Maundy Thursday Homily

John 13:1-17, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:31-35

4/9/2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

1

Prayer.

 

The Sacrament of Holy Communion is a big deal.

We may not have understood how important it is

Until, first, we fasted from it for the season of Lent, and

Now, abstinence from the Sacrament is nearly forced upon us

By this detestable pandemic.

 

Though fasting is a spiritual discipline I agreed to at my ordination,

It is a discipline which I don’t like and have avoided at all costs.

Being new to the Rush parish this year and

Learning that fasting from the Eucharist during Lent

Was a common tradition,

I didn’t like it, but,

I thought to myself,

“Get over yourself, Todd.

This is a season to learn, grow, listen to what God has to teach you.”

 

Much of the value of the fast

is not in what you do without,

rather, what you do in its place.

Without celebrating Holy Communion each week,

I spent my Lenten fast

Reading, praying, recalling, discerning, writing and delivering

Six different reflections on the Sacrament,

Published on my blog site at Breaking Yokes dot Org.

(https://breakingyokes.org/2020/04/02/6-lenten-reflections-on-holy-communion-in-the-middle-of-a-pandemic/)

 

This fast has been remarkably fruitful,

And I thank you for it.

This disciplined, sustained focus has allowed me to

Plumb some of the depths afforded to us by the Sacrament

From mechanics, to memories, to the mystery of God.

I’ve explored the Eucharist with focus and intensity

Unlike I have since attending seminary and

Being examined for ordination 35 years ago.

 

The Covid-19 pandemic certainly threw a monkey wrench into the discussion.

Plans were made, plans were canceled.

Plans were discerned, thought out, adapted, and made all over again.

 

In place of a meaningful worship service today,

Complete with tables, dinner, and friends surrounding the altar,

We find ourselves watching from home,

Cut off and isolated,

Alone, and for many,

Afraid.

 

How does the Sacrament of Eucharist speak

When we are in such a crisis?

How does it work?

How is it relevant?

 

 

The Gospel of John

Fills in the color of an otherwise classic black and white movie

Or a staged Da Vinci last supper.

More is at work at the Table than

The consumption of calories and

The commandment to “do this in remembrance of me”

Whenever disciples gather for worship.

 

The Upper Room is a vaulted room larger than the Table;

It includes the people around it.

This is why virtual communion is so problematic.

 

It is the bread.

It is the wine.

It is God present with the people,

Disciples of Jesus.

 

Gathered this evening for the Passover meal

are Jesus and his disciples,

all twelve of his disciples, including

One who would deny him and

One who would betray him to the authorities,

Leading to his death.

 

The Gospel of John reports

Jesus,

Knowing that he had come from God and was returning to God,

Got up from the Table,

Took off his outer robe and tied a towel around himself.

Jesus poured water into a basin and

Began to wash the disciples’ feet.

“Unless I wash you,” Jesus told Peter, “you have no share with me.” (13:8)

 

Knowing Peter would deny knowing him,

Jesus washed his feet,

To include Peter in his share.

 

Love overcomes denial.

 

Knowing Judas would betray him unto death,

Jesus washed his feet,

To include Judas in his share.

 

Love overcomes betrayal.

 

There is nothing that can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ.

Love always wins.

 

The Eucharistic Table invites us to have a share with Jesus,

To be washed clean of the filth we walk in with, and

To be washed clean of the sins we are about to commit.

Taking a share with Jesus at the Table

Is the privilege of being the recipient of God’s grace,

God’s gift of love to the world,

Love for all,

Deserving and undeserving, alike.

 

Grace is free, but it isn’t cheap.

Jesus paid for it with his life.

 

Being on the receiving end of God’s love at Holy Communion

Is coupled with responsibility.

 

The love of Christ comes with a mandate to the people gathered.

Mandate, from the Latin, Mandatum novum,

In the old English, Mandatum is Maundy, as in Maundy Thursday.

 

“For I have set you an example,

That you also should do as I have done to you.” (13:15)

“Just as I have loved you, … love one another.” (13:34)

 

Serve.

Love.

This is our mandate.

 

To share in the love of Christ,

We are mandated to serve others;

Without judgment,

Without regard,

Without exception,

Without reservation,

With the extravagant grace of God and the love of Christ.

 

Their past, present, future? It doesn’t matter.

Serve.

 

To share in the love of Christ,

We are mandated to love others,

Without judgment,

Without regard,

Without exception,

Without reservation,

With the extravagant grace of God and the love of Christ.

 

Our past, present, future?

It doesn’t matter.

Love.

 

To share in the love of Christ,

We are to serve and love with the same intensity and abundance

As is God’s amazing, overwhelming love for us.

 

………

 

This Maundy Thursday,

At this Table,

Our mandate is to serve:

Wash feet, and serve the consecrated bread and cup,

To the people of God

That all might know

The love of God.

 

At this Table,

Our mandate is to love:

That all the world might know

That we are disciples of Jesus by our love,

For one-another, and

By our love for our God.

 

This, then, beloved, is Eucharist:

Bread.

Cup.

People.

Service.

Love.

Amen.

 

6 Lenten Reflections on Holy Communion in the Middle of a Pandemic

Reflection #1

 

It was a big deal.

I was in the first grade. I walked home from school. My mother and brother were nowhere to be found. I was free to experiment.

On the kitchen table I placed a loaf of bread and poured myself a cup of Welch’s grape juice. I was going to celebrate Holy Communion all by myself. I prayed hard, just like my mother had instructed. It a prayer of humility, confession for sins – some even I did not know. If we had a kneeler, I would have been kneeling, just like at church before the communion rail.

I ate a slice of Wonder Bread and washed it down with grape juice.

“What do you think you’re doing?” my brother startled me as he walked in from school. “You can’t do that!”

I had done it. The bread, I imagined, was the body of Jesus. The juice, was his blood.

It was a big deal.

 

 

Nearly twenty years later, our seminary professor taught us the essentials to withstand withering ordination exams: “a sacrament is entrusted to the ordained, a command of Jesus, an action of God, communicating the spiritual truth of God’s love and grace for humankind.”

You’d be surprised how many candidates for ordination don’t get this vital principle of the Church correct on their first examination.

So sorry. Study up and come back next year.

With the majority of the Protestant House of the Christian Church, we recognize two sacraments: Baptism and Eucharist, also known as Holy Communion. Jesus tells us to do it. God is the primary actor, the ordained is the stand in. God’s love and grace abounds.

Baptism is God’s way to make a person a Christian. Because God does it, we can’t undo it. Redoing what God has done doesn’t make sense.

Eucharist is God’s way to unite us with Christ and with each other, the Body of Christ, in love and grace.

The stewardship of sacraments is given to the ordained, and their designated believers, through St. Peter, the rest of the Apostles, continuing by apostolic succession, to our present generation. Our sign is the cross, our symbol is the yoke we wear.

 

 

During Lent, it is our congregation’s tradition to withhold Holy Communion until the fast is broken on Holy Thursday. During these 6 Sundays I will replace the Eucharist with a brief time teaching about the sacrament, it’s practice, and our prayers.

I’ll answer such questions as, “Every Sunday? Really?” “Why is it so repetitive; the same stuff over and over again?” “Sung responses?” “What do the responses mean, anyways?” “Why can’t you do it like another pastor I once had?” “Wine or grape juice?”

 

 

At the beginning and end of the day, at the dawn and sunset of life, there remains the mystery of God’s tender love for us. God so loves the world, that he gives us his only Son, that whosoever believes in him might be saved. For God sent his Son to the world, not to condemn the world, but that all the world might be saved.

That’s how much God loves you.

That’s how much God loves our neighbors.

 

Eucharist.

It’s a big deal, full of more love than we can comprehend.

Thank you, Lord, for your gift of love.

Amen.

 

Reflection #2

 

How we give God praise and thanksgiving during worship comes to us through instruction, practice, and tradition. In Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, we experience the practice of the first generation of Christ’s disciples: “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

 

Apostles taught and broke bread.

 

Thus, the community was fulfilling two of three primary commands of Jesus: 1) teach the newly baptized converts “all that I have taught you”, and 2) when you gather, eat the bread and drink the cup “in remembrance of me”. They would fulfill the third of three primary commands of Jesus to love God and love neighbors, by using the remaining bread and wine after Eucharist to feed the hungry and poor.

Therefore, early Christian worship maintained a balance: teaching and sacrament, or “Word and Table”, as we were taught in seminary. The Christian life the other six days of the week is to be devoted to loving neighbors in need, through outreach and mission.

 

“Balance Word and Table” our seminary professors taught us. 

 

Table is the sacrament of Holy Communion, also known as Mass, or Eucharist. Over the first one-thousand years of Christianity, dogma, pride, greed, and intimidation perverted the Sacrament of Holy Communion, suppressed the proclamation of the Word, enslaved the people, and contributed to the division of the Church. This division is called the Protestant Reformation. The church divided into Protestant and Roman Catholic about 500 years ago.

Our Roman Catholic cousins continued to emphasize the Eucharist, to the exclusion of the Word. Our Protestant effort emphasized the proclamation of the Word, often at the expense of the Mass. Thus, we stopped celebrating Holy Communion weekly, resorting to monthly, or even, quarterly.

Since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s there has been a concerted effort by both Protestants and Roman Catholics to return balance to the First Century practice of Word and Table. This effort is called “orthodoxy.”

The sacrament of Eucharist, which is the Greek noun meaning “thanksgiving” in English, is a reenactment of Jesus hosting his final supper with his disciples in the upper room the night before his crucifixion. It’s earliest historical account is found in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, the 11th chapter.

The Sacramental liturgy – a collection of prayers called “the Great Thanksgiving” – and the act – the elevation of bread and wine, the invocation of the Holy Spirit, and sharing the host – is a reminder of God’s great love and sacrificial gift, the gift of his Son Jesus, for our forgiveness and salvation.

In preparation of Holy Communion, we return our gifts to God, our tithes, offerings, bread, and wine. These elements are presented to the altar as a sign of our reciprocal love for God’s love for us.

As we are taught by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, before we present our gifts to God at the altar, we must confess our sins, repent, and reconcile our broken relationships. Therefore, confession and reconciliation always precede Holy Communion.

Traditionally, the Lord’s Prayer follows the liturgy of the Great Thanksgiving, but precedes the distribution of bread and wine, because in the Lord’s Prayer we ask for God’s forgiveness of our sins and trespasses.

Once cleansed, we are ready to be fed. The Table is set. Next Sunday, I teach about what we do at the Table; the liturgy of the Great Thanksgiving.

 

Question from the audience! why is the celebration of the Eucharist reserved for only the ordained? 

 

The ordained is given the gift of Eucharist by God and charged with its use and safekeeping.

 

Allow me to explain.

The first Apostle of the Church was Peter. The second was Paul.

Through scripture, the Apostle Paul identifies different members of the Church given unique gifts. (1 Corinthians 12). God gives different people different gifts. To some, God appoints the gifts of apostles, to others prophets, to other teachers, working miracles, speaking in tongues, casting out demons, etcetera.

Jesus tells the Apostle Peter that he is a Rock upon which he will build his Church, “and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19)

Saint Peter binds the Sacrament of Eucharist and Baptism to the Apostles, and to their subsequent generations.

Early on Apostles became known as Presbyters, Elders, Priests, and Pastors. The titles are synonymous. In the United Methodist Church, the called and appointed Apostles of Jesus are known as Elders.

Celebrating the Sacraments is one of four necessary gifts, given their combination, that the Church recognizes in apostolic leaders. God gives to Apostles the gifts of: Word, Order, Sacrament, and Service – authority to proclaim the Word of God, authority to organize and shepherd communities of faith, authority to celebrate the Sacraments, and a life dedicated to serving those entrusted to your care.

Any one gift, God may grant any individual.

To anyone given all four gifts; we are recognized as Apostles of the church, set apart by ordination, signed by the cross, and yoked by the stole. We are keepers of the keys, the stewards of Sacraments, clergy of the Church.

 

Reflection #3 (Delivered the 1st Sunday of the Covid-19 Pandemic)

 

We are fasting from Holy Communion this Lent, anticipating the moment the fast will be broken at Maundy Thursday worship during Holy Week.

 

It’s a big deal; to be one in a crowd of thousands, who, after a day learning at the feet of the Savior, finds themself hungry. Seeing Jesus take “five loaves and two fish , he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all at and were filled.” (Matthew 14:19-20)

 

Take. Give Thanks. Break. Give.

 

It was a big deal; to be seated with Jesus around the Passover table, “that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

 

Eucharist is a big deal.

 

Take. Give Thanks. Break. Give.

 

These four basic actions of Holy Communion are the work of God, the command of Jesus, a witness to the Lord’s death and resurrection.

An essential core to every Eucharist celebration is giving thanks, just as Jesus did. Give thanks is the collection of prayers that constitutes what has come to be known since the third century as The Great Thanksgiving.

 

The final exam in “Intro to Worship” class in seminary was to construct from scratch a Great Thanksgiving based on an assigned passage of scripture. Every element must be used. Miss one and you failed. It was a big deal.

The Great Thanksgiving, also known as the Anaphora or Eucharistic Prayer, is a hymn of praise. It is Trinitarian, though always addressed to the first person of the Trinity, the Father. It is a three-way conversation between the people, the presider, and God. Therefore, it is most appropriately celebrated with the presider facing the people, speaking the language of the people.

 

  1. It begins with an introductory dialogue; a greeting that invites the people to join in the giving of thanks. A hallmark of the introductory dialogue is the Sursum Corda, Latin for “lift your hearts.”

 

  1. Learned by rote memorization, the recall and recitation of the introductory dialogue should free the mind to experience the preface. The preface is a prayer based on the assigned scripture for the day, citing a specific work of Christ or a general narration of salvation history.

One of the most spiritually satisfying times of my week is when, in the quietness of my office, I have the joy and privilege to write a new preface; it’s a gift to you, and my gift to God.

 

  1. Once or twice during the Great Thanksgiving, the prayer spontaneously explodes with congregational acclamations! “Holy, holy, holy” is called the Sanctus, from Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” is called the Benedictus qui venit, from Psalm 118:26 and Matthew 21:9. “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!” is an acclamation of faith, a line in the sand, a stake in the ground, a foundation upon which we stand!

Acclamations are spirited! Emotional! rousing! like a cheer in a stadium or a singing crowd at a concert. Thus, they can be spoken or sung. My preference is for singing!

 

  1. The celebrant speaks the words of institution, the commemoration of the events in which Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. To the best of my ability, the words are spoken the same for every Holy Communion, just as Jesus spoke them.

 

  1. We remember, called the anamnesis, what Jesus has done for us as we offer this memorial of his sacrifice.

 

  1. The presider invokes the Holy Spirit to descend on the people and the elements. This is called the epiclesis. It is done that all might obtain the benefits desired from communion, our petitions, and prayers.

 

  1. The Great Thanksgiving concludes with a triumphant, joyful, Trinitarian doxology, like icing on a cake, that sums up our praise of the Lord, our God.

 

Correctly employ all seven pieces into a Great Thanksgiving and you pass. Miss one iota, a fraction of a punctuation, and, well … see you next semester.

As the presider, entrusted to the pastoral care of each and every one of you, … who some weeks hang by a thread walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and, other weeks are skipping through life on cloud nine … Eucharist is essential, the oxygen of faith, the blood of belief, sustenance for the journey.

That’s how big of a deal it is.

 

Amen.

 

[References:

– “At the Lord’s Table,” Supplemental Worship Resources 9, Abingdon, Nashville, 1981

– “The United Methodist Book of Worship,” The United Methodist Publishing House, 1992.]

 

Reflection #4 (Pandemic 2)

 

We are fasting from Holy Communion this Lent, anticipating the moment the fast will be broken at Maundy Thursday worship during Holy Week.

 

It’s a big deal; the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Take. Give Thanks. Break. Give.

 

Following giving thanks (the Great Thanksgiving), breaking bread and pouring wine is a joyful part of the Sacrament because it recognizes our unity. As seeds of grain are gathered and unified into the flour of a common loaf, so, too, are we unified in our belief and witness of our risen Lord. As the grapes are crushed and the juice of each berry is channeled into one cup, so, too, are we unified with each other and with our God.

Breaking bread and pouring wine is a humbling experience for me, for I experience anew, at every celebration, my personal sense of unworthiness celebrating the Mass.

Beloved, I am sincere: because God has made a place for me at this, His Table, I am absolutely confident that there is a place at the Lord’s Table for you, too.

Breaking bread and pouring wine is a privilege that captures me in awe, the speechless glory of God’s presence and grace. When I elevate that loaf and break it … wow, Christ is broken for the world, for you, and for me. When I lift the cup … I’m overwhelmed that Christ’s blood washes away the sins of the world. Our past is gone, our present if clean, our future is God’s.

 

Our Roman ancestors and present-day Catholic cousins came to believe over the centuries the bread actually became the flesh of Jesus and the wine miraculously turned into his blood. This was another gripe that split us into the Protestant house. United Methodists believe the bread and wine are symbols of Christ’s body and blood, not his actual cells and bodily fluids.

One loaf. One cup. This is ideal. Early Apostles celebrated the Eucharist is small groups, in house churches, so it wasn’t a challenge. Given the setting, attendance, and dietary needs of those in attendance, accommodations may need to be made that include many loaves and many cups.

Shot glasses symbolize disunity and is in bad form, except in the midst of a pandemic!

 

Wine or grape juice? United Methodist practice is to use the unfermented juice of the grape, or, non-alcoholic grape juice. We recognize some struggle with addictions and using wine would become a barrier between themselves and the Table. It’s about being open, welcoming, accessible.

 

Accessible. Our practice is that Holy Communion needs to be as accessible to everyone. Not everyone will take advantage of it, but it’s their choice. Accessible means there’s room for everyone. No special knowledge or Sacramental understanding is needed. Have a difficulty walking? We’ll bring it to you. Home bound? We need to be organized and deployed to make home delivery!

 

Next, I’ll talk about giving.

Amen.

 

Reflection #5 (Pandemic 3)

 

We are fasting from Holy Communion this Lent, anticipating the moment the fast will be broken at Maundy Thursday worship during Holy Week.

 

It’s a big deal; the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Take. Give Thanks. Break. Give.

 

We follow the 4-step example of Jesus when he fed the crowds and served his disciples. 1) Jesus took the bread. 2) Gave thanks in prayer to his Heavenly Father. 3) He broke the bread. 4) And Jesus shared the bread.

 

I’ve spoken about the first three actions of Jesus on prior Sundays. Today, let us think about Christ’s act of sharing the broken bread and poured cup.

 

Bread and cup are given to modern disciples, just as Jesus gave to his disciples at the Last Supper. All who desire to draw close to Christ and intend to lead a Christian life, together with children, are invited to receive the bread and cup.

 

United Methodist do not refuse or deny anyone who presents themselves desiring to receive; though John Wesley regrettably did so on one occasion, which brought scandal and hurt, resulting in him fleeing the American colony of Georgia. Because God is the primary actor in a Sacrament, human subversion or denial is not allowed.

 

The consecrated bread and cup may be delivered by lay members of the church. When bread is given, we are reminded of the body of Christ, broken for us; God’s great sacrifice for us and our salvation. When the cup is shared, we are reminded of the blood of Christ, shed for us; washing us clean of our sins.

 

Barriers that inhibit belonging and full participation of those desiring Holy Communion must be identified and overcome. Intellect, ambulation, disability, diet, physical distance are some of the challenges that must be addressed to ensure full inclusion. Consecrated bread and cup may be taken by assistants after the service to those who are homebound and others unable to attend.

 

Giving should be personal: using the individual’s name (if possible) while making appropriate, non-threatening eye contact. Serving each other acts out our faith that Christ is the giver of this holy meal and that we are receivers of Christ’s grace.

 

Some celebrants will commune first. My preference is to be the last served. After all have been served, the table is to be returned to order. Left over bread and cup may be distributed to the poor, as was the early church practice, respectfully consumed, or returned to earth and God’s creation.

 

Next, I’ll conclude our Lenten discussion of Holy Communion. Amen.

 

[“The United Methodist Book of Worship”, 1992. p.27-31]

 

Reflection #6 (Pandemic 4)

 

We are fasting from Holy Communion this Lent, anticipating the moment the fast will be broken this Thursday, at Maundy Thursday worship.

 

It’s a big deal; the Sacrament of Holy Communion. We follow the 4-step example of Jesus when he fed the crowds and served his disciples. 1) Jesus took the bread. 2) Gave thanks in prayer to his Heavenly Father. 3) He broke the bread. 4) And Jesus shared the bread.

 

I was 14. The year was 1975. It was the first Sunday of the new quarter. My father, a 51-year-old seminary student and new local pastor at the time, asked me to join him in serving Holy Communion one afternoon to a member of the congregation in the nursing home. She was near death.

 

I was frightened about death, as most youth would expect to be. But I couldn’t show it. “Sure, I’ll go with you,” I replied as confidently as I could muster. Now, as a 58-year-old long-tenured pastor myself, I can see that my father was probably frightened, too. He was doing his best to hide his fear from me.

Dad led. I followed. We passed the sign on the door that said NPO, meaning nothing by mouth. Bread. Wine. This should be interesting.

IMG_20200330_105111

Dad carried this traveling communion kit, filled with leftover bread and grape juice from morning worship. It had been given to him by Rev. Harold Geiser, a pastor of the previous generation. This sacred kit has been left to me. It’s really old and well worn, near and dear to my heart.

 

The elderly woman lying in bed was older looking than just about anyone I’d ever seen. She looked about 65 pounds soaking wet. She was sleeping, breathing hard, and her dried out tongue hung out and looked cracked. I wish I remembered her name.

 

Dad said “hello.” No response.

Dad read to her the 23rd Psalm. No response.

He said an abbreviated version of the Eucharist prayer. No response.

There was no opening her eyes.

I watched to see her breathing. Because, … you know.

 

Dad opened the Communion kit and set up the bread and juice. I looked around for any nurse who might have us arrested and tossed out for violating the NPO order.

My father, very gently, placed a crumb of the bread on this woman’s tongue. She pulled in her tongue, closed her mouth, and I could see that she began to suck on the crumb and move it about her mouth. Dad took a straw off her nightstand, inserted it into one of the cups and held it to her lips. She quickly slurped it up and swallowed. She didn’t choke. She never opened her eyes. There was no acknowledgment of our presence. Dad said a prayer and we left.

 

I have thought a lot about this woman in the forty-five years that have since past.

The mystery of the Sacrament has been brought to focus by this experience. Eucharist intersected with a lifetime of faith; when this woman had come forward, knelt at the altar rail, received bread and cup in her local church. She had participated in Holy Communion as a child, youth, young married mother, and as an aging widow. The presence of the Holy Spirit wove a consistent theological, Sacramental thread throughout her life leading her to the threshold, the thin divide between earth and heaven, mortal life and eternal life.

By some mysterious way, God used the Sacrament of Holy Communion to gather in this sheep of the Shepherd, and to bring her safely and lovingly home.

 

Holy Communion is this, and so much more; a big deal, a larger mystery than any one can begin to describe; tasting, seeing, experience the presence of God; cleansing, celebrating, uniting, feast of a lifetime; sustaining grace providing everything necessary for the Christian journey; reminding us of God’s great love for humankind.

 

Join us this Thursday – Maundy Thursday – for breaking the fast with the celebration of Holy Communion at 4:00 p.m.

 

Over past weeks I have been praying hard, making plans, only to have plans changed, change, and change some more. I have been asking advice from seminary professors, colleagues, and conducting my own research. I’ve been seeking your input; after all, you are the sheep of the fold that God has charged me to be your pastoral shepherd.

 

I take my sacramental rights and responsibilities seriously.

 

Join me online. I will celebrate live stream worship and Holy Communion at 4:00 pm. All participants will have three choices. Choose according to your needs and comfort level.

 

1) Curbside. After the service, bring a disposable cup and paper plate, drive to the church, pause at the front door. Do not get out of the car. The consecrated bread and cup will be safely passed through your car window to you, and you will receive a blessing. The Bread and Cup will be prepared with the same (or better) sanitary procedures as is being conducted by restaurants providing curb side or drive in service.

 

2) Home Delivery. Those unable to drive to the church, please contact the church office, and we will arrange for a volunteer to safely deliver consecrated bread and cup to your home, where it can be left by your door. Also, contact us if you are willing to volunteer and deliver consecrated elements, with my thanks.

 

3) Virtual Communion. Bread, Cup, and a gathered community are required. Virtual Communion is not a recognized practice by the United Methodist Church, even though I am aware of its recent practice.

 

The Church has a history of invoking “In extremis” sacramental procedures during emergencies, such as the bubonic plague and combat. In extremis means “in the farthest reaches” or “at the point of death.”

 

In light of our present Covid-19 pandemic, as your ordained pastoral leader, and because of my great love for each and every member and friend of the Rush United Methodist Church, after great prayer and discernment, I am invoking Eucharist In Extremis for Maundy Thursday. Therefore, you may prepare in your own home a Cup and Bread for your own consumption.

 

We will resume regular Holy Communion after Maundy Thursday as soon as possible and permissible. You have my assurance: I will not allow you to starve or die of thirst! This pandemic may prevent us from immediately returning to weekly celebrations of Holy Communion, but together, we will do the best we can.

 

Amen.

“Hosanna!”

Zechariah 9:9-10, Matthew 21:1-11, 26:1-5

Palm Sunday, 5 April 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

1

Prayer.

 

The Lord provided the prophet Zechariah with great vision.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!” he wrote.

“Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!

Lo, your king comes to you;

Triumphant and victorious is he,

Humble and riding on a donkey,

On a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

(Zechariah 9:9-10)

 

Thus, the Lord had spoken.

The Lord spoke to Zechariah’s generation,

Ending their exile and captivity,

Returning them to Jerusalem,

Restoring the Temple,

Breathing life once again into God’s chosen people,

Reviving the faithful.

 

God has done it before.

Expect God to save God’s people again!

 

The Lord’s words spoken by Zechariah

Were also directed to the crowds welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem.

The crowds of would-be followers and disciples of Jesus

Faithfully fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy.

Rejoice!

Shout aloud!

Your king comes!

The king is triumphant, yet humble, riding on a donkey.

 

The faithful know God’s word and are willing to follow God’s every command.

 

Our Palm Sunday worship today is this generation’s

Faithful desire to know God’s word,

To follow God’s every command,

To take our place in God’s unfolding salvation history.

 

Rejoice! Beloved faithful!

Join together in a virtual cloud,

For our isolation and quarantine is time limited.

 

God has done it before.

Expect God to save God’s people again!

New life will breathe into our breasts.

Resurrection and life abundant is at hand.

 

“Hosanna!” the Palm Sunday crowd roared.

Hosanna is a Hallel Psalm,

Taken from Psalm 118:25-26.

It is sung at Passover,

Meaning “Save, we beseech you!”

“Save now!”

Hosanna is a cry

A prayer

For deliverance.

 

Rarely has Hosanna been more meaningful and to the point than right now.

As we wave our palm branches and

Join the ancient chorus

In the isolation of our homes,

We are praying that God will deliver us,

God will save us, and

God will restore us.

 

Our gentle and humble King

Who arrives today on a donkey and a colt

Gives us,

His would-be disciples, followers, and supporters

Hope and promise.

 

Christ has come to save us!

It may not be the salvation we thought was coming,

But it is the salvation and liberation that God has planned all along.

 

Hosanna! To the health care workers.

Hosanna! To our first responders.

Hosanna! To those sick and dying, and their families.

Hosanna! To all isolated, anxious, and discouraged.

Hosanna! Jesus.

Blessed are you who come in the name of the Lord!

Hosanna! In the highest.

Amen.

“God’s Been Here Before”

Ezekiel 37:1-14 and John 11:1-45

29 March 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

1

Prayer.

 

On the shore of the Chebar River in modern day Iraq

Slept a faithful prophet of our Lord.

He, and many other exiles from Judah,

Lived in a prisoner of war camp,

Enduring terrible suffering, deprivation, and humiliation.

Babylonian captivity was the Lord’s punishment for

The House of Israel defiling their own soil by their own sinful ways and deeds.

(Ezekiel 36:17)

 

There is no more profound example of quarantine or self-isolation

Then a prison.

 

As is often the case

God uses dreams as a means of revelation.

On this evening twenty-six hundred years ago

The prophet was visited in his sleep.

He described his Divine vision

 

The Lord informed Ezekiel

That when he preached to those dry bones

They’d all come together in a rattle.

Flesh, skin, and sinew would be knit together, and

The breath of the Lord from the four winds

Would bring them life.

 

The dead would live again.

Graves would be opened and the people of Israel would be restored to their land.

 

“I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.”

(Ezekiel 37:14)

 

And so, it came to pass.

Babylon fell.

Israel was restored.

God kept the promise.

 

God is faithful;

Even when we do not know what to do.

 

The Exile and Restoration

Wasn’t the Lord’s first plague, redemption, and restoration;

Remember Moses and Pharaoh?

 

In the isolation of our homes,

I hope we can recognize the fact, that,

While none of us has ever seen a pandemic of this scale

God has been here before.

 

God’s been through this and has prevailed.

 

…………………..

 

The Gospel narrative of Jesus raising Lazarus is long and well known to most of us.

 

From my Sunday school days, I remember …

  • Jesus delay in going to Lazarus bedside,
  • Mary’s complaint for Jesus failing to make haste,
  • The danger Jesus was in by those who wished to stone him to death,
  • His grief, raw, human grief, streaming down his cheeks, as he cried over Lazarus.

 

I remember …

  • Jesus praying fervently that resurrection may lead the crowd to belief,
  • Jesus calling out to the tomb where the body of Lazarus lay,
  • Thinking to myself, wow, he must have stunk being four days dead.

 

I was a volunteer medic on the local ambulance.

I know what four days dead smells like.

 

In the privacy of my own self-isolation this past week,

Studying the text, meditating and praying upon it,

I have come to see a part of the story of the resurrection of Lazarus

That I had never seen or experienced before.

 

A house that is in mourning

Is no different than a house in Babylonian exile,

Is no different than a house that is in isolation or quarantine.

 

Jesus becomes the same

Divine vision of restoration

When he meets Martha

Who comes forth from her Bethany home to greet him as he approached.

 

Jesus tells her,

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

(11:25-27)

 

Resurrection and life,

Opening the eyes of belief,

Revealing Jesus to the world,

That all – the whole world – may believe.

 

Resurrection and life.

Life abundant?

you betchya!

 

Jesus is resurrection and abundant life.

 

We learn in the following chapter of John how abundant life can be

When the resurrected Lazarus, Mary, and Martha entertain Jesus for dinner.

They feast abundantly.

Lazarus reclined at table with Jesus.

Martha waited on them.

Mary anointed Jesus with oil, filling the house with fragrance.

(12:1-3)

 

………………

 

Jesus is resurrection and abundant life.

 

Hang on to this anchor,

This stake in the ground,

For this is a cornerstone of our belief.

 

Jesus is resurrection and abundant life.

Burn it into your memory.

 

Lazarus was dead, and his loved ones were in mourning.

Jesus raised him to life.

God breathed life into his old dry bones.

 

Life became abundant once again,

As abundant as Israel being returned from Exile,

As abundant as life will become when science wins,

And this pandemic is defeated, destroyed, and fades away.

 

Jesus is resurrection and abundant life.

 

God has been through this before;

And prevailed!

God is with us now;

And winning!

God will see us through these days, too,

As difficult as they may be,

And God will bring us life,

Life abundant.

 

Beloved,

God’s always faithful.

God is always is true.

Rest assured, God’s greatest gift of grace

Is Jesus Christ;

Our rod and our staff,

Our good shepherd,

Our resurrection,

Our abundant life.

Amen.

…………………………………………………………………..

Lenten Reflection on Holy Communion

 

We are fasting from Holy Communion this Lent, anticipating the moment the fast will be broken at Maundy Thursday worship during Holy Week.

 

It’s a big deal; the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Take. Give Thanks. Break. Give.

 

We follow the 4-step example of Jesus when he fed the crowds and served his disciples. 1) Jesus took the bread. 2) Gave thanks in prayer to his Heavenly Father. 3) He broke the bread. 4) And Jesus shared the bread.

 

I’ve spoken about the first three actions of Jesus on prior Sundays. Today, let us think about Christ’s act of sharing the broken bread and poured cup.

 

Bread and cup are given to modern disciples, just as Jesus gave to his disciples at the Last Supper. All who desire to draw close to Christ and intend to lead a Christian life, together with children, are invited to receive the bread and cup.

 

United Methodist do not refuse or deny anyone who presents themselves desiring to receive; though John Wesley regrettably did so on one occasion, which brought scandal and hurt, resulting in him fleeing the American colony of Georgia. Because God is the primary actor in a Sacrament, human subversion or denial is not allowed.

 

The consecrated bread and cup may be delivered by lay members of the church. When bread is given, we are reminded of the body of Christ, broken for us; God’s great sacrifice for us and our salvation. When the cup is shared, we are reminded of the blood of Christ, shed for us; washing us clean of our sins.

 

Barriers that inhibit belonging and full participation of those desiring Holy Communion must be identified and overcome. Intellect, ambulation, disability, diet, physical distance are some of the challenges that must be addressed to ensure full inclusion. Consecrated bread and cup may be taken by assistants after the service to those who are homebound and others unable to attend.

 

Giving should be personal: using the individual’s name (if possible) while making eye contact. Serving each other acts out our faith that Christ is the giver of this holy meal and that we are receivers of Christ’s grace.

 

Some celebrants will commune first. My preference is to be the last served. After all have been served, the table is to be returned to order. Left over bread and cup may be distributed to the poor, as was the early church practice, respectfully consumed, or returned to earth and God’s creation.

 

Next Sunday, I’ll conclude our Lenten discussion of Holy Communion. Amen.

 

[“The United Methodist Book of Worship”, 1992. p.27-31]

“Ten Simple Things”

22 March 2020 – 4th Sunday of Lent

John 9:1-41

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

1

Prayer.

 

Jesus is the light of the world,

The solution to sin,

The promise of our eternal future.

On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand.

 

The current pandemic reminds me of how dependent we are on God. Life is fragile. It is as if our efforts to serve the Lord became stale, predicable, too easy and the Lord wants us to be more creative, daring, fresh, and bold. Perhaps God is calling the faithful to create new ways of Christian engagement to deepen faith, strengthen the church, and meet the needs of the world. Talk with me … phone, video, text or email. Let’s work together to identify and address the new opportunities for ministry this current crisis provides.

 

We are all anxious about unfolding events. The Lord woke me at 4:00 am Thursday morning to give you ten simple things to bring immediate relief to fear, replace anxiety with joy, and wrap each of us tightly in the confidence of God’s love:

 

1) Turn off the news. The constant stream of information is exhausting. Take a break. The quickly changing environment that upsets routine will begin to slow. Rest. Update yourself with current events on your terms, only to keep yourself and your family safe. Restore. Use the break to grow strong; physically, emotionally, spiritually. Sleep more, eat better, play. Restore.

 

2) Get outdoors. Spring is here. Go for a walk or run. Revel in God’s glorious creation. Find the Divine Awe creek side, along a hiking trail, overlooking a waterfall, in the smell of a patch of emerging Jack-in-the-Pulpit, raindrops falling on the cheeks, the wind making its way across a field. This is God’s majesty at work. We are a part of God’s greatest masterpiece! Release the joy!

 

3. Touch the Eternal. Place a small stone in your pocket and carry it with you. Allow the stone to serve as a reminder. The Eternal God who created that stone long before we were born, who loves us so much we are given Jesus, is the same God who will save us to an eternal home long after our mortal bodies are gone. Touch that stone; touch it often.

 

4. Take your pulse. Lightly touch your wrist. Gently touch your neck. You’re alive! Every heartbeat is a gift from God, a constant reminder of how much we are loved, and an ever-present source of God’s gift of life. Set a routine for taking your pulse, such as before and after every meal, or at waking and before sleep.

 

5. Breath. Breath deep and slow. Long inhales and long exhales. Purse your lips. Position yourself for maximum effect. Invite the Holy Spirit to enter your ebb and flow. Feel the Spirit’s fullness in your lungs. Experience the tide like movement in and out of your body. Breathe the Holy Spirit upon another (from more than 12 feet away!). Breathe the Spirit as a blessing, using your arms and hands to send it on its way.

 

6. Check in with your neighbors and each other. Call. Text. Write a note. Stop in Rush Connections using Zoom video. Watch for God at work in others. Be alert to needs that may emerge. Strategize how to meet those needs. When you experience God at work, report it! Witness it to others! I call these observations “Glory Sightings!” Keep a list of your Glory Sightings and share them often.

 

7. Practice charity. Where there is a need, give. Give joyfully. Give generously. Give sacrificially. Give in the name of God; the One who has given to you and me all good things. Sacrifice means giving something up. Think about what can be surrendered to make your act of charity more vibrant, more real. The happiest, most joy filled people on the planet are those who give. Spread some happiness.

 

8. Read your Bible daily. Connect with God through the Word God has provided. It’s a tool; use it! The more you use it, the more proficient you’ll get. Experience develops muscle memory in the body, mind, and heart. Set a time every day to experience God’s holy Word. If it has been a while, start by reading the Gospel of Matthew. Read it slowly. Pace yourself. Read small chunks at a time. Read the Gospel from start to finish. Watch for key words and allow God to speak to you through them.

 

9. Practice Sabbath weekly. Take one day a week off to do nothing except to thank God for the expanse of grace we’ve been given. Make a list of everything God has given you, for which you are thankful. You’ve been given a whole day, so make it a long list! Once you’ve wrung every ounce of thanks out of your body, turn your attention to praise. Give God praise. Praise God in prayer, song, worship, and Sacrament.

 

10. Wash your hands. Every time you wash your hands, say a prayer. Make it a good prayer, because hands need to be scrubbed frequently and thoroughly. End your prayer while washing with The Lord’s Prayer. Do this and you’ll successfully wash for two minutes or more. You will have made that connection with God that gets you through that very next moment.

 

Thank you for supporting our congregational leaders and staff with your encouragement, prayers, and kindness. We’re doing the best we can, relying on the grace and love of God.

 

Personally, thank you for your prayers and kind words.

 

Beloved, God loves you, and so do I,

“A Woman’s Witness”

A Reader’s Theater of John 4:5-42

 

Cast:

  • Narrator: DAN G.
  • Jesus: TODD G.
  • Samaritan Woman: KELLIANNE W.

 

_________________________

 

Set:

  • The set is composed of 3 chairs, facing the congregation, in front of the altar table, in a semi-circular arrangement
  • Cast is seated, each reading from the script
  • Cast are amplified by microphone
  • There are no props or costumes

 

_________________________

 

Script:

 

DAN: Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her,

 

TODD: “Give me a drink.”

 

DAN: (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

 

KELLIANNE: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”

 

DAN: (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

 

TODD: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

 

KELLIANNE: “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”

 

TODD: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

 

KELLIANNE: “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

 

TODD: “Go, call your husband, and come back.”

 

KELLIANNE: “I have no husband.”

 

TODD: “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”

 

KELLIANNE: “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”

 

TODD: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

 

KELLIANNE: “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”

 

TODD: “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

 

DAN: Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”

Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people,

 

KELLIANNE: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”

 

DAN: They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them,

 

TODD: “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”

 

DAN: So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?”

 

TODD:  “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

 

DAN: Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony,

 

KELLIANNE: “He told me everything I have ever done.”

 

DAN: So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

1

March 15, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

 

Prayer.

 

There are times the Gospel lesson

Just shocks me

With a new awareness,

With a new revelation,

With a new way of being presented;

Like in the form of a Reader’s Theater.

 

What new have we learned from this familiar story from John?

 

I’ve read and heard many sermons based on the Woman at Jacob’s Well

Where the preacher expounded at length

About this woman

Who came from a morally corrupt background,

Met Jesus at the well,

And had her sins forgiven.

I may have even preached a few of those sermons, myself.

 

Did anyone present today,

Who just experienced the proclamation of the Gospel,

Hear a statement proclaiming this woman was a sinner?

Did anyone hear Jesus forgiving her

Her sins?

 

No!

 

This woman wasn’t morally corrupt!

She had been widowed or abandoned

By no fault of her own

By five …

…. Count them …

By five different men.

This woman wasn’t a sinner seeking forgiveness.

 

 

This un-named woman at the well was a victim of men who treated her like property.

She was abandoned, isolated, marginalized, dehumanized.

 

There are times the Gospel

Just shocks us.

 

So, if this isn’t a narrative about sin and forgiveness,

What is this previously-assumed-to-be-familiar Gospel passage about?

 

….

 

In the preceding chapter of John

We heard last Sunday about Jesus in Jerusalem

Being visited under cover of night by Nicodemus,

A leader of the Jews.

(John 3:1)

 

Jesus is in the seat of power,

Being visited by the personification of power.

That narrative ends with one of Jesus’ most memorable statements:

“God so loved the world …”

(John 3:16)

 

Today, Jesus gives us a glimpse of what that world looks like.

He’s traveled north, into rural Samaria,

Meeting a woman

Who the world thought of as property.

She was a Samaritan, mixed race, abandoned, widowed, and marginalized.

She was the personification of someone who has no power.

 

The contrast …

Samaritan woman v. Jesus …

Powerless v. All Powerful God of Creation …

couldn’t be more profound.

 

 

Jacob’s well is significant.

Jacob met Rachael here.

In the days before Tinder, Match Dot Com, and online dating,

This is where people came together to socialize, network, and, yes, to flirt.

The local water source was where people congregated.

 

This woman

Who has no name

Was at the well

To not only draw water,

But also seeking something else.

 

She hoped to find a friend.

She is seeking opportunities to belong.

She is searching for someone or a group of people

That will add value to her lonely, isolated, tragic life.

And it is here,

At Jacob’s well,

That she meets Jesus.

 

There are times the Gospel

Is just shocking.

 

….

 

In the Gospel of Matthew we have heard Jesus identified

On multiple occasions

As the Son of God.

At his baptism,

At his transfiguration,

We’ve heard the voice of God pronounce,

“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

 

There are no such pronouncements in the Gospel of John.

 

 

There are, however, famous “I Am” statements,

The first of which occurs here:

“The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.””

(John 4:25-26)

 

“I am” harkens back to Hebrew scriptures,

To our Jewish heritage,

To the mountain where God encountered Moses.

“I Am who I Am” the Lord proclaims.

Since then, “I Am” is shorthand for Yahweh,

For the Creator and Lord of all.

 

John takes “I Am” and runs with it:

“I am the Good Shepherd”

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”

“I am the Vine, you are the branches”

Today’s Gospel from John is the first pronouncement of Jesus’ identity.

 

We not only learn who Jesus is,

Yahweh, the Creator, and Lord of all,

John reveals why Jesus has become God in the flesh.

The one and only time the Gospel of John uses the word “Savior”

Is found right here in verse 42:

 

 

The Samaritans … “said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.””

(John 4:42)

 

This narrative from the Gospel of John

Is a Rosetta Stone for his theology;

The belief of the Early Church community

That sprung up around the Apostle John.

 

John identifies Jesus as God

And reveals his foundational theme

Of why he has come:

 

 

Jesus has come to be

The Savior of the world.

 

….

 

Jesus is calling us to a new understanding of “Savior” and “Salvation.”

Salvation is more than one-dimensional salvation from death.

Salvation is more than two-dimensional being saved into than eternal life.

The Savior of the world brings three-dimensional salvation

By leading us from isolation and marginalization

Into friendships, relationships, and community,

With God and with one another.

 

 

God’s power doesn’t come from force or violence,

It comes from love.

God’s love might be academically explained

To people of power,

In positions of power,

In places of power.

 

But God’s love is experienced,

Poured out as life-giving living water

To people who have no power

Who exist on the fringes

Who, through no fault of their own,

Have been kicked to the side of the road, abandoned,

Left for dead.

 

This woman is searching for relationship

Jesus gives her relationship, and more.

 

….

 

A major criticism of younger adults,

Millennials and GenX-ers,

Is that the Church has lost its relevance;

That we love God,

But that we’ve forgotten to love our neighbors.

The salt has lost its flavor.

The power has gone out and so has the light.

 

“Go to church on Sunday

But forget about Jesus the rest of the week”

Is a biting, but astute, well-earned observation.

Why isn’t the Church feeding the hungry,

Instead of writing a check?

Why isn’t the Church building a wheelchair ramp

For a neighbor newly immobilized,

Instead of hosting a Bible Study or gathered for a meeting?

Why isn’t the Church standing up and speaking out

On behalf of the environment;

Against racism, homophobia, and antisemitism?

Instead, many see the Church as judgmental, uncaring, and unconcerned.

 

Jesus is what younger adults,

Millennials and GenX-ers have been waiting for all along.

 

 

Jesus goes to this woman and rescues her

Like a lifeguard on Bay Watch.

 

Just as Jesus goes,

So too should the Church.

Just as Jesus swings,

So too should we.

 

Break out the swim trunks, Ray Bans, and get into the lifeguard stand.

One by one, the world needs to be saved.

We’re deployed by our Lifeguard in Chief;

To swim down from behind

Those caught in the undertows of life.

Bring them back to shore and

Revive them with the breath of the Spirit.

 

….

 

 

Salvation is a saturation of love.

 

This essential, foundational passage from the Gospel of John

Prods us to go with love,

With God’s love, and

Use it to save the world.

 

Use God’s love to

Make healthy relationships,

Founded upon Christ,

the solid rock upon which we stand.

 

Love others.

Serve others.

Save the powerless.

Rescue them back from the margins

And give of yourselves.

 

Offer friendship, relationship, companionship.

Keep a lookout for those everyone else misses:

Often the last, least, lost, and left behind.

Target them.

Love them.

Lead them to Jesus Christ.

 

….

 

 

The concluding point that is important to make

Is to recognize the result of this woman being saved by the Savior:

She runs back to town and tells everyone

“everything I have ever done.”

 

The Samaritan villagers were so convinced of her witness

They came to Jesus.

They sought Him out.

They invited Christ into their lives

They asked him to stay in their homes for two days!

And Jesus did!

“We know this is true!” They witnessed in-turn.

Jesus “is truly the Savior of the world.”

 

This is what the salvation of Jesus Christ does to people’s lives.

Salvation snatches people from loneliness, isolation, powerlessness, and the margins,

Gives and receives life-giving relationships,

Nurtured by Christ’s living water.

Salvation results in conversion, discipleship, and witness.

 

….

 

Our local church (little c)

And our catholic Church (big C)

Is alive and well today,

In part, because of the salvation of this woman by Jacob’s well,

Her encounter with Jesus,

Her testimony to her fellow Samaritans.

We are alive and well today because

her continued testimony

Has trickled down,

Generation upon generation,

To us today.

 

Jesus saves.

Because of a woman’s witness,

So, too, dearly beloved, salvation has come to you and me.

 

 

Continue the legacy of Christ’s salvation.

Reach out with his love.

Reach out with Christ’s love to the edge

And beyond.

That’s where the marginalized are found.

 

Reach out to save another …

And another …

And another …

That, one day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess

That Jesus Christ is Lord;

the Savior of the world.

Amen.

“Nicodemus”

John 3:1-17

8 March 2020, 2nd Sunday of Lent

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

John 3:1-17

 

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”

Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

 

Prayer.

1

Four of six Sundays during Lent this year will feature the alternate Gospel of St. John.

Fitting 4 Gospels into a 3-year rotation requires an occasional dipping into the odd Gospel out.

The four passages from John this year are unique to John,

not found in the parallel Gospels of Matthew, Mark, or Luke.

So, our lesson today about Nicodemus visiting Jesus, is only found here in chapter 3.

 

When you think about the Gospel of John, think Holy Spirit.

 

Scholars call this “Pneumatology”

–  Pneuma- : from the Greek, meaning air or wind –

– Tology: from the Greek, meaning the study of the ways of God –

Or, the study of God, whose presence is like air or the wind.

 

Think Gospel of John, think Holy Spirit.

 

Each Gospel has its own unique character, flavor, worldview, development, and audience.

John places a large emphasis on the character and actions of God as Spirit,

the Holy Spirit.

 

Here are some examples:

 

John the Baptist testified to the presence and action of the Holy Spirit

at the baptism of Jesus. (1:32)

 

John reports Jesus teaching that

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (4:24)

 

Jesus promises his Heavenly Father will send the Holy Spirit,

as an Advocate on behalf of his disciples,

after his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. (14:15-31)

 

In the 15th chapter Jesus teaches,

“When the Advocate comes,

the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father,

Will testify on my behalf.” (15:26)

 

The Spirit will be a substitute for Jesus,

Who will guide disciples to

the truth. (16:12)

 

The Gospel of John even has its own unique record of the Pentecost,

When and how the Holy Spirit comes,

Differing from that which is recorded in Acts of the Apostles.

John records that after the resurrection,

Jesus visits the disciples locked away in an upper room,

He breaths on them, saying

“Receive the Holy Spirit.

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them;

if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (20:22-23)

 

Think Gospel of John, think Holy Spirit.

 

So, we should hardly be surprised today

When Jesus responds to the questions from a Pharisee named Nicodemus,

Inquiring under cover of night:

How can anyone be born a second time

So that they can see or enter the kingdom of God?

 

“No one can enter the kingdom of God,” Jesus teaches,

“without being born of water and Spirit.” (3:5)

 

Nicodemus wants to see and enter the kingdom of God.

Jesus tells him you must be born of water and Spirit.

 

Life is a dichotomy of choices, Jesus observes in this Gospel passage:

There is flesh and there is spirit. (3:6)

There are earthy things and there are heavenly things. (3:12)

There is punishment and condemnation under the Law and

there is faith, belief, and eternal life with Jesus Christ. (3:15-18)

There is darkness and there is light. (3:19)

 

There is water and there is spirit.

One must be born of water and Spirit to see and enter the kingdom of God.

Here, I would not suggest that being born of water is a reference of baptism.

Jesus internally cites the dichotomy of flesh.

Because of this, I’d suggest Jesus is speaking of human birth;

The mother’s water breaking,

Releasing new life.

Human flesh born of water.

 

One must be born of water and Spirit to see and enter the kingdom of God.

What does Jesus mean to be born of the Spirit?

 

First, we don’t control the Holy Spirit.

God doesn’t fetch our sticks.

 

Jesus rightly observes,

“The wind blows where it chooses, and

you hear the sound of it, but

you do not know where it comes from or

where it goes.

So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (3:8)

 

Nicodemus can’t force the wind to comply to his demand

Any more than you or I can.

God acts according to God’s own will,

In God’s own time.

 

Therefore, it is God’s initiative and will

for the world – that’s you and me –

to see and enter God’s kingdom.

 

Our responsibility is simply to claim

God’s initiative for our own.

Claiming God’s initiative is called “belief”.

Believe in Jesus and claim eternal life.

This is God’s will and greatest desire.

 

Don’t think of God as passively twiddling away time

planning to someday give birth to you through the Holy Spirit.

 

God is in active pursuit;

giving relentless chase to you and me.

God is at work through the Holy Spirit

With the tenacity of the Hounds of Hell.

Once the hunt is on

The Spirit isn’t going to give up or give in.

 

Game on.

 

The God who made time

Has all eternity to hunt you and me down.

 

The God who made you

Is going to be the God who claims you.

 

The God who made you

Is the God who loves you so much

He gives you Jesus.

 

The God who made you

Sacrificed his Son for you.

 

The God who made you

Comes as the wind,

Blows when and where it chooses, and

Sweeps you and me away.

 

There isn’t a thing you or I can do about it

Except to say

“Yes Lord.

I believe.”

 

Resist if you want.

Hunker down in the bathtub of life.

Take shelter and hope God doesn’t

Blow your roof off,

Kick your doors in, and

Knock your walls down.

 

Like a tornado in a trailer park,

Or a State Trooper on a manhunt,

God is coming after you.

The Spirit will arrest you, and

Hold you

Until you believe.

 

How do I know?

The Bible tells me so.

 

The Gospel of John played itself out

With Saul on the road to Damascus,

With John Wesley on Aldersgate Street,

With Todd Goddard in front of March Chapel

at Boston University 40 years ago.

 

Next time some well-meaning person asks you

“Are you born again?”

Tell them

it’s hard not to be!

 

It’s hard not to be born again with a God who so loves the world that he sent us Jesus.

It’s hard not to be born from above with a God that wants us to believe.

It’s hard not to be born of the Holy Spirit with a God who desires to save us from death and give us eternal life.

 

Tag.

You’ve been caught.

All that’s left

is to believe.

 

Surrender.

Come out with your hands up.

Let the Spirit take you and do with you as the Spirit will.

Come into the light.

Breathe and believe.

Amen.