable.

It’s a tipping point, or

A singularity.

The confluence of age and circumstances,

Beliefs and values,

Faith and passion

Are taken from the cupboard and refrigerator,

Combined into a mixing bowl,

Poured into a Pyrex dish,

Placed in the oven,

And the temperature is set.

In time

The transformation from raw ingredients

Into a delicious Methodist-style casserole is complete.

The only remaining task

Is for the cook

To make the change;

From stove to table.

Change became inevitable.

For my mother

Inevitable change occurred one day at the Malta Home,

A home for orphans and the aged

Operated by the Knights of Malta,

Outside Lewistown, Pennsylvania.

It would have been 1940.

My mother was a sixteen old orphan,

Her father dying of typhus when she was an infant.

Her older brother, my uncle Dick, showed up under cover of night.

He offered to spring her from childhood bondage

And take her into his home.

Should she stay or should she go?

Life came to a head and change became inevitable.

For my father

Inevitable change occurred when his naval ship was under attack.

Kamikazes had been unleashed

And it was his duty to take the watch in the middle of the fire and fury of battle.

If Leyte Gulf wouldn’t swallow him whole,

He’d become a pastor, a preacher of the Gospel,

He fervently promised the Lord.

Like Jonah he attempted to avoid the inevitable

Until the age of 42,

24 years later,

The year being 1968,

When he turned from the corporate world

And began the ordination process to become a parish pastor. 

Life had come to a head and change became inevitable.

For myself

Inevitable change occurred one March day in Boston exactly forty years ago.

Between collegiate hockey games at the Garden,

My friend brought me to the United Methodist seminary at Boston University.

Exiting the chapel

I looked up to see the statue of Martin Luther King, Jr.

God spoke.

It was time to leave the shoreline behind.

It was time to fish other seas.

Life had come to a head and change became

As inevitable as rain.

Where are the places in your history

When you faced inevitable change?

What was God’s role?

Are you poised on the precipice of inevitable change right now?

What is God’s current role in your life?

Can you trust in God’s cooperation and support

To see you through the inevitable?


Jesus had reached the point of inevitable change.

This season after the Epiphany is

Bookended with the words of God,

“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

This proclamation came from the clouds at the baptism of Jesus

The first Sunday following the Epiphany.

These words are spoken again today at the transfiguration of Jesus,

The final Sunday after the Epiphany but before Lent.

“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

(Mark 1:11b and Mark 9:7b)

In between these past five Sundays

We have tasted a sampling of his Galilean ministry.

(We will return after Pentecost

for a more complete diet of Jesus and his Galilean ministry)

Over these past few weeks,

We have heard that

Jesus taught with authority in the synagogue.

He cast out demons.

He healed the sick.

He raised the dead.

Crowds had been attracted to him for obvious reasons.

Pressure mounted.

Jesus had to retreat to quiet places

To recharge and replenish the drain on his spiritual life.

Addressing one person from a crowd at a time

The demand for his touch

Overwhelmed his ability to supply the world’s needs.

Personal ministry didn’t scale for the God of creation.

Change became inevitable.

God sent his Son into the world

That who so ever believed in him

Would be saved and inherit eternal life.

Jesus came to the world,

Not just to those who appeared at his door

Or those who were lowered through his roof.

The tipping point reached its symbolic climax on that mountain top.

The presence of Elijah and Moses signified the apocalyptic end of the prior age.

The transfiguration of Jesus,

His clothing and face becoming dazzling white,

Announced the dawn of a new age,

A new world order filled with hope and promise.

It was time to pivot.

It was time to wheel South,

Head for Jerusalem, and

Embrace his divinely expected destiny.

Jesus would leave Galilee for the last time,

Returning only after his resurrection.

Jesus altered his trajectory

And began his final ascent to Jerusalem.  

“Shush” he told them,

“tell no one about what you have seen, until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”

(Mark 9:9)

Jesus faced inevitable change

… suffered for it

… died on the cross for it

… rose from the dead for it

Because his deepest desire

Is to envelop

You and me and the rest of creation

With his love and grace.

There are many who look at American Christianity today

And draw rapid conclusions

 – about churches, denominations, emerging generations –

And where all of this is headed.

Blogs are loaded full of

“5 Points of a Healthy” this


“12 Signs of a Dysfunctional” that.

The transition from baby boomers to

X-gens and Next-gens

Is about as graceful or comfortable as passing a kidney stone.

For decades, we analyzed attendance trends.

We experienced declining numbers of children and youth.

Many looked at aging faces in regular worship

And imagine an empty building in little more than 10 or 20 years.

We knew change was inevitable,

We knew it had to come.

We just didn’t know that it would

Sweep our legs right out from underneath us.

Thank you, COVID-19.

The pandemic has undermined our confidence of faith.

We are terrified to pivot with Jesus,

To take a step towards Jerusalem.

We are terrified to trust in him.

Are we able to trust

That Jesus will lead us from the land of

Law and prophets

Into the land of grace and love?

Are we able to trust

That Jesus will lead us from the land of death and dying

Into the land of eternal life?

Can we trust that Jesus will lead us

From scarcity and austerity

To a place where his Spirit abides with us and in us,

A land of abundance and harvest?

Do you trust that Jesus is the source of all healing,

Including healing our world of

This despicable pandemic?

If Jesus is able to heal, cast out demons and raise the dead,

Why is it so hard for us to place our trust in him

For the revival of our church

And a renewed effort to expand God’s kingdom?

As we stand in the swirling whirlpool of inevitable change

Ask Jesus to ease anxiety,

Transform terror into faith,

Change doubt into belief,

Wash us clean of pessimism, and

Fill us with confidence

In God’s amazing grace.

We sing about amazing grace all the time,

It’s about time we believe it.

The post-pandemic Rush United Methodist Church

Is going to be transfigured into something

More awesome and Holy Spirit filled

Than ever before!

Let us pray that God uses this amazing grace

To help us embrace the inevitable changes that are coming

Personally, individually, to each of us,

In every aspect of life,

And the change that is coming to Christ’s Holy Church.

I’m confident

Where God is leading

It is being revealed.

Our future is going to be great!

Let us discipline our lives,

Prioritize faithful habits, and

Discern God’s will and ways are made known to us.

I don’t know what the Holy City will look like when we get there.

That destination may be

A heavenly feast,

Thousands in Sunday worship,

Or the completion of God’s kingdom of justice and peace here on planet earth.

This is yet to be revealed.

But if this is where Jesus is going,

I’m going to follow.

Join me.

Let us follow his lead together.

I don’t know why Jesus would love you and me this much

To turn towards Jerusalem and face the inevitable.

But I do know that it is okay

To simply accept Christ’s love

And place every ounce of your trust in him.

If there was certainty,

It wouldn’t be called faith.

Place your trust in Jesus.

Let us overcome the fears of today

And embrace the inevitable change that is coming tomorrow.

Let us join in the journey with Jesus

That leads to his Passion, death, and resurrection.

Let us walk this lonesome valley with him to Jerusalem

Trusting in him,

Trusting his promise,

Trusting that he is bringing us home.


“Living Like Jesus”

Mark 1:29-39

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 7, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 1:29-39

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

| Centering Prayer |

It must be difficult to be a VIP

(Very Important Person).

I have bumped into celebrities on a few, rare occasions.

It always feels awkward.

Beyond a smile of recognition,

What do you do?

Do you say hello?

Shake their hand?

One doesn’t want to offend or bring undue attention.

I met Jim Kelly eight years ago.

He was with people I assume were his family.

I was with my parishioners.

We were in an ICU waiting room at Roswell Park.

No. I didn’t ask him for his autograph.

The sorrow in both of our eyes filled the void

where words might have been.

Intrusions into privacy as the result of fame,

Must make it difficult to navigate through daily life.

Just going to the grocery story or pharmacy must be a burden.

This season of masks probably comes as a big relief.

Strong is the celebrity who does not become jaded,

Who responds with grace,

Appropriately acknowledges fans, and

Doesn’t mind staying long to sign autographs.

Living like Jesus begins with

Spiritual Self-Care.

In the Gospel of Mark

Our author does a marvelous job of

Recording Jesus dancing an increasingly difficult tango

With his skyrocketing popularity.

Jesus goes from a private place to a public place,

Back and forth,

Alternating between concealment and secrecy,

And, publicity and proclamation.

The pendulum swings between messianic secrets

And our post-Epiphany theme of manifestation and revelation.

Jesus makes his public coming out,

Wading into three years of Galilean ministry,

At the same time,

He swears his followers to secrecy and

He is prone to slide away to a quiet place to pray.

Christ is able to remain engaged in ministry

Because throughout Mark

He follows up ministering to the crowds

With retreats into privacy

For spiritual recovery,

For time to pray.

(Preaching the New Common Lectionary, Year B, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany. Craddock, Hayes, Holladay. Pg. 149-151)

This rhythm is healthy;

A good discipline for all followers to emulate.

To live like Jesus

Is to dance a similar rhythm of

Engagement in servant ministry

Followed by restorative rest and prayer.

Living like Jesus

Brings healing to the world.

In every community Jesus visits

The more popular he becomes,

The more difficult it gets

To achieve success proclaiming the message.

He is forced to itinerate.

He must move on.

Last Sunday,

Jesus was in the public synagogue

Where he preached Good News with authority

And cast out an unclean spirit (with that same authority).

He cast out this unclean spirit from a man

Who publicly identified him and challenged him.

The narrative continues.

Jesus leaves the public venue of the synagogue

And goes to the private home of Simon and Andrew.

Simon’s unnamed mother-in-law lived with them

In this multi-generational arrangement,

Common in the time of Jesus.

Jesus takes James and John with him.

It is not a long walk from the Synagogue.

Archaeologists suggest the distance is

Only a few hundred yards. 

They told Jesus about Simon’s mother-in-law.

She was sick in bed with a fever.

Use your mind’s eye to create the scene:

Excavations reveal that housing density was high in Capernaum.

Imagine crowds of people,

“The whole city,” reports Mark,

Filling the streets,

Gathered around her door.

Think of people peeping through the windows,

Hanging from the gutters,

Looking down through cracks in the roof.

Her private residence had become a public spectacle.

We do know

Women often outlive men.  

She was one senior generation older than Simon and Andrew.

There is much we don’t know.

What was her name?

Was she a widow? Or divorced?

Did she support herself or was she dependent on her family?

Was her fever an illness that would have made her contagious or unclean?

Some diseases like leprosy rendered a person unclean, others did not.

What we do know is that her fever was serious because

“They told him about her at once.” (Mark 1:30)

There was an urgency here;

She was experiencing a health crisis that demanded immediate attention.

The newly called disciples turn to Jesus because

They experienced his preaching with authority.

They had just seen Jesus using the same authority to cast out an unclean spirit.

If Jesus had that kind of power and authority

They believed Jesus could

Heal and bring back this woman from near death, too.

The Gospel of Mark lays the groundwork for the Good News:

Trust in Jesus.

Lean into the mercy of Jesus.

Tap into the power of his resurrection.

Living like Jesus

Transforms disciples from passive observers

To active, engaged, productive partners in ministry.

What is immensely helpful to me,

And I hope is insightful to you, too,

The message that Jesus brings

Is more than mere words.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is more than talk,

It’s action;

Casting out demons and healing people,

Bringing the afflicted back into the land of the living.

Jesus makes an incursion into the shadowland

of sin and evil, of illness and death,

to mercifully bring light, healing, deliverance, and wellness.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is more than a pastoral sermon on the mount,

It’s answering the summons

To come to the aid and assistance of neighbors in need.

For the Gospel to speak,

One must act.

Living like Jesus

Demands a life of service.

The moment the fever left Simon’s mother-in-law,

She began to serve.

The verb “to serve” is a key term in Mark’s Gospel.

“diakoneo”  (dee-ak-on-eh-o)

Is interpreted as a response of faith.

It is found at three other locations in the Gospel of Mark:

  • The angels in the wilderness serve Jesus after he was tempted by the Devil for 40 days and 40 nights (Mark 1:14).
  • The women who followed Jesus served him (Mark 15:41)
  • Serving epitomizes Christ’s own ministry, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45).

Simon’s mother-in-law became an

icon of resurrection and a

paradigm of Christian ministry.

(Thanks to Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, Dean, President, Professor of New Testament, Seminary of the Southwest, Austin TX, as found at https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3547)

The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law

Tells us what Christian discipleship looks like.

Yes, there is a message to be proclaimed,

But there is also servant ministry that needs done.

If you’re a lover of the prophet Isaiah,

You might call it social justice.

Others from a more Christocentric point of view

Might call it kingdom building.

Yet others, using the latest hip language employed by popular church authors,

Might consider it relational evangelism with a missional response.

I call it living like Jesus.

When we live like Jesus

We reveal to the world

Christ manifest within us.

We demonstrate to the world

True incarnation.

This is an Epiphany of light for a world living in darkness!

Living like Jesus means living an authentic, transparent life.

How does this make a difference?

What does this mean for you and me

On our journey of faith?

Living like Jesus

Begins with relationship;

The relationships you keep

And the relationships you make.

Invest in the relationships you have.

God has placed people in your life for a reason.

Take the time and effort to meet and exceed the needs of others

Before meeting your own needs.

Try to expand your social circle.

Seek new friends and learn their stories.

The only motive for making friends is to be a friend.

Never let ulterior motives poison a friendship.

Suppress motives and temptations of money, power, size, and status.

Don’t allow personal opinions or ambition to spoil the pot.  

Don’t judge, lest ye be judged!

Consider every neighbor as a potential friend.

Listen with respect.

Consider their wellbeing.

Be humble.

It’s a privilege to be a friend

Serving in Jesus’ name.

Serve simply because of the joy of serving.

Intentionally reach out to those who have no friends.

Reach out to those who have been cast aside by society

And left for dead.

Make it your purpose to love the difficult to love,

To serve those who are difficult to serve.

If they are unclean, clean them up.

If they are possessed by a demon, cast it out.

If they are sick or injured, heal them in the name of Jesus.

Our compassionate behavior,

Our ministry with the authority of Jesus,

Completes the message

That he came to proclaim.

Like Simon’s mother-in-law,

Serve simply as a response to the faith

That is developing and deepening in your life.

Living like Jesus means serving like Simon’s mother-in-law.

Jesus recognizes the necessary next steps that he had to take.

His message is God’s message to the world,

Not to just one demon possessed person, here,

Or one needing healing, there.

Jesus needed to expand from the individual to corporate,

From single store to the franchise,

The Gospel scales.

The potential is only confided by our imaginations.

God so loved the world.

The Passion of Jesus Christ

Takes redemption, restoration, and healing beyond the personal

To the universal.

God so loved the world.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Takes salvation and eternal life from something personal

To God’s global grace.

God so loved the world.

… That the world might be saved through him.

Trust in the power and authority of Jesus.

Trust in his capacity to rescue one from the edge death or the margins of life.

Trust in his ability to heal and in the power of his resurrection.

The message of Jesus is spoken in the language

Of both words and deeds.

This is what Christ came to do.

Go, and do likewise.

Live like Jesus.