“Prepare the Way of the Lord”

December 5, 2021, Advent 2C

Luke 3:1-6

the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

“Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.

Every valley shall be filled,

and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall be made straight,

and the rough ways made smooth;

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”’

| Centering Prayer |

Sixty-six years is a long sentence to serve in prison.

That’s 792 months.

Sixty-six years is a long time

for one to be punished for disobedience.

Sixty-six years;

This is how long our ancestors paid for their sins.

This is how long it took for them

For the Lord to wring the stain of sin out of them,

to be cleansed of evil.

The prophet Isaiah,

A spokesperson on behalf of God,

Warned successive kings of Judiah

That the nation would be punished for guilt associated with four charges:

Wicked behavior, rebellion, corruption, and iniquity.

(See Isaiah 1)

God doesn’t tolerate fools.

Isaiah was no fortune teller.

He was simply an obedient bullhorn for the Lord to speak directly to God’s people.

Prophecy was known inside our Hebrew experience

As revelation,

A message from God,

Delivered by God’s hand-picked chosen servant.

God is always true to God’s promises.

The hammer of divine judgment fell in the year 605 BCE

When the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, defeated our forefathers

In the Battle of Carchemish and laid siege to Jerusalem.

Appeasement payments only held off the inevitable.

Stores of food ran out.

The protective city walls were breached, the Temple was destroyed, and we were utterly and completely defeated.

Nebuchadnezzar initiated three successive waves of deportation for the survivors.

Our defeated ancestors were deported

To prisoner of war camps,

Located deep within Babylon,

On the shore of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers,

In modern day Iraq,

547 miles to the East as the crow flies.

The first wave of deportations was in 597 BCE,

the second was in 587, and

the third was in 582.

Sixty-six long years from judgment to release.

Our Hebrew ancestors were freed in 539 BCE

By the hand of Cyrus the Great, Nebuchadnezzar’s successor.

Sixty-six years is more than three generations.

How long would the Lord’s punishment last? To children? To grandchildren? To great-grandchildren?

At what point had justice been served?

At what point had all iniquities been wiped clean?

Listen to the haunting words of the Psalmist.

“By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.

On the willows there we hung up our harps.

For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”

– Psalm 137:1-4

It was during this period of life in exile,

Life in the Babylonian prisoner of war camps,

That the Lord approached the tribe of Isaiah and his descendants;

The family of the great prophet, and others who joined with him and his tradition.

The words of the Lord

To a young prophet in the Isaiah tradition

Are recorded, starting in Chapter 40, extending through Chapter 55.

“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

– Isaiah 40:1-5

Our debt had been paid.

Israel had been redeemed.

The voice crying out set the stage

For Jewish messianic expectation:

Redemption is at hand!

Prepare the way for the Lord

For the Lord is coming to redeem all people and lead us back home.

The expected messiah is propagated by other Jewish prophets,

Most namely Malachi,

Following the return of the exiles,

The restoration of Jerusalem,

And the reconstruction of the Temple:

“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.”

– Malachi 3:1-3

For the next four-hundred thirty years

Malachi’s messianic expectations simmered on the back burner

of Jewish theology, beliefs, and practice.

After periods of prosperity,

Like Groundhog Day,

God used

The Greeks, first, then the Romans,

To pass judgment and execute judgment on Israel’s return to wickedness.

Greek, then Roman conquerors

Followed the example of the earlier Babylonians.

They conquered our covenant-promised land and enslaved God’s chosen people.

Messianic expectation caught fire like sparks to spilled gasoline.

Zechariah, a righteous and devout priest of the temple,

Husband of Elizabeth,

Cousin of Mary, by marriage,

Was filled with this frenzied messianic expectation

For he had the words of Isaiah and Malachi written in his DNA.

In the first chapter of Luke, starting with the eighth verse,

We hear of an angelic visitation and message.

The angel Gabriel called on Zechariah,

Not in a dream, but in person, at the altar of incense in the temple.

Gabriel confirmed Zechariah’s messianic expectation:

Although Elizabet was of post-menopausal age,

She would become pregnant

And give birth to a boy, who Zechariah was to name John.

John would be the one to lead the effort to prepare the way for the messiah.

It isn’t every day one is visited by an actual angel!

John was born, just as promised.

Zechariah cradled his infant son, John, and

Prophesies just as the angel Gabriel instructed:

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

– Luke 1:76-79

From Isaiah to Malachi,

From Malachi to Zechariah,

Prophecy had undergone significant evolution.

A prophet had been transformed

From a future teller (futurist),

To a divine messenger,

a spokesperson for God,

To one chosen by God

To recognize and witness to the fact

That God is at work

Forgiving sins and

Saving souls

Right in our midst.

Zechariah’s revelation

Was that God was changing course.

Instead of going the prophet and prophecy route

God was stepping through the heaven and earth divide.

God was coming to all nations, to all people,

To redeem all people from sin,

To give knowledge and promise of salvation,

To give light to those in darkness,

To give life in the shadow of death, and

To guide us into the way of peace.

Our messianic expectation was being fulfilled.

His name is Jesus, the Christ.

The one leading the way for Jesus,

Was John, warning all the world to repent and make personal preparations,

For God was already at work in our midst.


In the post-messianic era leading continuing to today

What becomes the role of prophet?

What is to become of prophecy?

And, what is our role in it?

The role of prophet and the work of prophecy

Continued to change following Jesus,

His passion, death, resurrection, and ascension.

Prophet and prophecy advanced with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

God has given to us the gift of the Holy Spirit

To work in us, individually,

And to work through us collectively,

To empower and direct the Church moving forward.

The work of the Spirit, as detailed in Luke’s second book,

The Acts of the Apostles,

Reveals that God continues to be present and active in the world,

God continues to redeem and save.

The Holy Spirit continues to overcome darkness with light,

bring life to the dead,

and take an active role in the lives of disciples.

Our prophetic challenge today

Is to witness to this reality,

To reveal to the world just what it is that the Holy Spirit is up to,

That the glory of the Lord will be revealed to all flesh.

Prophecy today witnesses to the fact that

Christ came to redeem, to purchase the sins of all the world.

Christ promised to come again,

to save all the world into God’s eternal kingdom.

This becomes our prophetic testimony,

The prophetic testimony of Christ’s universal Church to the world.

It is the power and direction of the Holy Spirit that makes it all possible.

Dearly beloved, take a look around:

Can’t you see?

Can you feel the Spirit at work in our midst?

In our prayers?

In our discernment?

In our mission and ministry?

Of course, we can!

Make your testimony

Of what the Spirit has being doing in your life.

Witness of your experience

To a world

In waiting,

In expectation,

For Christ to fulfill his promise and return.

This is our prophetic voice!

Claim your voice!

This Advent,

Shout it from the mountain top!

Prepare the way for the Lord to come.

By our convincing testimony

Bring down the mountains

And fill in the valleys.

By your witness

Straighten out this crooked world.

Make ready for Christ to come.


“Stand Up and Raise Your Heads”

Luke 21:25-36

November 28, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 21:25-36

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

| Centering Prayer |

Happy New Year!

Woot! Woot!

Of course,

I’m not speaking about the calendar year

Which will refresh all on its own

In a mere 33 days.

I’m speaking of the Liturgical Year,

The Church’s Worship Year,

Which begins fresh and new on the First Sunday of Advent.

On this date,

The Gospel centric focus of worship pivots.

We leave Mark behind.

Don’t worry, we revisit each Gospel every third year.

Today we bring focus on the Gospel of Luke.

We will ride Luke this coming year like a pony,

Interspersed with a dash of seasonings from the Gospel of John,

Over the next 365 days.

(With Irony)

Let’s start this New Year off right with the Gospel of Luke

By starting with the 21st chapter …

Right? Right.

What genius thought of that?


Allow me to begin in the first chapter of Luke

Where the Gospel author,

Tells his friend Theophilus the reason for

Dictating this orderly account of the life of Jesus.

This witness is

“so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”

(Luke 1:4)

Theophilus had been learning about the life of Jesus.

Now, he needed to know

The truth behind the experiences of Jesus the Christ,

The Son of God.

Truth is a common thread picked up from Christ the King last Sunday;

Where Pilate was interrogating Jesus about his kingdom.

What is truth? Pilate asked.

What is truth? First century disciples of Jesus asked,

Even as they eagerly awaited Jesus’ imminent return

On a cloud, from on high.

What is truth?

Those same disciples asked about truth when Rome destroyed the Temple and the few survivors were flung to the far corners of the Empire and earth;

Thrown as if they were rag dolls with their hair on fire.

Where is Jesus?

He said he’d return.

Yet, he hadn’t.


What is the truth?

Thus, Luke authors his Gospel and the sequel, the Acts of the Apostles,

For the benefit of Christ followers,

So they’d know the truth about Jesus and how to wait with faithful anticipation for his return.

In many ways,

Our religion is one of waiting,

… and how we spend our time while we wait.

I hate waiting, especially if it has no purpose.

Too long of a check-out line and not enough people working the registers?

It drives me nuts.

It’s pointless.

But if waiting has a purpose,

A reason,

Waiting can become a spiritually refreshing posture of faith.

We wait for Christ to return.

In the meantime, what are we to do?


When we wait for Christ to come

We are to watch for signs,

Because when he comes

The day will catch us unexpectedly

like a trap.

(Luke 21:35)

Luke promises signs of persecution and destruction.

The first century disciples of Jesus would have nodded their heads with understanding.

Jerusalem had been destroyed.

Nero was crucifying our ancestors and

Lighting the corpses of Christian martyrs on fire to illuminate his path.

Our first-century sisters and brothers

Were living firsthand the promise of Luke.

In today’s Gospel,

Luke points us to cosmic powers and signs:

The sun, the moon, and the stars.

He cites the roaring of the sea and the waves.

The nations of the earth will be distressed.

People will be filled with foreboding.

Even the power of the heavens will be shaken.

These are signs of Christ’s imminence in that first century,

And every generation since.

Our generation is no more exceptional than any other.

What gives us the pride and hubris to believe

Our generation is suffering more,

Is facing greater persecution,

Is in greater peril,

Then our ancestors who were martyred in the Colosseum

Or during the Inquisition, the Napoleonic wars, in Nazi Germany, or occupied Syria?

The alarm has been raised with every prior generation,

Even as it is raised with us today. 

What we are to take away from this posture of active watching

Is Luke’s promise that

The power of God

Far exceeds the disturbed cosmic powers being replaced.

All familiar powers of the universe will be shaken and lost.

Power that is familiar …

… think about it …

Power that is familiar will be lost.

Terror has the potential to grip even the strongest of Christian

When conventional powers are shaken

And when cosmic powers fail.

Be assured, Christ’s power exceeds

All that has come before.

Christ’s power and authority surpasses all cosmic powers,

And it certainly eclipses all mortal, earthly powers.

When Christ returns,

So, too, will order.

Order will return to all things.

And God’s kingdom shall reign forever.


Luke reports that

Jesus doesn’t tell us to run like hell when we witness these signs.

Jesus doesn’t tell us to be terrified.

He doesn’t tell us to lash out with kneejerk anger or vengeance.

Instead, Jesus tells us to stand up and raise our heads.

Beloved friends,

Let us temper our words and our behaviors.

I, too, feel the primal, emotional need to lash out to those

Who seek to destroy this world,

And to do it with unspeakable, brutal violence.

Let you and I discipline our behavior.

Let our Christian training kick in.

Take a moment to catch our breath.

Return to the Gospel and be refreshed by its Good News!

Be filled with confidence!

This is God’s kingdom and Christ is returning.

Standing up and raising our heads means

We refuse to submit to fear.

We refuse to be a victim.

We refuse to allow ourselves

To be used as a proxy for

The Devil’s message and a motive for sin and temptation.

Standing up and lifting our heads means we bear testimony

To our loving God,
And the gift of his Son,

To redeem and save the world.

When we stand and lift our heads

Others rise with us.

We stand in unity, encouraged by each other’s confidence.

Nothing builds confidence like the confidence of others.

Let us stand up and raise our heads

Because we will not be shaken or lost.

God is present.

God is active.

God is in control.

With confidence we are able to proclaim to a world awash in sin

That Christ is returning.

The days when false prophets were listened to and followed are over.

The days we surrendered the return of Christ

To people hawking crazy “rapture” theology to whoever would buy it, are over.

We can confidently turn our backs

On millennialists and numerologists

Who claim insider-knowledge

about when and where the world is coming to an end.

We can stand together and lift our heads

With confidence and faith,

In spite of the Devil and all his evil designs.

Christ is coming again.



We stand confident in our faith

in the promise of judgment.

The Lord is our judgment;

It is on the Lord’s terms

and in the Lord’s time

That God pronounces judgment and executes justice

For every one of God’s children.

We are not called to judge others.

We can only judge ourselves.

God is the final arbitrator for each of us.

God may employ anyone to execute justice,

Or not.

We don’t know.

It isn’t our place to question or interfere.

It isn’t up to us to decide

Who God chooses

To pass judgment and execute justice.

Neither do we know

God’s will for any of God’s chosen;

How judgment will be adjudicated or how justice will be carried out.

We can volunteer.

Thankfully, many do.

But judgment and justice is the

White hot iron of Christianity that might be tempting to touch,

But is retained exclusively by God.

Pity the poor fool who doesn’t get the message

And attempts to take the law into vigilante hands. 

Stand and look up.



Redemption is drawing near.

Stand up and raise your head with confidence

Knowing that God is in control.

Do so with anticipation of Christ’s coming again.

This is what we do during Advent.

This is who we are as Christians.


“Pilate’s Five Questions”

John 18:33-38

November 21, 2021

Christ the King

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 18:33-37

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?”

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

| Centering Prayer |

His questions intrigue me, and

Reveal to us where this train is headed.

Pontius Pilate had only five questions for the incarcerated Jesus;

Held and tried on full display before Annas, Caiaphas, and other Jewish authorities.

1. “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Translation: Anyone claiming authority over the Emperor would be guilty of treason and immediately put to death by crucifixion.

Careful, Jesus.

Pontius Pilate is judge, jury, and executioner.

“Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Jesus responds to the question with a question.

Translation: The Jewish authorities want Jesus dead but they didn’t have the authority or stomach to kill him themselves.

Pilate would serve their need for an assassin by proxy.

2. “I am not a Jew, am I?”

Translation: Pilate’s question is a statement that he is not a Jew.

Therefore, his answer to Jesus’ question

Informs Jesus

just who it was

behind the plot to kill him.

Pilate lifts the curtain, and the religious authorities are caught red handed.

Who knew? They blushed.

3. “What have you done?”

Jesus previously reported to the Caiaphas, the High Priest, that he was only guilty of teaching in synagogues and in the Temple.

That got Jesus a slap across the face by a Temple police officer.

(John 18:19-224)

The unspoken charge was blaspheme;

teaching irreverently about God or sacred things;

You know, things …

Like the Temple was corrupt,

Religious authorities preyed on the poor, and

Lust after wealth, power, and control.

What had Jesus done?

The Son of God exposed organized religion as organized crime.

4. “So you are a king?”

Christ’s sovereignty isn’t political, ideological, tribal, or national.

Jesus informs Pilate that his kingdom is comprised of

everyone who belongs to the truth and listens to his voice.

(John 18:37)

Christ’s teachings are truth.

Those on the other side of truth

Pay no attention to Jesus.

Their sovereign is darkness and death.

Those of us who listen to Christ’s teachings and belong to the truth are members of Christ’s kingdom.

Listen and learn from Jesus.

Embrace truth.

Christ is our King.

5. “What is truth?”

The loyal flunkey of Caesar

thought he knew a few things about truth,

as he saw it.

Truth was …

In his eyes,

Pilate had all the power

over life, death, and everything in-between.

Truth and power,

influence and affluence,

all were his to hold or wield

as he saw fit.

Truth was …

In Pilate’s eyes,

the strong rule the weak.

The powerful judge the weak.

Rome demanded peace, obedience, and an uninterrupted flow of cash.

Pilate thought he knew a few things about truth:

It had proved to be politically useful

to befriend the religious authorities

to enlist their help

to keep the peace

to become the pipeline of money

delivering tax income to Rome.

Some considered it collaboration with the enemy.

The religious authorities saw it as a means to an end.

Whatever the justification;

When Rome was happy

Pilate was happy.

Pilate held all the cards,

Jesus had none.

Or, so Pilate thought.

Truth was

the spineless Temple priests

charged Jesus with blasphemy

but didn’t have the courage

to face him themselves

without the power of Pilate and his soldiers

to back them up.

Pity Pilate and his lackey Temple priests.

Their assumptions about truth

had all been wrong.

The question

“What is truth?”

simply points to

the depth of their ignorance,

the absence of faith.

Truth does not change with time.

What was true yesterday

is true today

and will be true tomorrow.

Truth can be replicated by others.

making it universal in its application.

It crosses all divisions

– gender, race, culture, and economics.

Truth is valid

in every time and every circumstance.


Contradiction undermines truth.

It creates an imperfection,

distressing incongruities,

and leads to failure.

The truth about God

is that there is more than what is seen, known, or experienced.

The mysterious nature of God is an ocean to our small island.

Had Pilate been able to see

what we see through the lens of history

he would have seen the fall of the Roman Empire,

the Ottoman Empire,

Nazi Germany,

And the crushing of ISIS.

Pilate would have been faced

with God’s larger truth that

the strong do not rule the weak.


in God’s kingdom,

domination leads to failure,

power leads to corruption,

and those who hoard money find it impossible to

thread a needle with a camel.

If Pilate had been able to see

the larger picture,

absent of contradiction, imperfection, and incongruity,

he would have seen that

that God favors the poor,

the weak,

the least, the lost, the disadvantaged,

all those who get left behind.

The truth about God

is rooted deeply in faith.

What is beyond what can be seen

at any one time

is a reality in which

God is immortal, almighty, and in absolute control.

This is God’s kingdom

And Jesus is our king.

While we may be preoccupied

with the minutia of everyday

living and dying,

God is doing far greater things.

God is shaping and molding

into an ultimate, final divine will for all things,

from the vast expanse of the cosmos

to the particular of every human experience.

God creates and recreates everything

From the big to the small,

From the East to the West,

From the North to the South.

Faith that God is in control

frees the self

from equating cure with healing,

from connecting affluence with blessing,

and insisting that punishment

is the only solution for sin.

Faith in God

frees the self

from the necessity to always take charge,

and allows us

to submit,

to serve,

to give,

and to let go.

Faith that God is in control

allows one to recognize

the fact that we do not need to know all things,

to be a part of every decision,

to trust,


to allow God to be God.

Justice will prevail.

Peace will come.

The truth about God

is also rooted in a foundation of love;

the source of every

divine motive

from the beginning of time

through every eon of eternity.

Love overcame the flaw of sin;

the garden’s imperfection.

Love gave Moses a voice

Abraham a covenant

and the prophets a message.

Love birthed Jesus into the human condition,

forgives all flaws

and brings victory over the grave.

Love brings light and salvation

to a world hiding in darkness and sin.

We are a forgiven people because of God’s love.

We are a resurrection people because of God’s love.

We are a claimed people because of God’s love.

Where ever love can be found

it is possible

to trace its origins

back to the source

back to from whence it came

back to the Lord God, Almighty.

“Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,”

Jesus informs

the faithless personification

of stubborn, selfish, human will.

We know in our heart

that Jesus is right.

But to listen

and to obey



of the will

to the Divine will.


this is the price of Truth;

the only price that we are asked to pay.

“Are ye able,

said the Master,

to be crucified with me?”

to surrender the self

wholly to Christ,

to go

only where he leads?

to follow

only his voice?

“Are you the King of the Jews?”

asked a perfumed, pompous ruler

who thought he knew better.

“My kingdom is not from here,”

Jesus answers.

Thank God.

Thank God

Christ’s kingdom was never built on

political power, military might, or state wealth.

Thank God

we can handle the truth;

The truth is that God is in control.

The truth is that faith is able to free us.

The truth is that eternal love is God’s only pure and unblemished motive.


“Not One Stone”

Mark 13:1-10

November 14, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 13:1-10

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

“As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations.

| Centering Prayer |

Context is the key to understanding.

Nobody likes rising taxes.

The result were public protests and attacks on government officials.

Governor Florus over-played his hand:

He ordered the Temple plundered and the treasury emptied.

This was the spark for the first of three wars

between the Jews and Rome.

Jewish rebels fought back,

Leading the pro-Roman king, Agrippa, government officials, and soldiers

to flee Jerusalem for their lives.

The rebellion was quickly spinning out of control.

Nero, the Emperor, had to act.

First, he sent Gallus to bring his legions of troops from Syria

to restore order and end the revolt.

6,000 troops were caught by Jewish rebels west of Jerusalem

In the Beth Horon pass.

All six thousand were slaughtered.

The Jewish victory attained great support throughout the land

And won over the hearts of the people.

Volunteers poured into rebel recruiting stations

Offering to fight Rome.

Passion and patriotism surged with youthful vigor.

Hold on there, dearly impassioned Jews.

Nero wouldn’t be embarrassed again.

The most experienced general, Vespasian,

was handpicked to crush the rebellion in Judaea.

Avoiding a direct attack on the heavily reinforced City of Jerusalem,

Four legions of troops,

That’s 24,000 soldiers,

landed in Galilee in 67 AD.

For three years, the legions advanced, led by Vespasian’s son, Titus,

Who served as second in command.

Rebel strongholds were eradicated, the fields were salted, and the population was punished.

February, 70 AD found the Roman legions knocking at the gates of the City of Jerusalem.

The Jewish rebels held out against the siege for 7 months.

All food supplies inside the walls were exhausted.

Time was on the side of Rome.

Jerusalem fell on September 7th in the year 70.

The Temple was destroyed, timbers burned, every stone above the foundation was thrown down and smashed.

The fire was so hot you can see the burn stains on the rubble to this day.

Rome found its revenge.

Josephus, the famed Jewish historian, claims 1.1 million people were killed during the siege, and 97,000 prisoners were taken into Roman slavery.

The few surviving Jews fled,

Diaspora-ed under cover of night to the four corners of the world.

Among the traumatized, surviving Jews

Were a small band of disciples

Who, as luck would have it, witnessed Christ’s ascension

38 years earlier.

By the light of the burning Temple,

St. Mark and his band of new Christians,

Convert memories to record,

Put pen to paper and begin a first draft of their Gospel.

Context is the key to understanding.

( Historical references from:

“Remember when Jesus made his final visit to the Temple?”

Mark and his small band of brothers probably opined.

“Jesus asked him,

‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’” (13:2)

Not one stone.

Not one stone is left.

How right Jesus was.


You think these are bad times? End times, even?

COVID-19 pandemic.

Raging inflation.

Supply chain interruptions.

Taxes up.

Health care out of control.

Country divided.

The Capital stormed by rioters.

Hate crimes, more bold and more frequent.

Double talking,

lobbyist owned,

insincere parties, and

lying politicians

Who couldn’t pour water out of a boot even if the directions were printed on the sole?

You think these are bad times?

President Madison probably thought he was living through the end times

As he fled Washington and Major General Robert Ross

Easily routed the city and burned it to the ground.

Confederate John Bell Hood probably thought he was living through the end time

As his troops were overwhelmed and defeated in the Battle of Atlanta.

Sherman burned it to the ground.

Fire and fury,

Defeat and the smell of rotting corpses,

Would lead any woman or man to ask the same question

As our Lord’s disciples: When? What will be the signs?

When? And What? We ask of ourselves.

Lord, deliver us from such evil that threatens to consume us!

Jesus recognized the fact two days before the Passover

That crisis makes one vulnerable

to deception.

He was facing his own crisis,

And this made him vulnerable to temptation.

The crisis made the early Christians caught up in the destruction of Jerusalem during the first Jewish revolt

Vulnerable to every self-proclaimed snake oil salesman

Claiming to be the second coming of Christ.

They will say, “’I am he!’ and they will lead many astray,” Jesus warns. (13:6)

The crisis we see on today’s news

Speaks of wars and rumors of wars,

Of nations rising against nations.

California wildfires sweeping whole towns away,

Volcanoes blowing and spewing,

Earthquakes and famines –

This isn’t the end, Jesus proclaims.

This is just the beginning of labor,

The first contractions.

Christ followers will be vulnerable,

Easily led astray.

We are vulnerable, when facing persecution,

To give up and give in.

Hold strong, Jesus is telling us today!

Now is the time to hold strong.

No one knows when, so hold strong to faith.

No one knows when, so let us prepare ourselves for

Christ to return to anyone, anytime, anywhere, to everyone.

In other words

Stop looking for signs.

Efforts to correlate

the return of Christ and

the establishment of God’s kingdom with earthly signs

is a complete and utter waste of time.

There is great danger in associating

The evil of this world,

The tragic natural catastrophes of this world,

With the will of God.

The Lord is the light; and is not responsible for the darkness.

This is God’s kingdom.

God acts in God’s own time.

Throughout salvation history,

God has always worked for good.

Expect this trend to continue.

Apocalyptical prophecies prey upon the vulnerable,

Especially when facing the trials and temptations of this world.

Apocalyptical forecasting is not only a waste of time,

It distracts us from the task at hand:

 “The Good News must first be proclaimed to all nations.” (13:10)

Hold strong to the faith,

Jesus communicates to his followers,

And proclaim his Good News to all nations.

Share the Gospel.

Spread the Gospel.

Propagate the Gospel.

Make the entire planet aware

Of Jesus Christ, God’s gift of love,

His forgiveness and his salvation.

Not one stone will be left here upon another,

Jesus correctly proclaimed.

Today, all that remains of the Temple in Jerusalem

Are the foundation and front stairs.

Everything else is rubble,

Preserved for pilgrim tours.

When we hear about or look upon the foundation of the Temple,

Known as the Wailing Wall,

May we be reminded of our Lord’s directives:

Stay strong.

Stay focused.

Remain prepared.

Spread the Good News.

Leave the rest up to God.


“Jesus Knows Better”

November 7, 2021 – All Saints Sunday

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 11:32-44

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone.

And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

| Centering Prayer |

“Lord, if you had been here,

my brother would not have died.”

(John 11:21, 32)

Mary repeats the charge first made by her sister, Martha.

Mary and Martha blames Jesus for the death of their brother, Lazarus.

That’s quite the charge to heap on Jesus, don’t you think?

Never mind the fact that Lazarus may

may have died of natural causes.

We just don’t know what caused his illness.

He may have had many complex medical conditions.

Perhaps he didn’t take care of himself.

Never mind the fact that Lazarus didn’t have access to health care as we know it.

And, never mind the fact that Lazarus had lived a good, long life for that day and age.

Their charge

“Lord, if you had been here,

my brother would not have died,”

Speaks much more to the state of grieving sisters

Than it reflects the true nature of Jesus’ pastoral responsibility,

Or lack, thereof.

I’d suggest

“Lord, if you had been here,

my brother would not have died”

Reflects Mary and Martha’s deeper cultural belief about death,

One that most of us share:

That life is good and death is bad.

Death should be avoided at all cost.

Death should be avoided AT ALL COST,

even if it involves intense, chronic suffering.

Death should be avoided AT ALL COST,

even if it cost others a fortune.

Death is the enemy

And it STINGS.

Jesus thinks differently.

His approach to death,

as evident in our Gospel lesson for today,

Tells us he isn’t buying our popular assumptions about death.

Jesus knows better

And challenges us to consider death and its effects more deeply.

A quick Wikipedia search of the word “Saint”

Brings a diversity of beliefs from across Christendom

(and other world religions)

about what a Saint is,

what a Saint does, and

why a Saint is important.

Yes, a Saint is a football player

From New Orleans

With a 3 and 1 record

Playing the Atlanta Falcons today at 1:00 pm.

That’s not the kind of Saint I’m thinking about.

Generally speaking, “a Saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness, likeness, or closeness to God.”


Depending on the context and denomination, a Saint is venerated.

That is, honored or remembered for their high degree of sanctity or holiness.

The word veneration comes from the Latin,

Venerare (vene’ rare), meaning

to regard with reverence and respect.

Traditionally, the faithful disciple of Christ

Demonstrates veneration outwardly by

respectfully bowing or making the sign of the cross

Before a Saint’s picture or icon,

their bodily remains (called relics),

or their statue.

This is why we turn to photo albums and visit cemeteries.

Inward veneration is to remember and reflect upon the individual,

To consider the Christian lessons taught by both word and deed,

That made them holy.

November 1st is the date set by the Western Church

– Roman Catholics and Protestants alike –

to celebrate All Saints Day,

With the following Sunday being set aside as All Saints Sunday.

We Methodist have become very good at the veneration of Saints.

We speak the name, breaking the silence.

The spoken name makes life and death real.

We light a candle and bow in memory of a Saint in our life.

We place the candle and reflect upon the life that was lived.

As the flame ignites and the smoke ascends

Our faith brings assurance that

our loved one has now received their just reward and

has ascended to God in heaven.

This is important.

It is important for our own encouragement and wellbeing.

It is important that the memory and stories of the Saints be told to our children

So that their legacy might live on forever.

This is important because it is an exercise in the intellectual and physical aspects of our faith.

A number of years ago,

I read and reflected a lot on Greek Orthodox spirituality,

As related to books authored by Kyriacos C. Markides.

Dr. Markides is an American professor of sociology.

I highly recommend his book

“The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality.”


He makes a few points that brings light to the story of Lazarus

on this All-Saints Sunday.

First: The soul moves to Theosis.

That is to say,

By Divine grace,

our soul is transformed and

obtains likeness with Christ

– Union with Christ.

This should sound comfortably familiar

to all of us in the Wesleyan tradition.

We Methodist have always placed a strong emphasis on entire sanctification,

Or the transforming effect of God’s sanctifying grace.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divinization_(Christian) )

John Wesley referred to Theosis as

moving towards Perfection,

a reference to Hebrews 6.

In our earthly life

Some make more progress towards Perfection than others.

Ours is not to judge.

Ours, as a Church, as an Ecclesia

Is to encourage, to support, to facilitate,

To pray for each and every soul and our quest

“To become One with Christ and

One with each other,”

As we pray in the Communion liturgy.

In Eastern Orthodox thought

Death becomes little more than a reference point

In the soul’s obtainment of Theosis.

This is why the Eastern Church prays for the dead;

That each eternal soul might continue to be transformed into the likeness of Christ.

Sainthood is obtained at Theosis,

Either in life or in death.

It is the complete shedding of the ego

Growing into a perfect union with Jesus.

Theosis is heavenly;

And heaven can be achieved by the Saint

Here on earth,

Or in a future heaven.

Secondly, Dr. Markides makes the point that

We’ve come to place

Too much value on the Western approach to the intellectual and scientific.

We have lost our roots that places

Spiritual value on God and the miraculous.

If we rebalance our lives

with the known and the mysterious

With science and theology

Then perhaps the pathway to Theosis becomes much easier to travel.

The intellectual, Western approach to the story of Mary, Jesus and Lazarus

Is to attempt to explain away the miracle of resurrection.

Cells break down at death.

Chemical processes take place.

Flesh becomes putrefied and decays.

Therefore, Lazarus could not have been “truly” dead.

He must have been in a natural, deep coma, from which Jesus aroused.


Not so fast!

Jesus knows better.

What we have left behind in our unbalanced,

Intellectual approach to God

Is that

the same God who is the Creator of life

Is the Lord of life!

God can breath life into those old dry bones in Ezekiel.

God can give life to a decaying, rotting, four-day-old corpse

formerly known as Lazarus.

Our God is the same One who demonstrated as much

By the resurrection of Jesus!

God could even give life to a stone,

if that suited God’s purpose.

It is not ours to explain how or why.

It is our purpose to live life

in the presence of the Divine mysterious,

To drink in Its grace,

To discover that at its very core

God is love.

The pathway to Theosis is to become the love of God.

The journey towards Perfection is to be transformed into the heart of Jesus.

To be a Saint

Is to live and die on the journey towards God.

We learn in schools, and our intellect is expanded.

We grow with the transformation of our minds

at the feet of teachers, instructors, and professors.

But we experience the transformation of our soul,

by God’s grace alone.

This transformation takes place

In the Ecclesia,

In the Church,

As we become One with the love of God.

We move from brain to heart,

– From thought to love –

As we become One with Christ and One with each other.

This is what redeems and transforms the world.

This is what opens the door to heaven for one and all,

Where one day,

Every knee will bow and

Every soul will be as One with the Lord.

This is the journey of the Saint.


Even as we pray for the journey of those who’ve gone on before us,

Even as we pray for the journey of one other,

By God’s grace,

May the journey towards Perfection

… the journey into love …

Also be yours.