“Making God’s Love Personal”

Luke 24:1-12

April 17, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 24:1-12

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

| Centering Prayer |

For two thousand years

Baptized followers of Jesus Christ 

Have gathered weekly for the purpose of worship.

Every Sunday is Easter Sunday, we believe.

Therefore, we gather

Every Sunday

To praise God

By proclamation of the Word, Celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and music and song.

We thank God through prayer,

For all we’ve been given.

We thank God

For the presence, power, direction, and loving support of the Holy Spirit. We thank God

For the promise of the future

As made in sacred covenants

And the words of Jesus.

This is what we do

Every time we gather for worship.

Today is the first of firsts,

The foremost of all Sundays,

The pinnacle of all mountaintop Sabbath days.

Today is Easter,

(Follow me, here, if you can)

The first Sunday

Following the first Full Moon

Following the Vernal Equinox,

When the sun is directly over the equator and the night and day stand in perfect balance

(March 20th every year).

We celebrate this day

The profound significance

Of the events that took place

On this sacred anniversary.

The events of this date are absolutely fundamental

To our Christian faith and experience.

Without the resurrection,

Jesus would have been

Relegated to a small footnote

In the history of the world.

He would have become

Just another nameless,

Forgotten,

Zealot revolutionary

Whom Rome squashed like a bug

In its brutal occupation of Israel.

The Good News of this day is the fact

that Jesus Christ rose from the dead!

The women found an empty tomb.

They were greeted by two messengers

Who witness to them that his promise had come true:

On the third day after his death,

Jesus promised that he would rise from the dead.

And he did.

Our Lord’s resurrection has confirmed Jesus Christ as the essential revelation

Upon which all faith is built.

This supernatural event,

Accomplished by divine design,

Has shifted the focus of spirituality

And has revealed the extravagant grace and love of God.

The salvation history of humankind fundamentally changed.

His resurrection gave birth to the Church;

50 plus generations of disciples

Who have made Jesus Christ the central experience

Of our faith journey.

We have been chosen by God,

And have accepted the invitation,

To be disciples of Jesus.

We devote ourselves to learn all we can

About Jesus and his life.

We attempt to pattern our life after his.

We hang on every detail,

every nuance,

of every word he spoke.

Righteousness is no longer defined

By strict adherence to the Law,

Rather, for the Christian,

Righteousness is counted

Only in our devotion and faith in Jesus Christ.

Righteousness has become for us

Living our lives the way

We believe Christ would have us live.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ

Has confirmed the grace of God

And His love for us.

We have come to see through the lens of hindsight

That His passion and death

Won for us forgiveness of sins.

Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

God is reconciled with creation.

God is reconciled with you and me.

All those former sins have been washed away, and

Behold, God is making all things new.

We have come to know

That His resurrection has won for the human race

The gift of eternal life.

Eternal life is ours to accept.

The gift of forgiveness and eternal life is outrageously extravagant.

These gifts of grace are a sign of how deeply

And how passionately

God loves us,

And wants the best for us.

The resurrection has made God’s love for humankind personal.

God doesn’t just deliver a chosen race or nation.

God has chosen you,

Thought of you,

Loved you so much that He sent you His Son,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

(John 3:16)

We are not born to toil, suffer, and die.

We are born to give glory to God!

The world is transformed when we live as forgiven people,

Saved by grace,

Loving God, and loving neighbors.

We are given life that we might live eternally in God’s new creation.

Death no longer is the final period at the conclusion of the Book of Life;

Rather, death has become the doorway

Through which we pass

On our journey into perfected communion with God.

It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that opened the door.

Bishop William Willimon makes this observation:

“Look at all God has gone through

down through the ages

to save us,

find us,

embrace us.

Look at all Jesus went through just this past week.

Shall death defeat the purposes of such an extravagantly [loving,] life-giving God?

I think not.”

(William H. Willimon, Pulpit Resources, April 11, 2004)

Today, we join the almighty chorus,

Of billions of Christians around the globe,

Proclaiming the Good News of this day;

That Jesus Christ rose from the dead!

And so will you.

Sing to the glories of God’s grace!

Proclaim the wonders of God’s love!

Know that it is God who saved you!

Shout it from the mountain top.

Make this, your witness, heard loud and clear.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

“Truth”

A Good Friday Meditation

April 15, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

The Rush United Methodist Church

John 18:33-38

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him.

| Prayer |

The truth is …

The Passion narrative from St. John

Has led me to brew on Pilate’s rhetorical question to Jesus

“What is truth?”

The truth is

In today’s world

Truth is so often

Avoided, exaggerated, interpreted, hidden, stretched, bent, or simply denied.

What is it about the ninth commandment

“Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor”

(Deuteronomy 5:20)

That it is so hard to comprehend and practice?

The truth is

Significantly different from telling a lie.

Lies, or bearing false witness, as the Deuteronomist would say,

Deviate from the truth for personal gain.

Lies expose the selfish, self-promotion, unbridled self-interest.

The size of the fish I caught is exaggerated

Simply so that you will think more highly of me and my fishing skill.

The truth is

Significantly different from the opposite of fake news.

This would require one to assume that all news was truth.

Yet, we all should be aware that news is blurred,

Sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally,

By point of view, cultural blinders, moral and ethical assumptions, implicit or explicit biases, and religious beliefs.

The truth is

Really, really hard to pin down.

On the one hand are cold, hard facts.

On the other hand are deeply rooted beliefs.

This apparent contradiction has unnecessarily pitted science against religion for centuries.

The truth is

Believers believe and deniers deny.

And it’s really, really hard to convince someone to change their mind,

To pry them from longstanding belief, and

To lever them to cross to the other side.

Then along comes Jesus.

“For this I was born,

And for this I came into the world,

To testify to the truth.

Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

(18:37b)

The truth is

Truth can only be found in the testimony of Jesus Christ.

The truth is

“In the beginning was the Word,

And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (1:1)

All things came into being through him. (1:3)

Life came into being. (1:4)

Life led to light,

The light of all people.

The truth is

“The Word,” God, that is,

“Became flesh and lived among us.” (1:14)

The truth is

Found in his testimony:

“I am the Bread of Life.

Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and

Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (6:35)

Truth.

“I am the Light of the World.

Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness

But will have the light of life.” (8:12)

Truth.

“I am the Gate.

Whoever enters by me will be saved, and

Will come in and go out and find pasture.” (10:9)

Truth.

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

No one come to the Father except through me.” (14:6)

Truth.

“I am the Vine,

You are the branches.

Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit,

Because apart from me

You can do nothing.” (15:5)

Truth.

“I am the Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (10:11)

Can you hear Mary weep?

Can you see Jesus breath his last?

Truth is

“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus testifies.

“Those who believe in me,

Even though they die,

Will live,

And everyone who lives and believes in me

Will never die.” (11:25-26)

This gives us hope;

An expectation for what awaits us

In just three days.

Truth is

I am unable to convince anyone of the truth.

Like everyone else,

I am only able to testify to the truth of Jesus Christ.

The lever that leads to belief …

The catalyst of conversion …

Is God’s gift of grace,

God’s presence in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit knows our condition, circumstances, and needs

Before we know them;

The Spirit knew us before our birth.

The Holy Spirit uses the testimony of apostolic commission

To lead the unbeliever to the altar of

Repentance, forgiveness, conversion, and justification.

There, the Holy Spirit fills the breath of the newly converted,

Abides within, and

Empowers testimony

To this wonderfully beautiful, newfound truth.

Don’t worry about what you are to say.

The Spirit will give you the words.

Truth is

When darkness falls and

We strip this sanctuary of all color;

When we lay his body in the tomb and

We return home this cold, cold night;

We know …

We know the truth.

Truth is

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ

Is not God’s final word.

Amen.

“Have Love for One Another”

Maundy Thursday

April 14, 2022

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

The Rush United Methodist Church

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.

And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

| Centering Prayer |

The ongoing daily dialogue we have with the scriptures tells us that

the choices we make in our lives

make a difference

in the eye of God.

A person’s actions,

both publicly and privately,

both seen and unseen,

serve as a window to the soul.

A disciplined, mature spiritual life

could be defined as when a person’s actions

are consistent with the faith they proclaim.

This recognizes and eliminates personal hypocrisy.

This defines authenticity.

This is euphemistically referred to as

“Talking the talk and walking the walk.”

I think of it as living in harmonic rhythm with Christ.

This is my goal as his disciple:

to make what I say and what I do

become not only a harmonic rhythm with each other,

but also, a harmonic rhythm with what Jesus said and what Jesus did.

“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another,”

Jesus instructs his disciples. (John 13:34)

Jesus talked the talk and walked the walk.

Jesus is as authentic as they come.

Our Last Supper setting for this evening begins with His action:

Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

He pours water over their feet, washes, and towel dries.

His actions were startling to his beloved disciples,

perhaps just as startling as they are to us today.

In my opinion, feet are dirty and smelly and rather ugly.

Yet, Jesus washes 12 pairs of feet this evening.

His actions are incredibly humbling.

The teacher is usually the one held in higher esteem than the student.

Yet, Jesus demonstrates that

humility is more important than any lesson plan.

His actions are incredibly courageous.

He knows that his betrayer is in line to have his feet washed.

Time would have stood still.

Tension could have been cut by a knife as Jesus made his way down the line.

Jesus washes the feet of Judas anyways.

The one who is betraying Jesus to the authorities to be killed

is one of those whose feet Jesus washed.

His actions are amazing.

Peter.

The one who

Couldn’t walk on water,

Couldn’t open his mouth without sticking in his foot,

would soon deny Jesus

… not once, not twice, three times …

Gets his feet washed by Jesus, anyways.

His actions were that of a servant.

He rolled up his sleeves

and went about the work of cleaning his follower’s dirty, filthy feet.

Corns, bunions, fungus nails, and hammer toes, oh my!  

His actions are incredibly loving.

It is hard to get more intimate than washing someone else’s feet.

His touch demonstrates how much he loved his closest friends.

Jesus teaches them,

“you also ought to wash one another’s feet… you are blessed if you do them.”

(John 13:14)

When it comes to hypocrisy,

none can be found in Jesus.

Jesus is saying, “Just as I have done, so are you to do to other disciples.”

Treat other followers of Christ with humility,

not according to power or authority,

but as equals,

even if it takes making ourselves less than equals,

servants of all.

Be courageous in service;

extend mission and ministry

to those who are known to have

hurt us,

denied us,

even betrayed us.

Be generous in your service.

Anticipate the need of others,

Then meet and exceed their need

Without drawing attention to yourself.

Be willing to go above and beyond what the world might expect.

Serve simply for the sake of love,

Without any expectation of reciprocity.  

Love enemies, just as we are to love ourselves,

… just as we are to love our God.

Because Jesus washed the feet of his disciples,

it requires that we pay especially close attention to what he has to say.

He gives a new commandment:

“Love one another.

Just as I have loved you,

you also should love one another.”

(John 13:34)

Shouldn’t this be the defining character

that identifies you and me as a follower of Jesus?

Love should define who we are and whose we are.

Often today, we lose sight of this simple, humbling fact.

It is far easier to apply the cultural

ethics and morality of the world upon our church,

than it is to apply this command of Jesus to our lifestyle and decisions.

The church becomes secularized when we import

democracy, authority, and power.

The body is whitewashed by

political agendas,

hunger for money,

power hungry laity, and

ambitious clergy.

The ecclesia becomes just another system of righteous service.

Robert’s Rules of Order is easily reforged into a golden calf.

But Jesus calls us to another, different standard.

The identity of His Body is to be grounded and identified by love.

Show me a community organization that requires everybody to love!

Show me a judicial expectation to love!

Show me a politician who runs on a platform of love.

Show me incorporation papers or by-laws of any business

that demands love define its purpose, culture, or values!

Jesus calls his church, his followers, his disciples to love

– to love one another,

to love our enemies,

to love those who persecute us,

to love those who are un-lovely,

to love those with dirty, smelly, ugly feet.

Jesus calls his church

to love the least fortunate,

the last, least, lost, the left behind.

Jesus calls us

to love the outcast, the poor, the widow, the orphaned, the diseased, the dis- or other-abled, and the imprisoned.

Jesus calls us to love the Lord our God,

with our entire mind,

with all our soul,

with all our strength, and

with all our heart.

That love began with a pitcher of water, a basin, and a towel.

This is his reason:

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,

if you have love for one another.”

(John 13:35)

In this age of evangelical fervor,

isn’t this the greatest evangelism tool

ever conceived and enacted by Jesus?

When others see our love of God and neighbor,

They’ll want some, too.

You won’t find love in your company’s ethic.

You won’t find love standing before a judge.

You won’t even find love in a therapist’s chair.

Love won’t be found in a course outline or a state curriculum.

You may be searching for love in a failing marriage or broken relationship.

You may even be searching for love from a bottle, from a pill, or in a high.

Love won’t be found there.

By the grace of God,

let others find the love of God here with us!

Open the shades,

that all might look in and see the love that is proclaimed by our congregation,

without hypocrisy,

with integrity and authenticity,

both in our words and in our deeds.

Let us act with humility, with courage, with service, and with love,

just as Jesus did,

washing his disciples’ feet.

Let all the world see and experience God’s love,

as it is meant to be seen and experienced.

There is no greater love than the love Jesus has for you.

We are his disciples, his children, his followers.

It was for our sake that Jesus suffered and died on the cross

– to wash us clean of our sins

– to reconcile us with each other and with our God.

It was for our sake that Jesus rose from the dead

– to give us the gift of eternal life.

It was for our sake that Jesus broke bread and shared the cup

– to give us the sweet anticipation of his return and

the love in which we are enveloped. 

That same bread and cup are shared here this evening,

Breaking our Lenten fast.

Tomorrow, his passion will be told.

And Sunday, His resurrection will be proclaimed.

Actions do speak louder than words.

Have love for one another, my beloved,

just as Jesus loves you.

And by your love, you will be known.

Amen.

“Tears of the King”

Luke 19:28-48

Palm / Passion Sunday

April 10, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 19:28-48

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.

| Centering Prayer |

Early in the war

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

Would make video calls

To world leaders, congressmen, members of parliament, and the press

Appealing for aid and assistance against the Russian war machine.

He appeared unshaven,

In green tee shirts

(I purchased two, in his honor),

In dark, undisclosed locations.

With the threat of Russian armor, artillery, and air power so close at hand

He considered himself target number one

And his family target number two.

“This may be the last time you speak to me,” he was quoted as saying.

Zelensky was a wanted man with a price on his head.

Yet, he is surviving.

It feels like the tide is turning.

He has returned to his Presidential Office.

The actor / comedian now President of Ukraine

Has warmed the heart of the West.

Russians are leaving Kyiv,

Leaving behind tortured murder victims and mass graves.

May justice prevail.

May innocent victims

Rest in peace.

Today, Jesus is a wanted man with a price on his head.

Raising Lazarus from the dead

was the final straw for the Jewish leaders.

They intended to kill Lazarus (a second time)

And they intended to arrest and kill Jesus, too.

30 pieces of silver was the going rate.

Wanted: Dead or alive.

Jesus was target number one.

Lazarus was target number two.

His royal entry,

A parade through a crowd,

Was his protection.

Assassins prefer to act in secret.

The murderous intent of the Jewish leaders

Was driven by fear.

They had power and they weren’t giving it up.

They had Caesar whose sword and legions propped up the Temple,

So long as the trains ran on time.

They had wealth and the ability to print money;

Employing oppressive taxes, tithes, and fees.

When money flowed like water

From the poor

To the Temple

To Rome

Everybody was fat, dumb, and happy.

Disrupt the flow of money and power of this worldly empire

And there would be hell to pay.

The Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem

Was the opening clash of two kingdoms:

The power and wealth of Rome and corrupt organized religion

Verses

The abundant grace and love of the kingdom of God.

There would be victims of this cosmic clash.

Jesus could see Jerusalem being crushed, burned, and defeated

In a mere 40 years.

Killing fields are killing fields,

Weather it is Jerusalem or Bucha or Mariupol.

It made him weep.

Tears of the King flow

When the world does not recognize the things that make for peace.

The King weeps

When the world chooses power, oppression, fear, and violence

Over the way of Christ and the will of God.

Jesus was and is the visitation of God,

Who threatens earthly kingdoms, powers, and principalities.

Jesus was and is the King of kings

Who the people blessed with the royal treatment along the way.

“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38)

Jesus was and is the King of kings

Whose righteous rage was willing to flip some tables

Disrupt like a pandemic

The acceptable ways and habits

Of the unexamined life.

Why?

Because we’ve always done it that way before.

Why not something new?

Because this is the way we do things around here.

But God can make all things new.

Shut-up and get in line.

The temptation is very powerful

To maintain the status quo

To resist change,

To insist that we are better off

Placing our bets on earthly kingdoms

Then placing our trust in God’s kingdom,

Where Jesus rules as King.

The world pushes back the progress of God’s kingdom.

“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him,

‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’

He answered, ‘I tell you,

If these were silent,

The stones would shout out.’” – Luke 19:39-40

It is impossible for creation to remain silent!

If your Christian faith and discipleship is getting pushback and facing resistance,

You might be doing it right.

Shout aloud

your blessing to our Heavenly King!

Practice the values of his kingdom.

Being peace

that the world may live in peace.

Do not be afraid to

Overturn a few tables,

Just as Jesus did.

Disrupt corruption, power, and greed.

In its place

Create.

Create an environment of grace and love.

Create opportunities to partner with Jesus

To bring redemption and salvation to the world.

Beloved,

Let us be committed to being co-creators with our God,

To follow Christ, our King of kings,

And to replace corrupt, evil-infused kingdoms of this world

With God’s eternal kingdom of peace and love.

Blessed is our King!

Amen.

“Keep the Poor Among You Always”

John 12:1-8

April 3, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 12:1-8

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

| Centering Prayer |

Allow me to clear up some confusion.

Mary, the sister anointing Jesus feet, and wiping them with her hair

Is not Mary Magdalene.

This was a medieval western Christianity legend

That attempted to connect her with an unnamed, sinful woman

From the Gospel of Luke (Luke 7:36-50).

This was and is an injustice to Mary Magdalen that is perpetuated to this day.

That unnamed, sinful woman from Luke 7

Also anointed Jesus feet and wiped them with her hair

While he was eating with one of the Pharisees

At his house in Jerusalem.

Likewise, the pair of sisters today, Mary and Martha,

Is not the Mary and Martha sisters

– Mary who sits at the feet of Jesus

while Martha waits on them hand and foot –

As depicted in the Gospel of St. Luke (Luke 10:38-42).

That pair of sisters lived in the region where Jesus began his ministry,

In the north,

In the region of Galilee.

Great story; different sisters.

John’s Gospel account of Mary and Martha

Is about a completely different pair of sisters,

Coincidentally also named Mary and Martha.

Mary and Martha were common names.

St. John’s narrative about Mary and Martha

Takes place in the south,

In a suburb of Jerusalem called Bethany, and

Includes a brother by the name of Lazarus.

You may remember,

Lazarus was dead, stinking, and rotting four days in a tomb

When Jesus came and raised him from the dead and brought him back to life.

Raising Lazarus from the dead, St. John records,

Led to some Jews in the crowd believing in Jesus and following him,

While others went to the Pharisees and the council in outrage.

The council decided to have Jesus arrested (John 11:45-57) and Lazarus killed (John 12:9-11).

Jesus withdrew further away from Jerusalem to Ephraim,

Near the wilderness, and

Remained there with his disciples. (John 11:54)

When Passover drew near,

Jesus makes his way back towards Jerusalem,

Stopping back in Bethany to have dinner with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

I wonder if Jesus inquired about Lazarus’ health?

“Did you walk towards the light?”

“Any lingering effects of being DEAD?”

Seriously, though,

Passover is near, and so too is Jesus’ hour.

A number of items from the Gospel of John,

About this act of love, followed by the confrontation with Judas Iscariot,

Catches my eye and

Captures my heart.

1. Smell.

The stench of Lazarus dead four days in a tomb. (John 11:39)

The smell of costly perfume made of nard,

Filling the house with fragrance. (John 12:3)

Death and life are contrasted in both scenes.

Corruption, on the one hand, and wholeness, on the other.

Smell calls the observant to attention.

Pause for a moment to smell.

Breath in deeply the smell of Mary’s perfume.

Imagine this house filled with its fragrance.

Rudyard Kipling wrote

“Smells are surer than sounds or sights

To make your heart-strings crack.”

(http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_licht.htm)

Smell can be associated with a memory,

Good or bad,

That can last a lifetime.

The smell of costly perfume

Can be a foretaste of the Passion that is to come.

One can almost smell the newly crucified Jesus,

His corpse washed.

Nard smoothed into the skin.

His body wrapped,

Stuffed with myrrh and aloes and laid in a tomb. (John 19:39)

2. Anointing.

Jesus reports

Mary purchased the perfume

For his burial.

“She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.”

(John 12:7)

Kings are anointed at coronation.

Priests are anointed at ordination.

The newly converted are anointed by the Holy Spirit.

The dying are anointed on their deathbed.

The dead are anointed

recognizing new birth to eternal life.

This very day,

On the eve of Jesus riding triumphantly into Jerusalem

Jesus is anointed by Mary, the sister of Lazarus,

As a wonderful, beautiful, loving act of preparation

For Jesus to complete his mission:

To redeem the world,

Reconciling the world to God.

Too often, we experience the love of God, through Jesus His Son,

Moving in a single direction,

From God to humankind,

From God to me.

Mary is one of the rare examples of reversing love’s flow.

She loves Jesus,

Is willing to sacrifice greatly to show him love and compassion.

Mary returns to the Lord the love that first comes from God.

Mary’s love isn’t withheld.

It isn’t miserly or a mere token.

Mary takes a pound of costly perfume to anoint Jesus’ feet.

Mary’s love is extravagant, over the top, excessive, enormous;

Exactly like God’s love for you and me.

We may say we love Jesus.

We often talk about loving Jesus.

Talk is cheap.

Actions speak louder than words.

Mary’s act of love is actually demonstrating love for Jesus.

How might we do the same?

What can you and I do to actually show our extraordinary love for Jesus?

Love Jesus?

Show me.

Show the world.

3. Poverty.

It is impossible to separate Jesus from the poor.

The Gospel author of John

Recognizes how deeply entwined the message and meaning of Jesus

Is tied to how we respond to the poor of this world.

It is no accident that Judas Iscariot

… The one who was about to betray Jesus,

The one who kept the common purse

The one who robbed from it for his personal benefit …

Brings up the topic of the poor.

True, perfume that cost a year’s wages

could have been sold and given to the poor.

After his skimming, the poor would have probably received a fraction of the proceeds.

Judas wasn’t concerned for the poor.

But, John correctly notes that Jesus was.

Jesus brought good news in tangible ways to the oppressed and vulnerable.

He fed the hungry.

He healed the sick.

He returned the broken to wellness and restored them into community.

Jesus resisted oppressive and corrupt

political, religious, and social systems

That lay at the root cause of the worlds suffering.

There is an important insight to John’s Gospel

That comes from the ancient Greek.

Sometimes the present indicative form of a word

Matches the present imperative;

which is an academic way of saying

“maybe we should read Jesus’ statement not as indication of the way things are – ‘You always have the poor with you’

but as a command: … ‘Keep the poor among you always.’”

(With thanks to Lindsey Trozzo, as found at: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3993)

Keep the poor among you always.

Living a life of Christian piety is a life immersed in poverty.

One who understood and practiced piety was Francis Asbury.

A few years ago I read his biography,

“American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodist” by John Wigger.

Asbury rode thousands of miles on horseback

During the American Revolution and in the decades thereafter,

Preaching the Gospel,

Converting the masses,

Expanding the Methodist movement beyond the wealthy coastal cities

Deep into the wilderness and frontier.

Asbury owned little,

Gave most everything away,

Lived on the generosity of host families.

His primary concern was with the saving of souls,

Bringing people into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ,

Then discipling them by organizing people into class meetings.

Class meetings, patterned after the class meetings of John Wesley,

Were led by a lay leader,

Met regularly,

Served to support one another in their discipleship,

And to reach out and serve the poor.

It’s rigid discipline encouraged love and devotion;

A modest, pious Christian life moving on towards sanctification.

Asbury avoided the trappings of wealth and power,

Eagerly seeking the farmer, the slave, the common person.

Asbury avoided locating in the comforts of cities on the Eastern seaboard,

Preferring the interior wilderness of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Tennessee.

Boarding with a frontier family,

Warmed by their hearth,

Speaking of mortal and immortal concerns,

Warms the heart and quickens the soul.

Keep the poor among you always, Jesus commanded.

Opportunities abound to not just talk about poverty

But to do something about it.

One in five children in America live in poverty.

Of our total population, 48% are poor or low income.

At the same time, 1% of the population own 43% of the nation’s wealth.

The bottom 80% are left with just 7% of wealth.

(http://kairoscenter.org/poor-peoples-campaign-concept-paper/)

And that’s just in America.

Love the Lord, the Great Commandment tells us.

Love your neighbor as yourself, it is quickly followed up.

When we can love our neighbors as extravagantly as Mary loved Jesus,

We will go a long way towards keeping the poor among us

And serving their needs.

Just as Jesus fed the hungry crowds,

So too can we feed those who are unable to feed themselves or their families.

Just as Jesus healed the sick,

So too can we make health care affordable and accessible to all who need it.

Just as Jesus railed against systems of injustice and oppressions of this world,

So too can we.

Dearly beloved,

Breathe deeply and smell the fragrance of Mary’s anointing perfume.

Be inspired to love Jesus,

Not just by our words,

But through our actions

With acts of love and charity.

Love God and

Love neighbors,

Especially our poorest of neighbors.

Roll up the sleeves and don’t be afraid of getting your hands dirty.

Serve the poor.

You’re doing the Lord’s work.

Keep the poor among us always.

Be God’s extravagant love.

Live modestly.

Embrace piety.

Live that you may please God.

Let the rest take care of itself.

Amen.

“‘That Son of Yours!’ The Injustice of Grace”

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

March 27, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

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:

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’

So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

| Centering Prayer |

Oh, my.

Where to start?

The challenges of preaching on this parable of Jesus are many.

1. It’s well known.

Most of us are familiar with it.

2. It’s been interpreted by preachers, professors, video Bible study leaders, and countless Sunday school teachers.

Quality and frequency varies, as does memory and age.

Even still, there aren’t many unturned stones.

3. This parable often arouses the dysfunction of families to bubble to the surface.

Coffee hour, the ride home, and conversation around the dinner table could be interesting today.

It might be painful for many.

My Sunday school experience

Labeled this parable

“The Parable of the Prodigal Son.”

But there is a loving father and a resentful brother.

There are a lot of moving parts and multiple levels of Gospel truths embedded here.

In the original Greek

There are no titles, chapters, or verses in the Gospels.

These have all been added later by scribes, editors, early Church fathers, and translators.

The title assigned to a section, event, or parable

Reflect the author’s bias and

Shape the audience perspective.

How we think about the Gospel is often shaped

By how others thought about the Gospel.

So, what should we title our parable?

Here is my top four titles:

1. “Parable of the Prodigal Son”

2. “Parable of the No Good, Good for Nothing, Rotten-to-the-Core Son”

3. “Parable of Lost Sons”

4. “Parable of a Father’s Injustice”

I started out with 10 titles,

Thinking each would make a good sermon point.

If I went with all 10 we’d be here all day.

I wrote 2 and cut it back to 8.

It was still too long, so

I settled in on 4.

At the end of the day,

Jesus promises to offend everyone

By the injustice of God’s grace.

1. “Parable of the Prodigal Son”

This is the traditional, Sunday school title assigned to this parable.

Prodigal means “a person who spends money in a recklessly extravagant way.” (Google search)

It assumes the younger son’s point of view:

He was rebellious.

He engaged in sinful behavior.

He loses everything.

No one helps him.

Life is terrible feeding pigs.

Even non-practicing, secular Jews would find slopping pigs abhorrent.

He plans and carries out a scheme to manipulate his father

With the hope that he will be allowed back home and reinstated as if nothing happened.

The Prodigal Son’s plan is successful.

Moral of the story: no matter how bad you mess up your life,

Your heavenly Father is waiting, watching, and hoping you will return home.

There is nothing – nothing whatsoever – that can separate anyone from the love of God.

It is our Father’s deepest, longing desire that we return home to God.

Can you live with that?

2. “Parable of the No Good, Good for Nothing, Rotten-to-the-Core Son”

This point of view could have come from the grumbling Pharisees and scribes.

Judgment is often decreed by those deemed most pious, privileged, or righteous;

Like card carrying members of the conservative caucus,

The Yacht Club,

Ivy League-ers.

Who would associate

With tax collectors and sinners?

This is the kind of judgment that Pharisees and scribes would have made:

The youngest son is an awful person who gets an awesome party.

If we find ourselves in this group of people

Who work hard to maintain our conservative, righteous credentials,

Along with the Pharisees and scribes,

It’s natural to resent the younger son.

This naturally leads us to question

“What is God’s answer to our resentment?”

Answer: love.

Moral of the story:

God’s love is without regard to prior behavior.

God doesn’t appear to be concerned with

How it plays in public opinion polls

Or what other people think.

Our Father’s love is unconditional, lavish, and abundant.

Can you live with that?

3. “Parable of Lost Sons”

How does a loving Father end up raising two knuckleheaded, hopelessly lost sons?

Growing up the youngest of four

In our Pennsylvania Dutch family,

I know that I got away with murder.

I also know how stubborn and bull-headed I can be.

I could very well be that younger brother seeking to sow my wild oats.

Fact: I don’t like getting my hands dirty.

I don’t like working under a hot sun.

When my brother works sun up to sun down he makes me look bad.

Fact: The younger son does not deserve the inheritance he received.

By tradition and law,

It is all supposed to go to the eldest male child.

Asking for it plays the Father like a fiddle.

Giving it tells me

He is not only soft in the heart,

The Father is soft in the head, too.

My name is “Mayhem” and I star in the Allstate commercials.

At the same time

I could very well be that older brother working out in the field.

Fact: The baby of the family was always Father’s favorite,

And he always gets a free pass.

Fact: That brother of mine never worked a hard day in his life. 

Fact: I was happy when he left.

I hoped he never returned.

Fact: When he did return, no one even had the courtesy to tell me.

Fact: He’s dead to me.

I’m never talking to him again.

To which the loving Father responds:

“‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” (15:31-32)

Moral of the story: Finding the lost and returning them home is our Heavenly Father’s greatest priority.

Can you live with that?

4. How about this for a title:

“Parable of a Father’s Injustice”

Maybe, if dad had raised his sons better, they wouldn’t have turned out so rotten?

Where is the mother in the house?

Talk about dysfunction!

All three of them need psychiatric intervention,

To be medicated, and

Sent to long-term care!

No matter how one experiences this parable of Jesus,

It is obvious to all that the loving, patient Father

Does not treat his two sons equally or fairly.

The Father gives to his young buck a share of the inheritance

That belonged to his eldest son.

It wasn’t his to give.

The Father was watching and waiting for his son to return.

He wasn’t out in the field working with his eldest,

Pulling his fair share of the work.

The Father was quick to give his prodigal son

Even more wealth and riches – that weren’t his to give.

He gives him a robe, ring, and sandals.

He gives him his brother’s prize winning 4-H calf.

The eldest son raised him from a pup.

The Father failed to invite his elder son to the party.

Holy cow; no wonder the elder son is angry,

Dug his heels in, and refused to go inside to the party.

There is overflowing resentment towards his Father who treated him unfairly.

“But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’” (15:30)

He’s outraged!

Can you blame him?

Moral of the story: God’s grace isn’t fair.

If God’s grace was fair

The lost would never be found.

The dead would never be raised.

And the only means of redemption and salvation

Would be to work our way into heaven.

I can’t speak for you,

But I’m just not good enough.

The injustice of God’s grace

Reminds us that we are not God;

To pretend otherwise is idolatrous.

Rain falls on the just and the unjust.

Sunshine comes to the good and the bad.

God’s favor comes to the deserving and the undeserving.

The only way for the lost to be found

Is if God’s grace is apportioned according to God’s wisdom,

Not ours.

Can you live with that?

This parable of two sons

Is no more a creative license to eat, drink, and be merry

Than it is to try to earn your way into heaven.

…..

These are the promises of Jesus: no matter how bad you mess up life,

Your heavenly Father is waiting, watching, and hoping you will return home.

Jesus wants us to know these essential truths: our Father’s love is unconditional, lavish, and abundant.

Finding the lost and returning them home is our Heavenly Father’s greatest priority.

Moral of the story: God’s grace isn’t fair.

But it is sufficient.

God’s grace is motivated by our Father’s love

Who desires the lost to be found,

The sinner to be forgiven,

The estranged to be reconciled,

The dead to be given new life.

That’s good enough for me.

Can you live with that?

Amen.

“Time is Short”

Luke 13:1-9

March 20, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 13:1-9

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

| Centering Prayer |

Lent is a season of many facets.

It points us towards Jerusalem and invites us to travel with Jesus towards mortal confrontation.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere,

Lent is a season where Spring teases us with hints of that which is to come,

While reminding us of the reality right before our eyes:

Slush, mud, and that sloppy mess endlessly wiped away from our windshield.

There just isn’t enough windshield wiper fluid in this world.

Keeping a clean windshield this past week made me think about repentance;

A common thread woven throughout Lent,

Addressed each year through the Gospels,

Especially prevalent and characteristic of Luke / Acts.

Had the presence and actions of Jesus Christ taken place today in our cultural environment

Jesus may have used windshield wipers as a metaphor for repentance.

It might have gone something like this:

‘Consider the slush of Spring,

Salted, plowed, and sprayed upon your windshield.

Your windshield wipers are like repentance;

Every sin and moral failure is wiped away,

Never-freezing fluid cleans and shines.

Just as one is able to see more clearly,

Slush and spray return and gradually obscure sight.

Repentance is needed all over again.’

Silly speculation? Perhaps.

Yet, allow our windshield wipers to remind us

Of our need for continual, repeated, lifelong repentance.

…………

Every preacher of experience will have used the Lenten theme of repentance

To address the issue numerous times throughout their career.

I’ve personally interpreted and preached on this Gospel passage on repentance twelve times.

Yet, the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ,

Never ceases to amaze me.

The more I study,

The more I digest and discern,

The more I reflect and pray,

The more the Gospel opens up to me.

I’m always learning something new,

Which allows me to fall deeper into relationship with Jesus.

New is a model of repentance that reflects maturing spiritual growth,

Which I’ve crafted into my imagination a flowing river

Leading us directly to God.

At the beginning of the journey

Is Christianity 101.

Freshman year.

We step into the boat called the Church

And begin our lifelong journey of faith.

We emerge from our baptismal waters an empty slate;

A clean pallet, upon which our mentors, the Saints, begin to paint.

“Teach them all that I have taught you,” Jesus commanded. (Matthew 28:20)

We begin with a definition:

Repentance means

“the activity of reviewing one’s actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs, which is accompanied by commitment to change for the better.”

(Wikipedia, with reference to: Jeremiah Unterman (2017). Justice for All: How the Jewish Bible Revolutionized Ethics. University of Nebraska Press. p. 109.)

Repentance.

Reviewing one’s actions.

Feeling contrition or regret.

A commitment to change for the better.

The God of our Hebrew ancestors,

As recorded in our Old Testament,

Call God’s people to repentance:

“Thus saith the Lord GOD: Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations.” – Ezekiel 14:6

Self-assessment inevitably leads to the feeling of sorrow

And a desire to return to ways of righteously following God’s will and ways.

Our Early Church ancestors

Use the Greek word Metanoia (met-an’-oy-ah) to describe repentance;

A change of mind and a change of conduct. 

John the Baptist called for people to repent.

Jesus called for repentance. (Matthew 4:17)

Jesus instructs his disciples to proclaim repentance. (Mark 6:12)

Peter calls on people to repent in his Pentecost sermon. (Acts 2:38)

Paul calls on both Jew and Greek to repent towards God. (Acts 20:21)

Obviously, the beginning of repentance is an important early step

In the journey that leads us to God.

The behavior of the world,

And our sinful behavior,

Must be recognized and assessed.

We must experience the sorrow that follows;

Sorrow that comes from the heart,

That comes from disappointing God.

Sorrow must drive a growing, burning desire

For moral transformation with a stubborn intention

To never again fail God.

Christianity 101. Repentance begins with moral transformation.

But that’s not where it ends.

……

Christianity 201.

Are you ready

To grow with the flow and

To be brought closer to God?

Turn on your windshield wipers.

Repent.

Rinse.

Wipe.

Repeat.

A clean windshield allows us to see more clearly the reality that surrounds us.

Repentance allows us to see clearly

The hazards and dangers of the world.

Repentance allows us to see clearly

A safe way forward, an escape from the mortal realities of life.

Repentance allows us to bring into sharp focus

The purpose and meaning

Of Christ’s Passion, Suffering, Death, and Resurrection.

It’s impossible to interpret the times without the ability to see clearly.

“You see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens.” Jesus teaches (12:54)

Clean off the windshield so you can see the clouds!

Repentance makes it clear to see the randomness of suffering and death.

Planes fall from the sky and people die.

Eighteen were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them.

The tyrant Pilate killed Galileans and mingled their blood with Temple sacrifices.

Random. Senseless. Suffering.

Repentance makes this crystal clear:

We all die. Age 6 months, 21 years, 59 years, 94 years.

Bad things happen to good people, to bad people, to all people.

Our mortality is shared with everyone else in God’s creation.

Here’s the Good News:

We’re alive right now.

Take advantage of this moment and repent, Jesus encourages us,

“Unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” (13:5)

Repentance can only happen in the here and now;

You can’t repent after you die.

Time is short.

This breath and this heartbeat is a gift from God;

Take advantage of it.

Repent now.

This is what we can see with a clean windshield:

Repentance brings into focus the actions and meaning of Jesus.

With our repeated repentance we can come to a deeper understanding

Of Christ’s love for us,

The generous and abundant gift of atonement,

Substituting our sins for his death upon a cross.

Repentance allows us to see, confirm, and claim God’s promise;

The eternal gift of salvation,

Victory over the grave and a promise that

The river of faith leads us into an eternal presence with God.

Wow.

Repent.

Repent often.

A safe way forward is clear.

Follow the Way;

God’s Way forward.

……

Keep those windshield wipers working

And use your wiper fluid lavishly.

Christianity 301 is right around the next bend.

Repentance makes clear an individual characteristic of a Christian life.

What is often overlooked,

But can now be clearly seen before us,

Is the reality and power of communal repentance.

What happens when more and more of the world’s population

Engages in the repeated acts of individual and collective repentance?

The Kingdom of God advances.

The Kingdom of God grows in strength.

The Kingdom of God welcomes home new disciples of Jesus

And the world is transformed.

Like a rolling snowball that grows with increasing size

The momentum of the Kingdom of God grows with such power and force

That God’s Kingdom will not be deviated.

God’s Kingdom will only have one eventual and certain outcome.

Stand confident in this fact:

There is nothing that you or I can do that will derail or bring to destruction God’s Kingdom.

We are freed with creative license to facilitate and participate in Kingdom growth.

So, let’s repent; and get to work!

Stand confident in this fact:

The outcome of God’s Kingdom is certain;

God’s Kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. (11:2)

Bank it.

Count on it.

……

Our senior year culminates with graduation;

What John Wesley called

Christian Perfection.

Perfection is a complete state of clarity, purity, and love.

Perfection is what we strive for with every act of repentance,

With every wipe of our windshield.

Perfection is the example we attempt to set for those who come behind us.

Perfection is God’s gift of being forgiven,

Being re-made righteous,

Striving to maintain perfect righteousness.

Perfection is God’s gift of salvation,

Living in eternal love and presence of God.

Perfection of the world is God’s deepest desire.

……

Jesus calls you, me, and the world, to repentance.

“Turn back, oh man. Forswear thy foolish ways!” Jesus sings in the musical Godspell.

Assess yourself.

Raise your self-awareness. 

Taste bitter regret.

Rise to the commitment of moral transformation.

Repent, Jesus commands.

As that sin is forgiven and wiped away

See the world more clearly.

Time is short and the length of our lives is unknown and sometimes arbitrary,

So, repent now. Repent repeatedly.

With repentance comes clarity:

See the dangers, trials, and snares before us.

See the path God gives us to safely make forward progress.

Repent, Jesus so desires,

That we may see clearly and journey boldly

With Christ

To his cross and empty tomb.

Repent, beloved.

Repent knowing that

Repentance advances God’s Kingdom, that

Repentance brings us to Christian perfection, that

Repentance brings us home to God.

Amen.

“Cry of Lament”

Luke 13:31-35

March 13, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 13:31-35

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you.

And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

| Centering Prayer |

Lent is a time of prayer;

A continuous conversation directly with God.

Throughout salvation history,

The narrative of God’s creation and intervention in the lives of God’s people,

God expresses a consistent desire to be open and responsive to prayers.

Communication goes both ways.

When God does the talking, it is important for us to do the listening.

God speaks through our thoughts, dreams, visions, intuition, imagination, and creative arts.

God speaks through the words of others,

Through the presence of others,

Through the support of others.

God speaks in the movement of worship;

Scripture proclaimed,

Music and silence,

Sacraments celebrated, experienced, felt, tasted.

Listen.

Listen carefully.

Listen actively.

Listen attentively.

Write it down, less we forget.

There are times when we are directly connected to God in prayer

That we are the ones called upon to do the talking.

Our Biblical history is full of experiences where God longs to hear our voice.

Like a loving parent with an adult child far from home,

God wants us to pick up the phone and share some face time with us.

God wants us to take the time to put pen to paper and fill him in on our latest activities.

God wants to remain intimately engaged in every aspect of your life and mine.

There are many ways that we can do the talking.

Like a good pitcher, it’s good to be able to throw a lot of different kinds of pitches.

Mix it up.

Keep it diverse.

Make it fresh.

First, we can bless and praise the Lord.

Praise and adoration is all about putting into words

Our experience of a powerful, eternal, loving, gracious, forgiving, saving God.

Words come easier for some than for others;

Praise and adoration may be expressed with dance, instrument, ritual, color, or parament.

For others,

It may come simply from awareness

Of being in the presence of the Holy Spirit.   

Secondly, we can use prayer to ask God for what you need.

The fancy title for this is a “Prayer of Petition”.

Jesus tells us to ask, seek, knock.

So we should do it.

In need of forgiveness? Ask for it.

In need of help or support to get through a rough time? Ask for it.

In need of strength to ward off temptation. Ask.

God wants to be asked.

Just do it.

Thirdly, we can use prayer to ask God to assist others.

This is called a “Prayer of Intercession”.

Our prayers are not so much as an expectation that

God Doesn’t know what’s going on, or,

Isn’t concerned with what’s going on, or,

That God will get right to our intercessions

And answer every one of them just as we ask.

Our intercessions create a change in the heart of the one doing the praying.

Intercessions soften us up;

Creating a determination to partner with God

To address the needs of the world.

Fourthly, prayer can be used simply to say “thank you” to God for what God has given and for what God has done.

Attribute the goodness of the world to our God who wants the best for us.

Attribute the victories in life to our God who loves us and works on our behalf.

God’s miraculous work is sometimes obvious, often times not.

Leave nothing up to coincidence or luck.

Give thanks always.

Lastly, often overlooked, but highlighted by Genesis 15 and Luke 13

Is recognizing that cries of lament are also an essential means of prayer.

What is a lament?

Simply stated, a lament is making a complaint.

Stop complaining to one another.

Take your every complaint to the Lord.

Take them straight to the top.

When making your lament,

There is no need to ask for anything.

Simply name your pain.

Spell it out in every detail.

Make your pain God’s pain.

Make your problems God’s problems.

Make God complicit in your suffering.

Make your lament to God,

Leave it at God’s altar,

And walk away.

Leave the rest up to God.

This is exactly what Abram does with God.

God had made covenant with Abram way back in Genesis 12;

He would be given the land,

God would make him great,

Abram would become the progeny of generations of people,

Blessed by God,

Who would populate the earth.

Problem was, Sarai, Abram’s wife, was barren;

… and she was 90 years old. (Genesis 17: 17)

“Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield;

Your reward shall be very great.” (Genesis 15:1)

Reward? Payment?

Abram didn’t want material things;

He was already wealthy.

What Abram wanted was an heir.

Abram doesn’t ask for children;

He just lays it out there.

Abram named his pain,

And made his pain

God’s pain.

That’s a lamentation.

The Lord brought Abram outside and said,

“Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them … So shall your descendants be.” (Genesis 15:5)

You’ll have so many offspring, you won’t be able to count them all.

God reaffirms the promise,

And takes his promise to the next level.

God expands the promise with unlimited abundance. 

God is open to our suffering.

God invites us to share our pain.

This is God’s promise when we cry with lament.

Jesus overlooks the city of Jerusalem

And he cries out in pain.

“Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” (13:34)

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

Who’s very meaning is peace.

-Salem comes from the Hebrew Salom, or Shalom.

Jerusalem had become a place of ruthless, destructive violence, stoning, and killing.

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

This lament is a resounding echo of

Jesus being nearly thrown off a cliff and killed

After reading from the Isaiah scroll

In his hometown synagogue of Nazareth.

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

Is located and established by David on top of Mount Zion.

David had the Ark of the Covenant,

The dwelling place of God,

Located in the center of God’s people

On top of the mountain.

God present.

God centered.

God with God’s people.

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

Whose Temple crowned the peak of Zion,

Became the only place where there was a

Constant connection between heaven and earth.

The Holy of Holies was that intersection

Where God passed freely.

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

The location where God engaged in constant warfare

Over the powers of sin and death

With none other than the devil himself,

Fighting with everything at stake,

Even the life of Jesus.

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

Where belief had waned,

Where faith had become complicit with Rome,

Where organized religion had become drunk with power,

Where Herod Antipas was one of many tyrants the world would know.

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

In this time of Lent,

Jerusalem becomes for us a foreshadowing

Of the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus, yet to come.

Jesus cries with lament;

But this isn’t the final word.

Allow God to lead you outside

To gaze into the night sky.

“Look to the heaven and count them …

So shall your descendants be.” (Genesis 15:5)

Like with Abram,

God responds to the lament of Jesus

With reaffirmation and an expanded, abundant promise.

Jerusalem would not only become known for crucifixion,

Jerusalem would now become known for its empty tomb.

Jerusalem! We will celebrate in a few short weeks

Is become resurrection!

Ascension!

The descent of the Holy Spirit!

The origin for all apostolic missions!

The promised sign for the return of our Messiah, Jesus Christ!

When Jesus cries of lament,

You and I are given license to share our complaints with God, too.

There is no point in complaining to one another;

That only stirs up the hornet’s nest for no good reason.

Take your complaint straight to the top;

Straight to God.

Just spell it out.

Name it.

Invite God into your suffering.

Leave your pain at this altar

Confident in the knowledge, experience, and promise

Of a loving, gracious, and abundant God.

Amen.

“The Liar, and the Lies He Tells”

Luke 4:1-13

March 6, 2022 ~ Lent 1

the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 4:1-13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

| Centering Prayer |

Initially I planned to title this message “Temptation.”

However, my thoughts, reflections, and prayers this week

Have taken me in a different direction.

So I’m calling this “The Liar, and the Lies He Tells.”

Over the years I have preached on this text many times,

usually focusing on temptation.

As I sat reading, rereading, and studying this Gospel narrative,

The role of the devil captured my attention.

We know that Jesus Christ is the head of the church;

and the church is the gathering of all disciples

engaged in His ministry of

grace, love, forgiveness, redemption, and salvation.

In today’s Gospel lesson,

we are presented with a stark contrast to Jesus and the church;

the complete opposite pole,

an absolute contradiction to

everything we believe and know to be true.

We are served up the devil on a silver platter,

the embodiment of all that is evil,

the head liar,

who rules over all that is sin, vile, and immoral.

When I came out of seminary,

I was naive,  

I was ready to explain away the devil and hell.

“After all, how can a loving God create a hell?”

Life and experiences the past 40 years have taught me otherwise.

We’ve become master craftsmen at building our own hell

And accommodating evil and sin.

The danger of denying the existence of evil and immorality

Is being swept away and overwhelmed

Before even being aware of its attack.

A ground war in Europe was unthinkable

Until ten days ago.

Online sports betting came out of nowhere.

Pornography is one click away,

Or less.

The county is being swamped by ghost guns

Being used largely by violent, young adults.

Lord, have mercy.

We are being smothered with apathy,

ungodly civil libertarians,

self-centered, instantly gratifying materialism, and

by freedom that has no responsibility.

Lord, have mercy.

Social trends reveal

Closing churches,

Declining attendance,

A society that is increasing a-religious,

even, anti-Christian.

The pandemic has been like throwing gasoline on the fire.

Lord, have mercy.

The Church’s silence on social issues

Is like handing over of the surrender flag to the devil himself.

One of my earliest memories of church,

was at the Camp Street United Methodist church

in Jamestown, New York.

This was before my father entered the ministry.

The pastor was H. K. Geiser.

I may have been 4 or 5 years old.

I still remember Rev. Geiser preaching in one sermon

that each of us face a fork in the road,

at one point or another in our life.

“The decision is up to you,” he preached,

“which direction will you choose?”

Which direction will you choose?

Will you choose Christ and His Church?

Or, will you choose the devil, the head liar, and the lies that he tells?

Making no choice

Makes one to risk it all,

To be caught and swept away

In the flood of sin and evil.

We hear Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit.

It doesn’t say that the Spirit led him into temptation;

it simply says he was led into the wilderness.

This follows the proclamation of John the Baptist,

the Baptism of Jesus,

and a listing of Jesus’ ancestors.

His identity is firmly established.

Jesus is the one promised by John

who will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit,

who will clear his threshing floor with his winnowing fork,

who will gather the wheat into his granary,

and burn the chaff in unquenchable fire (Luke 3:16-17).

Jesus is the Son of God, the Beloved,

with whom God is pleased (Luke 3:22).

Jesus is a direct descent of Adam,

the first son of God (Luke 3:23-38).

Jesus is the Messiah,

the Savior,

sent to save the world from going to hell.

Now he finds himself facing his first test.

Jesus is in the wilderness, alone,

when the devil comes knocking at his door.

Not just once.

Not just three times, as we like to remember.

But for 40 days the devil comes to Jesus and tempts him.

This is the first characteristic of the devil; the devil is persistent.

He will attack, and attack, and attack;

all the while trying to wear you down,

just like he tried to wear down Jesus.

If we are told time and again

that something evil is all right,

before you know it,

we’ll just start believing the lie that it is okay.

If it is legal it must be right.

But this is what the devil does;

his persistence lures us into the quicksand of sin,

and before we know it, we’re gone.

The devil comes to Jesus and

knows that he is hungry from his fast (Luke 4:2).

Call it paranoia, if you will, but

I believe our Gospel reveals that

the devil is able to identify with us and understand our needs,

just as he did with Jesus.

Jesus didn’t tell him that he was hungry.

The devil looked upon him and knew;

he knew that Jesus had hunger churning in him.

Consider the weakness you and I have today.

Couldn’t it be possible that

the devil knows our every weakness

and is poised ready to exploit them?

Just where do you think those thoughts come from?

thoughts tempting us to sin,

to steal,

to lie,

to abuse,

to exploit,

to objectify,

to destroy?

The Gospel reports that

“The devil said to him,

If you are the Son of God…’” (Luke 4:3).

Wait-a-minute-here, buddy-boy!

It’s already been established who Jesus is

and why he has come.

What the devil is doing is taunting;

he is taunting Jesus with the whole ‘if you are’ routine.

This is the next characteristic of the devil.

The devil taunts us,

just as he taunted Jesus.

These taunts come in many devious forms.

“Go ahead, you don’t need permission.

You are a good Christian.”

Or, “if you think you are so good,

then you would never

– wink, wink –

do something as terrible as this.”

My gracious,

Such delusional, self-justifying thinking

happens all the time.

Beware of the devil’s evil taunts!

The next characteristic of the devil

might be dismissed by some

as simply having bad manners,

instead of being outright evil.

The devil tells Jesus what to do;

he is bossy;

he is full of himself.

“Command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” (Luke 4:3)

Hold it right there, buster!

Don’t speak to Jesus that way.

You don’t speak to elders, teachers, pastors, parents, or grandparents like that.

Commanding people might have a place in the business world,

but not in the world of nurturing human relationships.

I’m tempted daily to become full of myself.

It is humbling to learn

that this is how the devil works

to weave evil into our world.

Jesus responds with scripture,

word for word from Deuteronomy, 

“It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

When attacked by the head liar,

do what Jesus did:

return to the Word of God.

Fall back on scripture.

Let God speak through scripture to give you strength.

The devil resorts to

his main characteristic:

he is a liar, a big fat liar!

He takes Jesus to the top of the world and says to him,

“To you I will give their glory and all this authority;

for it has been given over to me.” (Luke 4:6).

Actually, no.

No it hasn’t!

It’s a lie;

the devil doesn’t have ownership of the world.

It isn’t in his authority.

The world’s glory isn’t his to give away.

Think of the lies in your experience.

The lies that have been told to you.

Consider the lies that you have told.

The big ones.

The small ones.

The ones distorted to fit our best narrative.

Dishonesty is the work of the devil in today’s world.

It is a way for sin and evil to stain society,

to ruin relationships,

to destroy trust.

When you feel tempted to not tell the truth,

know from whence that temptation comes.

“If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours,”

the devil tells Jesus. (Luke 4:6)

Ah, the devil reveals his hand, doesn’t he?

The devil desires our worship.

Join me in my determination to never worship

anything or anyone other than God.

The devil knows that worship is one of the Ten Commandments,

as listed in Exodus and Deuteronomy,

given to us from God Almighty.

Again, Jesus relies upon the Word:

‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” (Luke 4:8)

Know that what is flesh is flesh,

and what is God is God.

If we worship anyone or anything besides the Lord,

we are, in fact, worshipping the devil.

It doesn’t have to be pentagrams and satanic cults.

If you worship money, or your status, or the toys that fill your garage …

you are being lured

into worshipping the devil.

Can your bank account save you?

Can your title or position in the company save you?

Can your luxuries save you?

Let us turn our backs on flesh,

deny the world,

and worship only the Lord our God.

The devil taunts Jesus a second time.

If you are the Son of God …” (Luke 4:9)

Don’t be taken in by this ploy,

and I’ll tell you why.

It would be easy to suggest that the devil slow on the uptake,

that Jesus couldn’t be taunted.

But, remember,

we know the devil is persistent.

Quoting scripture isn’t beneath him!

He knows that Jesus draws strength from the Word.

“… it is written, 

‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’

and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,

so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” (Luke 4:10)

The devil quotes scripture!

Not just one verse,

but two verses, taken right from Psalm 91,

as we spoke in our Call to Worship this morning.

The devil is learned in the Word,

and he isn’t afraid to use it towards his own evil means.

Scripture can be used either

As a knife,

Or as truth that leads to the heart of God.

Because of this,

Christians need to keep a critical eye for those who quote scripture.

Ask yourself who? What? Where? When? How? And why?

Employ the Wesleyan Quadrilateral,

Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.

Is it reasonable?

Is it traditional and does it fit with experience?

After all, God does work through history,

and has been at work in my experience, too.

The test I use is this;

Does it square itself with the Gospel?

Be wary of those who use the Word

To support their belief

– be they Sunday school teachers,

preachers,

even bishops or popes!

Discern.

Question.

Ask: Are there ulterior motives?

Is there a hidden agenda?

By quoting scripture,

the devil reveals that he is a trickster, too.

He tempts Jesus to call upon the angels to protect him,

as a demonstration of his power.

God’s power isn’t for testing purposes.

It is what it is!

God uses power only as God sees fit.

It isn’t some solution that we can conjure up,

to stop speeding bullets

end Covid,

or cause cancer to be cured.

Yes, God works miracles,

through Jesus,

through His disciples,

and through you and me.

Yes, Jesus tells us that his power will work through His faithful.

Yet, it isn’t our power that we are deploying.

It is God prerogative to work through us

when,

where,

and for whatever purpose God sees fit.

God used divine power to still a storm.

That doesn’t mean tomorrows storm will be stilled.

God has used divine power to give sight to the blind,

cast out demons,

heal the paralyzed,

and to raise from the dead.

Yet, God’s power is God’s prerogative, not ours.

Jesus responds directly from Deuteronomy once again,

“It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Deut.6:16).

Boom!

Jesus slams the door right in the devil’s face.

So, too, should we.

One last observation about the devil:

St. Luke reports

that even though the devil had finished every test,

he still wasn’t finished –

“he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13).

Did I tell you that the devil is persistent?!

Let me think… when were those opportune times?

  • Remember Jesus’ struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane?
  • How about when the devil bought out Judas for a few pieces of silver?
  • And don’t forget Peter’s denial!
  • The ultimate “opportune time,” hanging on the cross, stripped, tortured, humiliated, and left to die – when Mark reports Jesus’ cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)  

The devil waits for opportunity.

He is patient.

The devil is never done.

He is always waiting for that one way he can wiggle his way into your life.

It is up to you and me to deny the devil his opportunity.

Be strong!

Take courage!

Put on the armor of God!

Don’t give in!

If you succumb to temptation,

as on occasion we all do,

immediately repent,

call on the name of Jesus,

and you will be saved.

Jesus defends himself by walking in the Spirit.

He is born of the Spirit,

baptized in the Spirit,

led by the Spirit.

If we likewise lead our lives in the Spirit of God,

then we also will have a sure defense

against any evil that may assail us.

Jesus was prepared to defend himself from the devil.

We know it was his practice to attend synagogue,

to learn as a youth,

to teach,

and to preach.

Let us also find strength

Through the discipline

Of regular worship attendance.

Finally, Jesus found strength in the Word.

He relied upon scripture to repel

every temptation of the devil.

Let us work diligently to prepare ourselves in the same way.

It is essential that we learn the scriptures;

that we are constantly feeding our souls with the Word of God.

Beloved, do not be naive!

The devil is the very real embodiment

of all that is evil and sinful and immoral in this world.

These are his characteristics:

  • He is persistent.
  • He is able to identify with us and understand our needs.
  • He taunts us.
  • He tells us what to do, is bossy, and he is full of himself.
  • He is he is a liar, a big fat liar!
  • The devil desires our worship.
  • The devil quotes scripture!
  • The devil is a trickster.
  • The devil waits for opportunity and is patient.

Being aware

is being forewarned.

Being warned

calls us to be vigilant.

Being vigilant is to be prepared.

Being prepared is to be strong.

Find strength, beloved, in Christ,

and in His Word.

Amen.

“The Only Constant in Life”

Luke 9:28-36

February 27, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 9:28-36

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 

Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. 

While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

| Centering Prayer |

I’m getting my taxes prepared March 25th.

I’m hoping for the best

But bracing for the worst.

It reaffirms one of many axioms of life to be true:

The only certainty in life is death and taxes!

Luke’s account of the transfiguration of Jesus

Reminds me of two additional axioms of life and faith:

The only absolute in life is the absolute love of God.

And, the only constant in life is the constant state of change.

Transfiguration, by definition is

“a complete change

In form or appearance

Into a more beautiful or spiritual state.” (Google Dictionary)

Something in Jesus changes.

Physically he changes.

Visually he changes.

The trajectory of his purpose, motive, and methods change.

I boldly suggest that the arc of God’s intervention in salvation history changes.

The Gospel invites us to keep pace with this change.

Are we up to the task?

Since Christmas, we have been following Jesus

Almost exclusively traveling throughout Galilee,

His hometown province in northern Israel.

Jesus launched his ministry of preaching, teaching, exorcism, and healing.

We remember how the ministry of Jesus began,

With his baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We recall Jesus calling his first disciples from the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

He orients them, instructs them, and prepares them to become apostles.

To this day, the Church draws heavily from Jesus’ Galilean ministry

To prepare people for a life of discipleship.

This is Christianity 101.

Word of mouth

Is the highest form of evangelism.

The presence and actions of Jesus draws a crowd.

Of course it would:

The world is in search of healing.

Just look at our long list of prayer concerns.

The world longs to learn the Word,

The truth about God,

Not some rigid fundamentalist rant.

A diverse crowd assembles,

Drawn like metal filings to a magnet.

The crowd included Jews and Gentiles,

Dark skinned, mixed race Samaritans from the South and

Caucasian, worldly Greeks from the North.

All surged to touch him, that they may be healed.

All crowded closes to hear and learn from Jesus.

Jesus ministered to every last one of them.

Jesus was preaching from the barrel,

Teaching his familiar Beatitudes.

Jesus preached truth.

What he taught was explosive, revolutionary, a complete reversal of the world’s order.

What Jesus taught reveals the details

Of a loving and gracious God,

Deeply invested in life and relationships.

The only constant in life is the constant state of change.

The mountain air was charged with electrons.

All that was needed was

A divine touch.

The moment was electric.

Jesus makes the pivot

In dazzling light.

Once the ozone cleared,

God’s arc of salvation history would begin to play out:

Passion,

Death,

Resurrection,

Ascension,

Followed by, as so eloquently described in the Gospel of Luke / Acts,

The coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of

The Spirit led, empowered Church.

To prepare for the monumental changes that Jesus enacts,

He takes Peter, James, and John on a prayer retreat.

They go to a near-by mountain top.

Being on top of a mountain frames the perception that one is near God.

Lisa, our in-house real estate agent would affirm the importance of

Location! Location! Location!

Good call, Jesus.

Just like all mountain top experiences in life,

One can not live at the peek for long:

Mountain tops are barren, windswept, and devoid of water.

The air is thin.

Mountain tops are cold, often overcast, and rushed:

One has to get down from the mountain before daylight is lost.

Jesus prays.

Peter, James, and John claim they were “just resting their eyes.”

Actually, they peek.

Reminiscent of a burning bush,

God’s presence is made known

When the appearance of his face changed

And his cloths became dazzling white.

Epiphany!

The whole manifestation of God in Jesus Christ his Son,

Confirms to a world languishing in sin and brokenness

That something new is in the making.

Epiphany! God with us, doing something new!

Moses appears before their eyes;

The first prototype sent by God

On a mission

To deliver to the world the gift of Law,

That the world might be saved from sin.

God desires the world to be saved from sin.

But as each successive wave of judges

Attempted to rule as God’s representatives,

Each judge sunk deeper into corruption, sin, and death.

(See the Biblical book of Judges)

Elijah appears before the eyes of Peter, James, and John.

Elijah is the forerunner,

Historically the next divine initiative

To warn the world of their sin

And to call the sinful to repentance.

The prophetic age used chosen individuals

To serve as God’s spokespersons

That the world may be saved by the repentance of sin.

God desires the world to be saved from sin.

Moses and Elijah together with Jesus;

The Messiah,

The circle of salvation is completed.

God steps directly onto the world stage

In the person of Jesus Christ.

Moses, Elijah, and now Jesus.

The only constant in life is the constant state of change.

It’s happening right before our eyes.

Luke is the only account of the Transfiguration to reports the content of their conversation:

“They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure,

When he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (9:31)

Already, Luke is one step ahead.

In hindsight, our Gospel author tells us that

God’s unfolding plan was never to stop

With death and resurrection.

God intended to send the gift of the Holy Spirit

To guide and empower us post-ascension,

After Jesus left with the promise to return.

God completely ignores Peter’s offer to Jesus

To draw out this moment of Epiphany.

The Lord doesn’t play fetch when it comes to

Our will, petitions, or prayers.

The Lord always acts

In God’s own time

In God’s own ways

According to God’s greater plans.

Note to self: playing fetch with God

Ends with a discouraged, shallow faith,

Feelings like you’re being ignored, and

Becoming ultimately frustrated.

I’d suggest that

Telling God what to do

Is irreverent, at best,

Idolatrous, at worst.

God doesn’t fetch.

God speaks from a cloud

With familiar, often repeated words,

“This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (9:35b)

Reminiscent of his baptism,

Jesus emerges into the newest era of life

With the same divine words that ushered in his first calling.

Jesus is clearly identified to Peter, John, and James

Who he is: God’s son, the anticipated Messiah, and

By what authority Jesus has license to act.

When Jesus speaks,

God is doing the talking.

When Jesus speaks,

God is doing the talking.

Better pay close attention.

The only constant in life is the constant state of change.

Jesus is transfigured from a teaching, preaching, healing, ministering Son of God

To a more beautiful, spiritual state.

Jesus is transfigured into

God on a mission

To bring redemption and salvation into the world;

God on a mission

To send the Holy Spirit to guide and develop

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

Individual salvation breaks open a new divine reality;

That God intends to save the collective whole

God intends to save the world.

God doesn’t exclude.

God leaves no one behind.

Nothing can separate you or me

From the love of God

Through Jesus Christ.

This change in God’s approach

Is dramatically revealed this coming week.

The Church likewise pivots from Epiphany to Lent.

The Ash Wednesday worship experience

Hits us with startling, mortal abruptness:

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”

Spoken as ashes are imposed.

Yet, the anxiety of change is tempered

By the enduring axiom of God’s

Unending,

Unconditional,

Overwhelming

Love.

A living, breathing, resilient Church

Must be willing to pivot when God pivots.

The Church has endured much change down through the centuries.

Early apostles gathered to deal with how to fund the spread of Christianity.

Early Church leaders divided into East and West over beliefs, rule, and the wording of creeds.

Our Western Church divided again over the abuses of clergy and distorted doctrines.

Our Protestant heritage is marked with change

As there has been further division into denominations.

There will certainly be future divisions.

Will we pivot with God

Or will we cling to our former ways

And want to return to Egypt?

In our Wesleyan heritage

Change took place over issues of slavery,

The Sunday School movement, and

The Social Gospel movement.

Attendance and participation has ebbed and flowed,

Sometimes dramatically.

The only constant in life is the constant state of change.

United Methodist are teetering on the precipice of change.

At the last United Methodist General Conference

We decided to stay the course,

To exclude our LGBTQ sisters and brothers.

How’d that work out?

Everyone lost.

The issue is a growing theological fist fight since 1976

(and before).

We are good at kicking the can four years down the road

until our next General Conference.  

The Church will continue to lose

Until the decision is made

Collectively and individually

To boldly go where God is calling:

Unified by Christ.

An end to the fight.

A peaceable separation.

Epiphany?

God always shows up.

The mercy and love of God is with those who are hurt

Even as the future remains clouded in a fog of mystery.

If only answers came easily.

“Do not be afraid,” Jesus reassures on numerous occasions.

Do not be afraid of change.

Do not be afraid of adapting to change.

Change is coming from both within and from outside

The Church of Jesus Christ.

To believe in a relational God and

to follow Jesus as our Lord and Savior,

It is helpful to be aware of how God responds to the needs of the world.

Jesus changed at his transfiguration.

God changes to meet the needs of a needy world.

To keep in relationship with God,

We, too, must be willing to adjust course.

We, too, must be willing to leave the familiar Galilee behind

And journey with Jesus to Jerusalem,

To the cross and

To the tomb.

To keep moving towards Jesus,

We must move.

We must allow God to transfigure us.

Transfiguration is hard.

It requires us to give up the old, familiar, comfortable ways.

It forces us to trust in the Lord,

That the new and uncharted path down which we are being led,

Is indeed, the will and way of the Lord.

Transfiguration is frightening.

I don’t know what the new me will look like

Or where God will be calling me.

Transfiguration is uncertainty.

Through all the whirlwind of change

One thing remains firm, solid, and absolute:

The love of God.

God loves you.

God loves all children.

God created.

God continues to create.

Nothing stays the same.

Indeed, the only constant in life is change.

Jesus changed right before the eyes of his closest disciples.

He changed from being a preacher and miracle worker

Into Messiah, God’s chosen,

Redeemer and Savior of the world.

Jesus changes from life, to death, to resurrection, to Holy Spirit.

So too are we called to change;

To draw closer in our journey with Jesus Christ,

To respond to God’s evolving plan,

Bringing His kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.

Are you up to the challenge?

Amen.