“The Price of Discipleship”

Mark 1:14-20

24 January 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 

As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

| Centering Prayer |

Jesus crossed a boundary

And I’m quite certain

Zebedee was not a happy camper.

I mean, what father in their right mind would be?

Walt Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo Da Vinci is a wonderful read.

As you probably know

Leonardo was a famous painter, inventor, and scientist;

Born in the village of Vinci, outside of Florence, Italy

In 1452,

He died in 1519,

502 years ago

At the age of 67.

Leonardo was truly a renaissance man,

Gifted with curiosity and imagination.

He was born out of wedlock,

The son of Piero da Vinci,

A local notary.

In those days and in that time,

A notary functioned much like a para-legal in a modern-day law office.

He wasn’t a full-fledged lawyer;

But, he was empowered with considerable legal responsibility.

Notaries were held in high esteem in Italian renaissance culture.

Proud fathers passed on their training and professional credentials

From generation to generation.

Piero was at least a fourth-generation notary.

Notaries belonged to guilds,

Who maintained very strict morality requirements.

Because of this,

The out-of-wedlock son, Leonardo,

Was freed from the expectation of

Training for a profession in the law.

The guild simply wouldn’t allow it.

The expectation was that the profession was to be bequeathed to a legitimate heir.

The call, apprenticeship, and profession of notary

Would eventually fall upon Leonardo’s yet-to-be-born, legitimate half-brother.

Leonardo was freed up for other, more worthwhile endeavors.

From father to son,

Expectations have ebbed and flowed for centuries.

I recall from my youth

The time when I first spoke with my father

About the possibility of being called to ordained ministry.

I was in my second year at Clarkson, studying engineering.

I loved the science, math, and computer programming.

Yet, there was something more to life,

Still unexplored,

That led me to question

God’s will for my future.

Dad was a second career United Methodist pastor.

When I broached the subject with him

I remember him shifting in his chair, pausing,

Frowning, and furrowing his bushy eyebrows.

Then he began to explain to me how difficult it can be

To be an ordained pastor.

It was as if he was trying to talk me out of it.

I gave it time.

We talked about it on several occasions.

He couldn’t dissuade me.

Then, something broke.

He shared with me about his wonderful seminary experience

At Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

Dad encouraged me to immediately apply.

I recall vividly my astonishment at his near instant flip-flop.

I said to him “but, dad, I need to make my own way.”

(A comment my own son has said to me).

“Yep. I understand,” he admitted.

A son needs to make his own way.

From father to son,

Expectations have ebbed and flowed for centuries.

We can only imagine the conversation in the boat that day

Following a night of fishing on the Sea of Galilee.

Zebedee and his two sons, James and John,

Were mending their nets.

It was a routine every morning;

Repair the rips and tears from the previous evening.

Depending on the time of year and amount of overcast,

It could have been blazing hot or bone chilling cool.

If it was anything like a recently excavated first century fishing boat discovered in the Sea of Galilee,

Zebedee, James, and John would have been

Mending, working, cleaning, and carrying on

In a boat dragged on shore

That was 27 feet long and nearly 8 feet wide;

A considerable boat, indeed.

The boat represented the family business,

The primary capital investment,

Passed on from father to son,

From generation to generation.

Small talk and idle conversation

Was interrupted by an approaching stranger.

Jesus appeared to know them

Even though there is no evidence

That any of the three had ever met him.

The invitation “Follow me”

Shattered generational expectations

With revolutionary thunder.

The world would never be the same.

A new reality was at hand.

Zebedee was one who learned early on in Christ’s ministry

That Incarnation comes at a price.

Undoubtedly, he would have been thinking

“Where in ‘Honor thy mother and father’ does the Ten Commandments

Allow honorable sons to go tramping off

With the first stranger who says ‘Follow me’”?

Zebedee was left in a lurch!

He had nets to mend,

Fish to catch,

Bills to pay,

A business to run,

A family to feed!

And his two sons up and leaves him?

Zebedee wasn’t the first to bear the weight of God incarnate.

The Gospel of Matthew reported the slaughter of the innocents;

Certainly their grief filled parents would have understood

That Incarnation comes at a price.

Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt until Herod’s death

And it was safe to return home.

Certainly they understood

That the Incarnation of Jesus Christ comes at a price.

The Gospel of Mark,

In which we will spend considerable time over the course of this next year,

Paints a less than rosy picture of what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus.

The job description isn’t at all attractive.

The pay positively stinks, and

The pay is usually non-existent!

When Jesus calls the twelve on the mountain top in the third chapter of Mark,

His call is three-fold:

1. To remain with him.

2. To go out and preach.

3. And take his authority and cast out demons.

(Mark 3:14-15)

The first two requirements for discipleship are straight forward.

It’s the third that catches my attention.

The cost of the Incarnation for our Lord’s new disciples

Was to be an exorcist!

Who’s up for a good case of exorcism?

This is your chance to look the devil directly in the eye,

Call out Beelzebul by name,

And cast Satan out of every possessed Tom, Dick, and Harry

Spitting up pea soup and jerking with eye-rolling seizures.

Any volunteers?

The line forms here.

Not many applicants?

The Incarnation of Jesus Christ comes at a price.

There is a cost to discipleship.

It’s not free.

Neither is it cheap.

The faint of heart need not apply.

Still early on in Jesus’ ministry

His own mother and brothers call Jesus home.

You can understand their concern, can’t you?

You know how gossip spreads.

Word travels through small towns.
Jesus was preaching, teaching, healing, exorcising demons.

He was tramping around the countryside,

Attracting crowds and crowds and crowds of

Seekers, the curious, and the desperate.

Jesus hears that his family is calling him home.

“Who are my mother and brothers?” Jesus asks

“And looking at those who sat around him, he said,

‘Here are my mother and my brothers! 

Whoever does the will of God

is my brother and sister and mother.’”

(Mark 3:34-35)

So much for family values!

The price of discipleship depresses the value of the biological family

And inflates the value of those who do the will of God.

Those who do the will of God are considered by Jesus to be his family.

It’s no wonder Jesus’ own flesh and blood

Are whipped up in homicidal rage and

Attempt to throw him off a cliff.

(Luke 4:29)

Jesus,

God in the flesh,

Comes to the world,

Paying a price for our redemption and our salvation.

At the same time,

The world has a price to pay

To become his disciples,

To discern His will,

And to follow in His ways.

It’s evident that Jesus wants followers even more than believers.

Belief and faith will come later.

“Follow me,” is our Lord’s invitation today.

The price to pay for following Jesus is more than

Dropping your nets and

Leaving behind your dad, family business, and expected inheritance.

The price to pay for following Jesus is more than

Disappointing your biological father and mother.

The price to pay for following Jesus is

First, deny yourself.

Second, take up your cross.

Then, come and follow me.

(Mark 8:34)

Following Jesus, God Incarnate, comes at a price.

We see over the next three years of Jesus’ ministry,

Passion, death, resurrection, and ascension

The disciples struggle to come to terms

With paying the price of discipleship.

The disciples of Jesus live in denial,

Wanting to shout down Jesus’ promise of suffering,

Substituting in their own delusions of grandeur –

That one-day Jesus would ascend the throne.

Peter names Jesus as the Son of Man in one breath

Only to deny ever knowing him nearly a fortnight later.

When confronted with the call of Jesus to come and follow him,

To hang your hat on his Incarnation,

To assemble in line with this thing called “Christianity,”

It is important to enter discipleship with eyes wide open.

There is a new reality at hand.

Life as you and I used to know

Will be no more.

God has turned the world upside down.

God isn’t afraid of crossing boundaries;

In fact, at the very moment of conversion,

The Lord begins to make a habit of crossing boundaries.

Christ enters your life,

Turns over your tables,

And tramps mud all over your beautiful new carpets.

The emotional swell at the concluding verse of “Here I Am, Lord”

Has barely started to wane,

When the new reality of the price that must be paid

Is laid out in spades:

“You want me to do WHAT?”

“You have got to be kidding!”

“Jesus, you’ve got to be out of your ever-living tree!”

Yes, Jesus wants us to be his recruiters,

To bring to him new candidates for discipleship.

Jesus expects us

To teach his new disciples everything,

And I mean EVERYTHING!

Everything we’ve ever learned about Him;

And, yes, Jesus wants us to pay for it, too.

Yes, Jesus wants to teach you and me about radical hospitality.

Jesus expects us to open our homes and our church

And to practice hospitality that knows no bounds.

Unlock the doors and

Open the cupboards,

Set the table and start cooking!

Clean the carpets,

Make the bed,

Tidy up and make necessary repairs.

Open the curtains,

Let the sun shine in,

And welcome the world to

Enter into God’s grace.

Anticipate the need.

Meet the need.

Exceed the need.

Do so, without being asked, and on our own dime.

Yes, Jesus wants us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.

Yes, away the sword,

Reject violence and oppression where ever they present themselves,

And to only follow Him.

Learn and practice His ways of non-violence.

Speak up and advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves.

Take a stand and make a stand.

Do it in the name of Jesus.

Be willing to pay the price,

And when the bill comes due,

Pick up the tab.

Yes, Jesus wants us to gather every Sabbath day,

To be with Him,

To proclaim His Word,

To celebrate His Sacrament.

Others may laugh and ridicule us.

“We’ve got better things to do Sunday mornings,” they may chide.

So be it.

Let our Savior’s love shine through

our smile,

our gentleness,

our grace,

our every response.

Sometimes I wonder if any sane person,

Who knew the true cost of discipleship before being called

Would still step forward and say, “Here I am, Lord.”

It amazes me that people answer the call.

It amazes me that people are willing to drop their nets and still follow Jesus.

The fact that new disciples are answering the call everyday

Convinces me

Of God’s continued presence,

Of God’s active participation,

And of God’s absolute power of conviction.

God isn’t afraid of upsetting the apple cart,

Stepping on toes, or

Ruffling a few tailfeathers.

Once the Lord calls you, there is no letting go.

Once the Lord claims you, you are transformed into

God’s forever.

Incarnation comes at a price.

Once we answer the call,

The price must be paid.

Are you with me?

Let’s do this together.

Amen.

“Stand Up, Step Up”

14th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr Celebration for the Henrietta and Rush Communities

January 14, 2021, 7:00 p.m.

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor, Rush United Methodist Church

(Centering Silence)

Thank you to the leaders of the Interracial Clergy Council, the Town of Henrietta, and the Rush-Henrietta Central School District for the privilege to speak at this wonderful celebration. I am humbled. When asked two months ago, I felt terribly unqualified. This has led me into a season of reflection, discernment, and prayer about race, equality, and justice.

I invite you to ask of yourselves the same questions I have been asking myself recently:

  • Where have I come from and how has God shaped me in my cultural development?
  • What is my role today; to march? To preach? To teach, or, pray from the sidelines?
  • Where am I called to right the wrong of racial inequality for a better world tomorrow?

Over the years, I’ve learned and grown in cultural competency. Some growth has been painful. Other times I’ve been gob-smacked with an unforgettable insight. I’m a work in progress; so be patient with me and accept my forgiveness when I sin. I’ve tried to make every cultural growth experience an opportunity to make new friends.

Born white, living in a white environment, I remember the day Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated. I went outside, stood facing the garage and wept. As a first grader, I was perceptive enough to know that the man who had gifted the world with the beautiful “I Have a Dream” speech before the Lincoln Memorial, the one who insisted on non-violence always, everywhere, without exception, was the one silenced by the violence of a gunshot, the angry voice of bigotry.  

I began to realize that the world is not squared with what was being taught in Sunday School class.

A few years later, I found myself at Summer church camp in a cabin with intercity kids. Other than the college age counselor, we were the only Caucasians in the room. Not only was this my first exposure to people of color, I was the minority. I slept on the hat rack in the cabin because I was afraid to sleep on my bunk. I experienced five days of racial fear, simply due to my own ignorance and lack of exposure to cultural diversity. I cannot comprehend living a lifetime of fear simply because of the color of your skin, the way one talks, or a person’s family background.

“Comfort my people,” the Lord instructs the prophet Isaiah. “Do not be afraid!” an angel of the Lord tells Mary, the mother of Jesus. As a middle school student, I remember the difficulty reconciling in my mind the reality of cultural inequality with God’s desire for people to not live in fear. Treat people justly and people live without fear.

College was just as white to me as public school. Where were people of color? I saw them on the evening news fighting the war in Vietnam. White commanders got interviewed. Black soldiers took orders and got shot up. The question in my teenaged mind was as black and white as the daily newspaper: why? Regrettably, the obvious injustice was a dis-incentive for me to serve in the military.

Martin Luther King, Jr came back into my life. I found myself standing before his statue outside the doors of Marsh Chapel at Boston University, where he earned his doctorate. As I read his inspiring words from the pedestal, I came to an awareness that God was also calling me into ordained ministry. Thank you, Doctor King.

I moved to Dayton, Ohio, for seminary. It was a cultural wake up call. White people lived on the East side. Black people lived on the West. The seminary was on the West side of town. Crime and cops were everywhere. You could cut the racial tension with a knife. I was afraid every time I left my apartment or campus. Fear was chronic. Fear was pervasive. This was not the way God intended for people to live.

I interned at a large community mental health agency staffed by people of diversity. One of my supervisors was a woman of color with a doctoral degree in psychology. She patiently taught and shaped me for three years. What a saint! Co-workers were gay, straight, brown, white, tall, short, and everything in between … just like the people we served. Even the agency’s Board of Directors were diverse. They looked like the staff and the community. I learned that it takes a diversity of people to serve a diverse community.

I was exposed to cliental who, through no fault of their own, were born with the wrong DNA, in the wrong place, or in the wrong circumstance, leaving them fighting chronic mental illness and addiction problems every waking day.

Life isn’t fair. But injustice isn’t a license to be judgmental. People are more than a diagnosis, treatment history, or the number of suicide attempts, I was taught. Broad brush assumptions were nearly always wrong and led to poor outcomes.

Treat once another with respect. Respect becomes the open door into people’s lives. Every person has a name. Everyone has a story. “Listen and learn, Todd. Listen and learn.”

Dayton, Ohio, taught me something else. I observed that even in the poorest neighborhoods, there were community leaders who stood up, spoke out, and led efforts to create positive change. These shining stars were often women of color. Most were women of faith. These were the change agents who made for great collaborators and strong community leaders. All led with love, and in return, were dearly loved. Too bad we don’t ordain, promote, or elect more women of color.   

20 years of pastoring in lily white communities set me culturally backwards. I resented attending required competency training for clergy. I thought I knew it all. Unless challenged, I failed to thrive. I grew crusty and blind to injustice and oppression happening right in front of my eyes. I left racism unchallenged. I preached Gospel, but skirted common narratives of race, exclusion, or injustice.

You can’t preach about the Good Samaritan if you don’t address the issue of race.

The only way for me to grow in cultural competence is to force myself out of my safe, comfortable suburban neighborhood into a culturally diverse setting. I went on mission trips to Nicaragua and Guatemala, fearful at first, growing more comfortable with each return. Service to others became my classroom for deepening empathy and understanding. Serve and grow! It is better than the alternative!

God blessed me with another mentor and friend named Ralph; a decorated Vietnam veteran, retired Kodak executive, and head of the Deacon Board of a large, historically black Baptist church. I was passionate to collaborate. Nothing I could do would even get me an introduction with the pastor.

“We need what you have to offer,” my friend confessed to me one day over lunch. “You just can’t deliver it.”

“Why?” I asked dumbfounded.

“A black church will listen to a black deacon, but not a white preacher.”

That day, we teamed up to deliver cross-cultural education. He would recruit and teach in black churches. I would do the same in white congregations. I’d be his cheerleader in the back pew. And Ralph became mine. We even expanded our educational opportunities to members of Spanish and Russian speaking communities.

I learned that collaboration requires investment in skills and talents, and, investment in relationships. Ralph remains one of my closest friends.

Last year I was privileged to attend Shane Wiegand’s excellent seminar “History of Segregation and Racist Policy in Greater Rochester.” The Rush Henrietta School District is blessed to have Shane as a teacher. I was stunned to learn of local practices of red lining real estate; about racial, exclusionary covenants written into property deeds; and mortgage inequalities for veterans of World War Two that have resulted in wealth in some families and poverty in others.

Wow! I was stunned. I learned you are never too old to learn and grow in cultural competence. The time is always right to rethink racism.

One last time I’d like to touch base with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In seminary I had read and wrote a paper on his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Wow! It was a game changer. At the time I thought it was worthy of addition as a new book of the Bible. Time passed. Memory faded the fullness of its power, conviction and intent, condemnation and brutal honesty. All that I could remember decades later is, “it was good. I ought to revisit it someday.”

What a blessing to reread Doctor King’s letter. He paints a portrait of America stained by injustice in need of a thorough cleansing. He called white moderates and clergy colleagues accountable for inaction or outright resistance to overturning injustice.

“Wait” is only an excuse to do nothing. He calls for non-violent activism to overturn unjust laws. He cites scholars and authors through the ages with brilliance. Dr. King describes how the oppressor objectifies the oppressed, decades before the “Me Too” movement.  Dr. King speaks the poetic words of the prophet Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”

Are you a thermometer or a thermostat? he challenges. Is your faith community simply “a recorder of ideas and principles of popular opinion”? Or is it “a thermostat that transforms the mores of society”? Be the change that God is calling you to be.

The goal of America in April 1963 was freedom. The protests this past Summer reminds us that the goal remains the same nearly six decades later. Our nation and our quality of life declines and dies with complacent inactivity whenever and where ever injustice remains.

In July I led an online class titled “Imagine No Racism” for my parish. I’m no expert. But I’m daring enough to host the conversation. And I just might learn something new, too.

I’ve grown, and continue to grow. I’ve fallen short and even regressed. For this, I repent, sought forgiveness, and tried to make progress once again. Friends, I’m living proof that if I am able to take two steps forward with only one step back, you can, too.

Stand up. Step up. Speak up. The direction we need to be headed is UP! Raise every mountain. Fill every valley. Pave a road upward, that all may be free. For freedom is “the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God.”

Amen.

(All quotations are from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 16 April 1963)

“Come and See”

John 1:43-51

January 17, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 1:43-51

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”

Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?”

Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

| Centering Prayer |

He started with the Detroit Lions, but finished with the Cleveland Browns.

Now, a traveling evangelist,

It was as if

Billy Glass was speaking directly to me.

Jesus Christ was his Lord.

He invited me to come and see,

To make Jesus my Lord, too.

It didn’t matter that I was a preschool aged child.

I joined the crowd of people

Flowing to the altar in that outdoor amphitheater

Where I answered to call to follow Jesus.

A confession of Christ’s identity

With a simple, straight-forward invitation,

Was all it took to claim me as a disciple.

John the Baptist had his own disciples.

When he saw Jesus walk by

He speaks to his followers,

“Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

Hum.

Look. Redirect your attention.

Lamb. A sacrificial animal

Believed to take away, or atone, a person of their sins.

John the Baptist witnessed to Christ,

The God of atonement.

John’s descriptive identification of Jesus was all it took

For two of his disciples to immediately decide

To terminate their discipleship of John

And to begin to follow Jesus.

A simple confession of Christ’s identity

Was all it took to make disciples.

Jesus asks the two un-named disciples

“What are you looking for?”

“Where are you staying?” they asked.

“Come and see.”

Come: follow me, and

See: observe. Take it all in.

They followed Jesus to where he was staying

And abided with him until late afternoon.

Come and see became for them

An offer to see Christ

With the eyes of faith.

(The New Interpreters Bible)

One of these two is identified as Andrew.

Andrew tells his brother, Simon, saying

“We have found the Messiah.”

Simon comes to meet Jesus.

Jesus immediately names him Cephas,

Translated as Peter, and

The rest is history.

A simple confession of Christ’s identity

Was all it took to make a disciple.

There seems to be a common thread here.

The call narrative of Christ’s first three disciples (1:35-42)

Immediately precedes our Gospel lesson today:

The call of Philip and Nathanael. (1:4351)

Hometown.

Rush, New York?

Jamestown?

Hamilton?

Rochester?

Hometown is as comfortable as well-worn bedroom slippers.

For Andrew, Peter, and Philip

Their hometown was Bethsaida,

A small, lake-side village on the Sea of Galilee.

It was little more than a crossroad,

An intersection for travelers from

One of the four points of the compass.

They probably grew up together,

Climbed the same trees and fished the same hotspots out on the lake.

They probably attended the same school and synagogue.

Possibly, Andrew and his brother Peter

Could have been Philip’s cousin.

Jesus comes to their hometown Bethsaida

From the lower Jordan valley

On his way to Cana, further north,

Where he and his mother had been

Invited to a wedding and reception.

Jesus finds Philip.

It is as if Jesus seeks him out.

It makes me wonder why Jesus chose Philip in the first place.

Ask yourself.

Did Jesus seek you out, or,

Did you find him, or,

Perhaps a combination of both?

Why you? Why me?

Why did Jesus choose us to be his disciples?

Jesus wastes no time.

No introduction.

No small talk about the weather.

He doesn’t ask.

Jesus straight-up bluntly tells Philip,

“Follow me.”

For Philip

The call to follow Jesus

Came as a command.

Perhaps some people can’t take a hint.

Whatever the reason,

Philip makes three.

He goes to Nathanael.

Who is Nathanael?

Brother? Friend? Relative of Philip?

We don’t know.

It makes simple sense to

First approach those closest to you.

Confess Jesus Christ.

Make them his disciples, too.

Philips confession to Nathanael is as straight-up as his call.

“We …” he begins.

(Jesus obviously introduced Philip to Andrew and Peter)

Here is the set up:

“We have found him about whom Moses in the law

And also the prophets wrote.”

Philip did see.

He took it all in and came to conclusion:

Think Messiah: God. Promise.

Think identification: “Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

Think Nazareth: Blue collar. Construction. Manual labor.

You’ve got to be kidding.

The anticipated Messiah is a common stone mason or carpenter?

Philip takes the words right out of Jesus’ mouth,

“Come and see.”

Sometimes I don’t have the words,

Or the words come with great difficulty,

Or the words I use aren’t exactly the best words

And meaning or intent are obscured.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Come and see,

Jesus invited.

Come and see,

Philip urged Nathanael.

The Messiah language wasn’t working.

The Old Testament symbology of the fig tree didn’t cut it.

Moses in the law and the writings of the prophets

Covered too much territory.

Come and see.

Come is the invitation,

Best received when it comes from someone

That is known, trusted, loved.

Come is an action verb;

There is nothing passive about it.

In the Great Commission

Jesus instructs us to go and make disciples.

One disciple brings another to Jesus,

Who, in turn, brings others to Jesus.

Each disciple is charged to make the invitation:

Come and see.

See is the identification that results in conversion.

It isn’t your or my responsibility to convict or convert another;

God’s got that.

When one is placed in the presence of Christ,

Taught everything about Jesus that there is to teach,

Baptized by water and the Spirit,

Like the birthing of a baby,

A new follower of Jesus

Comes, sees, and believes.

A new disciple

Begins the journey.

The story of discipleship is incomplete

Until our witness,

Our invitation,

Brings others to Jesus Christ.

Some of us are curious.

That curiosity is a seed of faith planted by God.

Others of us have been invited,

But still find themselves sitting on the fence.

Not taking a position is to take a position.

Others have responded to the invitation to come, and

Now find themselves in the presence of Jesus

Soaking him all in,

Being filled with God’s Spirit and grace,

Primed for conversion into discipleship,

Ready to be shot out of the starting gate on the journey of faith.

Come and see.

Trust God’s process.

Answer the call.

Most of us, however, find ourselves on the journey;

Already convicted, converted, baptized, and

Someplace in-between baptism and eternal life.

It is our charge

To bring the next generation to meet Jesus.

It is our charge

To teach them all that Jesus has taught us.

Then trust.

Leave the rest up to God.

In my experience

Practice makes perfect.

It will be a bit awkward with the first couple of people.

In time, your words and actions will build confidence,

In yourself and in the invitation.

Dearly beloved

Make the invitation.

Keep making the invitation.

Don’t ever stop making the invitation.

“Come and see,” Jesus invited.

“Come and see,” Philip asked Nathanael.

“Come and see,” is the invitation you can use, too.

Amen.

“The Word”

January 3, 2021

John 1:1-18

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 1:1-18

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 |

One of the many loses I have felt

Over the course of this pandemic

Is the loss of our choir,

Especially during Advent and Christmas.

I deeply missed our annual Christmas cantata.

Cantata, from the Italian “cantare”, means to sing,

As opposed to a sonata, which is a composition played instrumentally.

(Britannica.com)

The composer creatively intertwines theme appropriate

Music and narration to tell a story.

The Christmas cantata, rehearsed since September,

Is song and story that

Propels anticipation into Incarnation

With the birth of Jesus Christ.  

The Gospel of John sets its own pace and direction,

Apart from its synoptic siblings … Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

John speaks broadly about Jesus,

Using symbolism, metaphor, imagery, and irony,

In such a way that draws the reader into the story as a participant.

The Gospel of John speaks about a God

Who is present, intimate, powerful, and loving.

The opening 18 verses of the first chapter,

An echo of the opening creation chapter of Genesis,

Are constructed as a cantata

Weaving together early Christian music and narration

Into a theological masterpiece. 

The original Greek in these 18 verses is written as poetry meant for singing,

Interspersed with commentary about John the Baptist.

Sending John to prepare the way

Not only fulfills prophecy

But reveals God’s ongoing, never ending, unbreakable,

Intimate relationship with humankind.

God tears the divide between heaven and earth,

Rips it to shreds,

To muddle in your affairs.

Yep. God is stirring your pot.

My question for you is, “are you aware?”

God has been stirring my soul this past week

Leading me to focus thoughts and meditations on the music,

The theological poetry of John’s cantata.

Even this is too much to consume in one setting.

So I’ll focus on smaller trimmings.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” (John 1:1, 14a)

“In the beginning,”

A phrase borrowed from Genesis,

Tells us there was a starting point,

With nothing preceding it.

To speak of anything prior to the beginning

Is as senseless as dividing by zero.

The beginning was the beginning,

The starting point,

Defined by the presence of

The Word.

The Word,

Logos, in the original Greek,

Is an amalgam of ancient Jewish and Greek

Theology and philosophy,

Culture and practice.

The Word, Logos,

Is a way of speaking about the creative plan of God

That governs the world.

When John uses the word Logos,

He is plowing new ground.

John uses the masculine Logos

(as opposed to the feminine Sophia)

To expand upon the Jewish understanding of wisdom

To speak of the revelation of God in Jesus.

“In the beginning was the Word”

Word is more than intellectual,

More than cognitive,

More than an unabridged collection of memories,

More than any sense can detect,

More than emotions or feeling.

Word and wisdom are tangible.

Word is John’s introduction of Jesus.

The names of God are many.

The manifestations of God since the beginning are many.

Who are we to pray to?

Sometimes, I get confused.

Do I pray to the Father?

Sometimes that is too gender specific and limiting,

Other times it just feels right.

Do I pray to Jesus?

But Jesus prayed to his heavenly Father.

How about the Holy Spirit?

I invoke the Holy Spirit to be present with

The bread and cup and every participant

During Holy Communion.

“In the beginning was the Word,

And the Word was with God.”

One God

Fully comfortable with being besides himself!

The Word was with God.

So, it is apparent to me that what we call God

Is significantly less important than

Having an intimate conversation with God.

Mix and match.

Ancient names like Yahweh or Elohim?

Good Shepherd? Great Physician? The Way?

Jesus? Christ? Lord? King? Spirit?

I Am?

Logos or Word?

It doesn’t matter what name we give the Lord.

God is way more expansive than our comprehension, anyways.

What matters is maintaining a healthy, growing relationship with God.

Pray.

Learn.

Love.

“In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.”

God has existed

Has been present

From the beginning.

This sheds light on God’s stamina and strength.

“The Word was God” speaks volumes about God’s faithfulness.

God is sticking around.

Even when humankind pokes the hornet’s nest and flairs God’s anger and wrath,

God is sticking around.

There is no “abandonment”

There is no “quit”

In God’s vocabulary.

When our ancestors disappointed the Lord and found themselves in slavery or exile.

God stuck around.

When they wouldn’t listen to prophets sent their way

God stuck it out.

When Jesus was sent, suffered, tried, executed, and his corpse buried for three days,

God stuck around.

Even after Jesus ascended to heaven to sit at the right side of the Father

The Holy Spirit took his place.

God stuck around.

The mere fact that you are hearing, seeing, or reading this

Tells you that God is all over you like a cheap suite.

The Lord is on you, in you, with you

And there isn’t a thing you or I can do to shake God lose.

This is the season of Emmanuel.

The Word.

God with us.

If you haven’t been aware of God’s presence

Maybe you haven’t been paying attention.

“The Word became flesh and lived among us.” John reports.

No long-winded recitation of Messianic lineage.

No Gabriel visiting Mary, annunciation, or immaculate conception.

Not a peep about angels, shepherds, or wise men following a star.

The Word became flesh.

Immortal became one with mortality.

Divinity and humanity became One

And his name is Jesus.

Don’t try to untangle Word from God or God from Jesus.

God remains God.

What changed is our world view.

The God of my experience became like me,

But not me, and lived with similar daily experiences:

Joy and sorrow.

Anger and fear.

Hatred and love.

Betrayal and suffering.

Death and resurrection.

Redemption and salvation.

Sharing life’s journey with Jesus

Allows us to make correlations between what we are going through

With what Jesus went through.

God knows what you are going through

Because God went through it before

And will, undoubtably, go through it again.

Jesus fully mortal and fully immortal is both humbling and exhilarating!

It’s humbling to consider that

The world is such a chamber pot of sin,

So mad and out of control,

That God had to personally step in and take the wheel.

At the same time,

It is exhilarating to recognize how much God loves us. 

Enormous. Expansive. Beyond comprehension.

That is how much God loves you and me.

Jesus has you covered.

His grace and truth win over every transgression of the Law,

Ten out of ten times

And twice on Sundays.

Adam Hamilton rightly observes

That we often confuse The Word with the Bible.

The Bible is sacred scripture

Sent by God for our benefit.

But the Bible is not the Word. 

Jesus is

The Word

From the beginning

Manifest in many ways

Always God.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”

This is the poetry of John’s great cantata,

The music of a God that is intimate, present, loving, and faithful.

This is the sound of Jesus.

Amen.

“Seeing Salvation”

Luke 2:21-40

December 27, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 2:21-40

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

| Centering Prayer |

This Gospel narrative of Simeon and Anna

Always brings to mind

A childhood memory.

My parents gave me a book titled “Simeon’s Secret”.

I looked it up on Amazon;

It was written by Janice Kramer and published in 1969.

We’d read it during the Christmas season.

I thought it was really cool that God will tell someone a secret.

It seemed like insider baseball to me.

Maybe God had a secret, or two, to share with me?

What could be more exciting than a private revelation from God?

What I don’t remember is Anna in the book,

Which is really a shame.

Anna is described as one of 6 female prophets in the Bible;

Her 5 predecessors all coming from Hebrew scripture,

(Our Old Testament).

They were

Miriam (Exodus 15:20),

Deborah (Judges 4:4),

Huldah (2 Kings 22:14),

Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14),

And the unnamed “prophetess” from Isaiah (Isaiah 8:3).

Women; never feel inferior to men,

For God can, does, and has been working through women

Since the beginning of creation.

When God speaks; listen!

Take thou authority!

Men; there is no loss in self-esteem or strength

By recognizing the fact that God appears to be gender neutral

When it comes to selecting who is chosen to fulfill God’s will.

When God speaks to your wife, daughter, or granddaughter,

Listen, support, encourage, discern, and act

According to God’s will.

It is as if Anna is the cherry on the top;

The completion of the Jewish story line

Of creation, law, covenant, and prophecy.

Indeed, our Gospel is deeply rooted in Judaism;

Solidly Hebrew in its origin.

Jewish parents bring their

Jewish son to the

Jewish Temple to engage in the

Jewish rites of circumcision and purification, according to the

Jewish Law, as handed down from Moses.

Three items caught my eye here.

First, Jesus comes from a very, very poor family.

They offered a sacrifice of

“a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

(Luke 2:24)

Had they been middle class or wealthy,

They would have been required

To purchase a Temple raised lamb for sacrifice.

The comparison would be like eating an 80% fat hamburger,

Or, sitting down to a meal of free range, organic beef tenderloin.

The difference between two birds and one lamb is the difference between poverty and wealth.

Contrary to many who promote a Gospel of prosperity,

Jesus is not born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

Neither does he become a family man, landowner, or businessman.

He is a poor, itinerant preacher, who

Lives off the generosity of the population, who

Works and serves the poor.

One cannot know Jesus

Without being immersed in the world of

Poverty and brokenness,

Powerlessness and dependency,

Oppression and suffering.

On this eve of the New Year,

Consider this question:

How might I center myself in the world of Jesus,

Serving the poor, the powerless, and the oppressed?

Our Christian heritage,

Our Christian discipleship

Spring from our roots in Jewish poverty.

Secondly, the word “sacrifice” makes an entry into the Gospel.

With the birth of Jesus has come

Unending commercialization, debt, gluttony, and gift giving galore.

Yet, we hear today of sacrifice,

First concerning Mary and Joseph’s

Sacrifice in the Temple at Jesus’ purification and circumcision,

Followed by the ominous words of Simeon himself,

“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

(Luke 2:34-35)

… just what a new mother wants to hear.

There is a price to be paid for salvation.

There is a cost to the redemption of Jerusalem.

What starts in a lonely manger in Bethlehem

Ends with a sacrifice …

Dripping blood on a cross atop Golgotha.

The price to be paid doesn’t begin and end with Jesus,

Or the grief of the Heavenly Father

Whose only Son was sacrificed on our behalf.

Can we not also hear the cries of the innocent children

Being slaughtered at the command of Herod?

Listen carefully to the Gospel and

One can also hear the murder of John the Baptist, or

Jesus’ own family,

Who will come to reject him

And attempt to throw him off a cliff.

Listen to early Church Fathers,

Of their sacrifice and reports of martyrdom.

Listen to those who have risen up against an abusive Church,

And have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Indeed, redemption and salvation come at a cost,

Whose price is often paid for in sacrificial blood.

On this eve of the New Year,

Let us carefully consider this Gospel inspired question:

What price are we willing to pay …

… What sacrifice are we willing to make …

for the Lord’s redemption and salvation,

Both personally, and collectively?

If your sacrifice doesn’t hurt,

You just might be short changing the Lord.

Thirdly, the presence of the

Deeply religious, Simeon, and the sincerely righteous, Anna,

in the Gospel

exude an air of expectation,

Of forward looking,

Of anticipation.

The Holy Spirit rested on Simeon

And revealed to him that

He would not see death until he had seeing the Messiah, the Son of God.

Now, there is something to look forward to.

Messiah: the bitter/sweet nearly present,

Incarnation followed by certain death

With a Divine promise of resurrection and salvation.

Simeon’s secret must have been shared with the widow Anna,

For she never left the Temple;

Day and night she lived her life in the heart of Judaism

Praising God

And speaking to all about the child Messiah

Who was expected at any moment.

Any moment.

Some secret, huh?

On this eve of the New Year,

Let us ask ourselves:

How might we live out our Christian faith

With the same fervent desire for worship and

With the same heightened expectation for the return of our Savior?

Dearly beloved,

Each of you who are loved by God

And, who I also love as your pastor and spiritual leader,

On this third day of Christmas and

On the precipice of a New Year,

Let us resolve

To immerse ourselves in the love of our neighbor,

Serving the poor,

Determined to end the injustice of poverty in our world.

Let us resolve

To look forward with fervent anticipation

To the return of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

May we all find the same peace that overcame Simeon and Anna.

The Lord is faithful.

God has kept every promise, and will continue to do so.

Jesus; born and presented in the Temple.

Behold, our redemption and salvation has come.

Give God our praise and our glory.

Amen.

“Draw Deep the Breath of Christmas”

“Draw Deep the Breath of Christmas”

Christmas Eve Worship, December 24, 2020

Luke 1:5 – 2:20

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Centering Prayer.

There appeared to Zechariah,

a priest of the temple,

an angel of the Lord.

(Luke 1:11-17)

Gabriel appeared

when the Lord’s longing desire

for a Savior

and Zechariah’s longing desire

for a child

came together and became one.

Gabriel appeared

to the right of the altar.

Zechariah trembled with fear.

“Do not be afraid”

the angel sensed his apprehension.

“for your prayer is heard.

Your wife Elizabeth

will bear you a son,

and you shall call

his name John.”

“He will make ready for the Lord

a people prepared.”

Zechariah drew deep

the breath of Christmas

and Elizabeth conceived.

Gabriel was directed by God

back to the boondocks,

to the Galilean city of Nazareth

to a virgin

engaged to a local carpenter

and her name was Mary.

(Luke 1:26-35)

“Hail, O favored one!”

Gabriel announced.

Mary trembled with fear.

Can you blame her?

“Do not be afraid”

the angel sensed her apprehension.

“You have found favor

with God.

You will conceive in your womb

and bear a son,

and you shall

call his name, Jesus.”

“He will be great,

and will be called

the Son of the Most High;

and the Lord God

will give to him

the throne of his father David,

and he will reign over

the house of Jacob forever;

and of his kingdom

there will be no end.”

“But I have no husband,”

Mary wondered,

“How can this be?”

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,

and the power of the Most High

will overshadow you;

therefore the child to be born

will be called holy

the Son of God.”

Mary drew deep

the breath of Christmas

and conceived

the Savior of the World.

A cousin,

John was born.

Elizabeth’s barrenness ended.

And baby John

drew deep his first breath

and it was the breath of Christmas.

A cousin,

Jesus was born.

The world’s darkness ended.

“The Word became flesh

and dwelt among us.”

(John 1:14)

And baby Jesus

drew deep his first breath

and it was the breath of Christmas.

Angelic intervention did not abate.

An angel appeared

(undoubtedly Gabriel)

to lowly shepherds

tending to their flocks at night.

(Luke 2:8-20)

Like Zechariah and Mary

they were filled with fear.

“Do not be afraid”

the angel sensed their apprehension.

“Behold,

I bring you good news

of a great joy

which will come to all the people;

for to you is born this day

in the city of David

a Savior,

who is Christ the Lord.”

They went with haste

and found the Christ child

just as had been told them.

They peered

into the lowly manger

saw the baby

wrapped tightly in swaddling cloths

and the shepherds drew

the deep breath of Christmas.

Astrological visions

appeared to wise men in the East

like an angel

rising as a star

over the manger

where the Savior lay.

(Matthew 2:1-12)

The star

drew them to come

like metal to a magnet.

The star

led them to Bethlehem

gave them the understanding

that a child King

had been born.

Entering the barn

they saw the baby

“with Mary her mother,

and they fell down

and worshiped him.”

The wise men

drew deeply the breath of Christmas.

There is sufficient fuel

to feed the Grinch’s complaints,

especially in this pandemic environment.  

The virus feels like the Grinch’s devious plan

To smother the breath out of Christmas,

To suck the life from every home in Whoville.

“Make them bubble!” he yells to his loyal dog, Max.

“Keep them separated!” he shouts from Mount Crumpit.

“Cover their faces!” and “Outlaw family gatherings.”

Only a Grinch could be so diabolical.

From Seuss to Dickins,

From Grinch to Scrooge,

A miserly “Ba, Humbug” likewise tries to

Kill the breath of Christmas.

I hear Scrooge’s objections

all the time,

and they sound like this:

“the age of miracles is over”

“angels are just a bunch of phooey”

“if God is so great, then why did God allow …

… my loved one to die?

… suffering and famine?

… disease and injury?”

Complaints and objections

plunge death and despair

deep into the souls of

the weak and the ignorant.

Complaints and objections

Pours shadows into darkness,

Ushering in a night that knows no end

For a world that thrives on terror

and feeds on fear.

Complaints and objections

slam so hard

the wind can get knocked right out of you.

They can take your breath away.

Complaints and objections

Can’t steal away your breath of Christmas.

“Do not be afraid”

the angel Gabriel

says to you this evening.

“Do not be afraid”

the angel Gabriel

proclaims to the world.

“Do not be afraid”

the angel Gabriel

appears and announces this night:

“The Word is made flesh

and dwells among us!”

A child is born

and his name is Jesus!

The Spirit of God

has stirred

and a new wind is blowing!

Gabriel and the Heavenly host appear!

Light has come into the world;

and in him there is

no darkness at all.

In him there is no transgression.

In him there is only a desire to

take your transgressions away.

In him there is only a desire to

to save you into eternal life.

“For God so loves

this world,

that He gave

His only Son,

that who-so-ever believes in him,

will not perish

but will be given

everlasting life.”

(John 3:16)

In Christ there is only a desire to

fill your lungs with the sweetness of his Holy Spirit;

to give you the breath of Christmas.

“Do not be afraid,”

children of the loving Father.

“Do not be afraid,”

disciples of the newborn Son.

“Do not be afraid,”

the Spirit blows a new wind.

Breath deep.

Breath deeply

the Spirit’s breath

this Christmas Eve night.

Join with Zechariah and Elizabeth,

Mary and Joseph,

Shepherds and Wise Men,

and

Draw deep

the breath of Christmas.

Merry Christmas, dearly beloved!

God loves you, and so do I.

Amen.

“That All Might Believe”

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 and John 1:6-8, 19-28

December 13, 2020 – Third Sunday of Advent – Gaudete Sunday

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

John 1:6-8, 19-28

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.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

(Centering Prayer)

Advent; a time of revelation.

A four-week season preceding Christmas

Where God is revealed for all to see.

The prophet Isaiah and Gospel author of Mark have revealed the past two Sundays

God is forgiving, compassionate and kind, and faithfully keeps promises.

It is almost as if

God is everything the world isn’t.

The world is stained by sin; the Lord is forgiving.

The world is cold and hard; the Lord is compassionate and kind.

The world is full of liars, cheats, and swindlers; the Lord faithfully follows through with every promise and keeps every covenant.

God’s word is GOLD.

Last Sunday, scripture revealed that

The Lord works and plays in the wilderness.

The Lord actively seeks our confession and repentance.

This draws people to Jesus, like people were drawn to confess their sins to John and be baptized by him in the Jordan River.  

We learned that God takes notice of you, all the relationships you maintain, all the plates you are trying to keep spinning.

Nothing goes unnoticed in your life, the triumphs and tragedies; the good, bad, and ugly.

God notices

Failing test scores, breaking up with a boyfriend, piles of dirty laundry, flaring tempers, never ending trips to the doctor’s office, meeting with the funeral director.

From mountaintop to valley floor,

God loves you anyway.

As I reflect on my personal journey of faith,

My walk with the Lord,

The God revealed thus far this Advent

Squares itself perfectly

With the God of my experience.

I have experienced God’s forgiveness, and continue to do so, especially so when I make it a point to ask.

Weekly worship keeps me honest.

I experience the compassion and kindness of the Lord, usually every day, often without even asking.

God’s grace and love are the air that I breath and the water I drink.  

The Lord has never let me down. Period.

The God of my experience is bulletproof faithful.

The one place I’m certain to find the Lord? It’s when I’m lost in my own wilderness.

Listening to a single mother crying that she can’t feed her children,

Mourning the death of a parent or friend,

Getting knocked down, beat up, and left for dead;

That’s my wilderness.

Once lost, I am found.

That is where I have found the Lord.

Faith has made me compulsive.

I can’t help myself;

I just blurt out my sins, known and unknown, when I experience the presence of God.

The blood of the cross keeps washing me clean,

Scrubbing me over and over again.

The blood of the cross

Keeps calling me to a higher standard,

Keeps drawing me towards Christian perfection.

There hasn’t been one thing in my life that I’ve been able to hide from the Lord.

I’ve tried and failed.

The God of my experience knows me like an x-ray,

Inside and out,

Through and through.

If you are to fill in the blank: “The God of my experience ________”

What would you say?

Reflect.

Write it out.

Make it real.

Has the God revealed this Advent

Squared itself with the God of your experience?

Today, the prophet Isaiah testifies further.

The Lord sent Isaiah on a mission:

To bring good news to the oppressed,

To bind up the brokenhearted,

To proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the vengeance of our God;

To comfort all who mourn. – Isaiah 61:1-3

There is a lot of territory to cover here.

I’ll be short and to the point.

1. The Lord takes sides, and it’s never with the oppressor, the powerful, or the wealthy.

If you want to join up with the Lord, choose to side with the oppressed.

The good news to the oppressed is that

The Lord is on your side and so are all the Lord’s followers.  

The Lord’s game plan?

Right every wrong.

Though derided and despised,

The Lord’s under dogs always come from behind for the win.

God’s kingdom will come.

Make certain you are on the winning team.

2. What breaks your heart?

What has broken your heart?

Failure? Broken promises? Others letting you down, or, you letting others down?

The Lord gathers the shattered pieces of your broken heart

And binds them back together again.

That’s what God does.

A heart bound by God

Isn’t a heart constrained,

It is a heart being healed.

3. Prisoners, listen up.

Weather your cell is made of bars and cinder blocks, or,

Your prison is a guilty conscious that just won’t go away,

The Lord wants you set free.

Free from your past,

Given all the room you need to repent with a vow to do better.

Free to get a fresh start.

Preceding and greater than the American Constitution

The Lord wills Freedom. Liberty.

The Lord want you free to make your own choices.

Make good choices.

4. In debt? Out of money? Out of ideas to stay afloat?

Dirt poor? Credit maxed out? Collection firms hounding you?

No worry.

The Lord wants your debts cancelled;

Everyone’s debt cancelled,

Before the expected 50-year Jewish recalibration.

Debtors rejoice!

At the same time

Investors groan.

(Hey, prior performance does not guarantee future results.)

The Lord so despises poverty that

God doesn’t think twice or hesitate to reset the economic playing field

Such that everyone’s fundamental human needs are met.

Consider how many times

The world’s economy has been knocked down and defibrillated back to life?

5. Isaiah tells us the Lord hates mourning.

Through Jesus, death is taken off the table.

Eternal life is given.

The intellectual rational for mourning is removed,

What remains is a natural emotional loss.

When one does mourn death or loss,

The Lord comforts.

Comfort comes through a lifetime of faith and promise of eternal life,

Through the grace and love of others,

Through prayer and meditation on the Word of God,

Through worship, repeated worship, with a focus on thanks and praise.

My relationship with the Lord

Squares itself with the God

The prophet Isaiah reveals.

How about you?

Oppressor or oppressed? Which team will you choose?

Deprived of freedom? Locked up? Let the Lord set you free.

How does the Lord pay off your debts? Was it Jesus’ suffering? Death? Resurrection?

When has the Lord comforted you in your time of loss?

How has the Lord worked through you to bring comfort to others?

Today, the Gospel of John takes the lead from Mark

Because it most eloquently describes the testimony of John the Baptist,

The one chosen and sent by God

To fulfill the promise of the prophet Isaiah.

1. The first Advent revelation from the Gospel of John is that

Jesus is light.

This metaphor worked for the ancient mind and

It is so simple, it works for me, too.

John the Baptist is setting the cosmic stage

With Jesus and light on one side vs

The Devil and darkness on the other.

Right vs wrong.

Good vs evil.

Righteousness vs sin.

Life vs death.

Jesus,

Son of God,

Coming after John,

The subject of John’s witness,

Is the light of the world.

The qualities of light are the qualities of God.

Light removes darkness faster than bleach erases a stain.

Without darkness there is no place to hide.

Light exposes words and actions with complete transparency.

Turn out the light and darkness immediately returns.

Don’t touch that button!

Don’t flip that switch!

The temptation may be huge,

But don’t do it.

Casting Christ out of your life leads to catastrophic consequences.

Light shines better when it is held up for all to see.

Your personal testimony of what God has done for you since Jesus came into your life,

Removes the basket covering the light,

Letting it shine for all the world to see.

The power of personal testimony is enormous.

Why wouldn’t we tap into the same power that John the Baptist used?

Sadly, witnessing about

When Jesus came into your life and

How Christ as changed it for the better

Is rarely used in many Protestant congregations.

Light makes safe passage possible.

Obstacles in your path?

Walk with Jesus.

A life with Jesus doesn’t remove the obstacles,

But it exposes them.

Light reveals the path forward.

Discernment is better in the light.

Light allows one to

See all the data.

Gather all the data.

Analyze all the data.

Make better decisions.

Solving life’s puzzles is a lot easier in the light than in the dark.

Light leads the faithful directly to God,

Exactly where the Lord wants us to be.

“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” – John 1:9

2. Lastly, and I believe, most importantly

The Gospel of John reveals  

God’s deepest desire:

That all might believe.

All.

That is as inclusive as it gets.

All means all.

Don’t like the fact that God so loves the world?

Get over it.

There is nothing we can do to change it.

If God makes room at the altar for me,

There is room for you, too.

That all might believe.

Faith isn’t the absence of doubt.

Faith is belief without proof.

Faith is following Jesus,

Walking with the light,

Even though doubt persist.

God’s deepest desire:

That all might believe

Jesus is the Christ,

Our example,

Our redeemer,

Our savior.

God’s deepest desire:

That all might believe

Jesus is the promised Messiah.

Messiah fulfills every prophetic prophecy.

Go down the check list: descendant of David, anointed, sent on a mission, died and rose again, promised to return.

Jesus checks every box.

Messiah is our savior, liberating the world from sin and death

Into righteous perfection and eternal life.

Messiah.

Light.

Son of God.

….

Beloved, Advent reveals much about our God.

Even still, there is so much more to learn.

The mysterious nature of God remains, as it should.

Keep watching, waiting, learning.

Take it all in.

All the while,

Witness and Testify

To the God of your experience,

To our Lord revealed through scripture,

To Jesus the promised Messiah.

Become the living testimony God is calling you to be

That all might believe.

Amen.

“Out of Wilderness: God is Further Revealed”

Isaiah 40:1-11 & Mark 1:1-8

Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Isaiah 40:1-11

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

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Prayer.

Advent lifts the veil

Revealing the nature and characteristics of God.

Revelation creates and builds anticipation in the faithful.

We learn more about our Creator.

Our experience of working with God increases.

Our relationship with the Lord deepens

Until that promised moment arrives

When Jesus Christ comes again.

Last Sunday the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel of Mark

Led us to remember

God is forgiving, compassionate and kind, and faithfully keeps promises.

Scripture calls to our attention

The God who created us is the same One who nurtures and grows us,

Forming and shaping us according to God’s need and will. 

Today, more is revealed.

By the end of Advent,

Come Christmas day,

We will echo the words of Isaiah

Lifting our voice with strength

Speaking to the people of the world,

“Here is your God!” – Isaiah 40:9

I’m able to identify four revelations of God through scripture today.

1. God works in the wilderness.

The wilderness for our Hebrew, Jewish ancestors was

Egyptian captivity (approximately 1,500 B.C.E.),

Defeat and exile as prisoners of war to Assyria (740 B.C.E.),

Defeat and exile again, this time by the Babylonians (587 B.C.E.).

Defeat. Exile. Prison. Slavery.

That’s some serious wilderness.

Yet, the wilderness is where God likes to play.

Perhaps that is what drove John the Baptist out into the wilderness.

If you are going to lead people to God,

Draw them to where the prophet Isaiah told them God would be …

Not in their fancy temple or beautiful synagogues …

Not places of power, authority, or grandeur.

Seeking after the Lord in the wilderness is de-centering.

Not seeing God in the usual places;

In sanctuaries and churches,

In volunteering or missions,

Can begin to feel like we’ve been abandoned

By our divine Creator and heavenly Father.

If you are looking for the Lord,

Don’t look here.

Search the wilderness.

Where is your wilderness?

For some a health or emotional crisis

is a wilderness experience. 

For others wilderness might come with being laid off, or

Hungry bellies and empty cupboards.

When facing the most difficult times,

When journeying through wilderness,

It is often my pastoral guidance

To fine tune your spiritual radar

To be alert to God’s presence and work.

Whether you are facing one enormous disaster

Or multiple crisis that just keep piling up and never seem to end,

This is exactly the time to

Watch, listen, be aware.

God is near.

God speaks through

The calming voice of a first responder,

A warm casserole or pot of chicken soup from a friend,

A prayer with a fellow church member.

Time alone by the creek, in the meadow or woods,

In the isolation of quarantine.

The Lord’s healing balm of Gilead

Working in and through others

Makes straight a highway for our God.

Likewise, be aware

God is speaking, working, acting in and through you

When you are led to respond to the needs of others in crisis.

Walking with others through their wilderness

Is one of the most Jesus-like things the faithful can do.

….

2. God seeks confession and repentance.

John appears in the wilderness

Preaching and practicing a baptism of repentance

For the forgiveness of sins. – Mark 1:4

His words and his actions

Draw the crowds.

John cries with his voice

Where no one is there to listen.

He cries out in the wilderness

Confess your sins.

Repent of your former ways.

Be baptized and let your sins be washed away.

You are forgiven.

And people came.

Like water drawn to a sponge

Confession drew the crowds into the wilderness.

A willingness to turn broken lives around and return to God drew the crowds.

Better than a Billy Graham altar call

John the Baptizer brought in the crowds by the boatload

Who wanted to confess their sins,

Repent of their ways, and

Be forgiven.

Cynics tell me the Church isn’t sustainable or vital

Solely based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I believe they are wrong.

I’ve wagered my life and my call on it.

It is the gracious act of Jesus Christ …

… crucified on the cross …

That once and for all

Grants forgiveness of sins.

Jesus paid for our sins with his life.

As long as there is a need to confess sins and be forgiven

People will be drawn to Jesus.

Confession is good for the soul, it is said.

Confession also brings out the crowds and

Breathes vitality into the life of the Church.  

“I’ve just to tell someone,” I’ve thought through my guilt.

Confess, the Gospel tells us.

Get it off your chest.

Make your confession to God.

By the very nature of sin and the brokenness of humankind

Confession is never be a one-and-done deal.

Confession must be on-going, never ceasing,

To the point such that it becomes the posture of the faithful.

Confession is both individual and collective.

All of us together are guilty of institutional sins

So all of us together must collectively confess our sins.

Our collective repentance results in change for the good,

The transformation of the world,

Progress towards God’s fulfilled kingdom.

Confessing our sins together has the added benefit of keeping everyone honest.

It is tempting to confess other people’s sins.

That is called playing the blame game.

Living in indignant judgment.

Corporate confession requires us to

Look our sisters and brothers in the eye,

Hold one another accountable,

Keep each other honest.

….

3. What we go through hasn’t escaped God’s notice.

The Lord knows what’s happening.

The Lord knows what is going down.

For nothing can be hidden from God.

Nothing.

Not motive or intent.

Not greed or lust.

Not envy or desire.

Nothing can escape God’s notice.

This is sobering.

Recognizing the omniscient nature of God,

Being aware that God sees all and knows all,

Should drive us to our knees in humble introspection.

Ask yourself,

What are the secrets in my life

That I have been trying to conceal from God?

Pastoral counseling classes in the seminary teach that

Secrets are a sure sign of sin and dysfunction.

The Lord observes everyone, remembers everything, forgets nothing.

One might escape human justice.

There is no escape the Lord.

The all-seeing and all-knowing nature of God should also be comforting.

No matter what crisis you face,

No matter what desert you cross,

No matter how severe the pandemic this may become,

The Lord takes notice.

Oh, the sorrows that fill our soul,

The withering storms through which we sail,

The trials and temptations we endure.

God takes notice.

The Lord seeks to comfort us.

“Comfort, O comfort my people,” says our God.

The day is soon upon us when our term will be served,

When our penalty will be paid, and

When the abundance of the Lord will return two-fold.

– Isaiah 40:1-2

….

4. Lastly, we are reminded

We remain God’s own, even in exile and loneliness.

The Lord does not abandon his own children.

Rarely before is this message so poignant

Than today, at Covid-19’s ground zero;

Where emotions are raw,

Needs go unmet,

And anger bleeds through every aspect of life.

The Lord isn’t preventing the pandemic from happening,

But the Lord has given us the scientist the knowledge to bring it under control.

The Lord hasn’t turned a cold shoulder,

The Lord has sent us medical professionals to heal and care for us throughout the duration.

The Lord isn’t shielding us from loss and sorrow,

But the Lord is opening our heart and deepening our resolve

To be more supportive, empathetic, loving of our neighbors.

We remain God’s beloved.

We remain in need of forgiveness.

We remain in need of salvation.

….

Out of wilderness,

God is further revealed this Advent day.

God works in the wilderness;

This is where the Lord can be found.

Where is your wilderness?

Are you seeking after the Lord in your wilderness?

God seeks confession and repentance.

Can you give it up?

Are you able to repent and improve?

Are you ready to experience the blessing of forgiveness,

The gift of Jesus Christ?

What we go through hasn’t escaped God’s notice.

God knows your pain, your sorrow, your suffering.

What prophet-strength comfort can be found

By connecting your wilderness

With the temptation of Christ,

The baptism of Christ,

The crucifixion of Christ?

We remain God’s own, even in exile and loneliness.

Nothing can separate God from you.

Like it or not.

Accept it or leave it.

God created you.

God loves you.

And God is never going to leave you.

The next move is yours. Amen.

“Potter and Clay”

Isaiah 64:1-9 and Mark 13:24-37

November 29, 2020

First Sunday of Advent

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Isaiah 64:1-9

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

Mark 13:24-37

“But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light,

and the stars will be falling from heaven,

and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Prayer.

Welcome to Advent;

A season of watching,

Waiting,

For our Savior’s return.

During this time of intense, expectant waiting,

The nature and character of God is revealed

With clarity unlike few other times of the year.

God is revealed.

Revelation,

More than the final book of the Bible,

More than an end-time promises,

God is revealed as an active dance partner in the human divine relationship.

The prophet Isaiah reports of a spiritual nostalgia in a devastated people.

Remember when?

Remember when the Lord forgave our inequity,

Warmed the heart of Cyrus the Great, and

Returned us to our promised land?

Remember.

God is forgiving.

God is compassionate and kind.

God faithfully keeps promises.

But now, the world has turned into smoldering destruction.

Again.

Built up; beat down.

Built up; beat down.

The people of Israel had seen their land re-conquered,

Their rebuilt Temple destroyed,

Their lives in ruins.

Our ancestors felt as if God was hiding his face.

O God, they cried.

Our God, who ripped open the heavens and

Showed your face to Moses,

Where are you now?

Now, our world feels like it has turned into smoldering destruction.

Remember 39 weeks ago?

Yes, I’ve been counting the weeks.

Our spiritual nostalgia

Forgets imperfections and

Enhances grandeur

That may or may not have been real.

Church life back in early March was great, predictable, sustainable.

Spiritual life was simplified;

Occasional attendance,

Prayer before a meal,

Catching up over coffee or casserole, and

Dropping an Abraham into the basket.

Now, we’ve been shut down.

We feel broken down,

And when we look around

There is a whole lot of darkness.

Where is your face, O Lord?

It’s like we’ve been abandoned,

Just like Israel. 

Remember.

God is forgiving.

God is compassionate and kind.

God faithfully keeps promises.

The nature and character of God is revealed during Advent.

….

Like Israel,

Our hope is grounded in God’s revealed nature and character.

God is our father, Isaiah proclaims,

The father of creation,

Who created us as children,

Each of us created as a nearly perfect copy of God.

God planted within us

Mustard seed sized faith,

Tended and nurtured,

Watered and fed.

God has gifted us

The love of a Savior and

The power of a Spirit filled breath.

Our creative and loving parent

Raises us as children into spiritual maturity,

In a relationship bonded by life, love, goodness, pity, and compassion;

Qualities of every good mother and father.

The Lord is our Father,

The prophet Isaiah proclaims,

As a potter and

We as clay.

We are the clay.

The Father forms us.

Shapes us.

Builds us up.

Breaks us down.

Working us.

Freeing us from every imperfection.

We are the work of his hands.

We become who God shapes us to be.

Remember.

God is our creator.

God nurtures and grows,

Forms and shapes us according to need and will.

The nature and character of God is revealed during Advent.

….

This past Thursday,

We pushed ourselves away from the Thanksgiving table

Full of food

And content with life …

Mostly.

Partially.

Some of us.

Well, all right. Who are we kidding?

There might be some who can be painted into a Norman Rockwell painting,

But many of us

Are worn out,

Fighting depression,

Dealing with dysfunctional families,

Agonizing over broken relationships,

Resisting addictions and abuse,

Wrestling with uncertainty and anxiety,

And are near the end of our rope with

Undeniable, unresolved, unrelenting, overwhelming grief.

We are …

… I am …

FIGHTING to stay afloat,

For fear that if we stop fighting,

We might slip beneath the waves.

A new prescription does not save us.

A promotion or raise doesn’t save us.

Divorce, walking out, or walking away doesn’t save us.

Shopping, overdosing on chocolate, or a day at the spa doesn’t save us.

A new degree, diploma, or award doesn’t save us.

Spending a day this past week in class with clergy colleagues from across New York State

Affirms the fact that

Being ordained doesn’t save us.

Every one of us are treading water.

The garbage still has to be taken out to the curb.

During this period spanning Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year

Emotions fluctuate widely between blessings and curse

And everywhere in-between.

If only we had a God

That was great enough

To rend the heavens

And come down to save us.

If only we had a God

That was powerful enough

To darken the sun, extinguish the moon, shake the stars out of the heavens

And come down to save us.

If only the Son of Man would come in clouds

With power and glory;

Certainly we would be saved!

It’s Advent, people!

God did it before,

And God’s going to do it again!

Just as God saved our ancestors from Egyptian captivity and Babylonian exile,

Just as Jesus was born and died to save us from our sins,

So, too, will Christ come again

To save us from this lousy state of affairs we’ve in.

We’ve fallen

– literally and figuratively –

And we can’t get up!

Not without the help of a Savior.

Not without the power of the only One who can move heaven and earth.

Not without the love of God that knows no end.

The time is nigh, and soon will be.

The time is ripe, and approaching ever more quickly.

Watch for signs of light signifying our Savior’s return.

Stay alert and awake,

Watching for our Lord’s coming again.

….

What then is revealed about God in this season of waiting?

God is forgiving.

God is compassionate and kind.

God faithfully keeps promises.

God is our creator, our heavenly Father.

God nurtures and grows us,

Forms and shapes us according to need and will.

We are promised

Christ is coming again.

It’s a promise the Lord intends to keep.

When he comes

The face of the Lord will be revealed.

Since we can’t save ourselves,

Christ is coming to save us

From drowning,

Into a new creation.

Watch.

Wait.

Amen.

“Faith v Works”

November 22, 2020, Christ the King

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 25:31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’

Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Prayer.

Heaven is to grace

What Hell is to judgment.

As followers of Jesus,

Believing that Jesus

Assumed all our sins

On the cross,

We’ve become comfortably acculturated

With grace as the staple diet

Of organized Protestant Christian faith.

Believe in Jesus

And be saved.

Jesus says he is the way, the truth, and the life.

Follow him and be saved.

Boom!

Count me in.

Sprinkle me with water and

Teach me the secret handshake.

Case closed.

Go home and enjoy the other six and a half days of the week.

The great reformer, Martin Luther, proclaimed

We are judged by faith alone,

And on this article alone he wrote, “the Church stands or falls.”

(Martin Luther, 1537, Smalkald Articles)

John Wesley brought laser focus to God’s grace.

For Wesley, grace is prevenient:

Given by God before we knew we needed it.

Grace is justifying:

We are forgiven of our sins

Simply because we believe.

Grace is sanctifying:

Replacing our imperfections

With the perfect love of God.

The second chapter of Ephesians defines the Protestant, Methodist experience:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” – Ephesians 2:8-10

Sola Fide, pronounced So-la Fee-day:

the Doctrine of Justification by Faith, and

Sola Gratia, pronounced So-la Grat-e-a,

The doctrine of Salvation by grace

Defines the chasm that

Separates us from our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers.

Through a uniquely Protestant world view 

We have come to know

A graceful God

That carefully considers a resume built on faith,

Without taking into consideration works, good or bad.

Our Protestant heritage teaches us that belief leads to reward:

Believe in Jesus Christ.

Your sins are forgiven, and off you go to heaven.

Zippidee do dah.

Yet,

The reality of sin

Is like the thin strata of smoke from a wood fire

Wisping through the neighborhood.

The smoke just hangs in the air on cold, quiet mornings.

Sin.

Without wind it seeps in everywhere,

Distorting sight and delivering a signature smell.

There are consequences for sinful behavior that are important to acknowledge,

And the Gospel of Matthew holds our feet to the fire.

Judgment is the consequence of sin.

We, Hushpuppy wearing, grace toting Protestants,

Find ourselves in an uneasy position wrestling with judgment

With the close of this liturgical year.

(Today is called Reign of Christ, or, Christ the King.

Next Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent,

The Gospel of Mark will take Matthew’s place,

And a new liturgical year will begin.)

Christ is our king! We joyfully proclaim.

Matthew reports the king holds each of us accountable for our behavior.

Jesus plays the judgment card in spades.

Today, Jesus and judgment are addressed with uncomfortable transparency.

This 25th chapter of Matthew is

A real slice of humble pie

To grace believing Protestants.

Two weeks ago we heard of the

Unfortunate, unprepared bridesmaids

Waiting for the delayed bridegroom to arrive.

They waited with insufficient lamp oil.

As a result of their behavior

They were shut out

– SHUT OUT –

Of the wedding reception,

With Divine judgment we’ve not heard before.

The Master’s voice snaps from behind the closed door:

“Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” (25:12)

What?

Wait! We respond.

“I do not know you”?

That is not the God I know, I protest.

Heaven is to grace

What Hell is to judgment.

Last Sunday,

Our distress mounted with the Parable of the Talents.

We squirmed anxiously in our seats

When the Master

Belittles and berates the servant who buried his talent

Instead of investing it like the other two.

“You wicked and lazy slave!”

“Take the talent from him and give it to the one with the ten.”

“As for this worthless slave,

throw him into the outer darkness,

where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (25:26, 28, 30)

What?

Wait! We respond.

I don’t know that god.

This visual is more like a Soviet gulag

Then a sermon from Jesus.

Heaven is to grace

What Hell is to judgment.

….

500 years ago we parted ways

with the Roman Catholic preoccupation with Works Righteousness.

Fear, intimidation, and inquisition were used to oppress the faithful.

Like their Pharisaic forefathers fifteen hundred years earlier,

Sacred texts had been codified into

Onerous and inflexible Church doctrines

Frightening the masses into submission

In the shadow of the sword or guillotine.

The laundry list justifying Works Righteousness

– the central belief that the guilty are judged

and the guiltless are deemed righteous –

has been long cited by scripture:

Hebrew scripture, New Testament Epistles, even directly from the lips of Jesus in the Gospels.

For example,

Matthew 5:20 Jesus says,

“For I tell you that unless your righteousness

surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law,

you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The list justifying Works Righteousness equals

The list justifying Sola Fide and Sola Gratia.

Are we forgiven and saved by

what we do, or,

Are we forgiven and saved by

what we believe?

What are we to believe?

Like many things in life

Faith v works are not mutually exclusive.

I’d suggest faith v works are mutually dependent.

Looking back over my history of preaching on this passage,

I’ve noticed a personal, evolving belief.

Early in my pastoral ministry,

I hammered home Sola fide and Sola Gratia

Like every good Protestant preacher is expected to do.

I employed every Lutheran and Wesleyan doctrine I could lay my hands on;

Sadly, I must admit,

To the neglect of Works Righteousness.

“What we believe leads to good works,

But good works do not lead to belief,”

I was often quoted to say.

Yet, as I’ve aged

The more I believe in

The value of a carefully balanced, mutually dependent approach:

We can no more neglect scripture because it doesn’t meet our needs

Then we can elevate selected scripture to support our position.

Belief in Jesus is essential.

What is also essential is

Doing the work of Jesus.

One leads to the other;

Does it really matter which comes first?

Personal behavior is important, Jesus tells us in Matthew 25.

It is our Christian obligation to feed hungry people,

To give water to those who thirst,

And to welcome strangers with hospitality.

Failure to do so is equivalent to choosing our own promised judgment.

It is our Christian responsibility to cloth those who need clothing,

To take care of the sick,

To visit the condemned in prison.

Failure to do so will result in our King casting us out into eternal fire.

Be forewarned.

It is our obligation,

Not because we fear judgment,

But because Jesus engaged in good works, outreach, and ministry.

And we should follow his example.

It is our obligation,

Because our good works points the world straight to Jesus.

Our good works bring attention to God.

Our good works bring praise and glory to God.

God loves the last, the least, the lost, the poor, the disposed, the widow, and the orphaned.

And so, too, should we.

Doing so, is God’s greatest glory.

And places the Lord front and center

In the spotlight of the world’s stage.

This is a week of Thanksgiving.

Let us safely gather around

Our pandemically subdued Thanksgiving tables.

Mourn not what is lost this holiday.

Give thanks for what has been found.

Close your eyes and

With every ounce of your imagination

Taste and see the abundance of our gracious and loving God.

Remember to give thanks over the food and the hands that prepared it.

It is appropriate to thank God for the abundant grace and love

That has flooded our lives.

Giving thanks is a sign of our faith and belief.

Give thanks to God for planting a mustard seed size faith in us before we were born.

Thank God for nurturing our faith,

Justifying our faith, and

Sanctifying our faith.

Our Gospel lesson for today suggests that we boldly take one additional step:

Transform the blessing of your table

Into works of righteousness in the streets.

Don’t expect the government to feed the hungry;

It is our responsibility to make certain our neighbors are fed.

Charities can only do so much.

It is our Christian obligation to care for the sick and visit people in jail.

Let us make it our Thanksgiving vow

To go one step further,

In charitable works of ministry.

Go one step further

In the name of Jesus Christ

Then we have ever gone before.

Then, and only then,

Our Thanksgiving tables will be complete.

Amen.