“Interpreting the Signs”

Luke 12:49-56

August 14, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 12:49-56

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

| Centering Prayer |

Buckle in.

Pull tight your restraining belts.

Like strapping on a fighter jet

Or stepping into an extreme rollercoaster

The Gospel of Luke is taking us for an uncomfortable ride.

Last Sunday, Jesus gave us a pail of cold water to the face

With scriptural contradictions about behavior

And God’s scandalous, amazing, revolutionary, upsetting grace.

Jesus continues the scandal today.

If Jesus doesn’t upset you,

You may want to check your pulse,

Because, when he says

‘I came to bring fire!’
‘I bring division!’

Many of us may have flatlined,

Asystole cold as ice,

Seized up like an engine that ran out of oil.

Jesus has us riding this bucking bronco,

his Gospel directives and teachings,

for the next couple of months.

Jesus seeks not our comfort.

Jesus seeks our faithfulness;

Our complicit effort to overturn

The current world order anchored in evil and sin.

Jesus is seeking for us to enter into a divine collaboration to create

God’s kingdom new, on earth as it is in heaven.  

Jesus disrupts our routine and

Leaves us holding the bag of responsibility

To continue his work.

Getting routine disrupted is uncomfortable at best,

Life threatening, life ending at worst.

With every step Jesus makes towards Jerusalem, time is running short.

It is the same urgency he intends to instill into the heart of every one of his disciples.

With every beat of our heart,

With every breath we take,

Time is running out.

……………..

What are we to make of Jesus preaching about

Burning down and dividing households?

Juxtapose what he says today with his prayer for Christian unity in the Garden of Gethsemane.

(Take an aspirin and call me in the morning.)

What are we to make of interpreting the signs?

A few thoughts.

1. Passion.

The intense passion of Jesus

Communicates to us his deepest desire

For the transformation of the world.

The current order is flawed and unsustainable.

The world must be turned upside down.

Repair or replace?

Isn’t the question we ask when a major appliance breaks down?

Prophetic tinkering just didn’t get the job done.

Judges and Kings just couldn’t stay the course.

Either they couldn’t keep hand to plow, or, despite best intentions,

Were unable to fulfill God’s will.

Jesus is in the business of full stop renovation,

Out with the old,

In with the new.

A God in the business of continual re-creation

Is One to get passionate about.

A God with the open invitation to join in this effort

Is One to praise and thank.

Got passion?

If not, where has it gone, and

More important, how can you get

The passion of Jesus back into your spiritual life?

2. Choices.

For the world to be transformed into the Kingdom of God

Choices must be made.

Hard choices.

Jesus isn’t talking superficially about

What kind of cookies to supply coffee hour after worship

Or weather to bring a casserole, salad, or desert to our picnic in the pavilion.

Jesus is talking about family splitting decisions,

A willingness to divorce ourselves from

Anyone and anything

that destroys, obstructs, or distracts God’s will, efforts, and progress.

Church isn’t play and

Discipleship isn’t kindergarten.

Divorce is painful, but

Choices must be made about what is to be left behind.

Divorce means some things, not all things, must be ended with the same finality as wood on a campfire.

Like our parking lot sorting shed,

Some church relic’s need to be tossed,

Others must be allowed to sunset and fade away,

To make way for what God is creating new

Right here in our midst.

Divorce means making the hard decisions,

Painful decisions sometimes.

Walking away and leaving yesterday behind frees us to live today and face tomorrow.

Choose to journey with Jesus.

Accept our new roll and responsibility

For the transformation of the world.

3. Interpretation.

Reading the signs and

Making an informed opinion of what the signs mean

Is not simple or easy.

Nor is it for the faint of heart.

Pity the fool whose conclusions are made in haste or undisciplined emotion.

Our brightest and best have trouble reading the present times,

What makes you or me think that we can do better?

“Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” Jesus asks.

It is essential for disciples of Jesus to maintain situational awareness

Of what is transpiring in the world

To make the best-informed decisions.

Be alert.

Be awake.

Gather every ounce of information possible.

Listen.

Learn.

Reason.

Resist the temptation to judge.

Pray.

Watch and listen for the Holy Spirit to respond.

The need for interpretation is not an invitation for the preacher

To create policy or legislation, or

For the layperson to abandon scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.

Interpretation doesn’t shape the facts to fit the opinion.

Beloved,

Cut each other a little slack.

Recognize the fact that we are all questioning.

Each of us struggle with the question, “What does it mean?”

Interpretation is hard work and the risks of getting it right or wrong are enormous.  

Take the risk, anyways.

4. Urgency.

When the house is on fire there is an urgency

To get out of the door.

Jesus is bringing the fire,

Meaning we must get it into high gear.

You and I see the storm clouds approaching,

The wind and the rain marching across the field,

Meaning its past time to take cover.

The time to take cover was yesterday.

Get in the storm cellar.

Hunker down in the bathtub.

Get going.

Now!

What is Jesus in such a hurry about?

Jesus is in a hurry for our repentance.

Recognize our faults, seek forgiveness for our sins, make changes to amend our ways.

You and I only have a limited amount of time,

A limited number of breaths and heartbeats

To get it done.

Do better, and

Bring the world along with you.

Likewise, Jesus urgently is in need for the Church to bear fruit.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

Prune the vine and burn the branches.

Harvest what God has sown, nurtured, created, grown.

The Church bears fruit when it lives out its mission:

… to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

… to share the body and blood of Christ when we gather in Christ’s name.

… to love the Lord our God, with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

…………

If the Gospel offends, good;

You’re paying attention.

Better to be offended and saved from the fire.

Where’s your passion?

Got any passion in your spiritual journey? If not, why not?

If it’s gone, what are you going to do to get it back?

You’ve got choices to make.

Time to put on the big-boy pants and decide

What gets left behind and what doesn’t.

What needs to get done to prepare for God’s current and future creation?

Interpret the signs.

Slowly.

Carefully.

Deliberately.

Prayerfully.

Then, and only then,

Act urgently and decisively.

Repent.

Bear fruit.

Live the mission for the transformation of the world.

Amen.

“Your Father’s Good Pleasure”

Luke 12:32-40

August 7,2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 12:32-40

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

| Centering Prayer |

We learn to live with contradictions in our lives

or else we go crazy.

Consider for a moment Science and Religion.

Those who know me well

know that I am a child of the Scientific method.

In other words, if you want me to believe something

prove it to me.

Spare me the anecdotes and testimonials,

I require a higher standard.

With my undergraduate in mathematics

taking a lot of engineering and computer science courses,

coupled with my advanced EMT training and learning from neuroscience researchers at the University of Rochester and around the world,

I demand the rigor of scientific studies

that can be replicated by others,

that are assured of the removal all subjective influence by evaluators,

and that can demonstrate safety and efficacy.

Safe and effective.

That’s the goal, isn’t it?

We want things to work.

And we want them to work safely.

Here is the contradiction:

I’m aware that there is great mystery in the world.

Things happen in the absence of scientific explanation.

People from non-western cultural backgrounds

appear to be in much better acceptance

of this reality than I am.

Our Eastern Orthodox sisters and brothers would give an eye roll

with any Western skepticism of Jesus’ miracles

and demand for scientific explanation.

Roman Catholic colleagues would refer the unexplained

to committee for further examination

for Papal consideration and possible sainthood.

Even the faithful in non-Christian traditions

appear to be more comfortable with

experience serving as an equivalent

or even superior

means of discernment

than that of the scientific method.

In late Spring 1964 I was struck by a car

In front of Lincoln Middle School,

Jamestown NY.

The car slammed me into a curb,

breaking my skull.

(That might explain a lot)

Headaches were eased by aspirin

whose methods of efficacy still are not known.

My skull healed without any medical treatment

other than the physician’s directive for my mother to

“wake the boy every hour for the first night.”

I didn’t die.

To me it is a mystery.

In the Spring of 1981 I walked through the doors of

Marsh Chapel on the campus of Boston University

stood in front of a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was swept away by the unexplainable.

An Aldersgate moment, if you will;

Similar to John Wesley’s heart being strangely warmed follow a prayer meeting on Aldersgate Street in London, England.

My mind let go,

I was awash in love,

I experienced the complete acceptance of grace,

and had my inner spiritual polarity reversed.

The direction of my life was changed from becoming a chemical engineer

to becoming a servant of Christ and his Church.

My heart was strangely warmed.

I cannot explain it.

In 2009 I stood on a wind and storm-tossed boat on the Sea of Galilee

(this is an actual photograph, above)

reading the Gospel narrative of Jesus calming the storm.

I looked out to the water, the weather, and the terrain

and commanded wind and the rain to be still

just as Jesus did.

And it became

still.

Immediately still.

I cannot rationally or scientifically explain it.

In my life,

I have stopped trying.

I have stopped trying to explain the contradiction of Science and Religion;

the juxtaposition of proof vs faith.

I have become comfortable living with the two

in dynamic tension,

perhaps the two even engaged

in an intimate slow dance

that is the pinnacle of human experience.

For me, this has come with a confidence of faith

grown through maturity and experience.

I know

The God of my experience

Is in control.

I can let go.

Grow comfortable with contradictions

or go crazy.

I choose the former.

Our Gospel lesson for today highlights two apparent contradictions

that has caused encyclical temper tantrums and ecclesiastical melt-downs

in the Church for centuries.

Allow me to lay it out for you

to see for yourselves.

Jesus continues to travel with his disciples on the road

From Galilee, in the north,

to Jerusalem, in the south,

to his eventual passion, death, and resurrection.

Jesus tells them, and,

By extension, he tells us today,

Our hearts follow our treasure.

We are directed to prepare

And remain alert for Christ’s eventual return.

To forgive sins and

To conquer death

Jesus only had to die.

Likewise

To have our sins forgiven

We must overcome death and be raised into eternal life.

Do you see a common theme here?

It’s death.

Which, fortunately, is the one certainty that lies in each of our future.

The only thing we must do is die.

All the good works in the world are not going to matter one iota.

Be the saint, if you want to,

or be a sewer dwelling rat.

With Christ,

he died for us all.

Adolf Hitler and Mother Teresa:

both are in.

Vlad the Impaler and Gandhi the peacemaker:

both are in.

Your bully and your beast;

Yep, they’re in.

Your fellow classmate, teacher, or overbearing boss; in.

Your adversary and your ex;

your tormentor and your evil twin;

they are in, too.

“But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”

(Romans 5:8)

This, my beloved, is often referred to as “The Scandal of Grace”.

Love it or leave it.

This is the Good News of God’s grace.

And God’s grace isn’t going away.

Grace never leaves you or me.

Our Gospel lesson for this morning is just one example of the contradiction

that turns the thoughtful disciple of Jesus

to the medicine cabinet for a bottle of antacid.

The parable that Jesus tells us this morning

clearly conveys the message to

Be awake!

Be alert!

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.”

The Son of Man is returning at any moment

and we must be prepared.

Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (12:37-40)

The contradiction is this:

On the one hand, it sounds like our behavior doesn’t matter:

we are simply redeemed and saved by the grace of God

won for us by the cross and the resurrection.

On the other hand, it sounds like our behavior does matter:

We must prepare for the coming of the Son of Man.

What gives?

In my opinion, and,

In my interpretation of the Gospel,

The answer to the question

 – Does Christian behavior matter? –

comes from a confidence of faith

and willingness to live with the contradiction

by dancing with God

and observing the following:

Regarding personal salvation; no, behavior does not matter.

Regarding the salvation of the world and the transformation of the world into the kingdom of God; yes, Christian behavior does matter. A lot.

The answer comes in the opening verses of our Gospel for today.

It is our Father’s good pleasure to have already given us the kingdom,

Like an old car in need of restoration,

now we are being asked to take part in the transformation of the world;

not with the goal of our own personal salvation

but with the goal of God collectively saving humanity.

God has already given us the kingdom,

rendering all our possessions and money useless.

Our treasures might as well be catapulted

to the eternal depths of the Labrea Tar Pits.

Things, property, money lose their power and value

because

God has already given us everything.

The rest is up to us.

Instead of investing our time and effort in what has no value

invest in the unfailing treasure of heaven.

Give your whole heart to the treasures of heaven

that the earth might be transformed.

Give your whole heart

to bringing the kingdom of God

to the kingdoms of this earth.

A confidence of faith

residing in the certainty of God’s favor;

revealed, lived, died, raised, and ascended in Jesus

gives us the freedom to die to our self.

We don’t need to worry about our final disposition.

We are confident in our redemption and eternal life.

This confidence of faith gives us

the freedom to live for others.

Why reach out to families living with food insecurity in Rush and Henrietta all-the-while serving up lunches at “A Meal and More” in downtown Rochester?

Why should we care about the children and families in our neighborhood supported by the love and Christian values of PromiseLand Childcare?

Why love individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families in Monroe and Livingston Counties?

Why maintain a relationship with people dying and the care of their children half a world away in South Africa?

Because we are confident

that God means to transform the world

and make all creation

into God’s eternal kingdom,

just as it is in heaven.

“Do not be afraid,” Jesus assures us.

It is okay to live with apparent contradictions of faith in life.

In time

a life awash in God’s grace

becomes a life of confidence;

of discipleship

following in the example of Jesus

to bring justice, peace, and love to our broken and sin filled world.

This is your Father’s good pleasure

dearly beloved.

It’s up to you and me

To make it so.

Amen.