Mark 10:2-16

October 3, 2021, World Communion Sunday

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

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

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

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

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

| Centering Prayer |

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

Where I stand on the Church and gay marriage,

And the ordination of homosexuals.

My stock answer remains:

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

Jesus doesn’t bring up the topic once.

Not once.

Jesus teaches at length about not judging others,

How God so loves the world,

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

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

Jesus doesn’t address homosexuality,

But he does teach about the issue of divorce.

In fact, he teaches the crowd,

the Pharisees (Jewish lay leaders),

and his followers

quite a lot about divorce.

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


Here are four points of context:

1. We assume divorce is a modern phenomenon;

It isn’t.

In the first century, during the time of Jesus,

Divorce was a generally accepted part of the cultural landscape.

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

2. Marriage in the ancient world

was primarily a means of economic and social stability.

Women were considered property of the father,

Women were sold to a husband in marriage

through the exchange of a dowry.

Marriage united family, created offspring, increased wealth,

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

When a marriage failed, …

Everyone lost.

3. Jewish leaders in the time of Jesus

spoke about how divorce was bad for society,

The debate was mostly focused on the legal imperative.

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

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

In other words

Deuteronomy assumes divorce will occur

and prescribes legal procedures for carrying it out.

This legal procedure ensured dependent women and children

A defense against rumor and slander;

A very important consideration for survival,

Let alone remarriage.

Some hardhearted Pharisees who question Jesus

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

That provides justice for the vulnerable: women and children.

Other Pharisees who question Jesus and attempt to trap him,

Call into question the permissibility of divorce

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

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

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

Scripture appeared contradictory and could be read both ways.

What better controversy to trap Jesus

Than one that is hotly debated by religious authorities?

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

this narrative is one of many in a long succession

about how religious authorities attempt to trap Jesus,

to find cause to have him arrested,

and to have him put to death.

Jesus is riding the razon’s edge.

His life and death hung on every word.

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


What does Jesus teaching about divorce

Mean to you and me?

Let’s look carefully at his words:

1. Jesus answers a question with a question.

He knows the minefield the Pharisees have laid.

He knows they are divided among themselves.

He knows their absolute devotion to the Law.

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

are in conflict and less than clear.

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

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

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

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

But Jesus sees their callous and hardened heart:

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

Better answer! Jesus favors two becoming one.

He moves beyond the simple justice advanced by the Law

Takes it a step further

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

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

Two equal partners.

One without the other breaks the whole thing.

Two cogs that drive the wheel;

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

God joined two into one,

Therefore, no one can break the one.

Two equal partners that are so unified

They become one flesh,

One body,

Until death do they part.

What sensible Pharisee will discount Genesis 2 in public?

Not one of them.

They slink away, like the snakes they are,

defeated once again in their attempt to trap Jesus.

They lost the debate because

Jesus uses the Law as the foundation for his teaching.

He builds upon the Law with a new covenant

That is rooted in grace.

2. Jesus uses the early confrontation with the adversarial Pharisees

as a talking point later in the day

in the privacy of a house

surrounded by his disciples.

They, and we, want to know more.

Jesus continues.

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

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

Be it the husband or the wife.

His point is that

Divorce does not offer a legal loophole to justify adultery.

Be warned, Jesus tells us frankly,

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

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

It is no accident that this passage is immediately followed by

The disciples attempting to keep children away from Jesus

And his powerful response:

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

Jesus’ approach to children is hardly surprising

Given the way he so frequently

Held them,

Loved them, and

Used children as teaching examples.

Do not sacrifice a spouse,

Do not sacrifice the children,

To satisfy one’s sexual desires or ambitions.

Jesus doesn’t throw anyone away.

He doesn’t throw anyone under the bus.

And neither should we.

3. Women, take heart.

Men, listen carefully.

Jesus elevates women to a place of equality in marriage,

Hardly seeing women as passive objects or property.

To Jesus’ first century audience,

Equality in marriage was revolutionary.

Responsibility is balanced:

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

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

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

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

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

Not against her father or past husband,

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

Adultery concerns accountability to a partner.

Jesus is calling us to accountability in marital relationships.

If you make a wedding vow,

Keep it.

Failure to keep your word is an offense

Against your spouse,

Against every witness of your wedding, and

An offense against the Lord.

4. I applaud Jesus for not avoiding the issue;

Especially later in the day when

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

His words help us better understand why failed marriages

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

Jesus explains the pain our God experiences when marriages fail.

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

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

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

Abuse breaks the vows

“To have and to hold” and

“To love and to cherish.”

Jesus brings special attention to children.

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

The church has learned over the centuries

That to impose these words uncritically,

Without interpretation,

as inflexible commands,

is to do violence, deny protection, and withhold grace

to the women and children who need it most.

Dearly beloved,

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

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

Jesus urges us to regard marriage in stark contrast

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

Jesus is opposed to adultery.

The Law is followed.

Women and children are elevated,

And women are afforded equal accountability in the marriage relationship.

No one is to be thrown away.

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

Two become one.

One flesh,

Connected to the One,

Lord, and savior of us all, Jesus Christ.


“Non Sequitur”

Mark 9:38-50

September 26, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 9:38-50

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

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

| Centering Prayer |

Non sequitur.

I had to look it up.

A non sequitur is a statement that does not logically follow

From the previous argument or statement.

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

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

The disciple John demonstrates that he’s a candidate for

King of the non sequitur!

John clearly had not been listening.

The lessons of the teacher,

As he addressed Jesus,

Weren’t being heard or comprehended.

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

Jesus was teaching his disciples that

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

They couldn’t believe him.

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

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

They didn’t hear him.

Jesus took a child in his arms as a teaching example

(visual aids can be really helpful)

And teaches that

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

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

No one was listening.

The disciples couldn’t believe Jesus.

They didn’t hear him.

No one was listening.

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

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

John drops the mother of all non sequitur’s

When he broaches the topic of

Others casting out demons in the name of Jesus.

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

‘they’re for us.’ (9:40)

Let’s get this train back on the track.

What was Jesus talking about?

Oh, yeah.

He’s holding a child.

He was talking about welcoming children,

New followers, in his name.

Welcome others.

Hold new followers of Jesus tenderly.

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

Jesus puts the train back on the track

And tells John, and the rest of the disciples,

Exactly what NOT to do.

Do NOT be a stumbling block for a new follower.

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

It would be better to go to hell

Than to cause a new follower to stumble.


You know,

That place we don’t like to talk about.

Yeah, where there is an unquenchable fire,

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


Is the word Jesus uses to give hell a name;

Not the more neutral words Sheol or Hades.

Gehenna, by definition,

Is the destination of the wicked.

Gehenna is quite fitting.

Holding a child,

Jesus says that causing a child-like follower to stumble

It would be better for one to go to Gehenna,

The valley outside Jerusalem

That, in prior years,

Was known to be a location

For pagan child sacrifice.

By the time of Jesus,

Gehenna was a garbage dump;

A garbage dump with a nasty, haunted history.

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

Now that’s some salty teaching!

Do NOT be a stumbling block to any other follower

On their journey with Jesus,

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

Children in faith.

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

Think with me, for a moment,

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



Behavior that is inconsistent with the teaching of Jesus.

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

Because their beliefs are different than ours,

Their denomination is different than ours,

Their worship is different than ours.

They like different music.

They pray differently.

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

High church, low church.

Charismatic, reserved.

Too catholic, not orthodox enough.

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

In other words: STUFF IT!

Stop the criticism.

Criticizing other Christians

May be the greatest of all non sequiturs:

Diverting our thoughts

Derailing our efforts,

Threatening us with a wicked eternity.  

Christians criticizing Christians

Is the stumbling block Jesus wants us to avoid

To keep our focus on what is truly important.

Ending the criticism begins with me.

I can’t control the behavior of others,

But I can discipline myself.

I can remove stumbling blocks for others

By setting a good example of following Jesus.

Keep a laser focus on what is truly important,

What Jesus is teaching:

Welcome visitors and others.

Invite them to follow Jesus.

Set a good example for how Christ followers should behave.

Lead by serving

Those who Jesus served.

Keeping that laser focus on Jesus

Is what I’d call



“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.”


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.


“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.


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 … ]


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.


… 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.


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.


“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.


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.”


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.”


Yes, you heard correctly,

Jesus compares this woman and her demon possessed daughter with



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


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!




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.’”



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.”


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.


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.