“Approaching Inevitable Change”

Mark 9:2-9

Transfiguration of the Lord – 14 February 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 9:2-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 

Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

| Centering Prayer |

There are occasions in life

Where change becomes inevitable.

It’s a tipping point, or

A singularity.

The confluence of age and circumstances,

Beliefs and values,

Faith and passion

Are taken from the cupboard and refrigerator,

Combined into a mixing bowl,

Poured into a Pyrex dish,

Placed in the oven,

And the temperature is set.

In time

The transformation from raw ingredients

Into a delicious Methodist-style casserole is complete.

The only remaining task

Is for the cook

To make the change;

From stove to table.

Change became inevitable.

For my mother

Inevitable change occurred one day at the Malta Home,

A home for orphans and the aged

Operated by the Knights of Malta,

Outside Lewistown, Pennsylvania.

It would have been 1940.

My mother was a sixteen old orphan,

Her father dying of typhus when she was an infant.

Her older brother, my uncle Dick, showed up under cover of night.

He offered to spring her from childhood bondage

And take her into his home.

Should she stay or should she go?

Life came to a head and change became inevitable.

For my father

Inevitable change occurred when his naval ship was under attack.

Kamikazes had been unleashed

And it was his duty to take the watch in the middle of the fire and fury of battle.

If Leyte Gulf wouldn’t swallow him whole,

He’d become a pastor, a preacher of the Gospel,

He fervently promised the Lord.

Like Jonah he attempted to avoid the inevitable

Until the age of 42,

24 years later,

The year being 1968,

When he turned from the corporate world

And began the ordination process to become a parish pastor. 

Life had come to a head and change became inevitable.

For myself

Inevitable change occurred one March day in Boston exactly forty years ago.

Between collegiate hockey games at the Garden,

My friend brought me to the United Methodist seminary at Boston University.

Exiting the chapel

I looked up to see the statue of Martin Luther King, Jr.

God spoke.

It was time to leave the shoreline behind.

It was time to fish other seas.

Life had come to a head and change became

As inevitable as rain.

Where are the places in your history

When you faced inevitable change?

What was God’s role?

Are you poised on the precipice of inevitable change right now?

What is God’s current role in your life?

Can you trust in God’s cooperation and support

To see you through the inevitable?

….

Jesus had reached the point of inevitable change.

This season after the Epiphany is

Bookended with the words of God,

“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

This proclamation came from the clouds at the baptism of Jesus

The first Sunday following the Epiphany.

These words are spoken again today at the transfiguration of Jesus,

The final Sunday after the Epiphany but before Lent.

“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

(Mark 1:11b and Mark 9:7b)

In between these past five Sundays

We have tasted a sampling of his Galilean ministry.

(We will return after Pentecost

for a more complete diet of Jesus and his Galilean ministry)

Over these past few weeks,

We have heard that

Jesus taught with authority in the synagogue.

He cast out demons.

He healed the sick.

He raised the dead.

Crowds had been attracted to him for obvious reasons.

Pressure mounted.

Jesus had to retreat to quiet places

To recharge and replenish the drain on his spiritual life.

Addressing one person from a crowd at a time

The demand for his touch

Overwhelmed his ability to supply the world’s needs.

Personal ministry didn’t scale for the God of creation.

Change became inevitable.

God sent his Son into the world

That who so ever believed in him

Would be saved and inherit eternal life.

Jesus came to the world,

Not just to those who appeared at his door

Or those who were lowered through his roof.

The tipping point reached its symbolic climax on that mountain top.

The presence of Elijah and Moses signified the apocalyptic end of the prior age.

The transfiguration of Jesus,

His clothing and face becoming dazzling white,

Announced the dawn of a new age,

A new world order filled with hope and promise.

It was time to pivot.

It was time to wheel South,

Head for Jerusalem, and

Embrace his divinely expected destiny.

Jesus would leave Galilee for the last time,

Returning only after his resurrection.

Jesus altered his trajectory

And began his final ascent to Jerusalem.  

“Shush” he told them,

“tell no one about what you have seen, until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”

(Mark 9:9)

Jesus faced inevitable change

… suffered for it

… died on the cross for it

… rose from the dead for it

Because his deepest desire

Is to envelop

You and me and the rest of creation

With his love and grace.

There are many who look at American Christianity today

And draw rapid conclusions

 – about churches, denominations, emerging generations –

And where all of this is headed.

Blogs are loaded full of

“5 Points of a Healthy” this

and

“12 Signs of a Dysfunctional” that.

The transition from baby boomers to

X-gens and Next-gens

Is about as graceful or comfortable as passing a kidney stone.

For decades, we analyzed attendance trends.

We experienced declining numbers of children and youth.

Many looked at aging faces in regular worship

And imagine an empty building in little more than 10 or 20 years.

We knew change was inevitable,

We knew it had to come.

We just didn’t know that it would

Sweep our legs right out from underneath us.

Thank you, COVID-19.

The pandemic has undermined our confidence of faith.

We are terrified to pivot with Jesus,

To take a step towards Jerusalem.

We are terrified to trust in him.

Are we able to trust

That Jesus will lead us from the land of

Law and prophets

Into the land of grace and love?

Are we able to trust

That Jesus will lead us from the land of death and dying

Into the land of eternal life?

Can we trust that Jesus will lead us

From scarcity and austerity

To a place where his Spirit abides with us and in us,

A land of abundance and harvest?

Do you trust that Jesus is the source of all healing,

Including healing our world of

This despicable pandemic?

If Jesus is able to heal, cast out demons and raise the dead,

Why is it so hard for us to place our trust in him

For the revival of our church

And a renewed effort to expand God’s kingdom?

As we stand in the swirling whirlpool of inevitable change

Ask Jesus to ease anxiety,

Transform terror into faith,

Change doubt into belief,

Wash us clean of pessimism, and

Fill us with confidence

In God’s amazing grace.

We sing about amazing grace all the time,

It’s about time we believe it.

The post-pandemic Rush United Methodist Church

Is going to be transfigured into something

More awesome and Holy Spirit filled

Than ever before!

Let us pray that God uses this amazing grace

To help us embrace the inevitable changes that are coming

Personally, individually, to each of us,

In every aspect of life,

And the change that is coming to Christ’s Holy Church.

I’m confident

Where God is leading

It is being revealed.

Our future is going to be great!

Let us discipline our lives,

Prioritize faithful habits, and

Discern God’s will and ways are made known to us.

I don’t know what the Holy City will look like when we get there.

That destination may be

A heavenly feast,

Thousands in Sunday worship,

Or the completion of God’s kingdom of justice and peace here on planet earth.

This is yet to be revealed.

But if this is where Jesus is going,

I’m going to follow.

Join me.

Let us follow his lead together.

I don’t know why Jesus would love you and me this much

To turn towards Jerusalem and face the inevitable.

But I do know that it is okay

To simply accept Christ’s love

And place every ounce of your trust in him.

If there was certainty,

It wouldn’t be called faith.

Place your trust in Jesus.

Let us overcome the fears of today

And embrace the inevitable change that is coming tomorrow.

Let us join in the journey with Jesus

That leads to his Passion, death, and resurrection.

Let us walk this lonesome valley with him to Jerusalem

Trusting in him,

Trusting his promise,

Trusting that he is bringing us home.

Amen.

“Living Like Jesus”

Mark 1:29-39

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 7, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 1:29-39

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

| Centering Prayer |

It must be difficult to be a VIP

(Very Important Person).

I have bumped into celebrities on a few, rare occasions.

It always feels awkward.

Beyond a smile of recognition,

What do you do?

Do you say hello?

Shake their hand?

One doesn’t want to offend or bring undue attention.

I met Jim Kelly eight years ago.

He was with people I assume were his family.

I was with my parishioners.

We were in an ICU waiting room at Roswell Park.

No. I didn’t ask him for his autograph.

The sorrow in both of our eyes filled the void

where words might have been.

Intrusions into privacy as the result of fame,

Must make it difficult to navigate through daily life.

Just going to the grocery story or pharmacy must be a burden.

This season of masks probably comes as a big relief.

Strong is the celebrity who does not become jaded,

Who responds with grace,

Appropriately acknowledges fans, and

Doesn’t mind staying long to sign autographs.

Living like Jesus begins with

Spiritual Self-Care.

In the Gospel of Mark

Our author does a marvelous job of

Recording Jesus dancing an increasingly difficult tango

With his skyrocketing popularity.

Jesus goes from a private place to a public place,

Back and forth,

Alternating between concealment and secrecy,

And, publicity and proclamation.

The pendulum swings between messianic secrets

And our post-Epiphany theme of manifestation and revelation.

Jesus makes his public coming out,

Wading into three years of Galilean ministry,

At the same time,

He swears his followers to secrecy and

He is prone to slide away to a quiet place to pray.

Christ is able to remain engaged in ministry

Because throughout Mark

He follows up ministering to the crowds

With retreats into privacy

For spiritual recovery,

For time to pray.

(Preaching the New Common Lectionary, Year B, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany. Craddock, Hayes, Holladay. Pg. 149-151)

This rhythm is healthy;

A good discipline for all followers to emulate.

To live like Jesus

Is to dance a similar rhythm of

Engagement in servant ministry

Followed by restorative rest and prayer.

Living like Jesus

Brings healing to the world.

In every community Jesus visits

The more popular he becomes,

The more difficult it gets

To achieve success proclaiming the message.

He is forced to itinerate.

He must move on.

Last Sunday,

Jesus was in the public synagogue

Where he preached Good News with authority

And cast out an unclean spirit (with that same authority).

He cast out this unclean spirit from a man

Who publicly identified him and challenged him.

The narrative continues.

Jesus leaves the public venue of the synagogue

And goes to the private home of Simon and Andrew.

Simon’s unnamed mother-in-law lived with them

In this multi-generational arrangement,

Common in the time of Jesus.

Jesus takes James and John with him.

It is not a long walk from the Synagogue.

Archaeologists suggest the distance is

Only a few hundred yards. 

They told Jesus about Simon’s mother-in-law.

She was sick in bed with a fever.

Use your mind’s eye to create the scene:

Excavations reveal that housing density was high in Capernaum.

Imagine crowds of people,

“The whole city,” reports Mark,

Filling the streets,

Gathered around her door.

Think of people peeping through the windows,

Hanging from the gutters,

Looking down through cracks in the roof.

Her private residence had become a public spectacle.

We do know

Women often outlive men.  

She was one senior generation older than Simon and Andrew.

There is much we don’t know.

What was her name?

Was she a widow? Or divorced?

Did she support herself or was she dependent on her family?

Was her fever an illness that would have made her contagious or unclean?

Some diseases like leprosy rendered a person unclean, others did not.

What we do know is that her fever was serious because

“They told him about her at once.” (Mark 1:30)

There was an urgency here;

She was experiencing a health crisis that demanded immediate attention.

The newly called disciples turn to Jesus because

They experienced his preaching with authority.

They had just seen Jesus using the same authority to cast out an unclean spirit.

If Jesus had that kind of power and authority

They believed Jesus could

Heal and bring back this woman from near death, too.

The Gospel of Mark lays the groundwork for the Good News:

Trust in Jesus.

Lean into the mercy of Jesus.

Tap into the power of his resurrection.

Living like Jesus

Transforms disciples from passive observers

To active, engaged, productive partners in ministry.

What is immensely helpful to me,

And I hope is insightful to you, too,

The message that Jesus brings

Is more than mere words.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is more than talk,

It’s action;

Casting out demons and healing people,

Bringing the afflicted back into the land of the living.

Jesus makes an incursion into the shadowland

of sin and evil, of illness and death,

to mercifully bring light, healing, deliverance, and wellness.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is more than a pastoral sermon on the mount,

It’s answering the summons

To come to the aid and assistance of neighbors in need.

For the Gospel to speak,

One must act.

Living like Jesus

Demands a life of service.

The moment the fever left Simon’s mother-in-law,

She began to serve.

The verb “to serve” is a key term in Mark’s Gospel.

“diakoneo”  (dee-ak-on-eh-o)

Is interpreted as a response of faith.

It is found at three other locations in the Gospel of Mark:

  • The angels in the wilderness serve Jesus after he was tempted by the Devil for 40 days and 40 nights (Mark 1:14).
  • The women who followed Jesus served him (Mark 15:41)
  • Serving epitomizes Christ’s own ministry, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45).

Simon’s mother-in-law became an

icon of resurrection and a

paradigm of Christian ministry.

(Thanks to Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, Dean, President, Professor of New Testament, Seminary of the Southwest, Austin TX, as found at https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3547)

The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law

Tells us what Christian discipleship looks like.

Yes, there is a message to be proclaimed,

But there is also servant ministry that needs done.

If you’re a lover of the prophet Isaiah,

You might call it social justice.

Others from a more Christocentric point of view

Might call it kingdom building.

Yet others, using the latest hip language employed by popular church authors,

Might consider it relational evangelism with a missional response.

I call it living like Jesus.

When we live like Jesus

We reveal to the world

Christ manifest within us.

We demonstrate to the world

True incarnation.

This is an Epiphany of light for a world living in darkness!

Living like Jesus means living an authentic, transparent life.

How does this make a difference?

What does this mean for you and me

On our journey of faith?

Living like Jesus

Begins with relationship;

The relationships you keep

And the relationships you make.

Invest in the relationships you have.

God has placed people in your life for a reason.

Take the time and effort to meet and exceed the needs of others

Before meeting your own needs.

Try to expand your social circle.

Seek new friends and learn their stories.

The only motive for making friends is to be a friend.

Never let ulterior motives poison a friendship.

Suppress motives and temptations of money, power, size, and status.

Don’t allow personal opinions or ambition to spoil the pot.  

Don’t judge, lest ye be judged!

Consider every neighbor as a potential friend.

Listen with respect.

Consider their wellbeing.

Be humble.

It’s a privilege to be a friend

Serving in Jesus’ name.

Serve simply because of the joy of serving.

Intentionally reach out to those who have no friends.

Reach out to those who have been cast aside by society

And left for dead.

Make it your purpose to love the difficult to love,

To serve those who are difficult to serve.

If they are unclean, clean them up.

If they are possessed by a demon, cast it out.

If they are sick or injured, heal them in the name of Jesus.

Our compassionate behavior,

Our ministry with the authority of Jesus,

Completes the message

That he came to proclaim.

Like Simon’s mother-in-law,

Serve simply as a response to the faith

That is developing and deepening in your life.

Living like Jesus means serving like Simon’s mother-in-law.

Jesus recognizes the necessary next steps that he had to take.

His message is God’s message to the world,

Not to just one demon possessed person, here,

Or one needing healing, there.

Jesus needed to expand from the individual to corporate,

From single store to the franchise,

The Gospel scales.

The potential is only confided by our imaginations.

God so loved the world.

The Passion of Jesus Christ

Takes redemption, restoration, and healing beyond the personal

To the universal.

God so loved the world.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Takes salvation and eternal life from something personal

To God’s global grace.

God so loved the world.

… That the world might be saved through him.

Trust in the power and authority of Jesus.

Trust in his capacity to rescue one from the edge death or the margins of life.

Trust in his ability to heal and in the power of his resurrection.

The message of Jesus is spoken in the language

Of both words and deeds.

This is what Christ came to do.

Go, and do likewise.

Live like Jesus.

Amen.

“Rescued from Impossible Bondage”

Mark 1:21-28

January 31, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 1:21-28

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”

And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.

They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

| Centering Prayer |

It is so easy to dwell on the negative impact of the pandemic and

Completely overlook some of the positive benefits.

We’ve learned that science is able to accelerate vaccine development.

Thank you, Lord, for all those working to vaccinate the world.

May the knowledge and practice employed today

Benefit future generations tomorrow.

We’ve learned that social distancing, mask wearing, and attention to cleanliness

All contribute to lowering the risk of disease transmission.

Thank you, Lord, for everyone making their contribution to reduce everyone’s risk of illness and disease and keep each other safe.

Because of these commonsense precautions

It is reported that even influenza transmission is down this year over last.

Who would have imagined a year ago:

  • A dedicated effort to sanitize the sanctuary and meeting spaces after every use?
  • That I’d be sanitizing my office desk, chairs, door, and switches after every visit?
  • That handwashing instructions would be in every bathroom and hand sanitizer gel would be on every shelf or counter?

Generations have known that “cleanliness is next to godliness.”

While this exact phrase is not found in the Bible,

The importance of cleanliness is clearly expressed.

Judaism at the time of Jesus emphasized purity and cleanliness.

Think actual dirt conflated with spiritual dirt.

Think polluted water, contaminated food, and e coli.  

Think temptation, sin, evil; both personal and corporate, both intentional and unintentional.

All of us become dirty periodically.

Wash your hands after you use the bathroom.

A little soap, water, and scrubbing and presto: you’re clean!

Confess your sins during worship, repent, and ask God for forgiveness.

Repeat weekly.

Boom! you are clean!

Judaism had a way to make people clean.

Before one could enter the Temple to make an animal sacrifice and tithe,

The faithful were required to bathe in one of dozens of public baths,

Usually at a price.

(Image us having a dozen bath tubs at the church entrance

With the expectation that

All who enter are required to

Pay an established fee and take a dip!)

Ideally, the faithful emerged from the ceremonial bath physically clean.

But, what about becoming spiritually clean?

Sacrificing a bird or lamb on the altar cleansed the faithful of their sins.

Jews called the cleansing of impurity “atonement.”

It was believed that atonement also prevented God from leaving the Temple.

(For Christians, Jesus Christ himself becomes the atonement.

He is the atoning sacrifice that cleanses us of our sins,

Reconciling us with God.)

Being made clean was a process, both actual and symbolic,

That cleaned the body and the soul.

Jesus was newly on the job,

When an unnamed man with an unclean spirit

Interrupted Jesus, who was

Teaching with authority

Astounding the crowds

In the synagogue

At Capernaum

On the Sabbath.

There is a lot of material here to unpack;

Too much for one setting.

What draws my attention is “unclean spirit.”

What does “unclean spirit” mean?

Does it mean this man was possessed by a demon or demons?

Did he have a medical condition that religious leaders would have judged him unclean?

I’ve wondered a lot this week about the meaning of “unclean spirit.”

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about people today with “unclean spirits.”

I’m asking myself, what makes me unclean?

πνεῦμα Ακάθαρτος

(pneuma ak-a-thar-tos)

In the Greek New Testament

πνεῦμα comes first.

In English it is pneuma,

Meaning breath, human spirit, soul, tempter or disposition of the soul, separate from the body.

Ακάθαρτος comes next,

Modifying what comes before it.

In English it is akathartos (ak-a-thar-tos)

Meaning unclean, impure, filthy, defilement, of evil spirits, lewd.

(With thanks to the “Interlinear Greek-English New Testament”)

Put them together and the meaning becomes crystal clear.

This man’s soul was filthy, rotten dirty to the core.

Perhaps Mark doesn’t identify him by name to spare him from future embarrassment.

Anger and rage defined his character.  

He was obsessed with evil memories and thoughts.

His heart was at war with God.

As a result, he was at war with others and at war with the world.

The man with the unclean spirit was trapped in impossible bondage.

He was a slave to sin,

Incapable of saving himself.

He was fighting the very one who had the ability to save him.

The problem with having an unclean spirit

Is there isn’t any room for the Holy Spirit.

For God to enter in,

The dirt needs to get hoed out.

Living with or accommodating an unclean spirit is not sustainable.

Quality of life suffers.

Families and communities suffer.

Truth suffers.

Fear, intimidation, and threats of violence becomes the new normal.

Paranoia flows like mighty rivers where the righteousness of Amos once did.

Time eventually runs out.

Raging people are at risk of ending up prematurely dead,

Emotionally dead, spiritually dead, even physically dead

Due to a heart attack, stroke, revenge, or karma.

“All who take the sword will perish by the sword,” Jesus observed.

(Matthew 26:52)

Jesus rescues this unnamed man from his impossible bondage

Created and imposed on him by his unclean spirit.

“Be silent, and come out of him!” Jesus rebuked.

Jesus rebuked not the man, but his unclean spirit.

(1:25)

All that was unclean about that man’s spirit

Submitted to the command and authority of Jesus.

Jesus silenced it.

Jesus exorcized it.

Out it came.

Jesus won.

All the dirt.

All the sin.

Everything came out,

Making room for the Holy Spirit to fill the void.

The point to be made

Is that Jesus, and only Jesus,

Has the ability to exercise and destroy unclean spirits.

Christ alone breaks the chains of sin and death.

Christ alone rescues us from impossible bondage.

Christ alone can save us.

Jesus wins.

Each of us harbor unclean spirits from time to time.

Think of it as a sliding scale between zero and ten.

We oscillate somewhere between wholly sinful and complete perfection.

Dwelling too long or too deep

In impurity, defilement, and filth

Hardens one and

Makes it more difficult to break out,

To break the will of the unclean spirit.

Don’t allow yourself to become a chronic case of anger, rage, or obsession.

Resolve to break free of every unclean spirit,

Great and small, in your life.

Some, you may be able to break free on your own.

There may be some sins or impurities in your life so great that

It becomes impossible to free yourself.

That’s why we have a Savior.

Ask Jesus to rescue you from the impossible bondage of sin and death.

And he will.

Allow the Holy Spirit to replace the impurity that once polluted you,

To take up residence,

To abide in your life.

The benefits?

Peace replaces the war that raged in your heart.

Love overcomes hate.

Faith wins over fear.

I invite each of us to self-reflection,

To ask, “what defiles me?”

“What makes me unclean?”

“What does damage to God?”

I think of messages of hypocrisy,

Such as road rage perpetrated by a driver of a car covered with Christian bumper stickers.

I think of inconsistency between what is said and what is done,

Such as the leader of a morality caucus being caught in a moral scandal.

I think of the athlete who thanks God for a good game on Sunday

Only to be arrested for illegal behavior on Monday.

I think of renouncing racism on one day and

Not challenging a racist comment the next.

Are there places in my life of inconsistency or hypocrisy

That need to be exercised?

“What makes me unclean that needs to be exercised out of me?”

I think of the seven deadly sins;

Behaviors or feelings that inspire further sin.

Pride.

Greed.

Lust.

Envy.

Gluttony.

Wrath.

Sloth.

There is much to be considered here.

I temper what I can,

And ask Jesus to help with the rest.

In my experience

Jesus rescues me when I’ve been caught in impossible bondage

Just as he rescued the man in the Capernaum synagogue.

I just need to ask him for the help.

What do you say?  

Can you ask Jesus for help?

Will you allow Christ to rescue you, too?

Amen.

“The Price of Discipleship”

Mark 1:14-20

24 January 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 1:14-20

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

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

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

| Centering Prayer |

Jesus crossed a boundary

And I’m quite certain

Zebedee was not a happy camper.

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

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

As you probably know

Leonardo was a famous painter, inventor, and scientist;

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

In 1452,

He died in 1519,

502 years ago

At the age of 67.

Leonardo was truly a renaissance man,

Gifted with curiosity and imagination.

He was born out of wedlock,

The son of Piero da Vinci,

A local notary.

In those days and in that time,

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

He wasn’t a full-fledged lawyer;

But, he was empowered with considerable legal responsibility.

Notaries were held in high esteem in Italian renaissance culture.

Proud fathers passed on their training and professional credentials

From generation to generation.

Piero was at least a fourth-generation notary.

Notaries belonged to guilds,

Who maintained very strict morality requirements.

Because of this,

The out-of-wedlock son, Leonardo,

Was freed from the expectation of

Training for a profession in the law.

The guild simply wouldn’t allow it.

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

The call, apprenticeship, and profession of notary

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

Leonardo was freed up for other, more worthwhile endeavors.

From father to son,

Expectations have ebbed and flowed for centuries.

I recall from my youth

The time when I first spoke with my father

About the possibility of being called to ordained ministry.

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

I loved the science, math, and computer programming.

Yet, there was something more to life,

Still unexplored,

That led me to question

God’s will for my future.

Dad was a second career United Methodist pastor.

When I broached the subject with him

I remember him shifting in his chair, pausing,

Frowning, and furrowing his bushy eyebrows.

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

To be an ordained pastor.

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

I gave it time.

We talked about it on several occasions.

He couldn’t dissuade me.

Then, something broke.

He shared with me about his wonderful seminary experience

At Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

Dad encouraged me to immediately apply.

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

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

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

“Yep. I understand,” he admitted.

A son needs to make his own way.

From father to son,

Expectations have ebbed and flowed for centuries.

We can only imagine the conversation in the boat that day

Following a night of fishing on the Sea of Galilee.

Zebedee and his two sons, James and John,

Were mending their nets.

It was a routine every morning;

Repair the rips and tears from the previous evening.

Depending on the time of year and amount of overcast,

It could have been blazing hot or bone chilling cool.

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

Zebedee, James, and John would have been

Mending, working, cleaning, and carrying on

In a boat dragged on shore

That was 27 feet long and nearly 8 feet wide;

A considerable boat, indeed.

The boat represented the family business,

The primary capital investment,

Passed on from father to son,

From generation to generation.

Small talk and idle conversation

Was interrupted by an approaching stranger.

Jesus appeared to know them

Even though there is no evidence

That any of the three had ever met him.

The invitation “Follow me”

Shattered generational expectations

With revolutionary thunder.

The world would never be the same.

A new reality was at hand.

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

That Incarnation comes at a price.

Undoubtedly, he would have been thinking

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

Allow honorable sons to go tramping off

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

Zebedee was left in a lurch!

He had nets to mend,

Fish to catch,

Bills to pay,

A business to run,

A family to feed!

And his two sons up and leaves him?

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

The Gospel of Matthew reported the slaughter of the innocents;

Certainly their grief filled parents would have understood

That Incarnation comes at a price.

Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt until Herod’s death

And it was safe to return home.

Certainly they understood

That the Incarnation of Jesus Christ comes at a price.

The Gospel of Mark,

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

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

The job description isn’t at all attractive.

The pay positively stinks, and

The pay is usually non-existent!

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

His call is three-fold:

1. To remain with him.

2. To go out and preach.

3. And take his authority and cast out demons.

(Mark 3:14-15)

The first two requirements for discipleship are straight forward.

It’s the third that catches my attention.

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

Was to be an exorcist!

Who’s up for a good case of exorcism?

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

Call out Beelzebul by name,

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

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

Any volunteers?

The line forms here.

Not many applicants?

The Incarnation of Jesus Christ comes at a price.

There is a cost to discipleship.

It’s not free.

Neither is it cheap.

The faint of heart need not apply.

Still early on in Jesus’ ministry

His own mother and brothers call Jesus home.

You can understand their concern, can’t you?

You know how gossip spreads.

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

He was tramping around the countryside,

Attracting crowds and crowds and crowds of

Seekers, the curious, and the desperate.

Jesus hears that his family is calling him home.

“Who are my mother and brothers?” Jesus asks

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

‘Here are my mother and my brothers! 

Whoever does the will of God

is my brother and sister and mother.’”

(Mark 3:34-35)

So much for family values!

The price of discipleship depresses the value of the biological family

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

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

It’s no wonder Jesus’ own flesh and blood

Are whipped up in homicidal rage and

Attempt to throw him off a cliff.

(Luke 4:29)

Jesus,

God in the flesh,

Comes to the world,

Paying a price for our redemption and our salvation.

At the same time,

The world has a price to pay

To become his disciples,

To discern His will,

And to follow in His ways.

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

Belief and faith will come later.

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

The price to pay for following Jesus is more than

Dropping your nets and

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

The price to pay for following Jesus is more than

Disappointing your biological father and mother.

The price to pay for following Jesus is

First, deny yourself.

Second, take up your cross.

Then, come and follow me.

(Mark 8:34)

Following Jesus, God Incarnate, comes at a price.

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

Passion, death, resurrection, and ascension

The disciples struggle to come to terms

With paying the price of discipleship.

The disciples of Jesus live in denial,

Wanting to shout down Jesus’ promise of suffering,

Substituting in their own delusions of grandeur –

That one-day Jesus would ascend the throne.

Peter names Jesus as the Son of Man in one breath

Only to deny ever knowing him nearly a fortnight later.

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

To hang your hat on his Incarnation,

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

It is important to enter discipleship with eyes wide open.

There is a new reality at hand.

Life as you and I used to know

Will be no more.

God has turned the world upside down.

God isn’t afraid of crossing boundaries;

In fact, at the very moment of conversion,

The Lord begins to make a habit of crossing boundaries.

Christ enters your life,

Turns over your tables,

And tramps mud all over your beautiful new carpets.

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

Has barely started to wane,

When the new reality of the price that must be paid

Is laid out in spades:

“You want me to do WHAT?”

“You have got to be kidding!”

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

Yes, Jesus wants us to be his recruiters,

To bring to him new candidates for discipleship.

Jesus expects us

To teach his new disciples everything,

And I mean EVERYTHING!

Everything we’ve ever learned about Him;

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

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

Jesus expects us to open our homes and our church

And to practice hospitality that knows no bounds.

Unlock the doors and

Open the cupboards,

Set the table and start cooking!

Clean the carpets,

Make the bed,

Tidy up and make necessary repairs.

Open the curtains,

Let the sun shine in,

And welcome the world to

Enter into God’s grace.

Anticipate the need.

Meet the need.

Exceed the need.

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

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

Yes, away the sword,

Reject violence and oppression where ever they present themselves,

And to only follow Him.

Learn and practice His ways of non-violence.

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

Take a stand and make a stand.

Do it in the name of Jesus.

Be willing to pay the price,

And when the bill comes due,

Pick up the tab.

Yes, Jesus wants us to gather every Sabbath day,

To be with Him,

To proclaim His Word,

To celebrate His Sacrament.

Others may laugh and ridicule us.

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

So be it.

Let our Savior’s love shine through

our smile,

our gentleness,

our grace,

our every response.

Sometimes I wonder if any sane person,

Who knew the true cost of discipleship before being called

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

It amazes me that people answer the call.

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

The fact that new disciples are answering the call everyday

Convinces me

Of God’s continued presence,

Of God’s active participation,

And of God’s absolute power of conviction.

God isn’t afraid of upsetting the apple cart,

Stepping on toes, or

Ruffling a few tailfeathers.

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

Once the Lord claims you, you are transformed into

God’s forever.

Incarnation comes at a price.

Once we answer the call,

The price must be paid.

Are you with me?

Let’s do this together.

Amen.

“Stand Up, Step Up”

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

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

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

(Centering Silence)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?” I asked dumbfounded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

“Come and See”

John 1:43-51

January 17, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 1:43-51

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

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

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

Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

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

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

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

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

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

| Centering Prayer |

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

Now, a traveling evangelist,

It was as if

Billy Glass was speaking directly to me.

Jesus Christ was his Lord.

He invited me to come and see,

To make Jesus my Lord, too.

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

I joined the crowd of people

Flowing to the altar in that outdoor amphitheater

Where I answered to call to follow Jesus.

A confession of Christ’s identity

With a simple, straight-forward invitation,

Was all it took to claim me as a disciple.

John the Baptist had his own disciples.

When he saw Jesus walk by

He speaks to his followers,

“Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

Hum.

Look. Redirect your attention.

Lamb. A sacrificial animal

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

John the Baptist witnessed to Christ,

The God of atonement.

John’s descriptive identification of Jesus was all it took

For two of his disciples to immediately decide

To terminate their discipleship of John

And to begin to follow Jesus.

A simple confession of Christ’s identity

Was all it took to make disciples.

Jesus asks the two un-named disciples

“What are you looking for?”

“Where are you staying?” they asked.

“Come and see.”

Come: follow me, and

See: observe. Take it all in.

They followed Jesus to where he was staying

And abided with him until late afternoon.

Come and see became for them

An offer to see Christ

With the eyes of faith.

(The New Interpreters Bible)

One of these two is identified as Andrew.

Andrew tells his brother, Simon, saying

“We have found the Messiah.”

Simon comes to meet Jesus.

Jesus immediately names him Cephas,

Translated as Peter, and

The rest is history.

A simple confession of Christ’s identity

Was all it took to make a disciple.

There seems to be a common thread here.

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

Immediately precedes our Gospel lesson today:

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

Hometown.

Rush, New York?

Jamestown?

Hamilton?

Rochester?

Hometown is as comfortable as well-worn bedroom slippers.

For Andrew, Peter, and Philip

Their hometown was Bethsaida,

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

It was little more than a crossroad,

An intersection for travelers from

One of the four points of the compass.

They probably grew up together,

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

They probably attended the same school and synagogue.

Possibly, Andrew and his brother Peter

Could have been Philip’s cousin.

Jesus comes to their hometown Bethsaida

From the lower Jordan valley

On his way to Cana, further north,

Where he and his mother had been

Invited to a wedding and reception.

Jesus finds Philip.

It is as if Jesus seeks him out.

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

Ask yourself.

Did Jesus seek you out, or,

Did you find him, or,

Perhaps a combination of both?

Why you? Why me?

Why did Jesus choose us to be his disciples?

Jesus wastes no time.

No introduction.

No small talk about the weather.

He doesn’t ask.

Jesus straight-up bluntly tells Philip,

“Follow me.”

For Philip

The call to follow Jesus

Came as a command.

Perhaps some people can’t take a hint.

Whatever the reason,

Philip makes three.

He goes to Nathanael.

Who is Nathanael?

Brother? Friend? Relative of Philip?

We don’t know.

It makes simple sense to

First approach those closest to you.

Confess Jesus Christ.

Make them his disciples, too.

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

“We …” he begins.

(Jesus obviously introduced Philip to Andrew and Peter)

Here is the set up:

“We have found him about whom Moses in the law

And also the prophets wrote.”

Philip did see.

He took it all in and came to conclusion:

Think Messiah: God. Promise.

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

Think Nazareth: Blue collar. Construction. Manual labor.

You’ve got to be kidding.

The anticipated Messiah is a common stone mason or carpenter?

Philip takes the words right out of Jesus’ mouth,

“Come and see.”

Sometimes I don’t have the words,

Or the words come with great difficulty,

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

And meaning or intent are obscured.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Come and see,

Jesus invited.

Come and see,

Philip urged Nathanael.

The Messiah language wasn’t working.

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

Moses in the law and the writings of the prophets

Covered too much territory.

Come and see.

Come is the invitation,

Best received when it comes from someone

That is known, trusted, loved.

Come is an action verb;

There is nothing passive about it.

In the Great Commission

Jesus instructs us to go and make disciples.

One disciple brings another to Jesus,

Who, in turn, brings others to Jesus.

Each disciple is charged to make the invitation:

Come and see.

See is the identification that results in conversion.

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

God’s got that.

When one is placed in the presence of Christ,

Taught everything about Jesus that there is to teach,

Baptized by water and the Spirit,

Like the birthing of a baby,

A new follower of Jesus

Comes, sees, and believes.

A new disciple

Begins the journey.

The story of discipleship is incomplete

Until our witness,

Our invitation,

Brings others to Jesus Christ.

Some of us are curious.

That curiosity is a seed of faith planted by God.

Others of us have been invited,

But still find themselves sitting on the fence.

Not taking a position is to take a position.

Others have responded to the invitation to come, and

Now find themselves in the presence of Jesus

Soaking him all in,

Being filled with God’s Spirit and grace,

Primed for conversion into discipleship,

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

Come and see.

Trust God’s process.

Answer the call.

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

Already convicted, converted, baptized, and

Someplace in-between baptism and eternal life.

It is our charge

To bring the next generation to meet Jesus.

It is our charge

To teach them all that Jesus has taught us.

Then trust.

Leave the rest up to God.

In my experience

Practice makes perfect.

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

In time, your words and actions will build confidence,

In yourself and in the invitation.

Dearly beloved

Make the invitation.

Keep making the invitation.

Don’t ever stop making the invitation.

“Come and see,” Jesus invited.

“Come and see,” Philip asked Nathanael.

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

Amen.

“The Word”

January 3, 2021

John 1:1-18

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

| Centering Prayer |

One of the many loses I have felt

Over the course of this pandemic

Is the loss of our choir,

Especially during Advent and Christmas.

I deeply missed our annual Christmas cantata.

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

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

(Britannica.com)

The composer creatively intertwines theme appropriate

Music and narration to tell a story.

The Christmas cantata, rehearsed since September,

Is song and story that

Propels anticipation into Incarnation

With the birth of Jesus Christ.  

The Gospel of John sets its own pace and direction,

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

John speaks broadly about Jesus,

Using symbolism, metaphor, imagery, and irony,

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

The Gospel of John speaks about a God

Who is present, intimate, powerful, and loving.

The opening 18 verses of the first chapter,

An echo of the opening creation chapter of Genesis,

Are constructed as a cantata

Weaving together early Christian music and narration

Into a theological masterpiece. 

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

Interspersed with commentary about John the Baptist.

Sending John to prepare the way

Not only fulfills prophecy

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

Intimate relationship with humankind.

God tears the divide between heaven and earth,

Rips it to shreds,

To muddle in your affairs.

Yep. God is stirring your pot.

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

God has been stirring my soul this past week

Leading me to focus thoughts and meditations on the music,

The theological poetry of John’s cantata.

Even this is too much to consume in one setting.

So I’ll focus on smaller trimmings.

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

“In the beginning,”

A phrase borrowed from Genesis,

Tells us there was a starting point,

With nothing preceding it.

To speak of anything prior to the beginning

Is as senseless as dividing by zero.

The beginning was the beginning,

The starting point,

Defined by the presence of

The Word.

The Word,

Logos, in the original Greek,

Is an amalgam of ancient Jewish and Greek

Theology and philosophy,

Culture and practice.

The Word, Logos,

Is a way of speaking about the creative plan of God

That governs the world.

When John uses the word Logos,

He is plowing new ground.

John uses the masculine Logos

(as opposed to the feminine Sophia)

To expand upon the Jewish understanding of wisdom

To speak of the revelation of God in Jesus.

“In the beginning was the Word”

Word is more than intellectual,

More than cognitive,

More than an unabridged collection of memories,

More than any sense can detect,

More than emotions or feeling.

Word and wisdom are tangible.

Word is John’s introduction of Jesus.

The names of God are many.

The manifestations of God since the beginning are many.

Who are we to pray to?

Sometimes, I get confused.

Do I pray to the Father?

Sometimes that is too gender specific and limiting,

Other times it just feels right.

Do I pray to Jesus?

But Jesus prayed to his heavenly Father.

How about the Holy Spirit?

I invoke the Holy Spirit to be present with

The bread and cup and every participant

During Holy Communion.

“In the beginning was the Word,

And the Word was with God.”

One God

Fully comfortable with being besides himself!

The Word was with God.

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

Is significantly less important than

Having an intimate conversation with God.

Mix and match.

Ancient names like Yahweh or Elohim?

Good Shepherd? Great Physician? The Way?

Jesus? Christ? Lord? King? Spirit?

I Am?

Logos or Word?

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

God is way more expansive than our comprehension, anyways.

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

Pray.

Learn.

Love.

“In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.”

God has existed

Has been present

From the beginning.

This sheds light on God’s stamina and strength.

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

God is sticking around.

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

God is sticking around.

There is no “abandonment”

There is no “quit”

In God’s vocabulary.

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

God stuck around.

When they wouldn’t listen to prophets sent their way

God stuck it out.

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

God stuck around.

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

The Holy Spirit took his place.

God stuck around.

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

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

The Lord is on you, in you, with you

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

This is the season of Emmanuel.

The Word.

God with us.

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

Maybe you haven’t been paying attention.

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

No long-winded recitation of Messianic lineage.

No Gabriel visiting Mary, annunciation, or immaculate conception.

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

The Word became flesh.

Immortal became one with mortality.

Divinity and humanity became One

And his name is Jesus.

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

God remains God.

What changed is our world view.

The God of my experience became like me,

But not me, and lived with similar daily experiences:

Joy and sorrow.

Anger and fear.

Hatred and love.

Betrayal and suffering.

Death and resurrection.

Redemption and salvation.

Sharing life’s journey with Jesus

Allows us to make correlations between what we are going through

With what Jesus went through.

God knows what you are going through

Because God went through it before

And will, undoubtably, go through it again.

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

It’s humbling to consider that

The world is such a chamber pot of sin,

So mad and out of control,

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

At the same time,

It is exhilarating to recognize how much God loves us. 

Enormous. Expansive. Beyond comprehension.

That is how much God loves you and me.

Jesus has you covered.

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

Ten out of ten times

And twice on Sundays.

Adam Hamilton rightly observes

That we often confuse The Word with the Bible.

The Bible is sacred scripture

Sent by God for our benefit.

But the Bible is not the Word. 

Jesus is

The Word

From the beginning

Manifest in many ways

Always God.

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

This is the poetry of John’s great cantata,

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

This is the sound of Jesus.

Amen.

“Seeing Salvation”

Luke 2:21-40

December 27, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 2:21-40

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

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

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

| Centering Prayer |

This Gospel narrative of Simeon and Anna

Always brings to mind

A childhood memory.

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

I looked it up on Amazon;

It was written by Janice Kramer and published in 1969.

We’d read it during the Christmas season.

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

It seemed like insider baseball to me.

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

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

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

Which is really a shame.

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

Her 5 predecessors all coming from Hebrew scripture,

(Our Old Testament).

They were

Miriam (Exodus 15:20),

Deborah (Judges 4:4),

Huldah (2 Kings 22:14),

Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14),

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

Women; never feel inferior to men,

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

Since the beginning of creation.

When God speaks; listen!

Take thou authority!

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

By recognizing the fact that God appears to be gender neutral

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

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

Listen, support, encourage, discern, and act

According to God’s will.

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

The completion of the Jewish story line

Of creation, law, covenant, and prophecy.

Indeed, our Gospel is deeply rooted in Judaism;

Solidly Hebrew in its origin.

Jewish parents bring their

Jewish son to the

Jewish Temple to engage in the

Jewish rites of circumcision and purification, according to the

Jewish Law, as handed down from Moses.

Three items caught my eye here.

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

They offered a sacrifice of

“a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

(Luke 2:24)

Had they been middle class or wealthy,

They would have been required

To purchase a Temple raised lamb for sacrifice.

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

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

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

Contrary to many who promote a Gospel of prosperity,

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

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

He is a poor, itinerant preacher, who

Lives off the generosity of the population, who

Works and serves the poor.

One cannot know Jesus

Without being immersed in the world of

Poverty and brokenness,

Powerlessness and dependency,

Oppression and suffering.

On this eve of the New Year,

Consider this question:

How might I center myself in the world of Jesus,

Serving the poor, the powerless, and the oppressed?

Our Christian heritage,

Our Christian discipleship

Spring from our roots in Jewish poverty.

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

With the birth of Jesus has come

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

Yet, we hear today of sacrifice,

First concerning Mary and Joseph’s

Sacrifice in the Temple at Jesus’ purification and circumcision,

Followed by the ominous words of Simeon himself,

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

(Luke 2:34-35)

… just what a new mother wants to hear.

There is a price to be paid for salvation.

There is a cost to the redemption of Jerusalem.

What starts in a lonely manger in Bethlehem

Ends with a sacrifice …

Dripping blood on a cross atop Golgotha.

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

Or the grief of the Heavenly Father

Whose only Son was sacrificed on our behalf.

Can we not also hear the cries of the innocent children

Being slaughtered at the command of Herod?

Listen carefully to the Gospel and

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

Jesus’ own family,

Who will come to reject him

And attempt to throw him off a cliff.

Listen to early Church Fathers,

Of their sacrifice and reports of martyrdom.

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

And have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Indeed, redemption and salvation come at a cost,

Whose price is often paid for in sacrificial blood.

On this eve of the New Year,

Let us carefully consider this Gospel inspired question:

What price are we willing to pay …

… What sacrifice are we willing to make …

for the Lord’s redemption and salvation,

Both personally, and collectively?

If your sacrifice doesn’t hurt,

You just might be short changing the Lord.

Thirdly, the presence of the

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

in the Gospel

exude an air of expectation,

Of forward looking,

Of anticipation.

The Holy Spirit rested on Simeon

And revealed to him that

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

Now, there is something to look forward to.

Messiah: the bitter/sweet nearly present,

Incarnation followed by certain death

With a Divine promise of resurrection and salvation.

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

For she never left the Temple;

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

Praising God

And speaking to all about the child Messiah

Who was expected at any moment.

Any moment.

Some secret, huh?

On this eve of the New Year,

Let us ask ourselves:

How might we live out our Christian faith

With the same fervent desire for worship and

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

Dearly beloved,

Each of you who are loved by God

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

On this third day of Christmas and

On the precipice of a New Year,

Let us resolve

To immerse ourselves in the love of our neighbor,

Serving the poor,

Determined to end the injustice of poverty in our world.

Let us resolve

To look forward with fervent anticipation

To the return of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

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

The Lord is faithful.

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

Jesus; born and presented in the Temple.

Behold, our redemption and salvation has come.

Give God our praise and our glory.

Amen.

“Draw Deep the Breath of Christmas”

“Draw Deep the Breath of Christmas”

Christmas Eve Worship, December 24, 2020

Luke 1:5 – 2:20

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Centering Prayer.

There appeared to Zechariah,

a priest of the temple,

an angel of the Lord.

(Luke 1:11-17)

Gabriel appeared

when the Lord’s longing desire

for a Savior

and Zechariah’s longing desire

for a child

came together and became one.

Gabriel appeared

to the right of the altar.

Zechariah trembled with fear.

“Do not be afraid”

the angel sensed his apprehension.

“for your prayer is heard.

Your wife Elizabeth

will bear you a son,

and you shall call

his name John.”

“He will make ready for the Lord

a people prepared.”

Zechariah drew deep

the breath of Christmas

and Elizabeth conceived.

Gabriel was directed by God

back to the boondocks,

to the Galilean city of Nazareth

to a virgin

engaged to a local carpenter

and her name was Mary.

(Luke 1:26-35)

“Hail, O favored one!”

Gabriel announced.

Mary trembled with fear.

Can you blame her?

“Do not be afraid”

the angel sensed her apprehension.

“You have found favor

with God.

You will conceive in your womb

and bear a son,

and you shall

call his name, Jesus.”

“He will be great,

and will be called

the Son of the Most High;

and the Lord God

will give to him

the throne of his father David,

and he will reign over

the house of Jacob forever;

and of his kingdom

there will be no end.”

“But I have no husband,”

Mary wondered,

“How can this be?”

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,

and the power of the Most High

will overshadow you;

therefore the child to be born

will be called holy

the Son of God.”

Mary drew deep

the breath of Christmas

and conceived

the Savior of the World.

A cousin,

John was born.

Elizabeth’s barrenness ended.

And baby John

drew deep his first breath

and it was the breath of Christmas.

A cousin,

Jesus was born.

The world’s darkness ended.

“The Word became flesh

and dwelt among us.”

(John 1:14)

And baby Jesus

drew deep his first breath

and it was the breath of Christmas.

Angelic intervention did not abate.

An angel appeared

(undoubtedly Gabriel)

to lowly shepherds

tending to their flocks at night.

(Luke 2:8-20)

Like Zechariah and Mary

they were filled with fear.

“Do not be afraid”

the angel sensed their apprehension.

“Behold,

I bring you good news

of a great joy

which will come to all the people;

for to you is born this day

in the city of David

a Savior,

who is Christ the Lord.”

They went with haste

and found the Christ child

just as had been told them.

They peered

into the lowly manger

saw the baby

wrapped tightly in swaddling cloths

and the shepherds drew

the deep breath of Christmas.

Astrological visions

appeared to wise men in the East

like an angel

rising as a star

over the manger

where the Savior lay.

(Matthew 2:1-12)

The star

drew them to come

like metal to a magnet.

The star

led them to Bethlehem

gave them the understanding

that a child King

had been born.

Entering the barn

they saw the baby

“with Mary her mother,

and they fell down

and worshiped him.”

The wise men

drew deeply the breath of Christmas.

There is sufficient fuel

to feed the Grinch’s complaints,

especially in this pandemic environment.  

The virus feels like the Grinch’s devious plan

To smother the breath out of Christmas,

To suck the life from every home in Whoville.

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

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

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

Only a Grinch could be so diabolical.

From Seuss to Dickins,

From Grinch to Scrooge,

A miserly “Ba, Humbug” likewise tries to

Kill the breath of Christmas.

I hear Scrooge’s objections

all the time,

and they sound like this:

“the age of miracles is over”

“angels are just a bunch of phooey”

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

… my loved one to die?

… suffering and famine?

… disease and injury?”

Complaints and objections

plunge death and despair

deep into the souls of

the weak and the ignorant.

Complaints and objections

Pours shadows into darkness,

Ushering in a night that knows no end

For a world that thrives on terror

and feeds on fear.

Complaints and objections

slam so hard

the wind can get knocked right out of you.

They can take your breath away.

Complaints and objections

Can’t steal away your breath of Christmas.

“Do not be afraid”

the angel Gabriel

says to you this evening.

“Do not be afraid”

the angel Gabriel

proclaims to the world.

“Do not be afraid”

the angel Gabriel

appears and announces this night:

“The Word is made flesh

and dwells among us!”

A child is born

and his name is Jesus!

The Spirit of God

has stirred

and a new wind is blowing!

Gabriel and the Heavenly host appear!

Light has come into the world;

and in him there is

no darkness at all.

In him there is no transgression.

In him there is only a desire to

take your transgressions away.

In him there is only a desire to

to save you into eternal life.

“For God so loves

this world,

that He gave

His only Son,

that who-so-ever believes in him,

will not perish

but will be given

everlasting life.”

(John 3:16)

In Christ there is only a desire to

fill your lungs with the sweetness of his Holy Spirit;

to give you the breath of Christmas.

“Do not be afraid,”

children of the loving Father.

“Do not be afraid,”

disciples of the newborn Son.

“Do not be afraid,”

the Spirit blows a new wind.

Breath deep.

Breath deeply

the Spirit’s breath

this Christmas Eve night.

Join with Zechariah and Elizabeth,

Mary and Joseph,

Shepherds and Wise Men,

and

Draw deep

the breath of Christmas.

Merry Christmas, dearly beloved!

God loves you, and so do I.

Amen.

“That All Might Believe”

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

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

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

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

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

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

John 1:6-8, 19-28

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

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

(Centering Prayer)

Advent; a time of revelation.

A four-week season preceding Christmas

Where God is revealed for all to see.

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

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

It is almost as if

God is everything the world isn’t.

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

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

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

God’s word is GOLD.

Last Sunday, scripture revealed that

The Lord works and plays in the wilderness.

The Lord actively seeks our confession and repentance.

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

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

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

God notices

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

From mountaintop to valley floor,

God loves you anyway.

As I reflect on my personal journey of faith,

My walk with the Lord,

The God revealed thus far this Advent

Squares itself perfectly

With the God of my experience.

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

Weekly worship keeps me honest.

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

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

The Lord has never let me down. Period.

The God of my experience is bulletproof faithful.

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

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

Mourning the death of a parent or friend,

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

That’s my wilderness.

Once lost, I am found.

That is where I have found the Lord.

Faith has made me compulsive.

I can’t help myself;

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

The blood of the cross keeps washing me clean,

Scrubbing me over and over again.

The blood of the cross

Keeps calling me to a higher standard,

Keeps drawing me towards Christian perfection.

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

I’ve tried and failed.

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

Inside and out,

Through and through.

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

What would you say?

Reflect.

Write it out.

Make it real.

Has the God revealed this Advent

Squared itself with the God of your experience?

Today, the prophet Isaiah testifies further.

The Lord sent Isaiah on a mission:

To bring good news to the oppressed,

To bind up the brokenhearted,

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

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

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

There is a lot of territory to cover here.

I’ll be short and to the point.

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

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

The good news to the oppressed is that

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

The Lord’s game plan?

Right every wrong.

Though derided and despised,

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

God’s kingdom will come.

Make certain you are on the winning team.

2. What breaks your heart?

What has broken your heart?

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

The Lord gathers the shattered pieces of your broken heart

And binds them back together again.

That’s what God does.

A heart bound by God

Isn’t a heart constrained,

It is a heart being healed.

3. Prisoners, listen up.

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

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

The Lord wants you set free.

Free from your past,

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

Free to get a fresh start.

Preceding and greater than the American Constitution

The Lord wills Freedom. Liberty.

The Lord want you free to make your own choices.

Make good choices.

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

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

No worry.

The Lord wants your debts cancelled;

Everyone’s debt cancelled,

Before the expected 50-year Jewish recalibration.

Debtors rejoice!

At the same time

Investors groan.

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

The Lord so despises poverty that

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

Such that everyone’s fundamental human needs are met.

Consider how many times

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

5. Isaiah tells us the Lord hates mourning.

Through Jesus, death is taken off the table.

Eternal life is given.

The intellectual rational for mourning is removed,

What remains is a natural emotional loss.

When one does mourn death or loss,

The Lord comforts.

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

Through the grace and love of others,

Through prayer and meditation on the Word of God,

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

My relationship with the Lord

Squares itself with the God

The prophet Isaiah reveals.

How about you?

Oppressor or oppressed? Which team will you choose?

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

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

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

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

Today, the Gospel of John takes the lead from Mark

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

The one chosen and sent by God

To fulfill the promise of the prophet Isaiah.

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

Jesus is light.

This metaphor worked for the ancient mind and

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

John the Baptist is setting the cosmic stage

With Jesus and light on one side vs

The Devil and darkness on the other.

Right vs wrong.

Good vs evil.

Righteousness vs sin.

Life vs death.

Jesus,

Son of God,

Coming after John,

The subject of John’s witness,

Is the light of the world.

The qualities of light are the qualities of God.

Light removes darkness faster than bleach erases a stain.

Without darkness there is no place to hide.

Light exposes words and actions with complete transparency.

Turn out the light and darkness immediately returns.

Don’t touch that button!

Don’t flip that switch!

The temptation may be huge,

But don’t do it.

Casting Christ out of your life leads to catastrophic consequences.

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

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

Removes the basket covering the light,

Letting it shine for all the world to see.

The power of personal testimony is enormous.

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

Sadly, witnessing about

When Jesus came into your life and

How Christ as changed it for the better

Is rarely used in many Protestant congregations.

Light makes safe passage possible.

Obstacles in your path?

Walk with Jesus.

A life with Jesus doesn’t remove the obstacles,

But it exposes them.

Light reveals the path forward.

Discernment is better in the light.

Light allows one to

See all the data.

Gather all the data.

Analyze all the data.

Make better decisions.

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

Light leads the faithful directly to God,

Exactly where the Lord wants us to be.

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

2. Lastly, and I believe, most importantly

The Gospel of John reveals  

God’s deepest desire:

That all might believe.

All.

That is as inclusive as it gets.

All means all.

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

Get over it.

There is nothing we can do to change it.

If God makes room at the altar for me,

There is room for you, too.

That all might believe.

Faith isn’t the absence of doubt.

Faith is belief without proof.

Faith is following Jesus,

Walking with the light,

Even though doubt persist.

God’s deepest desire:

That all might believe

Jesus is the Christ,

Our example,

Our redeemer,

Our savior.

God’s deepest desire:

That all might believe

Jesus is the promised Messiah.

Messiah fulfills every prophetic prophecy.

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

Jesus checks every box.

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

Into righteous perfection and eternal life.

Messiah.

Light.

Son of God.

….

Beloved, Advent reveals much about our God.

Even still, there is so much more to learn.

The mysterious nature of God remains, as it should.

Keep watching, waiting, learning.

Take it all in.

All the while,

Witness and Testify

To the God of your experience,

To our Lord revealed through scripture,

To Jesus the promised Messiah.

Become the living testimony God is calling you to be

That all might believe.

Amen.