“Consider the Stakes Raised”

Matthew 5:21-37

16 February 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Matthew 5:21-37 (NRSV)

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

1

Prayer.

 

Jesus pours on the pressure

With this third act

Of his Sermon on the Mount.

 

The Sermon on the Mount

Is bedrock material for Jesus.

He is outlining foundational values

Upon which God’s kingdom can be advanced.

 

Jesus is giving us a glimpse of what life looks like

As his faithful disciples,

Discerning and following God’s will.

The Sermon on the Mount is a description of

What it is like to live a full, meaningful, purposeful life in Christ.

 

 

The opening act of the Sermon on the Mount were the Beatitudes.

The Beatitudes are a great start, right out of the gate:

Jesus teaches the crowds that

God’s favor rests upon those society rejects:

The wretched, despised, and poor.

 

The Beatitudes conclude with a dose of harsh reality:

Life lived in God’s kingdom will result in people reviling and persecuting you.

If you’re not getting push-back and eye-rolls for following Jesus,

If you’re not on getting unfriended, the cold shoulder, or outright persecution because of your faith,

You’re probably not doing it right.

 

Weigh the risks and rewards,

Danger and opportunity, and

Make your decision.

As for me and my house,

We’ll follow Jesus, love God, and love our neighbors, and

Let the chips fall where they may.

 

 

Last Sunday was the Sermon on the Mount’s second act.

The substance was bold.

Be bold for Jesus and his message!

Be salty in your witness, mission, and ministry.

Shine the light of Jesus that all the world might see.

Jesus cannot be hidden

Anymore than a city on a hill can be hidden.

If you’ve got Jesus, flaunt it.

Wear it like Wendy.

Go big or go home.

 

Jesus follows up teaching about salt and light

With a transitional narrative that serves as a pivot,

An essential set-up,

For today’s third act.

Jesus sets the stage with a discussion about the Law and prophets.

The crowd would have been intensely interested in

Christ’s position on the nature of the Law of Moses,

The Ten Commandments, and all their supportive laws and ordinances from Deuteronomy.

 

What’s his policy?

 

Is Jesus the teacher and healer the One?

… the One sent by God,

… the One anointed to be a savior, liberator, redeemer of the Jewish people?

Is Jesus

God’s personal selection

To reign as the Jewish king during the Messianic Age and the world to come?

Just like primary voters from Gobbler’s Notch

People wanted to know where Jesus stood and what he believed.

 

How would Jesus rule? The Jewish crowd wanted to know.

Was God going to do a new thing?

Perhaps replace the Law of Moses with a new Law? Or

Would Jesus enforce the Law as it had been given?

 

Jesus clearly states his position:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (5:17-18)

The Law stands.

 

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (5:20)

Jesus intends to expand, intensify, and amplify the Law.

 

Jesus wants his happy meal, and he wants it super-sized.

 

Jesus has come to fulfill the Law: this means righteous adherence is our goal.

In the case of his next three topics:

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not bear false witness.

No lying, cheating, or killing.

Any questions?

Get to work.

 

That’s the happy meal, but Jesus wants it super-sized.

The third act of the Sermon on the Mount

Is Jesus expanding, interpreting, and intensifying these three basic commandments.

 

 

Thou shall not kill.

Righteous adherence seems obvious.

Either you do, or you don’t.

Few things are more binary than life or death.

If you’re not a murderer, you’ve kept the commandment, and

You win a gold star.

 

Wait a minute; Jesus has more.

The commandment isn’t just about physical life or death,

It’s about the relationship you and I have with each other.

Angry? You’re liable to God’s judgment.

Insulting? You’re going to get dragged before the church council.

Call someone a fool, and you better get used to the fires of hell.

 

In other words

Killing a brother or sister with anger, insults, or treating them like a fool,

Is just as bad as if you murdered them in cold blood.

Don’t do it.

 

That’s the super-size.

God’s grace follows, however, with the solution Jesus lays before us:

Reconcile with your brother or sister before you approach the altar and Divine Judge.

Reconciliation is as good as resurrection from the dead.

Reconciliation repairs and restores mortal wounds.

 

Using the justice system as a teaching metaphor,

Settle out of court, Jesus teaches.

Failure to reconcile before you get to the judge

Will result in being thrown in prison

Until reconciliation is made.

 

And you thought being quarantined in your stateroom for two months

for the Coronavirus was bad!

Being locked in the same cell

With the one you’ve killed with a poisonous tongue and poor treatment

Is my definition of hell.

The only key to unlock the cell door is called reconciliation.

Hell is a great incentive for getting down to business and

Living according to the will of Jesus.

 

Don’t kill.

Likewise, reconcile before you get to the altar and face our heavenly Father.

Check your anger at the door.

Learn to hold the tongue.

Don’t call or treat anyone like a fool.

Reconcile early and often.

 

 

Let’s have a candid talk about adultery.

You heard me right.

Adultery.

Don’t do it.

 

Adultery is defined as

“voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse.” (Google)

Like murder, adultery appears to be a binary affair;

Either one engages in adultery or one doesn’t.

Righteous adherence is the standard Moses came down the mountain with.

Stick true to the vows made at your marriage,

In front of your family, friends, and pastor.

Keep your word;

The vows made before God Almighty,

And you’re good to go.

You win a second gold star.

 

Wait a minute; Jesus demands more.

Jesus super sizes the commandment and raises the bar of expectation.

Look with lust, and the heart commits adultery.

Look with lust, and you’re as guilty as Jimmy Carter working his peanut farm.

 

As a life-long United Methodist,

I’m waiting for Jesus to deliver his characteristic follow-up dose of grace.

It just doesn’t come.

Not here, anyways.

It’s better to cut off an offending hand or pluck out an offending eye

Than to go into hell.

Yikes.

 

Jesus is talking a lot about hell, here.

Kind of makes us want to pay attention.

 

But, there’s more here than meets the eye.

Responsibility is shifted from the social norm of the woman

And placed solely on the shoulder of the perpetrator of adultery.

In a patriarchal society,

Men are now being called accountable for their actions, and

Women victims, Jesus is declaring, are no longer subjected to blame or humiliation.

Women are not objects, Jesus teaches.

Women are children of God,

made in the Creator’s image, and

are to be treated with the same respect.

 

Jesus shakes the snow globe and turns the whole male dominated world upside down.

 

Men: you don’t like it that Jesus favors women?

Get over it.

He favors the poor, the meek, the hungry, and the peacemakers, too.

 

You thought he was done?

Jesus is just getting started.

 

Like completing a check list

Jesus super sizes Deuteronomy 24,

Which explicitly lays down the law on divorce.

This is where the preacher pauses for effect and

half the congregation shifts nervously in the pews!

 

According to scripture,

A certificate of divorce was required

as a means of protecting women and children

From being discarded and destitute

For something as simple as “being objectionable.”

 

Divorce was, and remains, a reality.

Jesus was focused not so much on divorce as he was on remarriage.

 

Jesus takes divorce and elevates it to

the higher standard he just established for adultery.

Divorce pressures the x-wife to commit adultery by the assumption that she must marry again.

Marry and live in adultery or live homeless and starve with your children?

Talk about being caged in a corner.

You know what Jesus says about causing another to sin?

It would be better to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned. (18:6)

 

Divorce, Jesus teaches, equates with adultery,

With only one exception …

… if she is the one guilty of unchastity.

In other words,

Women, you’re not off the hook.

There’s no free pass for adultery, for men or women.

 

Adultery and divorce, we know,

Results in broken families and ruined communities.

Jesus would rather have us blind or an amputee

Than to have us crawl into the hell of adultery or divorce.

 

Adultery rots the heart.

It’s impossible to have the heart of Christ if it’s rotten to the core.

 

Avert the eyes.

Discipline personal behavior.

Honor your vows and treat your spouse with love and respect.

These are teachable skills.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

Marriage takes work.

It is possible to improve.

Practice makes perfect.

Jesus expects his disciples to improve.

It is possible to rise to the high standard Jesus sets.

 

Life in a healthy marriage and a loving, healthy family

Is to taste the joy of living a life fully in Christ Jesus.

 

 

Lastly, for today,

Jesus speaks about swearing an oath and keeping your word.

 

Granted, the language here is difficult.

The cultural context in the time of Jesus for swearing oaths is uncertain.

No translation does the text justice.

But, let me give it a try.

 

First, don’t lie.

This is consistent with the Commandment prohibiting one from bearing false witness.

Resist the temptation to justify lying words with phrases like

“fake news”

“alternate facts”

“it’s just a little white lie”

“everyone does it”.

 

Conversely, tell the truth.

Always, without exception, tell the truth.

Speak truth when it’s easy.

Speak truth when it’s hard.

Speak truth to power, even when you’re so scared

It feels like your legs won’t hold you.

Create your life narrative as

one who was always known

to be honest and true.

 

Truth is a high standard.

Jesus raises the bar.

He super sizes the commandment about honesty

With the directive to

“carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” (5:33b)

 

In other words,

Keep your word.

Keep your promises.

Follow through is the new gold standard.

Follow through with behavior that is consistent with your words.

 

Inconsistency is hypocrisy.

Promises unkept

Undermines trust,

Corrodes integrity, and

Damages relationships.

 

Avoid the trap of dishonesty and hypocrisy

By keeping promises modest.

Make promises that have a low risk of failure and a high degree of success.

 

This places a high priority on knowing our boundaries and keeping them.

This requires a commitment to the self-examined life and

A growing, maturing relationship with Jesus Christ.

 

 

Jesus takes the Law

And sets the bar higher.

In his Sermon on the Mount,

Jesus will press the limits on issues of

Retaliation, loving enemies, giving to the poor, prayer, fasting, and wealth.

Jesus will amplify the Law when it comes to

Fidelity to God, anxiety, judging others, profanity, and living according to the Golden Rule.

 

The standards are set

such that, pretty much,

everyone is convicted by sin

and in need of redemption.

 

We are given a vision of how wonderful a life can be when its lived in Jesus Christ.

The only way to get to this abundant life is through

Personal repentance,

Accountable behavior,

Inter-personal reconciliation, and

the redemption Jesus offers by his cross.

 

Indeed, the blood of the cross washes us clean.

 

Repentance.

Reconciliation.

This is a tall order.

It’s a long, but necessary reach,

That we are taught and called to complete.

 

Amen.

“Salt and Light”

Isaiah 58:3-9a and Matthew 5:13-20

Epiphany 5, Year A, 9 February 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Matthew 5:13-20

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

1

Prayer

 

Just for a moment

Lick your lips.

(Not your neighbor’s lips! Lick your own lips!)

 

How do you taste?

Taste pretty good?

I want you to remember this question throughout this morning’s message:

“How do you taste?”

 

One fallacy in the church

is the notion that

the church should be a place of peace at all costs.

Peace …

… at all cost.

That the church should not take controversial stands.

The church should be a place

where every effort should be made to

Keep Calm and carry on,

Still all troubled waters.

 

Whenever there is a problem the default is to go to the pastor

to restore peace,

and if possible, to

do it without loosing any members or,

God forbid,

with out loosing any large givers!

 

But I challenge this assumption.

In our Gospel lesson for this morning,

Jesus tells us in his Sermon on the Mount

that if the salt has lost its flavor,

throw it out!

 

Salt isn’t worth anything

if it doesn’t have taste to it.

Neither is the church worth anything

if it is only in the business of

preserving members and major donors, or calming troubled waters.

 

For peace can only be Christian

if it walks hand in hand with justice.

If there is no justice, there is no peace.

Peace in the absence of justice

becomes oppressive and

a breeding ground for evil.

 

“How do you taste?”

 

President Erdogan of Turkey,

Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un of North Korea,

Supreme Leader Khamenei of Iran, and

President of Russia Vladimir Putin

Have all been keeping a tight lid on peace for years;

But at what price?

The price of justice.

This progressive lack of justice

Brews volatility and discontent among the population.

 

Despots and dictators are easy targets;

Do we risk thinking closer to home?

Or would that crack open the lid of partisan politics,

Upsetting social issues,

Or the topic of potential controversial denominational division?

 

Peace without justice is sinful;

especially when justice is withheld for the purpose of

self-promotion,

consolidating power, or

amassing wealth.

 

Peace without justice is sinful.

Jesus is calling his disciples to

stand up, speak out, and speak truth to power.

 

“How do you taste?”

 

The Gospel calls Christians to stand fearlessly in the face of injustice.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is upsetting,

especially if – God forbid – we are the ones responsible for the injustice .

 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

brings with it suffering and pain.

While the baby Jesus was born the Prince of Peace,

The Light of the World,

the Lord of Love,

King Herod was slaughtering baby children across Judea.

Try telling one of the grieving mothers that

their child was killed

in the name of peace!

 

The danger that we face as a Church

is the same danger which we face individually;

We face the danger of loosing our saltiness.

 

If we fail to speak up and act out against injustice

for fear of rocking the boat or disturbing the peace,

then we, too, have fallen to the power of sin, and we walk away

Condemned by our silence.

 

To not take a stand against injustice,

to not share the revolutionary, controversial nature of the Gospel,

to not completely give ourselves over to Jesus Christ

means that we

cover our light,

lose our saltiness, and

surrender to irrelevance.

We begin to stink of stagnation.

 

“How do you taste?”

Or, perhaps, I should ask “How do you smell?”

 

And, baby, does the Church ever know how to stagnate!

Unfortunately, to stagnate is to die;

A long painful death.

 

It’s easy to die, everyone does it.

 

But it takes courage and conviction

and willpower and confidence

and belief and faith

to turn the ship around!

To embrace resurrection!

 

“How do you taste?”

 

To live and grow in the light of Jesus is hard!

To spread the Good News of Jesus Christ is risky!

To speak out against injustice, oppression, discrimination,

and to do so in a crowd, is tough.

 

But if we don’t do it, what do we have?

What have we become?

To follow Jesus is to be salty!

Salt without flavor is nothing more than grit, and needs thrown out.

 

To seek repentance,

to take a stand against sin in our own life,

makes us vulnerable before God.

But if we don’t do it, what do we have?

What have we become?

 

Let the light of Jesus shine!

Discipleship reflects the light of Jesus to all the world.

Light hidden underneath a bushel isn’t of any use to anyone.

 

To tell a friend that Jesus Christ is the Lord of my life

puts me at risk of loosing them as my friend.

But without risking that friendship,

Friendship isn’t worth a plug nickel.

Friendship demands a mutual respect of faith, both unique and shared.

 

If the church doesn’t stand fast,

Deeply rooted on the Gospel of Jesus Christ,

if WE don’t stand fast in our convictions,

then we will face the same problem the Jews had

when they were in Babylonian exile.

 

We hear the prophet Isaiah

asking the question this morning in Isaiah 58,

“Why do we fast?”

 

It had become quite the stylish thing to do:

to fast,

to go without eating for an extended period of time.

People had forgotten what fasting was all about.

Going without food had

become an exercise in false humility.

It had become a means of oppression,

quarreling and fighting.

 

Look at me everyone!

I’m going without food for an entire day!”

To which Isaiah asks, “Why do you fast?”

 

Had it been Jesus, he would throw them out.

Salt without flavor is worthless and should be tossed.

Nothing is gained in life if

we only seek our self-promotion or pleasure,

if we seek only to increase our wealth or status,

if we turn our back on our neighbors in need

if we fail to right injustice

wherever and whenever injustice is uncovered.

 

Hear the words of Isaiah again:

 

“Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of wickedness

to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,

and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover them,

and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”

 

It is tasteless to be selfish,

it is favorable to deny the self.

 

It is to be without flavor to look out for number one,

it is salty to place the needs of others before our own needs.

 

It is bland to love yourself,

it is rich and fruitful to love our neighbors.

 

It is dull to be served,

it is fulfilling to serve others.

 

Everyone loves their family and friends.

 

Loving your enemy is like biting into a chili pepper!

 

“How do you taste?”

I pray you’re spicy as Tabasco.

 

For the church to grow, indeed,

for you and I to spiritually mature,

we are called to replace our bland, tasteless, dull lives

with bite!

With flavor!

 

God calls on us to stand boldly against

Injustice and oppression.

This is our baptismal vow!

 

God calls on us to take risks in his name,

to let our light shine for all to see,

to not only speak out

but to act out

promoting God’s desire for social justice.

We are swimming in an environment of injustice,

if only we are willing to see, learn, and understand.

 

The despair of injustice is all around us.

Perhaps we are a part of it.

The call is before us,

to have some taste,

to take a stand,

to be willing to risk all that we are;

that peace and justice may become one,

… shalom …

here, and in every land.

 

The secret is in trusting God

that controversy,

no matter what it is,

will not weaken our relationship with Jesus,

nor will it consume us.

 

Eucharist is the substance of this trust.

The bread and cup unites us

even when we are divided by opinion.

 

The power of the sacrificial meal far surpasses

any issue or controversy

that threatens to divide us.

 

It’s risky to speak out.

It’s far easier to have no taste;

to be content with the way things are.

 

But God calls us to

upset the world,

to shake this snow globe,

to turn the world on its head with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

 

God sometimes calls us into ventures and places

that are uncomfortable,

where we don’t want to go,

but that is where faith leads us.

 

Our hope and trust must

be in the sacrificial meal,

that the bread and cup keep us united

in the love and power of Jesus.

This unity will shepherd us through

all of life’s most challenging issues.

 

So, how do you taste this morning?

Do you taste salty?

Are you willing to take a risk?

Are you ready to place your trust in Christ?

 

If you are, come to the table

And feast upon the meal which has been spread just for you.

The Word of our Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

“Blessed”

Matthew 5:1-12

February 2, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

  • “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
  • “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
  • “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
  • “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
  • “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
  • “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
  • “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

1

Prayer.

 

Many things motivate human behavior:

Safety,

Security,

Food and clothing,

These are essential because they are related to survival.

Power,

Money,

Sex

Might be considered the hard motivators.

Love,

Acceptance,

And forgiveness

Might be thought of as soft motivators.

Hard or soft, they are equal motivators of human behavior.

 

Today’s gospel

– The Beatitudes –

Are all about acceptance,

One of the soft motivators of human behavior;

In the larger context of the kingdom of God.

 

Who is accepted?

How are they accepted?

And what does acceptance mean

Especially when it relates to identity:

Who I am (as an individual),

Who we are (as members of a community),

And how we all fit in (to assimilate).

 

The Beatitudes describe what the new kingdom looks like;

Not defined by geography or boarders or length of reign,

Like old kingdoms.

Rather, the Beatitudes outline God’s plan

That his kingdom will be defined by people,

Children of God,

Accepted and blessed.

 

When you experience the Gospel of Matthew, think Moses.

The parallel of Jesus with Moses is intentional.

Through sign, symbol and story

Matthew makes great effort

Here and throughout his Gospel,

To identify Jesus as the Messiah for the new age.

 

Jesus is the new Moses, and more.

Grace becomes the new standard for judgment and punishment under the Law.

Salvation wins over death and damnation.

Jesus bring liberty to the poor, the meek, and the hungry.

 

Let’s look at the parallels.

Just as Moses’ birth was foretold by an angel in a dream;

So too is the birth of Jesus announced by an angel in a dream.

Just as Moses was threatened by a wicked king,

So too is Jesus.

 

Just as Moses is rejected by his own people,

Comes out of Egypt,

Passes through the water,

Is tested in the wilderness,

Ascends a great mountain,

And gives great commands;

So too does Jesus.

 

The mountain is a place of God’s revelation:

For Moses, the identify of a new people,

A new kingdom of Israel.

For Jesus, the Beatitudes proclaim

A new kingdom of God

With Christ as the center.

Today we make the developmental transition

From Moses on Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments

To Jesus on the Mount proclaiming Blessings.

 

Matthew reported in the fourth chapter that

Jesus had been drawing a crowd.

Not just one crowd,

Many crowds throughout Galilee,

Where he had been teaching in synagogues,

Proclaiming the good news of the kingdom,

Healing every person with disease or illness,

Inspiring loved ones of everyone he healed;

Family members and friends.

 

Jesus was the original traveling salvation show,

Complete with miraculous, dramatic, healing.

Nothing draws a crowd quite like a healing preacher!

 

Miracles drew them in.

Proclaiming the good news of the kingdom

was winning them over.

Teaching them his will and his ways

was preparing the crowds for the future.

Disease, deformity, or chronic illness meant exclusion

From family, neighbors, community, and faith.

It was associated with sin and punishment.

“You or your mother or father must have sinned

To result in your punished, unclean state.”

 

Unclean meant being

Socially isolated from family and friends,

Sent to beg outside of the protection of the city or village walls,

Left to twist in the wind.

 

Healing was the solution.

Healing allows the unclean to go before the priest

And be made clean once again.

Healing would bring reunification with family.

Healing would bring acceptance by the larger community.

This is what motivated the crowds …

… crowds composed of the excluded, the unclean, and their family members.

This is what motivated the crowds

To follow and enthusiastically gather wherever Jesus visited.

 

Today, Jesus leaves the crowds behind.

Jesus takes the first four chosen disciples up the mountain

Andrew and Peter, James and John.

He takes them up the mountain

For a time of instruction.

Don’t worry about the other 8 disciples who would soon follow.

Like every good preacher,

We believe Jesus recycled this most important sermon material.

Those who followed would have their opportunity for freshman orientation.

 

They climb a mountain,

Quite possibly Mt. Tabor,

Where they would have had an expansive view of the plane of Armageddon,

The place of final judgement,

Where battles had been fought for millennia

Resulting in winners or losers,

The quick and the dead.

Jesus stood below his disciples, as a teacher would in a lecture hall.

The backdrop behind Jesus was all about judgment.

Judgment was symbolically laid out before the disciples’ feet,

Lying on the valley floor down below.

 

On the mountain

The Beatitudes are a lesson taught in context

Of the crowds that Jesus had just been engaged with across Galilee.

When Jesus is speaking about the poor in spirit,

Those who mourn

The meek,

And those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

He is speaking about the last, the least, the lost, the left behind.

He is speaking about the most vulnerable, the unclean,

Those broken by life and

Those who had been left for dead.

 

What was expected was a pronouncement of judgment,

As Moses might have done;

As the valley behind Jesus certainly suggested.

The disciples expected judgment.

The wretched, unclean people in the crowds must have sinned,

Must have violated Moses and the Law.

 

What Jesus did was something altogether different:

Instead of condemning the poor, meek, mourning, and hungry,

Jesus names them as blessed.

 

Blessed.

Can you hear the gasps?

Can you hear the word “blessed” ring,

As rightly it should?

 

What does blessed mean?

A few thoughts:

 

Blessed does not mean holy.

Flawed people are people.

By the way

All people are flawed.

By the way

None of us are holy.

 

Blessed does not mean happy.

There is no joy in being segregated.

There is no joy in begging.

There is no joy in being isolated.

Being blessed doesn’t make one happy.

Neither does blessed mean being successful.

 

Blessed means being favored by God.

 

The kingdom of God going forward will be filled with those God favors.

God favors those who are need of a hand;

A hand out and a hand up.

God favors those who cannot care for themselves,

Who are dependent upon others.

Today, think of the elderly.

Think of children.

Think of those who, through no fault of their own, are disabled.

Think of those who are ill or dying.

Think of that single mom trying to raise her son or daughter

While taking care of elderly parent who may need to go in the nursing home.

 

These are whom God favors.

 

But what about the rest of us? You may ask?

Are we being left out or left behind?

Are we condemned to live by Moses and the Law

Simply because we aren’t dependent,

We aren’t in need,

We aren’t poor?

Are we accepted, too?

 

Ah, yes, Jesus has room for the rest of us

If we so choose.

God also favors those who lend a hand;

Those who share generously from their hands,

And those who are committed to walking hand in hand

As neighbors and friends of the kingdom.

 

Blessed are the merciful.

You have God’s favor when you act with mercy,

When you react with empathy,

When you behave with kindness,

And when you open your heart

To the suffering of the world.

Great suffering surrounds us.

Respond with mercy

And live in God’s favor.

 

Blessed are the pure in heart.

You have God’s favor when you act with pure and transparent motives.

God favors those who promote others, not themselves.

God favors those who serve others, not those who serve themselves.

God favors those who act simply as an agent of God’s love.

Service is the hallmark of Christian leadership.

As reminded by the prophet Micah

Serve humbly,

But decisively,

In the name of Jesus

And live in God’s favor.

 

Blessed are the peacemakers.

God favors those who make peace, not those who provoke war.

God favors those who strive to live in peace, not those who incite violence.

God favors those who live in peace, because they are committed to justice

For all God’s children.

 

So you who are merciful, and pure, and peacemakers,

You’re favored by God, too!

Woot!

Woot!

 

The Beatitudes are about being

Accepted,

Favored,

Included,

In the kingdom of God.

 

I know it sounds very utopian.

Yet, it is the perfection to which Jesus is calling each of his disciples;

Every member of his fellowship.

God’s kingdom may be now,

But it is still yet to be.

The kingdom of God may sound like it’s filled with love and buttercups,

And it may very well be.

Yet, it comes with a warning.

 

The bookend Beatitude warns those who strive to find God’s favor,

Who strive for acceptance,

Who long to be included,

Will also face persecution.

People who love the darkness

Will revile you.

People who hate the light

Will utter all kinds of evil against you.

People who oppose God and

The plan that God has for his children

Will lie, and will do so falsely using the name of Jesus.

 

I have found this to be true.

Heed his warning and weigh the risks.

For me, I choose to be a part of Christ’s fellowship

And to weather the slings and arrows.

In spite of persecution

I will be one who will reach out my hand

To those who need a hand.

This is what it means to be blessed

And to be surrounded with those favored by God.

Won’t you join me?

 

Amen.

“Come and See”

John 1:29-42, 19 January 2020

the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

John 1:29-42

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

 

The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

 

Prayer.

 

John’s witness is powerful.

His power comes from his contacts,

his network,

his disciples.

When John speaks

people listen.

 

For years

John had been a phenom;

preaching in the wilderness,

educating his followers to

watch and wait for the Messiah yet to be revealed,

and baptizing those who repent of their sins.

 

Thousands were drawn down from Jerusalem to the Jordan River

outside of Jericho

in the wilderness

to see,

to witness,

John’s mission

and listen to his testimony.

 

Of the thousands drawn by John,

hundreds stayed and become his disciples.

These followers will become key

in the hand-off from John to Jesus.

 

When one became a disciple of a Rabbi back in the day,

they agreed to become yoked to him,

literally, yoked by a symbolic stole given out by the Rabbi.

 

To be yoked meant that the disciple was committed

to learn everything possible from that master,

to become exactly like him.

 

To be yoked meant they had to be literate.

Only the smartest of the smart were able to read and write.

Values and beliefs were taught by reading, writing, question and answers.

 

It takes years of apprenticeship to become a Rabbi.

The goal is to learn how to interpret Holy scripture

exactly like your master.

The student was required to share the same

values, beliefs, and world view as the Rabbi they followed.

This is, indeed, the nature of rabbinical education.

 

Education began with rote memorization and transcribing sacred texts.

The yoked student would be asked questions by the Rabbi.

The ensuing discussion would

Report what the student learned and

Testify what he had experienced.

 

In time

The disciple becomes a Rabbi in their own right,

when, after years of learning and experience,

their life becomes a mirror image of their master.

 

3

 

Disciples are known,

find their identity,

by their master. 

 

Let us ask ourselves …

Am I known as a disciple of Jesus?

Have I learned everything I can about him?

Have I spoken and conducted myself

to the best of my ability

as a mirror image of Jesus Christ?

 

……

 

John is teaching his rabbinical students today

and in walks Jesus.

John proclaims Jesus is his greater successor.

He witnessed about the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ baptism

and testified to hearing the voice of God.

 

John concludes with his informed, professional opinion:

Jesus is the Messiah,

The Son of God.

 

1. The first step in a life of Christ centered discipleship

is responding to proclamation and witness.

This is Jesus,

the Son of God.

Follow him.

 

This is where it gets dicey.

To follow Christ means we take off the yoke

we’ve previously been wearing.

We must walk away

from the one who has given us our values,

identity,

beliefs,

and experience.

 

Just as John’s disciples

would have to leave John to follow Jesus,

so, too, must today’s Christ followers

walk away from everything that has given meaning in the past.

 

John proclaims “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

The sin of which John references

is not only transgression of Law.

It is the ignorance of God’s grace, redemption, and salvation

made manifest through Jesus Christ.

When that sin is removed,

there is only light;

the light of living in the presence of the new Rabbi,

the Son of God.

 

Today, taking off the yoke of John,

Removing the yoke of past masters,

might be like

leaving behind uncertainty, doubt, or unbelief.

 

Taking off the yoke that binds one to the past

might be like giving up

a gospel of prosperity and wealth,

or

a belief that democracy, the free market, and the world’s greatest military

just might save the world.

 

Taking off the yoke that binds one to the past

Might be like giving up the fist, knife, or gun,

or

giving up the drink, the high, the deal, or the dice.

 

Removing the yoke of the past

Completely breaks us down,

turns us around, and

sets us on a new direction.

 

“Come to me, all who are heavy laden,” Jesus says,

“and I will give you rest”

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

(Matthew 11:28-30)

 

This begs us to question …

Are you ready to remove your former yoke and allegiances and

Accept the yoke of Jesus Christ?

 

2. The second step in a life of Christ centered discipleship

Begins as soon as we accept the yoke of Jesus.

We become part of community,

Complete with history, traditions, and Holy Ghost experiences.

 

This community,

Called “Ecclesia” in the Greek,

Known as “Church” in English,

Is a community that builds healthy, wholesome relationships;

Modeling the values and beliefs of the Master.

Accepting the yoke of Jesus

Makes us a part of the living, breathing,

Body of Christ.

 

Simon and Andrew

take off their John yoke

and put on the yoke of Jesus.

Ten others would soon join them.

 

First thing Simon and Andrew did was follow where Jesus was headed.

 

To become like the master,

one must mimic the master’s behavior.

One must follow where the master leads.

 

The Rabbi’s question,

“What are you looking for?”

certainly works on many levels.

They ask Jesus where he is staying.

“Come and see,” Jesus responds,

“And they remained with him.”

They abide in Jesus.

 

Abide; menō in the Greek.

They abide with him;

Take up residence,

Move in,

Make their home with the master Rabbi.

 

The spiritual journey towards Jesus

Is both individual and communal.

 

We make our individual way to Jesus the Christ,

By accepting his yoke,

Learning everything he had to teach,

And employing his values in our personal lives.

 

We also progress in our spiritual journey towards Jesus

When we join with other yoked disciples

To becoming the living, breathing Body of Christ,

Empowered by the Holy Spirit,

At work in the world.

 

We gather to worship,

But we depart to serve.

 

Worship without service becomes dull.

Service without worship is absent of meaning.

Truly thriving communities of disciples yoked to Jesus

Worship with excellence and

Serve with love in his name.

 

3. This begs us to question …

When it comes to worship, is this the best we can do?

Can we do better?

When it comes to service, is everyone on board and fully engaged?

Are we loving our neighbor and making certain their needs are being met?

 

“Come and see” is an invitation to abide with Jesus.

Answering the invitation is humble acknowledgement

That you and I haven’t seen it all.

We haven’t done it all.

God has more in store for us.

 

There is more to learn.

There is more to do.

We don’t have to travel too far from our little cocooned life

To discover the deep, pervasive needs of the world,

Where we are called to serve,

Individually and corporately as the Body of Christ,

Doing his work in his name.

 

There are injustices to be righted.

There are wells to be drilled.

There are mouths to feed.

Clothing needs sorted and provided to those who need to be clothed.

There are orphans to be loved and cared for.

There are refugees and aliens to be welcomed.

There are houses to be built.

There are jobs to be made.

 

 

For those of us yoked by Christ

“Come and see” must always be followed with

“Time to roll up the sleeves and get to work.”

 

………..

 

Dearly beloved,

let our hearts be warmed.

John’s testimony and witness

Began the transfer of discipleship from John to Jesus and

Led to Peter and Andrew answering the call.

Upon Peter, the Rock, did God build his Church.

Indeed, God had greater plans for Peter.

 

God has greater plans for you and me, too.

“Come and see” what God has in store.

 

May we be so moved

That when our worship is ended

We may depart to serve the world

In the name of Jesus.

Amen.

“Renewal”

Matthew 3:13-17

12 January 2010

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Isaiah 42:1-9

 

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

 

Matthew 3:13-17
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

 

Prayer.

 

Numerous times in scripture that pre-dates Jesus

There are references to renewal.

Renewal happens throughout salvation history;

Renewal between God and our Hebrew ancestors;

Renewal between God and God’s chosen people, Israel.

 

Renewal took place after the Tower of Babel,

With Noah and the flood,

With Abraham

and with Moses.

Renewal is like a bookmark

To a new chapter in our relationship with God.

 

With renewal

We find our identity

When we do

What God is doing.

Let this be a lesson to us today.

 

In our Isaiah passage, in the forty-second chapter,

Israel found itself in need of renewal.

Israel is defeated, enslaved, exiled, and without a leader.

You can’t get any lower

then starving to death in a prisoner of war camp,

knowing that it was your own unrighteous actions

that brought God’s judgment upon you and your people.

There was no food, no means, no leader, no hope.

 

When Isaiah speaks the Word of the Lord

It is like a soaking rain coming to a desert,

Like Spring after a long and harsh Winter,

Like a doctor telling you that,

Once and for all, you beat cancer and

Go over and ring the bell.

 

My goodness, renewal is good news!

 

This is what renewal looks like:

“Here is my servant,” the Lord proclaims,

“whom I uphold,”

“my chosen,”

“in whom my soul delights.”

The Lord’s promised servant is to assume the role of leader.

This is good news, because

As I mentioned,

The exiled Hebrews had no leader.

 

The leader, a servant, the prophet Isaiah reports,

will tirelessly work to establish justice.

He will never grow faint.

He might be bent,

But he will never break.

God’s servant is coming

To take the hand of his covenant people,

and lead them home from prison and exile,

returning every child of Israel to their God.

This is more than just going home to Jerusalem and rebuilding the Temple.

This is about returning home to God.

This is what renewal looks like;

 

Returning home to God.

 

The servant will guide every captive to righteousness.

Exile and slavery,

All former things,

Have come to pass.

Behold,

God now declares the beginning of a new era;

All things moving forward

Are new.

 

Of course, God keeps his promise.

His promised servant does come …

… after keeping Israel in waiting for 550 years!

 

That’s a lot of time

Watching and waiting for

The Messiah to come,

The Davidic King to emerge.

For more than five centuries,

Our ancestors obsessed with the question

“Is he the one whom God has promised?”

“Is it this guy?” Or

“Should we wait for another?”

 

God’s promised servant does eventually come …

 

And today we find him wading in the Jordan River with John.

When Jesus emerges from the water

The heavens open

And the Spirit of God descends upon him like a dove,

We hear the voice of God publicly affirming

the fulfillment of His promise.

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

It is as if God is saying,

“This is sooo awesome!”

 

God keeps his promises.

 

Yes, God remaining faithful is awesome,

But, from the Lord’s point of view,

By submitting to baptism by John,

Jesus is submitting himself

To the intentions of his Heavenly Father.

 

Jesus affirms his role in God’s greater plan

to bring redemption and salvation into the world.

 

“I’m on board!” Jesus proclaims

Even as he is plunged to victory!

Baptism, here, is a symbol of

Anointing a new King of Israel.

Fulfilling the promise of God as prophesized by Isaiah,

Jesus submits to become God’s anointed,

Fully accepting the identity, role, and responsibility of Messiah.

 

If you’re asking the question,

“Why would a sinless Jesus come to John

to be baptized into repentance and the absolution of sins?”

You’ve completely missed the point

our Gospel authors are making

with the baptism of the Lord narrative.

7

The baptism of the Lord is more about Jesus

Then it is about baptism.

This is not a reference story

For future sacramental or doctrinal debates.

This is a reminder of God’s faithfulness,

God’s trustworthiness, and

Our Lord’s willingness to do what he has promised.

 

The baptism of Jesus is God’s enduring commitment

To his creation and his people.

It reflects his desire for renewal;

To love always,

Forgive always,

And to always save.

 

Consistent with Matthew’s unique tenor and character

The baptism of the Lord is the first of many passages in the Gospel of Matthew

That challenge us to

Open our eyes!

Be ready for the unexpected!

How does one expect the unexpected?

Look to Jesus, people.

Look to Jesus.

 

So how are we to respond to the baptism of the Lord today?

Here are a few insights I’ve been chewing on all week:

 

1. First, we find our identity

When we do

What God is doing.

Consider what we do, as a church,

And consider what you and I do as individuals.

 

Do we justify our actions and our words

By claiming some greater moral or religious high ground?

Do we decorate it in beautiful church language

and call it mission and ministry?

 

We better be certain

that our actions and behaviors

are the result of submitting to

God’s will and God’s intentions,

just as Jesus submitted to John and his baptism of repentance.

 

Is it possible to discern God’s future plans

That we might faithfully respond?

How do we know what God is doing?

 

Watch for signs of God’s presence and action.

Listen and pray.

Ask.

Seek.

Study and learn.

Dive into the Gospels with the same commitment

Jesus had when he waded into the Jordan River.

 

Discovering God’s will

And doing God’s will

Wraps us into the identity God desires

And results in faithful discipleship.

 

2. God keeps his promise.

So, too, should we.

 

We live in an age where promises are broken,

reality is distorted, and

truth is elusive.

 

Take this to the bank:

God keeps his promises.

God is light in the middle of darkness.

God is truth engaged in a cosmic battle against lies and those who tell lies.

 

God keeping his promise,

… God’s faithfulness,

Should give us confidence,

Should give us assurance,

Should become an anchor to our faith

In an ever-faithless world.

 

We know politicians fail us.

We know sports teams don’t follow through on their promises.

We know that even family members and friends

will, on occasion, fail to follow through

with what they promised to do.

Yes, there are times that we even fail to keep our word

and end up breaking the commandment about bearing false witness.

 

Yet, God is always faithful.

God will keep his promise.

It’s also important to note that

God works in God’s time, not our time.

 

I’m sure we had many anguished ancestors

during that 550 years of waiting

who died disappointed that

the promised Messiah did not come during their lifespan.

From our after-the-fact point of view, however,

We can see that God was working a greater plan

according to God’s own time.

 

Therefore, be patient.

Keep your eyes open.

Be ready.

Watch.

Wait.

Be patient.

 

3. Jesus is affirming his role in God’s plan

To bring redemption and salvation to the world.

 

As the final authority and judge, yes, Jesus comes to establish justice, as promised in Isaiah.

His justice levels the playing field and

separates the wheat from the chaff,

burning the chaff in unquenchable fire.

 

As our Divine teacher, yes, Jesus comes to

Teach us the ways of love,

To teach us the ways of peace,

To teach us the ways of healing a broken and sin, sick world.

Yet, God’s mission statement for Jesus,

was to die to take away the sins of the world and to raise from the dead,

that all who believe in him might also be given eternal life.

 

As our redeemer, Jesus saves us from our past sins.

Your slate has been washed clean

By his blood,

Shed for you on the cross.

You’ve been transformed,

Renewed, from sinner into saint,

And given the charge to

Share this Good News with the world

That all might share in the gift of God’s redemption.

 

Being freed from our past

Sets us loose to witness;

Which is the most important activity

Of every disciple of Jesus.

 

We are freed to not only witness to the redemption of the world,

But also to God’s gift of eternal life.

Just as Jesus won victory over the grave,

So, too, have we been given the gift of eternal life.

 

The old body may be broken down, dead and buried,

But the soul is transformed,

Renewed, if you will,

From dead to living once again,

Resurrected and invited to live in God’s heavenly kingdom.

 

 

Dearly beloved,

Align yourself with God.

Like Jesus, do as God does.

In doing so,

We affirm who we are and were God wants us to go.

 

Take heart,

We can count on God to keep his promise:

The Lord is our God

And we will forever be his people.

The Lord will keep us always.

 

Be the faithful disciples of Jesus.

Witness to the fact that,

By his baptismal waters,

Jesus is anointed

To fulfill God’s plan

To bring redemption and salvation to our world.

 

Spread the word.

It’s a new day dawning.

Amen.

“When Time Stands Still”

John 1:1-18

5 January 2020 – The 12th Day of Christmas

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

7

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.

 

Prayer.

 

Happy Twelfth day of Christmas;

The twelfth of twelve days of Christmas,

Which we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Tomorrow is the Epiphany of the Lord;

Also known as the manifestation

Of the baby Jesus as the Son of God

To the three visiting wise men / kings / astrologers / magi, from the East.

Hence, Epiphany is also known as “Three Kings Day”

Throughout much of the Christian world.

 

To remember and honor their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh

Our Eastern Orthodox sisters and brothers will

Reserve the exchange of gifts until “Three Kings Day.”

Our Catholic cousins in Central America will dance in the streets

In oversized costumes celebrating the manifestation of Christ.

Great is the diversity around the Christian world that celebrates

“God with us”!

 

12 days of Christmas,

Followed by the Epiphany of the Lord,

The baptism of Jesus,

Leading to his transfiguration,

Immediately preceding Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent.

That, right there, my friends

Is a passing grade in Introduction to Worship.

 

I love to manage time;

Be it keeping track of the liturgical calendar

Or my Google calendar,

When I’m able to thumbtack down a date and time and location

I feel like I’ve accomplished something.

I feel like I’m in control.

 

 

The Gospel of Luke nails down a time and place for Jesus’ birth:

“This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.” (Luke 2:2-4)

 

The Gospel of Matthew likewise stakes down a time and place for Jesus’ birth:

“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:1-2a)

 

The Gospel of Mark skips right over the birth of Jesus,

As if the life and manifestation of Jesus began at his baptism:

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” (Mark 1:9)

 

For Mark, “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1) starts with the Spirit descending like a dove on him when he emerges from the water,

“and a voice came from heaven, You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

 

Place and time.

Nailed it.

 

In Matthew and Luke,

The Incarnation,

Of God becoming fully human and fully divine

Takes place at the birth of Jesus.

For Mark, Incarnation began at his baptism.

 

Date. Time. Location.

Grab the Gospel by the tail, bulldog it to the ground, and hog tie it;

All in the first few minutes of the sermon.

 

Jesus: lung breathing, heart beating, appetite rearing … fully skin-over-muscle-organs-and-bone human.

Jesus: Son of God, the manifestation of the Divine Creator, God in Jesus, none other than the Lord God, Almighty!

Woo-E!

 

 

Quietly absent in this discussion is the Gospel of John.

Many have noted that chronological time, persons, places, and events

Doesn’t begin in John until after the prelude,

The opening 18 verses of the first chapter.

 

John’s prologue,

Or pro – logue / pre – logos / before – word,

Is before the Word sets out in linear time.

A prologue is a literary technique used in Greek dramas,

And employed here by the Gospel author of John,

To set the stage for events to unfold.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (1:1)

 

Before God began in our linear world of time and space,

There was God.

Simply God.

The stage is set:

There was God.

There was no time, no space, no forward progress.

There was simply the presence and existence of God.

 

“God created the heavens and the earth.”

(Genesis 1:1)

 

For the Gospel of John

The birth story of Jesus is a cosmic birth story;

Taking place outside of time,

Beyond our means to record or calculate time or space.

 

God steps from the cosmic prologue

Into our linear, chronos world

When “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” (1:14)

The divide between heaven and earth is Divinely breached,

Between God’s cosmic realm and our time- constrained word.

 

In a similar but reverse action,

Jesus exits our chronos world with his ascension into heaven;

When he returns to the right hand of the Father,

When he reenters the cosmic.

 

Jesus, a person, the Son of God, the Word

Exists and remains present as Holy Spirit;

A cosmic, omniscient presence,

Unfazed by the fact that

Linear, mortal time marches on for the rest of creation.

 

 

This is not some theological rabbit hole I’m leading you down.

The prologue of the Gospel of John

Has real world implications.

 

 

Have you ever experienced time slowing down?

Have you ever felt time stand still?

 

The prologue of John

Begs us to ask the question,

How do we mark time?

Kicking off a new year, a new decade, 2020;

This is a poignant question.

How do you mark time?

 

The prologue of the Gospel of John,

When held in dynamic tension with the epiphany narratives

from Matthew, Mark, and Luke,

Leads us to examine this intersection of time, place, and presence of God.

 

Where has time slowed or seemed to come to a stop in your life?

 

I’ve thought about this a lot this past week.

Time has slowed in my life on numerous occasions.

 

Time slowed and nearly stood still

When a dear friend and future colleague,

Personally sought me out and

Broke the news to me that my father had suddenly, unexpectantly died.

The cosmic presence of God

Flooded into my awareness when my clock nearly stopped ticking

At 11:30 am, September 30, 1985.

 

We might be in control of our calendar, time, and space,

But, God commands the cosmic space of our lives.

 

Have you ever experienced time slowing down?

Have you ever felt time stand still?

Pay attention.

 

When time slows or seems to stop

Extend your spiritual antenna into God’s atmosphere and fine tune your reception.

“Emmanuel,” the Gospel of John assures us.

God is with us.

God is there.

 

Time slowed in my life on many occasions

When I was a volunteer medic on the Palmyra FD ambulance;

When bullets flew,

When a man lay with a steak knife in his chest,

When I started an IV in an arm with no skin,

When providing respiration for an accident victim on Mercy Flight.

 

The eternal, cosmic, heavenly presence of God fills the space

When time slows or nearly stops.

 

In my life, time slowed

When the neurologist conducted an assessment,

When a psychiatrist suggested an alternative course of treatment,

When the anesthesia began to flow and the scalpel was unsheathed,

When a social worker from the county met me on my front porch and said,

“I understand you just received some really bad news.”

 

Have you ever experienced time slowing down?

Have you ever felt time stand still?

 

When time stands still

There is the Word.

The Word is with God.

The Word is God.

 

Your homework for this New Year is to be hyper-attentive

To the intersection of life events, the passage of time, and the presence of God.

Mark time, plant the flag with the mundane, the routine, the everyday efforts of family, work, and faith.

That is your reference point.

 

Then watch, listen, and wait for the perception that time is changing speeds;

Quickening time might come with pleasant or happy occasions

(“that birthday / wedding / anniversary was over before I knew it”), or

Slowing time might come with struggles, difficulty, or death.

Time slows when we walk that lonesome valley

Or the valley of the shadow of death.

 

It is in these moments that

We can recognize God’s presence and

Make ourselves vulnerable, accessible

to God’s amazing grace and support.  

 

When time slows

Or even appears to stand still

Place your complete trust and confidence

In Emmanuel,

God with you.

Lean on, and lean into,

God.

 

 

This masterful, beautifully written prologue to the Gospel of John

Is cited in worship numerous times throughout the year

Because of it tremendous implications,

Revelation of God’s incarnation through Jesus Christ, and

Very real promise and assurance that

God is with you,

God will always be with you, and

When time comes to an end,

From his fullness,

Jesus will lead you from grace upon grace;

Forgiveness,

Salvation,

Eternally abiding with God in his cosmic, heavenly kingdom.

 

Mark it.

Bank it.

To God be the glory!

Amen.

Christmas Eve Homily

24 December 2019

Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:1-20

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

1

Prayer: Breathe life into your Gospel this evening, O Lord, that it might speak to each of us, and, touch us like a newborn baby. Amen.

 

Grace.

Calm.

Glory.

These are three of many characteristics of the Christmas story.

That have been speaking to me this year.

 

……….

 

The Gospel of Matthew begins with a glimmer of grace

That culminates with God’s greatest gift of grace;

God’s great love.

God so loves the world

God gives us his Son, Jesus.

Through Jesus,

We are not condemned,

We are forgiven.

We are saved.

 

The glimmer of grace is found in Joseph.

Matthew begins with a list of the lineage of Jesus;

Directly connecting his ancestral heritage with that of King David.

The Messiah everyone expected had to come from King David’s descendants.

Matthew states the case:

Joseph is a bonified grandson.

 

Despite his royal lineage

Joseph was in a pickle.

He knew his fiancé was pregnant.

He also knew he wasn’t the father.

Furthermore, according to the Law of Moses,

as found in Deuteronomy 22:13-21,

The penalty for an adulterous fiancé

was stoning to death.

 

Joseph was devout, meaning he righteously followed the letter of the Law.

 

His dilemma:

Live by the Law, as was his practice, and have Mary stoned to death,

Or, live by grace, completely contrary to his righteous lifestyle?

Lead with grace and save her from public disgrace by quietly ending their nuptials?

 

The first action in the first Gospel

Is an act of Grace;

Joseph’s heart of rigid, legalistic stone

is transformed

Into a heart of love, compassion, life-saving mercy.

 

This is a sign that God is tacking in a new direction.

Behold, with Jesus, all things are made new.

Love has always been God’s motive.

Grace becomes God’s signature.

 

Live by the Law, and die by the Law.

Live by Christ, and taste and see God’s abundant grace and love.

 

This act of grace by Joseph

Begs me to ask,

Where is God’s grace at work in our lives?

 

Where have you experienced

God’s amazing grace?

Undoing or discarding old and tradition-bound, stubborn ways?

 

Where in your life has God’s grace

Resulted in the transformation of your heart

From cold and uncaring

Into a melted heart

filled with love, compassion, and mercy?

 

Where have you personally experienced God’s grace working through you, like Joseph,

To become for the world

The amazing, abundant grace of God?

 

Have you experienced God’s grace

Such that you firmly believe

God is calling you to take a new direction,

To boldly make a life-altering change,

To fish other seas?

 

………

 

Grace.

Calm.

Glory.

 

An angel, a messenger from God, visits Joseph in a dream.

The angel leads with “Do not be afraid.”

Do not be afraid for God is doing something brand new.

 

This is the angelic message:

Mary conceived her child by the Holy Spirit,

Not by an act of adultery.

 

This is God’s command to Joseph:

Take Mary as your wife.

When she gives birth, name the boy “Jesus.”

 

Do not be afraid.

In the Jewish world

Naming was done by the Father.

The act of Joseph naming Jesus,

Means that adoption is made legal and

The royal, paternal, messianic connection is made.

Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled.

God’s been at work all along.

To speak Jesus is to recognize Emmanuel;

“God with us.”

 

Do not be afraid, the angel said.

The Messianic promise is complete.

Jesus, adopted by Joseph, grandson of David.

Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit with Mary, Son of God.

God has sent the world His Son.

 

Do not be afraid, Joseph.

God is with you.

Jesus will save his people from their sins.

Behold, Messiah has come!

 

The angelic message begs the question,

Beloved, where have you faced fear in your life

With the calming presence and power of God through Jesus Christ?

 

When that termination letter arrives,

Be not afraid.

Be calm.

The Lord provides.

 

When your loved one is sick, suffering, or dies,

Do not be afraid.

Be calm.

Jesus heals, forgives, and saves.

 

When marriage is on the rocks,

When a relationship doesn’t work out,

Or when children don’t live up to expectations,

Do not be afraid.

Be calm.

God’s got this.

God is with you.

 

When the will is worn and tired,

Emotions are raw, and

Doubt assails your faith,

Do not be afraid.

Be calm.

You’ve been given the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Do not be afraid.

Be calm.

God actually does love you!

 

………..

 

Grace.

Calm.

Glory.

 

As the angelic opening begins with an assurance of calm,

“Do not be afraid” is followed with

Angelic glory!

 

Suddenly, the lone messenger angel

Is joined in Bethlehem’s sky by

“a multitude of the heavenly host,

Praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,

And on earth peace among those whom he favors!’” (Luke 2:13-14)

Glory to God!

 

What does glory mean?

 

Glory is used to describe the manifestation of God,

God’s presence,

Right here,

In our midst.

 

For Joseph,

Glory comes with his recognition

That Jesus is God’s divine Son

As well as his adopted son.

Glory to God!

By the birth of Jesus, God is with us.

 

Glory comes with Joseph’s recognition that

Jesus is the prophetic promise

That God is with us.

Glory to God!

 

Glory comes to the angelic host flying over shepherd’s fields

When good news is proclaimed!

Good news is Gospel.

Gospel truth: Jesus is born this day.

Gospel truth: Jesus is the Messiah.

Gospel truth: Jesus is the Lord.

Glory to God!

Jesus is born; God is with us.

 

Glory comes to shepherds who did as they were told,

Who went and beheld the newborn Jesus.

They experienced the presence of God laying in a manger

And returned their glory to God;

Praising God for all they had seen and heard.

 

Where have we experienced the presence,

The manifestation,

Of God?

 

Where has God snuck into your life and surprised you?

Unexpected? Unannounced? Completely out of the blue?

Where and when has God’s presence been revealed?

How have you responded?

 

Respond with glory!

Let us join Joseph, shepherds, and angels choirs:

Give glory to God in the highest heaven!

 

Give glory to God by

Proclaiming Good News!

Join the celebration at the Table,

With song, dance, and prayer.

Give glory to God by loving God

With all our heart, mind, soul, and strength,

And by loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Give glory to God and revel in His presence!

 

Beloved, when God is near,

Give glory!

 

…………..

 

The Gospel of Matthew, like Joseph, leads with grace.

Try to lead with grace in your life, too.

 

Do not be afraid.

This calms Joseph and shepherds alike.

Be calm in the face of what ever live throws your way.

Discover the calm at the center of Jesus’ birth.

 

Give glory to God.

The birth of Jesus places God front-and-center in our life.

God is with us.

Give God the glory!

Amen.