“Greatness on Jesus’ Terms”

Mark 9:30-37

September 19, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

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

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

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

Prayer.

A while back,

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

It is a detailed corporate history from 1969 to the present

Of the Union Pacific Corporation (UPC),

A holding company that ran businesses in numerous market sectors:

Energy, Information, Real Estate, and Transportation.

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

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

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

Finding the right employee for the right job,

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

Tearing down stifling, inflexible, historical culture

And replacing it with analytics, nimbleness, and efficiency.

When billions of dollars are on the line,

Egos must be stroked,

Compensation must be generous,

Scandals need to be swept under the carpet,

And job titles reflect more pride than purpose.

Though enjoyable, this isn’t pleasure reading:

I can apply this history

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

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

What makes a company great,

And what makes an employee great,

Is debated just the same.

What defines greatness?

Who says what is great?

….

Jesus weighs in on the topic of greatness.

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

As his followers,

We should pay attention.

Jesus catches his disciples arguing amongst themselves.

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

It must have been like

Asking a child whose face is covered in chocolate

What they’ve been eating.

Of course, Jesus knows the answer.

He knows what they’d been arguing about.

He knows the answer before he asks.

Here is a teachable moment;

An opportunity that Jesus won’t let slip away.

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

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

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

2. Making the self last of all.

3. Making the self servant of all.

Beloved, strive to be first

By seeking Christ and his kingdom first

This day and

Every day of your life.

Take discipleship with mortal seriousness.

Learn about Christ, follow Christ, behave like Christ

To the very best of your ability.

Make the spiritual journey with Jesus Christ

Our ultimate concern and

Our deepest passion.

Making ourselves last means

That others eat first.

The needs of others,

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

Must take priority over our needs. 

Serving all means

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

In Christian ministry.

It is vitally important to

Push ourselves away from the conference room table

And take our place in the serving line.

The only way to serve all

Is to descend the social ladder

And to welcome those who Jesus associates with.

“Throughout his ministry,”

Elisabeth Johnson writes,

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

Gentile women (Mark 7:24-30),

bleeding women (Mark 5:24-34),

lepers (Mark 1:40-45), r

aging demoniacs (Mark 5:1-20),

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

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

(As found at Working Preacher dot Org)

……

What defines greatness?

Who says what is great?

…..

Jesus takes a little child into his arms

And teaching his disciples

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

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

1. He uses a child as a teaching illustration.

2. He takes the child into his arms.

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

A child, except the first-born male,

Was considered as property,

An asset of their father.

A child was equal in social status

With women, slaves, and gentiles.

Go to the bottom of the social ladder

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

Taking a child into his arms

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

We are called to serve with the same quality,

The same tender loving care,

As we would hope to be treated.

Welcome, Jesus teaches.

To serve one

one must be committed

to welcoming one.

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

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

Let the benefactors of our service know

That we serve because Jesus teaches us to,

And that, just as Jesus has welcomed me,

So, too, is Jesus welcoming you.

Service and following Jesus go hand in hand.

Missions and evangelism can never be separated.

Mission and evangelism are brothers from other mothers.

…..

What defines greatness?

Who says what is great?

…..

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

About his suffering, death, and resurrection.

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

They’re so ashamed they didn’t get it

They were afraid to ask or inquire further.

The Gospel of Mark has its own unique characteristics.

It culminates in the crucifixion of Christ,

Treating the resurrection almost as a post-script.

This characteristic is highlighted when one conducts a careful comparison

Of each of the three narratives where Jesus

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

The scale tilts heavily in favor of atonement;

To a lesser degree, on resurrection and eternal life.

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

It is important to note that not one of his disciples

Make it all the way to the cross with Jesus.

Peter denies Jesus.

Judas betrays him and goes out and hangs himself.

Everyone else scatter, for fear of the Jews.

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

Where’d they all go?

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

Women “looking from a distance,

Mary Magdalene,

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

and Salome.” (15:40)

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

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

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

All our earthly days?

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

Allowing the atoning blood of Christ to wash us clean

All our earthly days?

Great faith doesn’t come from believing;

Greatness comes from following Jesus,

From cradle to grave, and beyond.

Follow Jesus to the cross.

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

And you, my beloved,

Will taste greatness.

….

What defines greatness?

Who says what is great?

Jesus tells us:

Serve others.

Lead others to become his followers.

Follow Christ to his cross.

Amen.

“From Mourning to Joy”

Two Meditations on Pandemic and Faith

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

September 12, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

From Mourning …

Psalm 116:1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Mournful Meditation

| Centering Prayer |

When faced with death,

when hell threatens,

while enduring suffering, distress, and anguish,

let us join with the Psalmist.

Call on the name of the Lord, saying

“O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

The world has suffered greatly the past 21 months.

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

have been infected with Covid-19, and

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

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

We’ve lost much.

Today, we pause to mourn,

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

Beloved,

name aloud

WHAT you have lost or

WHO you have lost due to the pandemic.

After each, let us collectively reply

“O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

[ What or Who you have lost … ]

Beloved,

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

Nail it to the cross of Jesus Christ.

When we take up our cross

we suffer together.

We become one with Christ,

one with each other, and

one in our faithful expectation

that joy will come in the morning.

Healing will spread across the land.

The tomb of this epidemic will soon be emptied.

“Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;”

the Psalmist reminds us.

“Our God is merciful.”

By God’s mercy

may you experience the healing touch of God.

Amen.

… to Joy!

Gospel Lesson                                  Mark 8:27-38 (NRSV)

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

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

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

A Joyful Meditation

| Centering Prayer |

The Good News is that Jesus is the Messiah,

sent by God

to save all God’s people.

Jesus is our Messiah, our Savior.

Jesus saves us from sin and death

by forgiving us,

healing our imperfections,

and by God’s amazing grace,

welcomes each of us into eternal life.

Jesus is our Companion.

Christ’s suffering upon the cross

is to us our gain.

When we deny ourselves,

take up our cross, and

follow Jesus,

we become as brothers and sisters,

sharing the journey of life,

facing all the trials, temptations, pain, and suffering

together, as one. 

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

Christ has remained steadfast by our side

throughout this terrible pandemic.

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

It has not been easy.

But we’ve learned, we’ve loved, and

we’ve grown stronger

in our individual and collective faith

each and every day.

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

Our family bubbles have redefined us.

Every aspect of our lives has changed.

We continue to dream,

to imagine,

to discern where Christ is leading us.

Unexpected joy has been found along the way.

Who knew?

Who knew a pandemic was coming?

Who knew sickness, illness, and disease

could also bring with it

the joy of discovery,

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

Who knew Covid and all it’s variants

could result in living in the joy of the Lord?

This joy is God’s gift,

the blessings of our faithful Companion, Jesus Christ, and

the benefits of abiding in the Holy Spirit.

What joy it is to be filled by the Spirit,

led by the Spirit,

strengthened by the Spirit,

loved by the Spirit!

When we name aloud our joys and blessings

we affirm God’s active presence in our lives

and our privilege to take an active role

in God’s emerging kingdom.

Beloved,

WHAT joy have you found

as a consequence of this pandemic?

Through WHOM have you witnessed God at work

to bring you joy?

[ Where have you found joy? ]

Who do we confess is Jesus?

He is our Messiah.

He is our Companion and friend.

Jesus is the source of living water,

the pathway

from sickness to health,

from sin to forgiveness,

from death to eternal life.

Be filled with joy, beloved followers of Jesus,

for he is the joy of our salvation.

Amen.  

“Faith Finds Access”

Mark 7:24-37

September 5, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 7:24-37

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

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

| Centering Prayer |

Our Gospel lesson for this morning

Follows on the heels of last Sunday’s passage

With Jesus telling the religious authorities, crowds, and disciples

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

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

Today’s two narratives,

The Syrophoenician woman and

The Decapolis man,

Complete the seventh chapter of Mark.

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

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

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

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

Before and after,

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

Jesus is surrounded by great crowds of followers,

Accompanied by his disciples.

Before and after today’s Gospel

Jesus brings deliverance from hunger with

Miracles of multiplication,

With the added benefit of abundant leftovers.

Today,

Jesus sets out alone.

No crowds.

No disciples.

He leaves Jewish territory.

He ventures north to the region of Tyre,

Predominately gentile territory, and

He makes effort to escape notice.

One can only speculate why.

Mark’s set-up for Jesus’ encounter

With this desperate mother

Is a textbook example of what not to do

In the Safe Sanctuary training!

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

He is in her territory,

On her ground,

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

Jesus is sailing uncharted waters.

The desperate mother holds the upper hand.

She seeks out Jesus,

Bows at his feet, and,

Like any mother in a similar situation,

Begs Jesus

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

Christ’s response is more than disappointing.

It is outrageous and offensive.

His response is outrageous and offensive

On two points.

“Let the children …”

That is, the children of Israel …

God’s chosen people …

“Let the children be fed first.”

(7:27)

In other words

The focus of Christ’s mission and ministry

Was first to the Jews.

Up to this stunning confrontation

His mission and ministry had not been

Directed beyond the Jewish community.

Jesus employed an “Israel first” policy.

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

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

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

God needed to cut back and

Jesus needed to ration his miracles.

The second outrageous offense comes

When Jesus completes the sentence,

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

(7:27)

Yes, you heard correctly,

Jesus compares this woman and her demon possessed daughter with

Dogs.

Sub-human.

Not worthy of crumbs

Even in the presence of abundance.

You can’t save Jesus, and

Neither can I.

Don’t even try.

Don’t try to explain his offense away.

Don’t limit the woman’s agency.

Don’t try to minimalize his contemptible errors.

And certainly don’t try to justify them.

Jesus has big shoulders and

Is more than capable of

Taking responsibility and

Correcting his error.

Only Jesus can save himself.

Which is why, I believe,

Mark includes this important confrontation in his Gospel.

This un-named, Syrian-Phoenician mother

Is desperate,

Tenacious, and

Persistent.

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

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

(Genesis 32:22-32)

“Like Jacob,

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

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

The gem here?

When God stands you up,

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

Whether or not your life,

Or the life of a loved one,

Depends on it,

This desperate mother

Gives you and me permission

To contend against God.

When life is desperate

Go to the feet of Jesus.

Scream at God!

Cry!

Beg!

Rage!

Don’t take “no” for an answer.

And don’t be turned away.

Faithful, persistence grants access

To Jesus and

God’s grace.

“But she answered him,

‘Sir, even the dogs under the table

Eat the children’s crumbs.’”

(7:28)

BOOM!

Jesus is caught with his compassion down.

He takes her left hook,

Spinning him around, and

Throwing him in a different direction.

Like the wrestling Jacob made God relent,

The desperate resolve of this woman

Forced Jesus to make a course correction

And set out in a new direction.

Grace isn’t a zero-sum game.

Twelve baskets of bread and fish

Were left over after feeding five thousand.

Seven baskets of bread

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

There is more than enough of

God’s amazing grace to go around.

There is room for everyone at God’s table.

Dogs may eat scraps under the table,

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

Jew and gentile, alike.

It is a fine line between desperation and faith.

It is her begging word …

… her persistence petition …

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

“For saying that, you may go-

The demon has left your daughter.”

(7:29)

Exorcism from a distance.

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

Yet, she did.

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

This confrontation

Made Jesus theologically and geographically change direction.

He doesn’t return home to Capernaum or Nazareth.

Jesus is rerouted.

He travels from the northern Mediterranean coast

To the interior region of the Decapolis,

Ten cities built, developed, and remaining ethnically Greek.

Jesus goes whole hog gentile,

Where the Gospel reports he cures a deaf man.

Jesus’ mission and ministry extends beyond Jewish horizons

To all the world.

It takes place most certainly

More quickly than he anticipated.

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

What are today’s key take-aways?

Desperation counts.

Desperation counts as faith.

Go to Jesus in your desperate moments of life and

Contend with God.

Put on the gloves,

Get in the ring and

Spar with the Lord.

The give and take with God

Is empowering.

Our relationship with God isn’t one sided:

Where God directs and we follow like mindless Lemmings,

Taking whatever God serves up.

God responds to our encounters,

Changes course, when necessary,

Is rerouted

As a compassionate, loving, response

To our deepest, most desperate, human needs.

God’s amazing grace  

Is abundant, too.

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

To support the whole world,

With plenty left over.

Beloved,

Be of good faith.

Be tenacious in your faith.

Be persistence and insistence in your faith.

That faith will deliver you.

That faith will grant you access

To God’s amazing grace.

Amen.