“Jesus and Two Rascals”

Luke 16:1-13

22 September 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 16:1-13

 

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’

Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’

So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’

And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?

No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

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Prayer.

 

I don’t know about you,

But I like the older language

Found in the King James and Revised Standard versions that reads:

“Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.”

Mammon serves as a personification for the acquisition of wealth,

Or, as Martin Luther called it,

The “most common god on earth.”

 

Bob Dylan sings, everybody’s “gotta serve somebody.”

You cannot serve God and Mammon, Jesus concludes.

 

Our Gospel from Luke today is especially difficult to understand.

It is hard for us to know

HOW Jesus wants us

To judge any of the characters in his story.

It is almost as if understanding Jesus’ intent

Requires us to take a mini course in ancient Biblical economics.

 

(Much of today’s insight comes from the excellent work of Barbara Rossing, Professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Chicago, Ill. As found at workingpreacher.org)

 

Most people will look at this unusual passage

Only found in the Gospel of Luke,

Reel in bewilderment,

And toss up their hands, saying,

“Why should I even bother

To try to make heads or tails of this complex mess?”

“It’s too complicated!”

(Remember: Church is a “No Complaint Zone”)

 

Believe me.

It’s worth the effort.

It’s worth the effort to dig deeply

To uncover Jesus’ intended message and essential truth.

 

In Biblical Judaism,

It is forbidden to charge interest on a loan.

These prohibitions are listed exhaustively in

Exodus 22, Leviticus 25, and Deuteronomy 15.

(This, of course, makes it impossible today

For Bankers, or any lender, mortgage or bond holders,

To believe in a

Literal, word-for-word translation of the Bible).

 

The Bible forbids interest because it exploits the vulnerable and poor.

In the time of Jesus,

This prohibition was being ignored.

Surprise! Surprise!

God’s people fail to heed God’s Word.

 

There is nothing new under the sun.

 

The vulnerable poor were being exploited.

They were being gouged.

How bad were the poor being exploited? You ask …

 

Scholars suggest the real interest rate would have been

25 percent per year for borrowing money, and

50 percent per year for borrowing goods.

The manager? You ask, “How does he make his money?

By charging his fee on top of everything else.

 

So, after twelve months, a $1,000 loan of grain

Will now cost the borrower $1,500 to pay back,

Plus an additional $150 fee for the debt collector.

The sum total for a thousand dollar loan would be $1,650.

You can see why the poor were being crushed by debt.

 

The poor were attracted to Jesus

Like new college graduates heavily encumbered with student debt

Are attracted to a politician promising the sun, the moon, and the stars.

 

The shrewd manager

Quickly writes down everyone’s debt

So they will treat him well after he is fired.

Let me be clear:

He is only writing off the debt that was unjust interest and, possibly, his fee.

He was only writing the debt off

Back to the original principle amount of the loan.

 

Borrowers had been pounded for years

Under the exploitative debt of both

The rich man and his manager.

Both the rich man and his manager were rascals of the worst kind.

They exploited the poor.

 

Now the manager

Who had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar

Was simply doing what was right,

What was according to Law,

What he should have been doing in the first place.

 

Throughout the Gospel of Luke,

Jesus calls for another Biblical directive: Jubilee.

 

What is Jubilee? You ask …

 

Leviticus 25:8-15 states

  “You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.

  It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces. In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property.”

 

Every 49 years

Liberty is to be proclaimed throughout the land.

Slaves and prisoners would be freed.

Debts would be forgiven.

The mercies of God would be manifest.

(https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jubilee_(biblical))

 

You heard me right.

All debts shall be forgiven.

 

Jesus cracks the Jubilee whip throughout the Gospel of Luke.

In the Magnificat,

Luke reports (1:53) that God

“Has filled the hungry with good things,

And sent the rich away empty.”

When Jesus encounters Zacchaeus,

Zacchaeus restores to the borrowers

That which he had defrauded four-fold.

As a result

Jesus restores Zacchaeus to community and proclaims,

“Today salvation has come to this house.” (19:18).

 

Because of this generational reset

Of everyone’s accumulated assets to zero,

There would be no way to accumulate massive wealth,

Unless, of course,

You had the financial ability and the sinful disdain

To defy the law regarding lending and debt.

All massive wealth was the result of

Biblically prohibited financial exploitation.

 

Massive wealth was the result of

Biblically prohibited financial exploitation.

 

When Jesus begins his narrative about a rich man and a manager,

Everyone to whom he was speaking

… the disciples, sinners, and tax collectors – everyone…

Would have immediately known

That Jesus was

Speaking about not one, but two rascals

Who disobey the Bible and who exploit the poor.

 

Jesus is condemning both equally;

Both the rich man and his shrewd manager.

It is not okay to exploit the poor.

Financial exploitation of the poor

Is absolutely contrary to the Gospel

And contrary to the teaching of Jesus.

 

I find it refreshing to learn

That “the Lutheran World Federation

Calls oppressive debt terms

Imposed on Latin American countries

As “illegitimate debt”

And likens such debt itself to “violence,”

Because of its crushing effects on people’s future.”

Some even go so far to

Refer to the international debt system as “modern slavery.”

 

(Rev. Ángel Furlan, coordinator of the illegitimate debt program for LWF member churches in Latin America, referred to the debt system as “modern slavery.” See the 2013 report at https://www.lutheranworld.org/news/just-and-sustainable-future-without-illegitimate-foreign-debt)

 

By this Gospel story

Jesus is attempting to dismantle

Human systems of greed;

Greed that disobey God’s Word and God’s Law,

Greed that exploit the vulnerable poor,

And greed that perpetuates an endless cycle of poverty.

 

Jesus is reviving village life!

Jesus is reviving the call to Biblical behavior!

Jesus is reviving the call for all his followers

To be people in covenant with God and with our neighbors!

Jesus is reviving the call to forgive debts!

(“Forgive us this day our debts,

As we forgive our debtors” – Matthew 6:12)

 

Jesus is in the business of revival and resurrection baby,

Today he has hit pure gold!

 

In today’s world

Most people notice the widening gap between the rich and the poor.

The middle class is being squeezed

And most of the pulverized remains are flowing through the grinder

Forging people who are marginalized by

Poverty, unemployment, hunger, and homelessness.

 

Disciples of Christ

Are being asked to choose

In this important teaching lesson today:

Whom shall we serve?

God or mammon?

Disciples of Jesus are repeatedly warned

That we cannot be disciples while accumulating wealth

At the expense of the poor.

 

If we choose to serve mammon.

Go home.

Go ahead and turn your back on those in need.

Remain quiet when injustice is exposed.

Don’t lift a finger to prevent exploitation from taking place.

God bless you.

You’re going to need it.

 

But Jesus calls his followers to a higher standard.

Jesus calls us to become engaged in the world’s dysfunction.

God wants us to not only reach out to the poor,

But to also take control of the levers that create

An unfair playing field

That favor the rich

At the expense of the poor.

Take control and restore the system

That enslaves people in endless unemployment, homelessness, and hunger.

 

Jesus is calling us to join him in the business of restoration and resurrection,

Not only individually,

But across all systems, political ideologies, and economic realities.

 

Might I even go so far as to suggest

That impoverishing future generations

By our mammon imitating consumption

Might also have environmental implications?

Of course!

Let us not leave the world a toxic waste dump

For our children to inherit

To feed off the piles

Or drink from its runoff.

 

Lastly,

I’d suggest that when we choose God,

When we choose to intentionally follow Jesus,

We choose to submit ourselves to God’s will

And Biblical justice.

 

Being faithful to the Word

Is not opposed to working for justice.

The foundation for Divine justice is one of many common threads

That is woven throughout the Biblical text.

Anyone who suggests otherwise

Is presenting to the world a lie,

A false dichotomy.

 

If one is faithful to the Word,

One must live the Word

with Christ centered conviction and holiness.

 

Working for Biblical justice

Individually, and collectively as the Church,

Is what building the Kingdom of God is all about.

 

Signs of Kingdom progress

Come in the form of both

Building houses with Habitat for Humanity

Or in Nicaragua or Guatemala,

But also with legislation

That empowers and resources the poor

To build their own houses and homes.

 

Kingdom building is setting up and operating food cupboards,

As well as working with community leaders

To ensure free lunches for hungry children in school.

 

Kingdom building helps give a job

As well as working with the local employment office

To ensure everyone who needs a job can get a job.

 

The goal of the Kingdom of God

Is to bring healing to the broken,

Restoration to the poor,

And resurrection to the dead.

Nothing more,

Nothing less.

 

Today, we are given a choice:

Will we serve God

Or will we serve mammon?

Chose God.

Revive one life.

Resurrect the world.

Amen.

“Sheer Joy!”

Luke 15:1-10

15 September 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church 

 

Luke 15:1-10

 

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “

Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

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Prayer.

 

Inclusive, tolerant, and non-judgmental are all qualities

We look for when we walk a candidate for ministry

From call, to ordination, and supervision down the road.

These are qualities I look for in the hearts of parishioners

For I am naturally drawn to such people

like moths drawn to a flame.

 

True confession, number one:

I am not as inclusive, tolerant, and non-judgmental

As I would like you to think that I am.

This Gospel narrative from Luke

Is forcing me to come clean,

To fess up.

 

The Gospel demands honesty and transparency.

 

I suspect the Gospel may call you too

To closer self-examination.

 

……….

 

Grumbling.

 

Fact is,

I don’t like hanging around people that grumble all the time.

People that grumble are more contagious than

A family of twelve with the measles

Making their way through a crowded water park.

 

Negative people attract negative people.

I don’t want to be a part of that scene.

 

My inclusive, non-judgmental tolerance ends at the front door of the church.

“Come on in! We welcome everyone!” I’m known to say,

All the while I’m quietly thinking to myself,

“… except for people that grumble, complain, criticize, and voice their unsolicited opinions about everyone and everything.

There’s a better church for you

down the road on the left.”

 

Church should be a grumble-free zone,

Don’t you think?

 

Jesus is holding down church;

Continuing the Gospel narrative from last Sunday.

As is often the case,

Tax collectors and sinners are attracted to him.

 

Finding the Way appeals to the Lost.

The One who forgives sins is appealing to the guilty.

The Savior of the world is appealing to those who wake up one day and recognize that they are hopelessly lost.

Not one of us can save ourselves,

Let alone anyone else.

 

Jesus naturally draws people in,

Especially the lost, sinners, and

Those considering their own mortality.

People like you and me.

 

Note the fact that

There isn’t any grumbling among sinners

Who come near to listen to Jesus.

The nice thing about confession and repentance:

It takes the grumbling and complaining right out of a person.

 

The grumbling comes from who?

The Pharisees and scribes!

They crash the party,

They disrupt the church of Jesus,

They criticize Jesus for welcoming and eating with sinners.

 

Jesus teaches with a true shepherd’s heart.

His parables reveal essential truths about God and God’s kingdom,

With a focus on love and grace.

He teaches the grumbling Pharisees and scribes three parables in a row:

The Parable of the Lost Sheep,

The Parable of the Lost Coin, and

The Parable of the Prodigal Son and His Brother.

 

Jesus weaves common threads among all three:

Someone or something is lost.

Someone or something is found.

Being found results in joy.

 

“There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents …” Jesus observes (15:7a)

“There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (15:10b)

 

Repentance makes God happy!

Repentance brings God joy!

Repentance comes from the tax collectors and sinners,

Not from righteous, law abiding Pharisees and scribes left behind.

Their grumbling doesn’t bring the Lord joy;

Only repentance … being found

Brings joy to heaven.

 

Repent of your sins, beloved!

And bring the Lord some JOY this morning!

 

Jesus, our Shepherd,

Has a commitment to the lost.

Like it or not, we, like sheep navigate through life with blinders,

With a subjective world view.

As a sheep will graze themselves lost,

So, too, will you and I find ourselves being drawn into the darkness of temptation.

Sin lures us in, and

Like a frog in a gradually warming kettle,

We eventually find ourselves cooked.

 

It’s delusional to think that we are not sinful.

Sin is as original as is Adam and Eve;

It shows no favorite and it spares no victim.

There’s no shame in our common state,

But there is great satisfaction in confessing it so.

 

The Pharisees and scribes were unable to see

their grumbling was a sign and symptom of a darker, deeper sin.

Self-righteousness may be more egregious

than collecting taxes on behalf of an occupying, oppressive enemy.

 

Fact is, at one point or another in life,

Each of us will come face-to-face with the fact

That we’re no longer one of the 99.

We’re the one who has strayed.

We are the one who has become lost.

We can’t find our way home.

We need to be rescued.

We need saved.

 

Jesus throws us a line

Just as we’re ready to slip beneath the waves.

Grab hold of that line, beloved peeps.

Allow Jesus to pull you in and return you home.

 

Wow! The rescue makes God rejoice!

 

….

 

Resentful.

 

True confession, number two:

I am not as inclusive, tolerant, and non-judgmental

As I would like you to think that I am.

I don’t like hanging around people who are resentful.

 

When I’m around resentful people,

I start to become resentful, too.

 

Just as the Parable of the Lost Sheep reveals essential truth about God

If we associate ourselves with the one sheep who is lost,

It also works if we think of ourselves as one of the 99 left behind.

 

“The Good Shepherd wouldn’t have to leave us unprotected,”

we angrily think to ourselves,

“If that fool hadn’t strayed away and gotten themselves lost.”

 

Resentful people look at what others got and

Wish they had more.

Resentful people look at what others have and

Wish others had less.

 

Resentful people live a life of comparison

And desire to one-up the neighbor.

“Those refugee families get a job and nice apartment at a discount.

No one ever did that for me.

I picked myself up by my own bootstraps.”

 

“The neighbor got herself a ‘she shed.’

Now I want one, too.

Only bigger.”

 

“The dude plays the Lottery one time and

Strikes it rich.

Not fair! Grrrr!”

 

I just don’t like resentment.

Resentment is ugly in others.

I don’t like it when it wells up in me.

Like indigestion, resentment leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

 

Resentful people are also delusional,

Believing grace is a zero-sum game.

“Your benefit comes at my expense,” or

“My loss results in your win.”

 

This is what it sounds like:

“The rich get richer, and I just keep getting poorer and poorer.”

 

These Gospel parables teach us just the opposite.

God’s grace is so abundant,

So lavish,

So over the top,

there is enough to go around for everyone.

 

God is ready, willing, and able to put the kingdom on hold

While he goes to save the one.

That’s how much God loves each of us.

That’s how bountiful is God’s grace.

 

Amazing grace, how sweet

… is that sound?

 

When it comes to grace, everyone wins.

Drop the comparisons, the envy, the resentment.

Lay down that burden

At the foot of the cross of Jesus.

 

Recognition of God’s grace

Takes the hot air of self-righteousness

right out of even the biggest blow hard.

 

This is my witness:

Grace opens my eyes.

I didn’t pick myself up by my own bootstraps.

God gave me life, knew me before I was born.

God gave me health and breath;

God gave me skills, talents, and education;

God sent to me parents, mentors, friends, teachers, pastors, and counselors.

 

It wasn’t me.

It’s always been God.

 

The tidal wave of God’s grace opens my eyes:

I simply showed up,

Surrendered to God,

And the rest takes care of itself.

It’s never been about Todd,

It’s always been about God.

 

Hallelujah! Praise God!

 

This is my witness;

What is your witness?

Have you shared it with others?

Make it a point to share your story of God’s grace in your life this coming week.

Witness your gratitude.

 

Indeed, the antidote for being poisoned by resentment is gratitude;

Being grateful to God

… for what God has done,

… for what God is doing,

… for God’s abundant grace and abiding love,

… for where God is leading us,

… for what God is revealing.

 

…..

 

Beloved members, friends, guests, and visitors

Let us be convicted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let us live as one who is lost, rescued by God,

Bringing God great joy!

Let us replace grumbling and resentment with gratitude,

Immersed completely in God’s grace and love.

 

To God be the glory!

Everything else is sheer joy!

Amen.

“Counting the Costs”

Luke 14:25-33

8 September 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 14:25-33

 

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 

Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 

So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

 

Prayer.

 

The table talk has ended. 

Farewells exchanged.

The host was glad to see him go. 

 

As we heard last Sunday, 

Jesus had schooled 

The leader of the Pharisees and his invited friends 

In a stinging lecture

Around his Sabbath day dinner table.

 

Their hubris had taken a hit. 

Their selfish lack of charity

Revealed for all the world to see

Which master they truly served:

It wasn’t the Lord. 

 

As Willie Nelson is known to sing,

Jesus was “On the Road Again.”

 

More than mere movement of geography,

Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem has symbolic meaning. 

God’s redemptive plan had been set in motion.

Every step Jesus took

Was God’s plan for humankind being revealed.

 

Jesus moved south: 

Teaching, preaching, preparing his disciples for his imminent absence.

Jesus moved south:

Healing, restoring, casting out demons, unbinding those bound by Satan. 

 

Every step brings Jesus nearer to the cross,

Nearer to his suffering,

Nearer to redemption and forgiveness of sins,

Nearer to God’s surprising gift that lay three days beyond the grave. 

 

Jesus moved south and the crowds grew larger:

Some curious to see the latest flavor of traveling evangelist,

Others hopeful their messianic expectations were being fulfilled with revolutionary uprising

and Rome would be kicked out by civil insurrection,

Still others gathering just to see what the fuss was all about.

 

Everyone loves a parade.

 

The intersection of the crowds expectation 

and Jesus’ divine fulfillment of God’s greater plan

Is coming to a violent collision.

The masses who hope for an easy pass to heaven

are about to get a bucket of ice water thrown in the face.

 

The word “Hate” usually isn’t considered 

one of the fruits of the Spirit. 

“Hate” isn’t a word we usually associate with Jesus,

Yet, here it is, in all it’s Lukan glory.

“Hate” is the ice water no one saw coming.

Hate, or Miseó (μισέω), from the Greek,

Is about to separate the crowd

Like grain separated from the chaff. 

 

“You want to follow me?” Jesus asks,

Transcending geography, culture, and time.

Wake up!

“You want to follow me?” Jesus asks us today,

Demanding our undivided attention. 

 

Hate father and mother;

Hate spouse and children;

Hate brothers and sisters; 

Hate your own life; and 

While he was at it, he could have added

Hate flag and country, too. 

 

The first of three conditions of discipleship is hate. 

 

Don’t know about you, 

But Jesus preaching hate

Doesn’t sit very well with me. 

We’re talking family here. 

We’re talking patriotism here. 

Jesus, the God who creates life, hating life itself? 

 

Take a deep breath.

There must be more to the story.

 

Miseó, as used here,

Is not the opposite of love. 

Language scholars tell us

The word Luke uses here 

Is a comparative,

Exposing contrasts to make a point, 

To renounce one choice in favor of another. 

(Strong’s Concordance, as found at: https://biblehub.com/greek/3404.htm)

 

Jesus is calling all would-be and experienced disciples

To make a moral choice,

Elevating commitment to him

Over and above commitment to everything which we hold dear;

Our families, 

Even our own life. 

 

Instead of country first,

Instead of family first, 

Jesus’ first condition of discipleship is:

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Jesus first. 

 

Like the allies terms of surrender,

Jesus is uncompromising. 

 

Can Washington or Albany 

Forgive your sins or save your soul?

Family can and should be 

the most loving, caring, social support one can have.

But I have yet to meet a parent, spouse, sibling, or child

That redeems us from judgment 

or saves us into eternal life.

 

“Jesus First” is the Lord’s enlistment poster.

 

……..

 

So, Jesus just lost half the crowd. 

He’s about to lose half of what’s left

When his second condition for discipleship is deeply considered.

 

“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me

cannot be my disciple.” (14:27)

Expecting death by crucifixion,

Jesus knew how the machinery of capital punishment

made mincemeat of all those sucked into its path. 

Luke, writing from an after-the-fact, historical point of view,

Intentionally keeps the burner on high,

For his reality, and that of the first century Church, 

Was martyrdom. 

 

Jesus’ condition for all disciples

Was, and remains to this day, 

Radical self-denial. 

 

Follow Jesus.

Be prepared to give up your life.

Live prepared to die.

 

Deny my self-interest

To advance the Lord’s interest.

Deny my self-preservation

To pick up my cross, and 

Be crucified right there

alongside with Jesus. 

 

Martyrdom is what love looks like

In a Jesus first economy. 

 

The Apostle Paul wrote 

to the fledgling, persecuted church in Rome,

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

(Romans 8:35-39)

 

The Lord of resurrection 

Does not allow death to win.

 

The temptation is to grow tired,

Lose faith, and 

set down the cross of Jesus.

 

The temptation is to walk away,

Fearful of death,

Uncertain of eternal life. 

“It’s just too hard,” 

“Jesus demands too much,”

we’ve heard many complain. 

“I’m not certain that even I have it in me,” I sometimes wonder

In a momentary crisis of faith. 

 

Consider the cost.

Am I ready to die for the one who died for me?

Only a fool would fail to consider the cost of discipleship.

 

Consider the cost.

Think of the risks, consequences, and benefits.

Family will laugh and friends will pretend like they never knew us. 

That’s okay by me;

I’d rather hang out with Jesus followers anyways. 

When I love God and love neighbors,

Neighbors become my extended family.

 

Consider the cost.

Reflect on the power of God’s love

That binds us to Christ,

That is just as uncompromising,

That never lets us go. 

 

Is it worth the risk? 

It is for me.

 

…………

 

One half of the remaining quarter 

Probably meant there weren’t many willing candidates for discipleship left in the crowd following Jesus.

Jesus is salting the crowd really good.

 

Oh, yeah. 

One last thing, Jesus tells us. 

It’s kind of like his third condition of discipleship is an afterthought.

He says:

“None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” 

(14:33)

 

Here we are headed into the season of 

stewardship, pledge cards, and fund drives.

“Isn’t that convenient, Pastor Todd?” you may sarcastically ask.

 

Jesus isn’t asking for ten percent;

Jesus wants it all. 

 

Yikes!

There goes the rest of the crowd,

Leaving the remaining few 

standing alone before our Lord,

Hat in hand, 

Weighing the cost of following Jesus.

 

This radical renunciation of money, possessions, and things

Caused the rich young ruler to walk away from Jesus. 

At the same time, 

Such a strict condition of discipleship isn’t made of Zacchaeus. 

Jesus didn’t demand he give everything away.

 

Zacchaeus, exposed of his sin,

Was convicted to volunteer to Jesus 

One half of his possessions to be given to the poor, and

To repay fourfold to anyone who he defrauded. (19:8)

 

Jesus wants it all,

But it isn’t all about money.

It’s about our heart;

Where our allegiance lies. 

 

Soon to come in a future Gospel passage,

(Quite possibly next week!) 

Jesus concludes his story about a dishonest manager by teaching,

“No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

(16:13)

 

Is Jesus worth the cost?

He is for me.

 

…………

 

Beloved members, friends, guests and visitors of our Rush United Methodist family

Do not fear the conditions of discipleship. 

 

We can calculate the cost and make the sacrifice,

Not individually,

Because not one of us,

Myself included,

Has the sufficient strength of faith or purity of heart to be worthy of our King. 

 

We can pay the price,

Because we are in this journey of faith together. 

We are Christ’s Body;

The embodiment of God’s love.

We are strength and support for one another.

 

Have no fear.

Be confident! 

Together, God can get every last one of Christ’s disciples

Through the eye of any old needle. 

 

We can do this, 

Because redemption and salvation

Have already been won.

Victory and life have been won

By Jesus Christ, our Lord. 

 

……..

 

Count the cost.

Consider carefully. 

Jesus first. 

Jesus to die for. 

Jesus without any reservations. 

 

Is Jesus worth the cost?

He is for me. 

Join me, will you?

Let’s travel this journey together. 

Amen.

“An Invitation to the Table”

Luke 14:1, 7-14

September 1, 2019

the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 14:1, 7-14

 

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

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Prayer.

 

Today’s gospel lesson

is a continuation of St. Luke’s narrative

reporting from the heart of Jesus’ ministry

– healing, teaching, and preaching.

 

Jesus is preparing his disciples

for the near future when he would be

physically absent from their presence.

He is laying the groundwork for His Church,

and us today,

by giving us the elemental ideals and essential truth

for leading a Christian life.

 

Today’s lesson could be placed

into the category of “Table Talks”

about the kingdom of God.

Jesus is teaching while he is eating,

sharing his table with others,

breaking bread and sharing wine,

with both his disciples,

and, with his host, a leader of the Pharisees,

and the Pharisee’s colleagues.

 

St. Luke’s editors label this section as “a parable.” (Verse 7).

This is somewhat inaccurate.

I don’t believe Jesus

would have used the word “parable”

to describe his narrative in this location.

There isn’t any story or tale that imparts a larger truth.

Jesus is simply teaching by directive.

“When you do this, then you should do that.”

 

While these are not parables (strictly speaking),

Jesus is using allegory and symbolism

to describe what the kingdom of heaven is like.

In effect, he is saying,

 

“The kingdom of heaven is like ….

When you attend a wedding banquet …

take the lowest seat.

 

The kingdom of heaven is like ….

When you host a luncheon or a dinner ….

Invite those who can never repay you.”

 

Jesus is painting on a brand-new palate;

creating a landscape of what the kingdom of heaven is like.

At the same time,

Jesus is telling us the nature of the rules for the kingdom.

Much to our surprise,

the rules for the kingdom are

topsy-turvy,

upside down,

Revolutionary (some would say),

completely upending our expectations.

……….

 

Whether we were living

in the life and times of Jesus,

or today, 2,000 years later,

one of the most important social rules

is that we are born with a Darwinian sense of self-preservation, and raised to look out for “number one.”

 

Self-interest is the motivation of so much of what we do.

We are always thinking

in the back of our minds

when we give

what we can get back.

 

I give to United Way at the office …

so the boss will notice and think more highly of me.

I give at home …

so the kids will love me back,

or so I can get something from my spouse.

I give at the church …

so I can get good worship,

good Sunday school and youth fellowship, or

good mission and outreach options.

 

I give … so I can get.

 

In today’s lesson,

Jesus is challenging this basic assumption.

 

Instead of looking out for number one,

our fundamental concern should be to serve God’s interest.

 

This means giving away,

making a sacrifice;

making our self-interest secondary

to God’s primary interest.

This means subjecting my will

To Thy will (be done).

 

This is a recognition that we are God’s own

and that one day we will return to God;

making God’s interest the focus and motivation of our faith.

 

It means we substitute the question,

“what do I want to do?”

with “what does God want me to do?”

 

Consider for a moment

If all the world would discern deeply,

“What does God want me to do?”

 

There are many,

(some would say) way too many,

who use the name of God

to promote self-interest

– to obtain power, authority, control, or wealth.

Let us not be tempted to make the same mistake.

 

Don’t confuse my will with God’s interests.

 

In the inverted world of God’s greatest concerns,

we hear today Jesus teaching

that being humble,

and lifting up the most vulnerable members of society

– the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind –

– those least likely to be able to repay you –

this is God’s concern,

and therefore,

should be our greatest concern, too.

 

Being humble and

lifting up the most vulnerable

Is God’s intentional desire.

 

Two thoughts.

 

1. First of all, seek the humble and lowly way through life.

Humility means that the interest of others

comes before our own …

like at a wedding banquet.

Let others have more honorable seats.

Take your place at the lowest place.

 

Pastors and church leaders eat last.

 

Lowliness springs from gratitude.

Be thankful to be invited in the first place!

After all,

consider the fact that none of us have done anything to deserve God’s invitation to the banquet.

 

Consider our sinful nature …

can we presume to approach the majesty of God

Worthy of God’s amazing grace?

A lowly approach springs from the reverence

we should be offering to God.

 

Humility is the Disciples’ place in life.

It requires a discipline of reflection, meditation, and prayer.

Humility embraces silence

And recognizes the intrinsic value of becoming still,

Awareness of God’s presence, and

The ability to trust in God’s direction.

Humility lifts up our God above all other competitors,

Shielding us from the temptation of idolatry.

 

Jesus punctuates this narrative

with his topsy-turvy, upside down rule of the kingdom

by saying in the 11th verse,

“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled

and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

 

Seek the humble and lowly road.

 

2. The second point of the kingdom is made

when Jesus turns his attention

from the guest of the dinner party

to speak directly to the host.

He looks to the Pharisee and his friends.

Jesus directs them to not invite their friends when they host a party.

 

Instead, extend hospitality and generosity

to those who cannot repay it.

 

We are usually hospitable because of what it can gain us.

Be nice to visitors and guests at church,

we might be able to persuade them to return.

Be nice to our friends when they come to dinner,

for you never know when it will come time they can repay you.

Hospitality as a quid pro quo

has no merit with God;

Selfish hospitality is nothing more than self-interest.

 

God’s interest is elsewhere.

 

God is most interested in making sure

that those who are most in need

and least able to repay

are the ones being served.

 

Jesus just gives an example

of the kinds of people in his day and age

that would be God’s most suitable guests

– the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.

 

Today, updated language expands his sampling

to a much larger audience:

the widow, the shut-in, the elderly,

caregivers,

those with disabilities and differently abled,

the poor,

those suffering from chronic illness,

and new immigrants to our neighborhood.

 

Ronald Sider, a Christian social activist,

has made it his life purpose

to keep reminding us

that Christians are to have a special relationship with the poor.

 

He observes that global Christianity is wealthy.

We make up one-third of the world’s people,

but we receive two-thirds of the world’s income each year. Furthermore, he notes,

we spend 97% of our income on ourselves.

A mere 2% goes to Christian work or missions.

(Pulpit Resources, August 29, 2004)

 

All this takes place at the same time

when almost half of the world,

over three billion people,

live on less than $2.50 a day,

and 80% live on less than $10 a day.

According to UNICEF,

22,000 children die each day due to poverty.

Nearly a billion people are unable to read a book or sign their name.

Less than 1% of what is spent globally on weapons each year

Could put every child through school.

(http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats)

 

Poverty is grinding.

 

……..

 

Who are we inviting to our table?

We serve God’s interest when we invite

the least, the lowly, the most vulnerable.

We serve God’s interest when we serve

those who cannot ever repay it.

We serve God’s interest when we

lose our self-interest first.

 

The topsy-turvy, upside down rule of God’s heavenly kingdom

is punctuated by Jesus

for the second time in verse 14, when he says,

 

“And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you,

for you will be repaid,” Jesus promises,

“at the resurrection of the righteous.”

 

You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

Let that sink in for a moment.

 

Let’s face it;

Jesus would be a challenging person to invite to dinner.

He goes as an invited guest

and immediately criticizes

both his host and his fellow guests.

 

But social etiquette is not so much Jesus’ concern

as is preparing his disciples for the emerging kingdom of God.

Jesus has bigger fish to fry.

 

His concern is you and me

– what are we going to make our ultimate concern in life –

satisfying the self, or satisfying God?

 

There is no time to waist.

 

Indeed, God’s kingdom begins here and now,

not in some future time or after we die.

It starts with our response to the challenge of the Gospel.

It begins when we assume a posture of humility.

It begins when we extend hospitality and generosity

to those who are most in need.

 

Dearly beloved members, guests, visitors, and friends of Rush,

whose interest will you serve this day?

Amen.

“Set Free”

Luke 13:10-17

August 25, 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

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Luke 13:10-17

 

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”

But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”

When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

 

Prayer.

 

This magnificent Gospel passage,

Only found in St. Luke,

Gives us a unique path directly to the heart of Jesus.

 

In the Gospel of St. Luke

Pay attention to who Jesus sees.

 

Jesus sees a woman who was invisible.

Literally, she was bent over;

Curvature of the spine, for one reason or another,

Placed her face outside the field of vision of nearly everyone.

 

Loss of eye contact leads to distance.

Social distance increases,

Revealing increased isolation.

Her name is forgotten.

Her identity assumes the name of the least common denominator: “woman.”

 

This woman’s withdrawal from family, friends and synagogue

Reveals another imperfection.

The community’s indifference is exposed.

 

It is as if

One day

She disappeared.

 

For 18 years

She got the cold shoulder.

Her name was not remembered,

Her story was forgotten, and

Nobody cared.

 

It’s kind of like dropping out of church and no one noticing.

 

Pay attention to who Jesus sees.

 

A spirit had crippled her, Luke reports.

The language and history are clear.

Luke uses the language at hand to report that

Her condition violates God’s will for her life.

This woman is not demon possessed,

As is often assumed.

Through no fault of her own, she is tragically broken.

 

She is broken,

Not only because of her physical impairment,

But because her physical limitation

Makes her invisible to the community

And makes it impossible for her to fulfill God’s will for her life.

 

This woman is bound

And imprisoned by her chronic inability to stand up and be seen.

Until Jesus sees her.

Until Jesus calls her over.

Until Jesus laid his hands on her.

 

She is healed.

She stands up straight.

She is seen and the community is made whole once again.

The imperfection has been repaired as if it never happened.

She is liberated to once again serve the Lord, and

Her immediate response is praise!

 

Jesus restores her identity:

She is a daughter of Abraham.

Jesus proclaims what healing has done:

This daughter of Abraham has been set free from bondage this sabbath day to love and serve the Lord!

 

Set free.

Liberated.

It’s as if it is God’s will to heal.

(Of course, it is!)

God desires the broken to be healed.

 

Pay attention to who Jesus sees.

Jesus sees

The tragically broken.

When seen

The bound are liberated and set free.

 

All of which

Begs us to ask the existential question:

Who are the tragically broken that Jesus sees, yet we do not?

Who are the people unable to fulfill God’s will for their lives

Because they are broken and unnoticed?

 

You’ll never see if you don’t go looking.

 

………….

 

This past week I went looking;

I was privileged to join the Outreach team from our church

That serves lunch downtown once a month

Volunteering with “A Meal and More Ministries.”

 

Healthy meals are served to members of our community who are not seen:

Sons and daughters of Abraham

Who struggle with addictions and homelessness,

Unemployment and mental health issues,

Tragically broken families and former lives.

 

This was Wednesday’s menu: salad, Cajun roast chicken, mashed potatoes, macaroni salad, mixed vegetables, buttered bread, and a cupcake for desert.

 

One woman came to the counter and asked for fruit.

The chef smiled warmly.

Without hesitation, he served up a heaping bowl of fruit from a refrigerated pan.

He cryptically said to me, “We don’t serve fruit because no one eats it.”

 

(Puzzled) I was looking, but I wasn’t seeing what Jesus was seeing.

 

The chef told me her story:

This woman is addicted to heroin.

Her boyfriend of over twenty years died three months ago of an overdose.

All her family has died, either of overdose or of other causes.

She is all alone.

She only eats fruit: one bowl every Wednesday and one bowl every Sunday.

That’s all she eats.

“That’s why I always have fruit in the fridge and I fill her bowl full.”

“Just as you did it to one of the least of these … you did it to me,” he explained. (Matthew 25:40)

 

Two bowls of fruit a week doesn’t cure her addiction

But it does liberate this woman from isolation.

For a time she is fed; her stomach and her soul.

She is filled by the grace and mercy of the ministry and

By the social unity of those seated at her table.

 

Alan the chef sees a daughter of Abraham as if he was looking through the eyes of Jesus,

Because he is.

 

…………….

 

Who does Jesus see that we don’t?

You’ll never see if you don’t go looking.

 

Sometimes broken vases are obvious;

They’re shattered.

Nothing is left but rubble.

A big mess.

It’s easy to look for the tragically broken and find rubble.

 

Once aware, a response can be immediate:

Think about a family left homeless after a house fire, or

Communities flooded after a natural disaster, like Hurricane Katrina.

 

The need is obvious.

Glasses aren’t needed.

Everyone can see what needs done.

Everyone pitches in and helps as each are able.

Some pray, some fundraise, some donate, some travel and muck out basements.

There’s something for everyone.

 

Sometimes a broken vase has a fatal crack;

Even though it looks intact.

The crack is turned to the backside,

Hidden from public view.

Looking requires searching,

Active seeking,

Intentionally engaging

The world as if we are the eyes and hands of Jesus.

Because we are.

 

When I think of hidden brokenness,

I think of caregivers;

People who give up life, jobs, freedom, everything …

To care for an aging loved one,

To care for a disabled spouse or child, or

To raise grandchildren, or great grandchildren.

Caregivers may look like they’re holding it all together,

But may be frantically struggling just to keep from being sucked under the flood and drowned.

 

Look for caregivers in the community.

When you see one,

Reach out to one.

A prayer. A gift. A visit. An embrace.

 

When I think of hidden brokenness,

I think of people who struggle with addictions, anxiety, or depression.

The stigma is too embarrassing to reveal to anyone

Other than one’s most trusted confidants.

The tragically broken are awash in a storm

Of guilt,

A sense of moral failure,

And a fear of being judged.

 

Look for people and families that struggle with addictions and mental health problems.

When you see one,

Reach out to one.

A prayer. A gift. A visit. An embrace.

 

………….

 

Actively looking as if looking through the eyes of Jesus

Requires intentional effort and willing sacrifice.

 

It is not sufficient to see the humanitarian crisis

Simply by watching network or cable news stories from our Southern border.

 

To see,

To bring healing to the broken,

To liberate those who are bound,

Requires me to go;

To intentionally travel to the source of bondage.

This is why I travel on short-term mission trips to Guatemala.

 

I’d never see the homelessness and malnutrition

If I wasn’t there

Building houses and passing out food.

I’d never see the violence done, especially to women and children,

If I didn’t distribute clothing and shoes.

I’d never know the isolation of bent over sons and daughters of Abraham

If I failed to take part in fitting people to wheelchairs.

 

My invitation to you:

Join me.

Come, look and see, and heal

Next August

When I hope to return to Guatemala.

 

……………….

 

It is God’s will to heal

The tragically broken,

The nameless,

The invisible.

 

It is God’s will to liberate the bound:

Caregivers,

Those living in slavery to addiction,

Those suffering from mental health issues,

Families hungry, homeless, victimized, neighbors near and far away.

 

Look and see,

beloved members and friends of Rush.

Look and see as if you are the eyes of Jesus,

Because you are.

 

Look and see as if you are the healing hands of Jesus,

beloved people of Rush, our friends and our guests,

Because you are.

 

Seek the tragically broken of the world,

Because healing mean liberation.

Liberation is life,

Even eternal life.

Amen.

“Bringing Division? Oh, My!”

Luke 12:49-56

18 August 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 12:49-56

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

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

Prayer.

 

Anyone a little unnerved?

Anyone uncomfortable with the Gospel?

Anyone upset by Jesus teaching his disciples and the crowds

That he brings division to families?

That he brings division to the earth?

 

If you’re not the least bit fazed by Jesus

And his confrontational characteristic

Most poignantly piqued in Luke,

Then I suggest someone in your row

Run out the back door,

Grab the defibrillator,

(Mounted on the wall by the conference room)

Hook you up,

And ZAP you back to life!

 

If you are unfazed by Jesus

You don’t have a pulse.

 

Bringing division? Oh, my …

When I was younger,

Starting my sixth year out of seminary,

I served the church in Palmyra,

One of four churches on four corners.

The United Methodist sign was prominent and easy to read by drivers waiting at the stop light.

I had posted on the sign a cute, catchy phrase:

“Bible and Family Values”.

After hearing these words of Jesus in Luke 12

I now see how ineffective this casual slogan was.

Conflicting promises don’t sell and can never be kept.

“I’ve come to bring fire!” Jesus pronounces,

And “How I wish it were already kindled!” (12:49)

It’s as if Jesus is eager to bring judgment,

Blame and shame to the world.

 

Jesus isn’t blaming and shaming you,

And neither am I.

My goodness,

I’ve only been on the job here in Rush for six weeks.

Were just getting to know one another!

 

A little context.

 

Jesus is in the same setting as last Sunday;

Teaching the crowds and his disciples on his way to Jerusalem.

Remember how he began last week:

“Do not be afraid, little flock,

For it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (12:32)

Today, Jesus is calling in fire!

 

How does one reconcile such neck snapping changes in his mood?

 

Let’s talk about fire.

 

Our Euro-centric, affluent, Protestant culture

Has brought to the Lord and his kingdom many wonderful advances;

At the same time it has limited and constrained our world view.

Our blinders make it difficult to recognize the unintended consequences of well meaning actions.

Fire is a great example.

 

We hear Jesus bringing fire and many of us

Immediately jump to the conclusion

That it is God intense desire to smote sinners.

Napalm ‘em.

Hell fire.

Brimstone.

Judgment.

Destruction.

Retribution.

Sinners go to hell.

The righteous go to heaven.

Tic, Toc.

Black, white.

Thumbs up. Thumbs down.

 

In referring to preachers who deliver this type shame, blame, and pain message week after week,

My father-in-law was fond of saying

“She/He suffers from a poor theological education.”

Others just call it bad theology.

 

I’d suggest a belief in a God of destruction, judgment, and retribution

Is simply undeveloped and uninformed;

Absent of the grace and love found in

A fully developed scriptural understanding

Of God’s role in salvation history.

 

Fire.

Remember these words from Exodus,

“At the morning watch the Lord

In the pillar of fire and cloud

Looked down upon the Egyptian army,

And threw the Egyptian army into panic.” (Exodus 14:24)

 

Also, from Exodus,

“Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently.” (Exodus 19:18)

 

Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“See, the name of the Lord comes from far away,

   burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke;

his lips are full of indignation,

   and his tongue is like a devouring fire”. (Isaiah 30:27)

 

Recall the prophet Jeremiah,

“Is not my word like fire, says the Lord,

and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29)

 

I’d suggest

When Jesus calls down fire upon the earth and

Wish it were already kindled

He is calling down

The presence of God, to a godless world;

The power of God, to effect change in the face of resistance;

The persistence of God, to ensure unrighteousness, idolatry, and injustice can not stand,

Will not be tolerated,

In God’s presence.

 

Calling down God is

Our Lord’s deepest desire for

The well being of the world.

Jesus is calling down God and

That’s going to break up some families.

 

For members of the family that actively resist the Lord,

Those who lust after power, possessions, and embrace the evil powers of this world,

This is really bad news.

 

There is no unity;

In fact, calls for unity at all costs should never be trusted.

There is no compromise.

There can be no harmony

With darkness.

 

Christ divides us from the Devil and his followers.

In this case, division is a good thing.

Choose carefully those with whom you associate and

Those who need to be kept at arms length.

Watch for those drawn to Christ.

Buddy up with them.

 

Christ’s divisive nature doesn’t mean Jesus is opposed to peace.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

I quickly count twelve citations in the Gospel of Luke

(There may be more)

Where Jesus brings the peace.

 

Being separated from all that is evil

Frees us from temptation,

Releases us from every sin that enslaves us, and

Brings about the transformation of the world,

The emergence of God’s kingdom.

 

Jesus is calling down God and

That’s going to divide households.

For members of the family that fail to actively prepare for our Master to return, this is a wake up call.

Repent.

Light your lamps.

Keep awake.

Watch.

Wait for the Lord.

 

God’s presence and fire

sheds light

On the division that is already among us.

 

The house is already divided.

Have we not seen?

Have we not heard?

A country divided.

A denomination divided.

A church divided.

This is the temptation:

That each of us think we are right about every divisive issue.

Anyone who thinks otherwise

Becomes a threat,

A source of fear,

The focus of contempt.

 

Human arrogance and pride draw us into the vortex of darkness.

 

Light your lamp and trim your wick.

The presence and light of God,

In the words and actions of Jesus,

Saves us from the darkness.

 

God’s ways and will is far more expansive than our limited world view.

God plan exceeds our life span,

Our generation,

Always arcing upward.

God’s salvation history that has yet to be written

Is transforming the world one heartbeat at a time

Into the kingdom of God.

 

Jesus is calling down God and

That’s going to bring division.

 

For members of the family that follow Jesus, and actively strive to follow his word, will, and way,

Have no fear.

 

Do not be afraid, little flock.

 

Jesus knew that

Following him

Would divide people from those

Who wanted to remain waiting for their Messiah.

Following Jesus would split people from their synagogue, and

Require them to join up and create new communities of faith.

And so it did.

And so it does, to this day.

 

In an ironic kind of way,

The Church multiplies by division.

Division is now and will be until the time

When our Master returns and we hear:

“Time is up.

Put down your pencil.”

 

Preparation is everything.

Take nothing for granted.

The clock will one day run out.

 

Do not be afraid, little flock.

 

It’s not like none of us have ever dealt with dysfunction in our families.

Everyone has a closet full of skeletons.

Secrets love the darkness and

Secrets are always a sign and symptom of dysfunction.

By the power and presence of God we can overcome!

We can shed light on darkness,

And bring healing to the broken.

 

But how?

The broken don’t heal themselves.

 

Allow me to be crystal clear.

I can’t fix broken relationships.

Neither am I anyone’s Savior.

Like John the Baptist,

I can only point to the Way.

The only pathway to healing

Is unity with Jesus Christ,

Our Lord, and our Savior.

 

By his blood, we are healed.

Because of his resurrection, we are saved.

Jesus is the only place in the cosmic order

Where unity can be found.

 

 

Do not be afraid.

Be prepared.

Walk in the presence of God’s fire.

The pathway of God’s kingdom

May be difficult.

At least we follow the One who knows the way!

Amen.

“Our Father’s Good Pleasure”

Luke 12:32-40

11 August 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

1

Luke 12:32-40

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

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

 

Prayer.

 

Fear is a powerful motivator.

Fear has been a tool of many:

Nations, dictators, and their military,

Law enforcement and criminal justice,

Schools, nuns and principals, even

Organized religion.

 

Fear of going to hell

Has been effectively defining what is

and what isn’t

acceptable behavior

For Catholic and Christian Conservative cousins

For centuries.

 

Hell and damnation

Drove the Church to the

Altar of indulgences, and to the

Golden calf of wealth.

 

Two early Church Fathers,

St. Athanasius and St. John Chrysostom,

Are credited with the observation that

“The pathway to hell is paved with the skulls of priests.”

 

Clergy who fail to take notice of these words are either ignorant or dead.

This is the humble fear I experience

Every time I place the yoke of the ordination stole

On my shoulders and around my neck.

Many long for the benefits of ordination;

Few recognize the deadly risks and dangers.

Crucifixion is for keeps.

 

Fear is a two-sided actor performing on the stage of life.

 

The positive results of fear include

A fight or flight neurochemical response that serves self-preservation.

Healthy fear contributes to

Discipline and conformity.

Healthy fear leads to faithful diligence.

 

There are some negative, unintended consequences of fear.

Chronic fear can lead to normalization;

Eventually, the adrenalin rush just wears off.

We let our guard down and in rush the wolves.

 

Fear can drive people over the edge.

People can be pushed an inch too far,

Throw in the towel and just walk away.

 

Fear can lead to decline and failure.

Empty are the cathedrals of Europe and

Many mainline churches in America.

 

Jesus,

In the Gospel of Luke

Begs us to ask the deeply existential question,

 

“What is it that we fear?”

 

What do you fear?

Aging, disease, suffering, death?

The safety of loved ones? Yourself?

Running out of money?

The humiliation of getting fired, caught, or dropping down the socio-economic ladder?

 

What do we fear as the Rush United Methodist Church?

Decline in membership or attendance?

Not able to pay our bills? Raise enough money? Keep the property in repair?

Disengagement from missions and ministries that are central to our culture, identity, and faith?

Division in the denomination that demands a divided and contentious response?

 

What is it that we fear?

 

When we peel back the lid containing our deepest fears

And honestly examine what we find,

The Gospel sings the tender assurance of Jesus saying,

 

“Do not be afraid, little flock.” (12:32)

 

Do not be afraid,

Jesus echoes the familiar reframe of Old Testament / Hebrew prophets;

Casting the tapestry for his audience

(including all of us here today)

Of our Heavenly Father’s greatest characteristics.

 

Be assured

 

It is God’s desire to give us God’s greatest gift;

His kingdom.

So, here’s the deal:

God good pleasure is to give us his kingdom.

The King wants to give his servants everything!

Have you ever heard of that?!!!

 

Therefore, we need of nothing.

Baptism claims our status as citizens of God’s kingdom.

We need nothing of this world

Other than a connection with God,

A personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

 

Kingdom living isn’t about obtaining more;

God is already giving us everything.

Kingdom living is all about being good managers,

Good stewards,

Of what God has already given.

 

Kingdom living is abundant living.

The grace and love of God,

Demonstrated through the words and deeds of Jesus,

Meets our needs and

Exceeds our needs!

God’s grace and love floods into our life,

Spilling over into our neighbor’s lives;

Floating us from this life

To the life that is to come.

 

Christian discipleship is living in a seller’s market.

Sell possessions, Jesus tells us. (12:33)

They’re distracting.

We don’t need them, anyways.

 

Give alms, Jesus tells us. (12:33)

Alms are gifts of charity to the poor.

When giving to the poor,

There is no expectation of reciprocity.

The poor can’t pay you back.

Nor should they.

 

Sell, and it’s gone.

Give. No strings attached.

Give it away and don’t expect anything to be returned.

 

Kingdom living radically separates us

From the wealth and possessions of this world

And ropes us into relationship with our neighbors,

Specifically, our poorest neighbors,

In God’s kingdom world.

 

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” Jesus correctly observes. (12:34)

 

I never knew how many Subaru Outbacks there were on the road

Until I bought one of my own.

Now, that’s all I see.

It seems like everyone is driving an Outback!

 

In a similar way,

Jesus recognizes that when we

Use the proceeds from our garage sales and

Give the proceeds to the poor,

Our heart follows.

 

The heart follows the gift.

 

We begin to notice the poor more.

We begin to see the poverty that was always present,

But it was the (Jesus directed) gift of charity

That removed the scales from our eyes.

 

Invest in charity,

Time, talent, money, and

God’s kingdom comes into laser focus.

The kingdom reveals itself.

Our heart follows and is forever the Lord’s.

 

When Luke knits this all together with

This simple parable about the unexpected return of the master

There is revealed in today’s Gospel one additional essential truth about God:

 

Faithful discipleship demands diligence.

 

Waiting is not idling.

Waiting is firing on all cylinders,

Revving the engine,

Kicking in the turbocharger,

Popping the clutch, and

Squealing the tires.

 

Waiting is working with diligence,

Taking the best care of the Kingdom we’ve already been given.

Waiting means leading by serving,

Serving those who would otherwise be expected to serve and

Serving those who could never repay you.

 

Faithful diligence in kingdom living

Removes the fear of the unexpected return of Jesus

And the outcome of our forthcoming judgment.

Fear of judgment is gone!

 

“Do not be afraid, little flock,” Jesus said.

God is happy to give you everything.

God is giving us his kingdom.

It’s up to us to take care of it.

Amen.