“Word, Flesh, and Light”

January 2, 2022

John 1:1-18

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

| Centering Prayer |

This majestic opening to the Gospel of John

Leads me today

to meditation on three things:

Word, Flesh, and Light.

Let’s take a look at each.

Word.

The phrase

“In the beginning”

Always causes my heart to skip.

“In the beginning” is an intentional echo from

The opening line of the Book of Genesis.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

John uses “In the beginning”

To give us the same sense of awe of God and creation.

Our God creates.

This is God’s business.

God creates and it is good,

Good in the case of earth, sea, and stars,

Very good in the case of creating man and woman in God’s own image.

The prologue of the Gospel of John reports

There was nothing before the beginning.

There was and is

only God.

Everything else came thereafter

as a consequence of

God’s good, creative work.

The Book of Genesis gives name to the Creator God: Yahweh.

The Gospel of John gives another name to the same Creator God: Word.

Λόγος, Logos, noun, def. – Divine Expression.

( https://biblehub.com/interlinear/john/1.htm )

Logos. Divine expression. Beautiful, isn’t it?

The difference between Genesis and John is Jesus.

The Gospel reports the truth about Jesus,

The creative expression of

the expansiveness and extravagance of God’s love.   

As the new calendar year begins,

The opening prologue of the Gospel of John

Encourages us to be observant and vigilant throughout the year

For signs of Logos,

For Divine expressions of love.

Where might Logos be found in your life this coming year?

It won’t be found in isolation.

The Word, God,

Is most likely to be found

In acts of creating,

In loving,

In relationships.

When I think of places were creating takes place,

I think of the Arts: music, sculpture, poetry, and paint.

I think of the Environment: mountains, seas, forest, and sunsets.

I think of birth, death, and the fulness of imagination in-between.

In my opinion, that’s where Logos is likely to be found.

When I think of places were love takes place,

I think of parents, children, and families.

I think of the empathetic response to others in need, hunger, clothing, shelter, safety.

I think about answering the call to discipleship, servant leadership, selflessly, faithfully following the will of God.

That’s where you’ll most likely find Logos.

When I think of environments conducive of relationships,

I think of church,

an open, inviting, loving, generous, community of United Methodist right here in Rush.

I think of outreach, visiting, listening, responding to neighbors near and far.

I think of communion, with each other and with our God.

Watch.

Listen.

For the Logos in our midst.

Flesh.

Let me share with you a true story about

Ira Cribb (1851-1943).

A Google search of his name

Will inform you that

As highway superintendent

He developed

Oil and stone (macadamized) road treatment,

Became known as the “Father of Modern Highways.”

( http://www.townofcanandaigua.org/page.asp?id=141 )

But there was more to Ira

Then what is reported on the internet.

I learned about this remarkable man of faith from Joe Cribb,

His grandson,

My parishioner,

Surrogate court justice of Ontario County.

On a warm summer day

Judge Cribb walked me around

to the front lawn of the Canandaigua United Methodist Church building and

Pointed out to me his grandfather’s name

inscribed in stone

at the top of the belltower.

“His name wasn’t inscribed because he gave a lot of money,”

Judge Cribb explained,

“His name was inscribed because he served as the Superintendent of Works

When the building was built.”

This is how faithful and committed Ira Cribb was:

Ira took a leave of absence from his elected position for an entire year,

Pitched a tent and lived in the front yard,

To direct construction

Until the new church building was complete.

Only then did he return home to his family and get back to his job as highway superintendent.

Ira Cribb literally pitched a tent and dwelt in it.

I think of Ira every time

I experience the majestic words of John’s prologue,

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us,” – John 1:14

The word “lived” or “dwelt” is from the Greek, eskēnōsen,

A verb,

Defined as “tabernacled, to dwell as in a tent, encamp.

( ἐσκήνωσεν: eskēnōsen, verb – def. tabernacled, to dwell as in a tent, encamp )

( Biblehub, as found at https://biblehub.com/interlinear/john/1-14.htm )

God pitched a tent

To live among us.

“Just as God traveled with the people of Israel in the wilderness

by means of the “tent of meeting” in their midst,

John announces that God has chosen

to “tabernacle” among us

in an even more radical way,

by the Word embodied in human flesh.”

( Thanks to Elisabeth Johnson, as found at https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-christmas-3/commentary-on-john-11-9-10-18-9 )

This pandemic is a painful reminder

Of how important in-person relationships

Are to our spiritual health and well-being.

God wouldn’t use prophets or angels to

Standoff, social distance, isolate, or quarantine any longer.

With the birth of Jesus

God is pitching a tent,

Throwing a tabernacle,

Taking up residence,

Right in the middle of humanity,

Up close and personal,

In your face,

In your life and mine.

As 2022 starts to be revealed

Watch for signs of Jesus getting personal with you.

The question isn’t if he will.

Believe me, Jesus will.

The question is whether or not

You’ll recognize Christ’s presence and action in your life,

And respond accordingly.

Light.

“What has come into being in him was life,

and the life was the light of all people.

The light shines in the darkness, and

the darkness did not overcome it.”

– John 1:4-5

The Light v Darkness metaphor for God v Sin,

Works well but isn’t perfect.

I am sensitive to my darker complexioned sisters and brothers.

Darkness does have some good features:

It is necessary for sleep.

It is essential for the development of film, if that is even done anymore.

It is required to gaze more clearly into the heavens.

Other than that, the benefit of darkness leaves me searching.

The Gospel intent is to expose the relationship between God and Evil.

They are polar opposites.

There is no middle ground.

This is a cosmic zero-sum game

Where God / Jesus is light, and

Satan / Evil is darkness.

Light destroys darkness,

Just as Jesus destroys sin

By his forgiveness and redemptive blood.

Light shines, revealing God’s glory.

The glory of God is revealed

In almighty power,

In omniscience presence,

In disciplined principles (known as Law),

In fidelity to covenants made and kept, and

In the person of Jesus Christ.

Light shines, reveals the fullness of God’s grace and truth.

By word and deed,

Jesus demonstrated that there is no “quit” with God.

Once God created you,

Nothing can separate you from God’s love.

There are no final chances.

The door always remains open.

The Lord will shepherd you until you choose to enter salvations door.

Light shines, revealing the way forward.

Christ has a purpose for you,

A direction for your life,

A lifestyle for the journey,

A destination for your future.

Where is God calling you?

Are you living a lifestyle worthy of Jesus?

What progress are you making?

Good questions to start a new calendar year.

Word, flesh, light.

Where will you find the Word this year?

Get used to the fact that God has pitched a tabernacle in humanity and has made the world God’s forever home.

What does Christ reveal to you? And what are you going to do about it.

Christ coming seems to ask more questions

Then providing quick, easy, cliche, or stock answers.

Take Jesus as serious as a heart attack.

A relationship with Jesus is hard work.

Be like Mary and

Ponder Him in your heart.

Amen.

“Connecting the Dots”

Luke 2:41-52

December 26, 2021, Second Day of Christmas, Year C

the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 2:41-52

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’

He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them.

Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

| Centering Prayer |

Childhood waxes and wanes

in the early teens

when hormones give moxy

and a growth spurt gives

false confidence.

It is an awkward time.

Neurological connections

that operate

coordination

and good judgment

have yet to be threaded and sewn

into the neural network

by biology’s hand.

Females lead the way

(who’s surprised?)

and are the first to make

progress towards

a transformation

from a child

to a woman.

Males are slower to mature

(who’s surprised?)

insisting on holding on

to childhood’s last vestiges;

refusing to part with toys and immature behavior

from ages past.

Contemporary developmental psychologists

report insightful treasures

unlocked by years of research and study.

They tell us that

it is during these vulnerable years,

between when a

child is transformed

from a completely and wholly dependent individual

into an adult of legal

obligation and responsibility

that the ability to understand metaphor begins to take root.

For many

this is a time of great awakening,

a multi-year “ah, ha” moment

when one becomes aware

of deeper, additional meaning

to otherwise simple, ordinary stories.

Metaphor transforms a simple

two-dimensional world

into a multi-dimensional place

filled with texture and richness.

For example:

metaphor transforms the Ten Commandments

from a list to be memorized

by rote recitation

into God’s greater plan

for humanity to live together

with peace and justice with one another

and in harmony with a loving Creator.

Metaphor allows the

artist to mix primary colors

to unlock a whole new pallet

of infinite color and beauty.

Metaphor is the Spirit’s means

to breath new life

into otherwise suffocating

organized religion.

It was at this very time

at this great junction

in the life of the boy, Jesus,

when he and his parents

made the pilgrimage south

for the annual celebration of Passover.

They traveled a curculios route

(like a backward “C”)

to avoid Samaria

round and down the Jordan valley

and up the mountain

to Jerusalem’s Temple mount.

This was a family

and extended family event.

Tribal, if you will.

Some of the food was still on the hoof

being herded

along with cart and wagon

carrying tent and supplies

for a multi-day adventure

for these relative country bumpkins traveling to the big city of Jerusalem.

Undoubtedly

cousins played,

aunts planned and cooked,

and uncles talked politics and taxes.

Camped with the swelling

crowds, at, perhaps, Bethany

– a mere stone’s throw across the Kidron valley –

the family would return

to the Temple towering

over the ancient city.

Up the magnificent staircase

all would ascend,

stopping at times to rest

or to dip in the cool pools of water

placed to give

pilgrims ample opportunity

to wash

to cleanse

to become ceremonially clean

before setting foot

inside the sacred Temple courtyard.

The crowd’s gate and pace

would have been slow

and hot.

Parents patience

and tempers would be tested

by squirming children complaining.

“Are we there yet?”

“How many stairs are there left to go?”

At the top of the two grand

staircases would be

an expansive outdoor plaza

filled with the hustle and bustle of

banking and commerce.

Currency would be exchanged into the common Temple coinage

(Undoubtedly at an inflated rate).

Live animals would be sold by

Temple authorities,

at premium prices,

guaranteed unblemished and

raised in a sheltered flock,

to be used for slaughter and sacrifice

to a quiet and unseen God.

Men and boys would queue to the right

Women and girls to the left

to enter the indoor inner courtyard

where the Temple tax would be collected

and the animal would be sacrificed

by a member of the priestly family

standing before

the Holy of Holies

housing inside and out of view

the Arc of the Covenant.

Noise would be hushed

inside the Temple’s inner courts.

Holy men would be giving guidance and council

to those who sought them out

in quiet, reflective whispers

in a darkened room

lit only by the flicker

of candle and lamp.

It was here

that the young Jesus

had engaged in conversation

with teachers from the Temple’s court,

asking questions

listening for answers

applying his newly discovered tools of adolescence

to his budding faith.

It was here

in the midst of the

atonement substitution of animal sacrifice

– of personal sins in exchange for the life of the animal –

that Jesus began to construct

a faith built upon history,

tradition, scripture, and experience.

Jesus turns up missing.

His parents and family search

For him for three days

(I can’t even imagine.

Today, three amber alerts would have gone out and he’d be the lead story on the local news.)

His mother finds him

and says,

‘Child, why have you treated us like this?

Look, your father and I

have been searching for you

in great anxiety.’

In his mother’s eye

he was still a child

unconcerned and irresponsible.

But God was doing

greater things.

Jesus said to them,

‘Why were you searching for me?

Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’

But they did not understand what he said to them.

In three short days

dependence for the child Jesus

had been transferred from earthly parents

to an adult Jesus

who recognized that his dependence

was now wholly, and exclusively

upon a heavenly Father.

Guidance and direction would come

less and less from Mary and Joseph,

and more and more from God above.

Many of us never make this connection,

and if we do,

it usually comes well into adulthood,

with wisdom and experience.

Some of us might recognize

these same feelings

on the occasion of a death of a parent.

Few, if any, of us

come to this understanding

during adolescence.

Being in “my Father’s house”

is more than being under the same roof.

It is about

wherein one places their dependence,

trust,

faith,

hope,

and belief.

It is about

Wherein one decides to abide.

Consider your own faith history.

When did you enter your Father’s house?

When did you become aware

of the reality

that God had already established?

Perhaps you are still in the process

of awakening

of connecting the metaphorical dots

that all of life

ultimately

is wholly and completely dependent

upon our loving God.

Perhaps you have already arrived,

And have lived comfortably in the Lord’s dwelling

For years or decades.

For me,

it didn’t come with baptism, confirmation,

or ordination;

though I suspect this is where

the seeds were first sown.

My awakening really took hold

when I walked

the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

I was juggling too much.

There was too much tragedy and death in my life.

Crisis begat crisis.

My emotional and spiritual health suffered.

The confluence was a wake-up call

for me to accept the fact that I was

no longer independent or self-reliant.

Neither was I dependent

upon my parents,

my father recently deceased.

I was no longer dependent

upon a church bound by appointment obligations.

I was no longer dependent

upon popular opinion.

When I woke to the fact

that my life is lived

completely supported and upheld by the grace of God,

my life and ministry turned a vital corner,

one that can’t be taught

but must be experienced,

one that John Wesley described

in his life

as when his “heart was strangely warmed”

while walking on Aldersgate Street in London.

Here we stand

perched on the precipice

of a new calendar year.

Let the new year ring!

2022

Is the year to

Abide in our Father’s house.

For some of us

Let the new year inspire us

To make the decision to dwell with the Lord,

To abide in God’s house,

And, like Jesus,

to more deeply inquire of God’s ways.

For others of us

Let the new year spur

a thankful memory of when we

took that developmental leap of faith,

entered our Father’s house,

and decided to stay.

May all of us be at home with the Lord

This new year,

To abide in his presence

And to partake of his grace.

Let the changing of the guard spark

a new and heartfelt desire

to sit and stay awhile

and inquire further.

We reside this day

in a sanctuary built of lofting wooden spars and trusses.

Yet, our Father’s house

isn’t found in these boards, carpeting, furniture, or candles.

Our Father’s house

can only be found

in the heart.

Amen.

Christmas Eve Homily

December 24, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

| Centering Prayer |

Christ came

To forgive

To redeem

To remove

Our sins,

Intentional violations and

Unintentional violations of

God’s will or law.

Christ is come

This night

that

Just as you have been redeemed

You might redeem another.

Christ’s redemption

Is at work

In your mind

And in your heart

To bring absolution and forgiveness

To one who has sinned against you.

Who are you being called to forgive and redeem this Christmas Eve?

It was 6:00 am,

April 15, 1986

When my Plectron went off

Waking Cynthia and me.

The distinctive tones for our Fire Department dropped,

Followed by the familiar voice of the county fire dispatcher,

and the sound of the village siren beginning to spool up.

“Barn fire” I heard

As I threw on my coveralls and pulled on my boots.

The farm was identified by the family name.

I didn’t have to wait to hear the address.

The farm family was one of my church families.

In the pre-dawn hour

I ran across the street,

Through two back lots

And was first to the fire station.

Towering black smoke was already evident to the south.

I jumped in the driver seat of our 1972 Ford cab over pumper.

I was new, still wet behind the ears,

Recently completed “Pump Operator’s School.”

Fortunately, Bill, my church Lay Leader,

And a far more experienced volunteer jumped into the passenger seat.

“You got this, Todd,” he encouraged.

Off we sped,

Besting 20 miles per hour uphill,

Lights and siren in all its glory.

Departments across the county and in neighboring counties

Were being dispatched to provide tankers and water

Even before I arrived first in at the fire scene.

Volunteers arrived in private cars and pickups

Dawned protective equipment

Ran into the burning barn to save cattle and equipment.

I set about priming the pump,

Unloading handlines,

And charging them with water.

I only had 1,000 gallons.

Enough to last seconds once the water began to flow.

“Put the wet stuff on the red stuff,”

As they say.

A portable pond appeared, set up, and I connected my hard suction

To quench the thirst of my voracious pump.

A parade of tankers appeared arriving on the road

Dumping thousands of gallons at a time

Trying to keep up.

It wasn’t to be.

The Fire Chief,

The Chairperson of my Board of Trustees,

came over to me with a replacement pump operator.

“Pastor,” he said as he looked and pointed at the family home across the road,

“I think you’re more needed over there.”

“Right, chief.”

“Come in, pastor,” I was welcomed

In response to my knock on the door.

At the dinning room table sat the family,

Mom, Dad, son, and daughter.

Also sitting at the table

Was a sheriff deputy,

A good United Methodist from a neighboring parish.

The mood was grim.

The sheriff’s questions were gentle but direct.

I could see where this was going.

The boy, I’m guessing eight years of age, or so,

Came round to explain.

The prior evening,

He and some friends were playing in the barn,

Making little fires,

But quickly putting them out.

Or so they thought.

The realization that he had burnt down his daddy’s barn

Quickly flashed across his face.

Cheeks drained of color.

His eyes filled with tears

And he ran to his room crying.

We sat there

In the long silence

When dad cleared his throat.

“I never told anyone,

And deputy, I hope you can forgive me,

But when I was my son’s age

I accidently burned down one of my daddy’s barns.”

We could still hear the sobs coming from the boy’s bedroom.

“Dad,” I began

Covering my inexperience with whatever confidence I could find,

“The one who needs to hear your story is in his bedroom crying.”

“He needs to be redeemed by his father.”

A father

Vulnerable unlike any time before

Redeems his son,

Saves him,

In an act of love

That first came to the world

With the birth of the baby Jesus.

Jesus Christ,

Fully divine,

The Creator of all things,

Born an infant,

Vulnerable,

Dependent on the love of a human mother and betrothed father.

Jesus Christ,

God’s love incarnate,

In the flesh,

Comes to the world,

Not to condemn the world for our sins,

But that all the world might be redeemed and saved.

That is God’s amazing grace,

Unmerited, unlimited love.

I leave you with the question I earlier asked:

Just as our Heavenly Father

Sent his Son to redeem and save the world,

Just as a farming father

Redeemed his 8-year-old son

With his own confession and forgiveness,

Who

is God working through you

to redeem and save this Christmas?

Christ will come again, we boldly proclaim!

When he does, what will he find?

Our transgressors bitter and alienated?

Ourselves stubbornly dug in

Refusing to apologize

For the transgression

We’ve used to hurt others?

When Christ returns

Will he find people hungry and homeless

While we are full and cocooned inside our safe, warm, houses?

When Christ returns

Will he find us divided by racism, oppression, injustice?

Will he find a world of violence and inequality?

Will he find mercy missing in action

Surrounded by unnecessary suffering and pain?

The baby Jesus

Is God’s invitation

To you and me,

To swallow our pride,

Get over ourselves,

Roll up our sleeves,

And make right

all the wrongs in our life …

wrongs we’ve committed and

those committed against us.

Christ’s birth is God’s effort to redeem the world,

A reminder that

each of us

have a necessary role to play

as his disciples.

Beloved, the ball is in your court.

The Lord is working you hard.

Who will you redeem?

Who will you save?

Amen.