“Faith v Works”

November 22, 2020, Christ the King

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 25:31-46

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer.

Heaven is to grace

What Hell is to judgment.

As followers of Jesus,

Believing that Jesus

Assumed all our sins

On the cross,

We’ve become comfortably acculturated

With grace as the staple diet

Of organized Protestant Christian faith.

Believe in Jesus

And be saved.

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

Follow him and be saved.

Boom!

Count me in.

Sprinkle me with water and

Teach me the secret handshake.

Case closed.

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

The great reformer, Martin Luther, proclaimed

We are judged by faith alone,

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

(Martin Luther, 1537, Smalkald Articles)

John Wesley brought laser focus to God’s grace.

For Wesley, grace is prevenient:

Given by God before we knew we needed it.

Grace is justifying:

We are forgiven of our sins

Simply because we believe.

Grace is sanctifying:

Replacing our imperfections

With the perfect love of God.

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

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

Sola Fide, pronounced So-la Fee-day:

the Doctrine of Justification by Faith, and

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

The doctrine of Salvation by grace

Defines the chasm that

Separates us from our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers.

Through a uniquely Protestant world view 

We have come to know

A graceful God

That carefully considers a resume built on faith,

Without taking into consideration works, good or bad.

Our Protestant heritage teaches us that belief leads to reward:

Believe in Jesus Christ.

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

Zippidee do dah.

Yet,

The reality of sin

Is like the thin strata of smoke from a wood fire

Wisping through the neighborhood.

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

Sin.

Without wind it seeps in everywhere,

Distorting sight and delivering a signature smell.

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

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

Judgment is the consequence of sin.

We, Hushpuppy wearing, grace toting Protestants,

Find ourselves in an uneasy position wrestling with judgment

With the close of this liturgical year.

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

Next Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent,

The Gospel of Mark will take Matthew’s place,

And a new liturgical year will begin.)

Christ is our king! We joyfully proclaim.

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

Jesus plays the judgment card in spades.

Today, Jesus and judgment are addressed with uncomfortable transparency.

This 25th chapter of Matthew is

A real slice of humble pie

To grace believing Protestants.

Two weeks ago we heard of the

Unfortunate, unprepared bridesmaids

Waiting for the delayed bridegroom to arrive.

They waited with insufficient lamp oil.

As a result of their behavior

They were shut out

– SHUT OUT –

Of the wedding reception,

With Divine judgment we’ve not heard before.

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

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

What?

Wait! We respond.

“I do not know you”?

That is not the God I know, I protest.

Heaven is to grace

What Hell is to judgment.

Last Sunday,

Our distress mounted with the Parable of the Talents.

We squirmed anxiously in our seats

When the Master

Belittles and berates the servant who buried his talent

Instead of investing it like the other two.

“You wicked and lazy slave!”

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

“As for this worthless slave,

throw him into the outer darkness,

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

What?

Wait! We respond.

I don’t know that god.

This visual is more like a Soviet gulag

Then a sermon from Jesus.

Heaven is to grace

What Hell is to judgment.

….

500 years ago we parted ways

with the Roman Catholic preoccupation with Works Righteousness.

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

Like their Pharisaic forefathers fifteen hundred years earlier,

Sacred texts had been codified into

Onerous and inflexible Church doctrines

Frightening the masses into submission

In the shadow of the sword or guillotine.

The laundry list justifying Works Righteousness

– the central belief that the guilty are judged

and the guiltless are deemed righteous –

has been long cited by scripture:

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

For example,

Matthew 5:20 Jesus says,

“For I tell you that unless your righteousness

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

you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The list justifying Works Righteousness equals

The list justifying Sola Fide and Sola Gratia.

Are we forgiven and saved by

what we do, or,

Are we forgiven and saved by

what we believe?

What are we to believe?

Like many things in life

Faith v works are not mutually exclusive.

I’d suggest faith v works are mutually dependent.

Looking back over my history of preaching on this passage,

I’ve noticed a personal, evolving belief.

Early in my pastoral ministry,

I hammered home Sola fide and Sola Gratia

Like every good Protestant preacher is expected to do.

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

Sadly, I must admit,

To the neglect of Works Righteousness.

“What we believe leads to good works,

But good works do not lead to belief,”

I was often quoted to say.

Yet, as I’ve aged

The more I believe in

The value of a carefully balanced, mutually dependent approach:

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

Then we can elevate selected scripture to support our position.

Belief in Jesus is essential.

What is also essential is

Doing the work of Jesus.

One leads to the other;

Does it really matter which comes first?

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

It is our Christian obligation to feed hungry people,

To give water to those who thirst,

And to welcome strangers with hospitality.

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

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

To take care of the sick,

To visit the condemned in prison.

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

Be forewarned.

It is our obligation,

Not because we fear judgment,

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

And we should follow his example.

It is our obligation,

Because our good works points the world straight to Jesus.

Our good works bring attention to God.

Our good works bring praise and glory to God.

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

And so, too, should we.

Doing so, is God’s greatest glory.

And places the Lord front and center

In the spotlight of the world’s stage.

This is a week of Thanksgiving.

Let us safely gather around

Our pandemically subdued Thanksgiving tables.

Mourn not what is lost this holiday.

Give thanks for what has been found.

Close your eyes and

With every ounce of your imagination

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

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

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

That has flooded our lives.

Giving thanks is a sign of our faith and belief.

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

Thank God for nurturing our faith,

Justifying our faith, and

Sanctifying our faith.

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

Transform the blessing of your table

Into works of righteousness in the streets.

Don’t expect the government to feed the hungry;

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

Charities can only do so much.

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

Let us make it our Thanksgiving vow

To go one step further,

In charitable works of ministry.

Go one step further

In the name of Jesus Christ

Then we have ever gone before.

Then, and only then,

Our Thanksgiving tables will be complete.

Amen.

“Joy or Weeping?”

Matthew 25:14-30

November 15, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 25:14-30

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’

But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Prayer.

Thank you for your financial commitment to the mission and ministry of our parish and for promptly returning your completed Pledge Card.

What may appear to be the perfect ending to our annual Stewardship Drive

The parable Jesus serves up for us today is a lot more complex.

The obvious and easy question is,

What are you doing with what you are given?

Are you making what God has given you greater for the Lord’s benefit?

Or, are you hiding away your time, talent, and treasures

Hoping to skate through life on the cheap?

What are you doing?

This is a good starting place.

Is faith so shallow it only requires going through the motions?

… show up for worship (as little as possible)?

… drop an Andrew Jackson or a check into the basket when prompted?

… purchase some baked goods to “support” Promise Land or our South Africa missions?

(Sarcasm)

“I’ll tell you what,

Burying my talents

Saves me a lot of time and effort when I have better things to do, and

Burying my talents

Saves me a ton of money that would otherwise be wasted on the church.

Why tithe if I don’t have to?

Sunday’s are meant for sleeping in.

Maybe I can

Just put a lid on this Jesus talk and

Hope it all works out in the end.”

(End Sarcasm)

What are you doing?

Perhaps there is something deeper, quietly stirring in your soul.

Instead of waiting for a personal or family crisis to kick faith into gear

Perhaps now is the time to make some investments

Into personal faith development.

The timing couldn’t be better as travel restrictions and

Stay at home requests increase.

If you’re going to put in 45 minutes on the treadmill,

How about 45 minutes in exercising your spiritual life?

Pray, and learn about prayer.

Study scripture, and experience God working through scripture in your life.

Learn about the early Church, martyrs, leaders, and thinkers.

Engage in missional outreach by making neighbors into friends.

Grow that circle of friends bigger, and

Love every one of them as if each is your long-lost child.

What are you doing? Jesus is asking those who follow him,

Knowing full well that he would soon

Suffer, die, resurrect, and ascend into heaven

With the promise to return

At some unknown and unknowable future date and time.

The choice is yours.

How are you going to spend your time and money waiting for me to return? Jesus is asking.

Are you flying economy class …

Faith on the half-shell?

Or, is it time to upgrade with

an investment in personal spiritual development?

What are you doing? Is a good place to start, but

There is more here ripe for discovery.

1. First, when Jesus is talking about Talents,

He’s talking about money;

Cold hard cash.

Jesus is not talking about God-given abilities, gifts or graces.

The definition of “talents” expanded beyond money to include abilities, gifts, and graces in old English during the middle ages.

One Talent equaled 6,000 Denarius.

A Denarius is the daily wage.

So, one Talent is worth 6,000 days of work.

In today’s terms,

At a modest annual income of $40,000 per year

1 Talent would equal $600,000.

That’s a lot of money to bury in the back yard.

Likewise, 2 Talents = $1.2 million.

5 Talents = $3 million. 

The example Jesus uses in the Parable of the Talents

Is one of hyperbole;

Excessive, over-the-top abundance.

Jesus isn’t using for his example a couple of bucks, or

A couple hundred, or even

A couple thousand dollars.

Jesus is talking millions.

In this parable Jesus personifies God as the Master.

Jesus is quite intentionally composing a character of his heavenly Father.

God is incredibly trusting, giving great stewardship responsibility,

Each according to their ability. (25:15)

The least abled was entrusted with $600,000!

Our God is one of abundant, amazing grace.

Jesus characterizes God as kind and generous, who is enormously thankful.

“Well done, good and trustworthy servant; You have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things.” (25:21)

I’d call that

Getting a bonus and receiving a  promotion,

Earned for work well-done.

Jesus fills his character palate by describing God as being positive and joyous.

“Enter into the joy of your master,” the master grants his faithful servants. (25:21)

In other words, God invites the productive, the fruitful, the faithful into God’s own joy.

There is no hint here of a God who is harsh, rash, or vindictive.

I wonder where that assumption came from?

2. The foil for the parable is the servant who buried the talent and waited for his master’s return.

Why did he bury it and wait?

Why didn’t he take the initiative and invest the one talent like the other two?

He reveals his motive when asked:

“Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.” (25:24-25)

He was afraid.

He was afraid of his master.

The servant who buried his one talent

Assumed the master to be a harsh man.

Harsh?

Based on what?

The parable already established the master as being generous, kind, grateful, thankful, and full of joy.

Nary a hint of evidence exists to lead one to believe the master was a harsh man.

Jesus reveals in this parable that

False assumptions lead to poor decisions which leads to disastrous outcomes,

Especially when we are naturally biased to do the least amount of effort to just get by.   

He was afraid.

Fear is a lousy motivator.

Fear of aging boosts sales of anti-wrinkle Aveeno and man boosting Nugenix.

Fear of torture makes people confess to both the truth and falsehoods.

Fear of hell and damnation has been a staple of some Christian communities for centuries, creating untold harm to God’s beautifully created human condition.

Fear that leads to paralysis results in Divine anger and judgment.

“you wicked and lazy slave!” = an accurate observation of the servant’s effort.

“you knew, did you?” = you think you’re so smart?

“I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?” = you calling the Lord a thief? (25:26)

“As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness”

Not the inner darkness.

“Throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (25:30)

Looking for a fair trial?

Don’t anger the Judge with false accusations.

That right there

Is the judgment of an angry God.

Paralysis.

Laziness.

Wickedness.

Worthless effort.

Believing we are smarter than everyone else.

Making false accusations.

These are the behaviors Jesus warns his disciples about in this age

As we await his promised return.

3. There are two possible outcomes for those entrusted with the master’s wealth:

An invitation into the joy of the master, or,

Being thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The judgment of the master is pre-determined, pre-established, and all are forewarned.

Our final outcome is completely dependent on the choices we make.

We choose the judgment we receive.

In other words, we are responsible for our choices and actions.

I know responsibility is a dirty word to many in this day and age.

Yet, Jesus takes the unpopular stance of holding his disciples

Accountable and responsible for our actions.

Each of us are held accountable by the Master.

These are the questions for my own accountable discipleship:

– Are the words I choose consistent with the grace and love of Jesus Christ?

– Are my efforts worthy or commensurate with His suffering on the cross?

– Is my love for God and neighbor an accurate, proportional reflection of God’s love for me?

I err, just like everyone else.

Yet, I firmly believe that all failures are forgiven for all those baptized and clothed in Christ.

In the long view, critical self-reflection helps keeps my spiritual journey on the right trajectory.

Faith without actions is dead, the Apostle Paul reminds us.

Satisfaction with the status quo stinks like a week-old dead fish.

Until Christ promised return and His kingdom is fully established on earth as it is in heaven,

There is work to be done,

Here in Rush,

In Monroe and Livingston Counties,

In the United States, and

Around the world.

Faithfulness is not merely obedience to God’s direction,

But also to how we use this in between time until Jesus returns.

Living, growing, vibrant faith smells as sweetly as a vase full of Spring flowers.

Living faith, motivates each of us to take initiative and risks.

To those of greater ability, greater effort and risks are expected.

You think you’re so smart?

The master expects you to dedicate more of your intelligence to the benefit of the kingdom.

You think you’re so affluent?

The master expects you to contribute more of your wealth for the benefit of the kingdom.

You think you are so naturally gifted?

The master expects you to contribute more hours of productivity than everyone else for the benefit of the kingdom.

The Master expects results.

God trusts us with everything …

All the jewels of Creation.

God holds nothing back.

God expects us to perform and expects results.

The choices we make determine our judgment.

So what choices will you make?

What are you doing?

Make informed decisions.

Make the right choices.

Get to work in the mission field.

Make disciples. Love God. Love neighbors.

Make progress.

Show results.

And you will

Enter into the joy of the master.

Amen. 

“Staying Awake”

Matthew 25:1-13

November 8, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 25:1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.

But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’

Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’

And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’

Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Prayer.

So this is how it is all going to play out.

Jesus tells us the Temple will be destroyed.

It was.

Jesus tells us there will be false prophets who claim to be the Messiah.

There were.

He tells us there would be wars, famines, and earthquakes.

Yep. There has been. And they are still taking place.

Jesus warned of persecutions.

Those who follow Jesus and live by his truth will be hated, persecuted, and killed.

Indeed, the history of Christianity has been written by the blood of martyrs and saints.

Read all about it in the 24th chapter of Matthew.

It’s a downright depressing message.

If this is all there was on the recruiting poster

No one would inquire further.

Efforts at disciple making would become futile.

Even the rank-and-file faithful would begin to turn on each other and,

As Jesus said, “the love of many will grow cold.” (24:12)

On the eve of his arrest, trial, and persecution

Jesus tells us

This is how it is going to play out.

Why tell us this? I have to ask.

Why the discouraging message?

It’s occurred to me

The Jesus we want is not the Jesus we are given.

We want a gentle Jesus, meek and mild,

Born a vulnerable baby,

A smart and curious youth,

An adult shepherd tending his sheep.

Instead, the Gospel reveals a Jesus who addresses the social injustices of his day,

Who divides families and allows a rich young ruler to just walk away.

It is almost as if confrontation and revolution are coded in his DNA.

The Jesus we get confronts demons and devils and overcomes them all.

He challenges the authority of religious leaders and smashes their money changing tables.

The Jesus we get is willing to prune the vine to increase the yield.

Jesus loves the world, at the same time, his standards of judgement are set so impossibly high that every one of us fall short of his glory.

The temptation I have

Is to believe life plays itself out like a well written obituary,

That death is the final chapter,

And memories are swept away with the eons of time.

I must not yield to this temptation,

And neither should you.

The temptation I have

Is to become so engaged in the pragmatic struggles of life,

… education, career, marriage, health, …

That I lose sight of the justifying, saving grace of Jesus Christ.

Yield not to temptation

And I won’t either.

It is possible to be given

both the cold, hard truth

and the promise of hope at the same time.

Jesus does it in spades.

Eternity has no end.

Eternal life never plays out.

Resurrection is the promise of a loving God

Who seeks to pull us through the suffering of these times

Into an eternal age when Christ returns

And his kingdom is established on earth as it is in heaven.

Today’s parable of the ten bridesmaids

Gives us a road map for discipleship,

To keep us strong and endure

As long as it takes.

Jesus tells us

Be patient,

Be prepared,

Stay awake, and

Trim your lamp.

1. First,

Be patient.

The groom is delayed. (25:5)

We haven’t somehow missed the coming of Christ.

He promised to return.

He just hasn’t arrived for us yet.

Thus, we proclaim, “Christ will come again.”

Maybe in our lifetime, maybe not.

God’s time is not our time.

Christ will come some time in eternity.

Patience is an acquired skill that can be learned and

A spiritual discipline that can be practice.

It would be instantly gratifying to know exactly when Christ returns,

The day, the hour,

Because we could goof off until the last moment, then

Straighten up and

Polish our crown.

But no one knows, or can know, the day nor the hour,

Jesus teaches. (25:13)

It’s a foolish waste of time to try to figure it out;

Time that could be better spent

Being prepared.

2. Which brings us to the second point: Be prepared.

In this parable

Prepared bridesmaids

Bring a lamp,

Sufficient oil, and

A means to trim the flame.

There is nothing passive about preparation.

Just ask a Boy Scout, a Fire Chief, or an Army General.

Being prepared for the return of Jesus requires us

To make active preparations to meet him face-to-face.

Because one day we will.

Learn to walk like Jesus.

Learn to talk like Jesus.

Learn to act like Jesus.

Being prepared means making haste

To love and to be loved,

To forgive and to be forgiven,

To build God’s kingdom,

To anticipate the return of Christ.

3. Stay awake.

No one knows the day or hour.

Take note:

10 out of 10 bridesmaids fall asleep,

Both the wise and foolish.

Which is to say,

We all need our rest.

But when you rest, post a watch.

We are dependent on one another to maintain vigilant watch,

To watch and wait,

To sound the alert when the bridegroom returns,

To wake every resting soul.

Individual effort doesn’t cut it.

Being Church is a team sport.

Discipleship requires a group effort,

A body, a community,

To work round the clock and around the world,

To work and to wait patiently for Christ’s return.

4. Lastly, Jesus tells us with this parable to

Trim your lamp; because we are in it for the long haul.

One trims a lamp to conserve fuel.

The trade off is that the lamp gives off less light.

The sacrifice is worth it, Jesus tells us,

Because endurance is also an important spiritual discipline

To be learned and practiced.

There are no days off when it comes to discipleship.

There is no vacation to eat, drink, and be merry.

There is no retirement to rest on your laurels.

Being patient, prepared, and alert means every follower of Jesus

Must be willing to conserve and endure until he returns.

This includes the practice of good stewardship,

Maintaining healthy, moral and ethical boundaries, and

Living a life of love, for both God and neighbor.

It appears terribly uncaring and un-God like

For the wise bridesmaids to not share their lamp oil, and

For the bridegroom to shut the door to the wedding banquet

in the face of the foolish bridesmaids.

But note this,

Both circumstances are reversible.

Neither are permanent.

Oil was purchased, abet late; but, purchased none the less.

Good move, ladies.

You’ve made the first step towards redemption.

It remains possible for the foolish bridesmaids

To come to know the bridegroom in the future,

To one day be welcomed into the wedding banquet.

A wedding banquet wasn’t a 7 until midnight affair

Like they are nowadays.

Wedding celebrations were weeks on end, and then some.

The Lord makes it possible for the wine to hold out for ever.

Even if initially shut out,

Prepare yourself.

Keep knocking at God’s door.

Beloved,

do not look at this world …

… with all its problems and faults …

And become discouraged or lose heart.

Know Christ’s promise to be true.

He will return.

Christ is coming again.

Until that unknowable day or hour,

Be patient.

Be prepared.

Settle in for the long haul.

For the Lord’s kingdom is eternal.

Amen.

“Blessed are the Saints”

Matthew 5:1-12 and Revelation 7:9-17

November 1, 2020 – All Saint’s Sunday

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 5:1-12

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

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

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

Prayer.

The Christian calendar always recognizes

The first day of November as All Saint’s Day.

This is a day to pause and remember our Christian loved ones,

Who have left this mortal life,

And who now benefit from the gift of eternal life

In the presence of God.

Few anticipated salvation and eternal life more than John of Patmos,

The author of the apocalyptic book of Revelation.

Revelation is the last book of the Bible.

John of Patmos, like other late first century Christians,

Suffered persecution, tribulation, exile, and martyrdom

During the Roman rule of Domitian, from 81 to 96 AD.

John was exiled by Rome to an island in the Aegean Sea, off the coast of Greece.

On this island, named Patmos,

John experienced visions from God about the future-

Death, divine judgment, and eternal life.

His colorful descriptions of these visions

Paint a heaven with the Lord upon the throne,

Surrounded by every saint

Ever to live, and die, and be resurrected into eternal life.

John describes the cloud of saints as

Those “who have come out of the great ordeal.”

(Revelation 7:14)

Indeed, life is a great ordeal.

Beginning with the miracle of conception,

Life is given and guided by the hand of our Divine Creator,

The same author of the universe,

The one who makes each of us in his own image.

God is at the wheel and

We are along for the ride.

And what a ride it is!

Each of us have very different life trajectories,

Yet, there are some events and ideals that all Christians hold in common.

1. Every disciple of Jesus Christ

Has first been chosen by almighty God

To come to the baptismal waters

And become united in baptism.

By our common baptism we are united

With Jesus,

With every Christian who has come before us,

With every Christian now living, and

With every future Christian God will be calling to the water.

Baptism unites us,

Levels the playing field,

And forever marks us

Undeniably as Jesus’ own.

Remember the baptism of your loved ones.

Remember your baptism.

And be thankful.

2. To live is to stand with both feet firmly planted on this earth.

All Christians share the fact that we were, or are, human.

We are united by our hunger and our thirst.

We are united by scorching heat and blowing snow.

We are united by our love and our grief,

Evident by the tears in our eyes.

And together,

Jesus leads us to the springs of the water of life.

(Revelation 7:17)

Living according to the will of God

Is living a life that is blessed.

Blessed doesn’t mean charmed or privileged.

To receive God’s blessing means that God approves

Of righteous effort and behavior.

God approves,

His Son assures us in his Sermon on the Mount,

Of those who are poor in spirit.

God approves of those who mourn.

God approves of the meek.

God approves of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

God approves of those who are merciful, pure in heart, and who work for peace.

God approves for those chose to follow God

When it would be easier not to,

And as a result, end up on the receiving end of persecution.

Christians are united by God’s blessings and grace,

Not only in God’s present approval,

But also in God’s future promise.

Those who live in God’s present approval

Are promised the kingdom of heaven,

Are promised God’s comfort,

Are promised to inherit the earth.

Those who are blessed today

Will be filled tomorrow.

Those who grant mercy

Will receive God’s mercy.

Those whom God approves will see God’s face,

Will be forever called and known as God’s own children,

And will inherit the kingdom of heaven.

Today’s approval

Results in eternal grace.

Remember how God has blessed our beloved saints,

Whom we remember this day.

Rest assured God’s promise is fulfilled.

Give thanks for God’s blessings in your life

And look forward to receiving His future promise.

3. Every disciple of Jesus Christ

Endures the fury of temptation to violate God’s laws and will.

John of Patmos writes

“These are they

who have come out of the great ordeal;

They have washed their robes

and made them white

In the blood of the Lamb.”

(Revelation 7:14)

Everyone sins.

The saints we remember today

Have sinned.

We share with them and with each other the Devil’s fire,

Attempting to navigate this mortal life through Daniel’s furnace,

Walking the valley in the shadow of death.

As we are united by our temptation and sin,

So, too are we united by our Lord’s grace;

His forgiveness

Through his crucifixion.

We ask John, “How can blood wash clean a white robe?”

When that blood is Jesus’ own blood

And we stand in the soiled robe of sin.

We are unified in our petition to be cleansed.

And we are united in God’s mercy and grace

With the gift that Jesus gives to each of us.

By his death,

We are washed clean.

Remember no more

The sins of those who have now died in the Lord.

Forget their trials, temptations, and sins.

Jesus has; and so, too, should we.

Confess the name of Jesus.

Claim him as your Lord and Savior.

And receive the forgiveness of your every sin.

4. Lastly, every disciple of Christ

Living in this kingdom

Can expect to be united with every other disciple

Living in the heavenly kingdom,

Standing before the throne

Worshipping God, singing

“Amen!

Blessings and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving

And honor and power and might

Be to our God

Forever and ever!

Amen.”

(Revelation 7:12)

We will join with our beloved saints who have preceded us

In God’s eternal kingdom.

Jesus assures us that he’s prepared our place.

He’s given us his Holy Spirit to guide us there.

And Jesus has promised us

That we will be united with his saints around the throne.

There will be no sin,

No temptation,

No broken relationships;

Because each of us will be standing in a span clean robe,

Newly washed.

Wesley called this perfection.

John calls this God’s heavenly banquet.

Jesus promised us that he is looking forward to greeting each of us,

Soon face to face. 

Hold tight to the memories our saints have given us;

Especially their witness and strength of faith.

Allow God to use these memories to guide and direct

Our own journey through this great ordeal.

Give thanks to God

For sharing with us for a time our beloved saints.

Give thanks to God for receiving each of them home.

And give thanks to God for our promise,

Our inheritance,

That one day,

We, too, will be welcomed home.

Amen.

“Hear O Israel”

Matthew 22:34-46, October 25, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 22:34-46

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Prayer.

Put away your fluffy felt board Jesus,

Because the conflict between Jesus and Temple authorities

These past few Sundays have been high stakes, high drama, public confrontations.

They challenge his authority.

Jesus dishes it right back,

Exposing their lies, fraud, hypocrisy, and sin for all the world to see.

It is helpful to recognize the Gospel lessons of the past few weeks

Would fit better if proclaimed during Holy Week,

Instead of at the end of the liturgical year.

Every October / November

Gospel readings

Focus on the high stakes encounters between Jesus and the authorities

Between his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Sunday

And his tragic death on the cross on Friday. 

Let there be no mistake:

Jesus came to Jerusalem to die and rise again.

He didn’t come to celebrate the Passover

Only to return home the following week

Like all the rest of the happy campers.

Jesus came to Jerusalem to provoke a people

From accepting the status quo to taking action,

To wake them from a mindless, sleepy faith

To an active, growing, relational faith

In a loving God.

Jesus was seeking conversion.

Jesus calls, trains, and deploys disciples

To witness their faith,

To spread the Gospel, and

To bring forgiveness and salvation to a yearning world.

So, this is where we are at today:

Jesus had entered Jerusalem,

Marched up to the Temple,

Overturned the money changers tables,

And faced off with religious and secular authorities

In a revolving door, tag team effort of entrapment.

They questioned his authority to teach.

Jesus taught them parables that

Indicted organized religion

And individual greed.

The parable of two sons, wicked tenants, the wedding banquet

Upended tables of power, authority, and what it means to live faithfully.

Last week, Jesus was questioned about paying taxes and tithing

Allowing him to reset people’s assumptions about faith.

Today, Jesus had silenced the Sadducees’ question about the resurrection,

Leaving the path clear for the Pharisees

To tag in and make one last attempt

At going for the pin.

A lay leader of the Temple,

A lawyer, by trade,

Asks Jesus, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

Every Jew would have known the answer to this question,

Just as every American knows George Washington was our first president.

He isn’t testing Jesus’ knowledge.

He is testing Jesus’ methods.

He is probing to see if Jesus has the wear-with-all

To debate in their high powered, elite academic circles.

Are you worthy, Jesus?

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

The answer is so basic to faith

Every Jewish child is taught to pray

By starting out with reciting this Law,

Called the Shema (from the first word, Hear, as it is in Hebrew).

This is Shema

Word for word right out of the Torah, our Old Testament, Deut. 6:4-5

“Hear O Israel: the Lord thy God is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 

What was so astonishing was the fact that Jesus didn’t stop there.

He continued on by attaching to the Shema

A previously unrelated law from Leviticus 19:18, 34

Merging these two ideals into one-

“and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Never before had these Laws been brought together;

United by Jesus to provide the pivotal point

For God and Humankind’s Salvation History. 

Not only does Jesus make this addendum,

But he invites them to debate other aspects of the law.

Let’s talk Messiah, people.

The Gospel of Matthew begins with lineage from David to Jesus

And here,

Jesus quiets his critics

With the unanswerable,

How can King David have the Messiah,

The Son of God,

In his lineage?

Outmatched, outwitted, outplayed

The Pharisees scurried away.

Jesus is the lone survivor.

And they did not dare ask him any more questions.

Love God;

Love neighbors.

It is as simple as that.

Most of us today appreciate

The simplicity of this statement on the surface

But, if you are like me,

This simplicity leads me to ponder more deeply

“What does it mean to love God?”

“What does it mean to love neighbors?”

….

Hear, O Israel,

Love the Lord your God.

Love, in this use, is not emotional or romantic.

Love isn’t all talk.

Love God with action!

Open your heart and allow the Holy Spirit of God to sweep you away!

Jump to the front of the line, eager for baptism,

Being named once and for all time

As a disciple of Jesus.

Fall in love with Jesus and show your love for him every day.

Act like you are in love.

Fall on your knees and seek God’s repentance and forgiveness for past sins.

Return to those you have harmed, and make it right.

Serve the Lord full time.

Pray, study, discern, act

Fulfilling God’s will for you and your life.

Attend worship and give God praise and thanks.

Open, jump, fall, return, serve, attend

These are action words,

Because loving God means actions speak louder than words.

….

Hear, O Israel

Love your neighbors as yourself.

What does it mean to love our neighbors?

Every Hebrew scholar worth their weight

Will follow the Reece’s Pieces trail

Jesus leaves for us to follow back to Leviticus 19.

Here we find insight to what Jesus means

When he tells us to love our neighbors.

First, our neighbors are our kin and our clan.

Hear these words

“You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

– Leviticus 19:17-18

No problem we say to ourselves.

I love my family;

Blood is thicker than water, after all.

I love my friends;

We’ve got each other’s back.

I love my church;

After all, we all get along.

Which

This pastor must observe:

“In what delusional world do we think we live?!!!”

Life is full of dysfunctional families, broken friendships, and conflict laden churches!

Love is action!

Therefore, to love our neighbors as ourselves, we must

Welcome one another with generous hospitality;

Anticipate every need;

Fulfill every need, then go the extra mile.

Loving means to

Purify every motive;

Share every burden;

Overlook every fault.

Loving

Encourages all;

Blesses all;

Celebrates all.

Welcome, anticipate, fulfill, purify, share, overlook, encourage, bless, and celebrate …

Are the actions of love

This is the will of Jesus.

Good Hebrew scholars don’t end here.

This nineteenth chapter of Leviticus continues

“You shall rise before the aged, and defer to the old; and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

– Leviticus 19:32-34

Loving our neighbor

Means we love the alien in our midst.

Jesus did not have Star Trek in mind!

Aliens are travelers from other lands,

People beyond our own family and clans.

Jesus is asking us to love people beyond our circle of safety and security;

People we don’t know and have never met.

Who are these neighbors Jesus is calling us to love?

Homeless.

Poor.

Unemployed and underemployed.

Children.

Seniors.

People with different abilities.

Those suffering from illness or disease.

People who are guilty and incarcerated.

People immigrating to our land.

Loving them means more than naming them.

Reach out.

Visit.

Meet new people.

Make new friends.

Volunteer.

Get to know the waitress who waits on you,

The receptionist who welcomes you to the doctor’s office,

And the grocery store employee who

Helps you locate that one item on the grocery list you just can’t find.

Draw up your inner courage,

Place your trust that the Spirit will support you.

Live beyond yourself,

Placing the needs of someone else before your own.

Seek out new stories

And make the intentional effort to sit on your own.

Make yourself curious about the rest of the world,

Learn how it works,

And how God has knit us all together.

Loving our neighbors means living for others more than living for ourselves.

Dearly beloved sisters and brothers,

Reach up to God with praise, thanksgiving, and love.

Branch out to our neighbors in love,

Both near and far,

Both kin and stranger alike.

Grow the trust within

That God’s hand is at work in your life.

Be confident.

God will protect,

God will provide for

Those who are doing God’s will.

What are you doing to

Love God and love your neighbors?

What more can you do?

The time to start is now.

Amen.

“Conflicting Loyalties”

Matthew 22:15-22

October 18, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 22:15-22

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Prayer.

The preacher’s dilemma for today is

How does one preach about traps

Without falling into one?

Our dilemma in experiencing this Gospel text is

How far are you and I willing to walk with Jesus

Up Calvary’s hill

– the Via Dolorosa –

With him to his crucifixion?

Verbal blows had been exchanged

In our Lord’s confrontation with Jewish leaders:

First the Chief Priests and elders of the people,

Then Pharisees joined the party,

In today’s continuous text, the Herodians are added to the interrogation.

Next Sunday, some Sadducees will join the brawl.  

This high intensity challenge of Jesus’ authority in the Temple

Would within a few hours

Result in Jesus’ arrest, trial, abuse, crucifixion, and death.

Civil authority was clashing with kingdom authority.

Politics makes for strange bedfellows

Kind of like this diverse gathering of Jewish leaders

Conspiring to trap Jesus.

The Chief Priest and their family ran the Temple.

Sadducees were leaders of a sect that did not believe in the resurrection.

Pharisees were righteous and well-educated lay people.

The Herodians were Jews loyal to Rome (their occupiers).

Leaders, followers, and collaborators;  

United for one common purpose –

To trap Jesus,

To destroy Jesus,

To remove Jesus from the playing field,

To erase every memory and aspiration he created.

Politics makes for strange bedfellows.

Pharisees and Herodians working together would have been as likely as

Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer agreeing on a new Supreme Court nominee.

I try to keep my politics out of preaching.

The Gospel is my politics.

That is the way I like to keep it.

Get Jesus in trouble with Rome

And they’d crucify him.

Trap Jesus by getting him in trouble with the populist,

And a lynch mob would take care of business.

Blood was in the water,

And it drew every variety of shark in for the kill.

Civil authority clashing with kingdom authority.

As we celebrate the 503 anniversary of the Protestant Reformation this month,

It is good to remember Martin Luther

Who understood this titanic clash as being between

Civil righteousness and Spiritual righteousness.

Civil righteousness is compliance with civil law.

We construct a system to organize ourselves.

We refine the system.

And we are held accountable for adhering to the system.

Civil righteousness is demonstrated by how lawfully we act in society.

Spiritual righteousness, however, regards our relationship with God.

Spiritual righteousness is not determined by our actions

But is demonstrated by God’s love in Jesus Christ.

The contrast is between our dual citizenship:

We are citizens of both the state and citizens of heaven.

(Thanks to Erick J. Thompson, as found at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3450)

Jesus replies,

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (22:21)

This appeals deeply to those of us who’s cultural DNA

Is rooted in the western, American experience.

In fact, we are so fond of it, most are content to linger too long,

To become too acculturated to this initial Gospel point of view

That we become reluctant to walk with Jesus

Any further than the first station of the cross.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,

Or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”

the 1st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads.

The Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause,

As first imagined by Roger Williams in 1644,

Create a dualistic world separated by a wall,

Between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.”

(Roger Williams, 1644)

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (22:21)

Pay your taxes.

Pay your tithe.

A tithe is a gift to the Temple

(in modern times, to support the Church)

To support operations.

According to Leviticus 27:30

A tithe is to be calculated as 10% of your annual produce or income.

According to Proverbs 3:9

The tithe is not only 10%

But it should be the first fruits of all your crops as well.

To live a Biblical life one has to strive for the tithe.

Pay your taxes.

Pay your tithe.

Our Lord’s adversaries must have been writhing in anguish.

Their conspiracy failed.

Their trap failed to close.

I suspect some of us are writhing in anguish right now,

Doing the mental arithmetic of our own income and contributions to the Church.  

No pressure.

Jesus is carrying his cross all the way up to Calvary,

Beyond this initial, first stop.

Many of us would just as soon linger, lounge, and reside.

Come with me.

Exit your comfort zone and let us continue the journey with Jesus.

Every thoughtful, contemplative Christian

Can recognize the fact that the world isn’t black and white.

Despite our founding father’s best intent,

There are necessary intersections between church and state.

The wall separating the two is assailed

When we call for and work for civil justice;

Whether it is advocating for human rights,

Healthcare reform,

Gender equality,

Protecting the environment,

Or Black Lives Matter.

The wall separating civil righteousness and spiritual righteousness is assailed when the state elevates

Patriotism above faith,

Economic winners over losers,

The will of the powerful few over the powerless many.

Do we, as Jesus followers,

As people seeking spiritual righteousness

Stay quiet in the civil realm?

This journey with Jesus from the Temple mount to Calvary

Opens our eyes to the conflicting loyalties

Between Rome and Jerusalem,

Between Washington, Albany, and our congregation.

Some of our Christian sisters and brothers find these conflicting loyalties

Easier to reconcile than others.

Some will swear to never swear an oath,

Vow never to bear arms,

Join in million-man protests,

Even chain themselves to the doors of Capitol Hill.

Others will see no conflict in running for office

Espousing Judaic-Christian values,

Cite scripture from the stump,

Even erect monuments to the Ten Commandments in a court rooms.

Those from opposite sides often vilify each other.

The rest of us are somewhere in-between,

With our heads spinning in a bog

Filled with fake news, social media, and 24-hour news channels,

All being stirred by the Devil himself.

I can’t speak for you, but

I wonder all the time about

My conflicting loyalties between Caesar and God.

And I suspect you do, too.

Jesus stumbles,

Takes a knee under the weight of the cross,

As he ascends his earthly triumph.

Our epistle lesson encourages us to continue with Christ;

To stretch our spiritual canvas.

In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians

We are reminded of the expanse of humanity;

The need for the Word to go beyond Jerusalem,

Not only in Macedonia and Achaia,

But to the entire world.

The Good News of Jesus Christ comes personally, privately, and by individual re-birth,

Signed, signified and eternally sealed by our baptism.

At the same time,

The Good News of Jesus Christ comes collectively, corporately, and to all of Creation,

By means of the Body of Christ, known as the Church.

Paul does not stop here.

Paul stretches us further.

The God who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ,

The God of Creation and re-creation,

Is the same God that loves us so much,

Individually, collectively, and without exception,

That He gives us His Holy Spirit,

That we can become an example to all believers,

To prepare ourselves for Jesus to return,

And for Him to rescue us from the wrath that is coming.

(I Thessalonians 1:1-10)

From before time to beyond the end of time.

Our God is our God.

From the individual to all of humanity,

From the private to the corporate,

Our God is our God.

And all is of God.

In the clash of civil authority and kingdom authority,

In the clash of Caesar and God,

When Jesus wisely proclaims,

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (22:21)

Jesus is running the table.

Everything is of God.

Everything is God’s.

Even Caesar.

So, in the end,

In the wrath that is to come?

Even that which is rendered to the state

Returns to the Lord, who first gave it.

Everything returns to God.

Elegant, don’t you agree?

Yeah, Jesus is that way.

Jesus is pretty awesome, in my book.

As one enters through the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,

You turn right,

Pass through a door way

Up a stone stairway; winding, crooked, and steep.

You are not yet to the top of Calvary, but near the end.

The way of the cross is nearly fully revealed.

“Show me the coin used for the tax,” Jesus commanded.

“And they brought him a denarius.” (22:19)

Interesting fact about the Temple economy,

When you look into the books of organized religion,

Both then and today,

There is much to be revealed.

Pilgrims coming into town to make their yearly visit would

Make their annual animal sacrifice to God.

They would also be required to make a once a year contribution,

Their tithe,  

To the unpopular poll tax.

Who likes paying taxes?

Pilgrims would come with their local script or currency,

Most commonly, but not always, Roman denarius.

Currency would be exchanged into Jewish shekels at usury rates.

The Temple currency exchangers were shaking the people down.

This made the commoners,

The people in the pews

Seethe with anger.

Every Jewish pilgrim in the Temple

Would only possess shekels.

Only shekels.

So, were did the denarius come from?

Pharisees and Herodians are exposed for their hypocrisy.

It gets better.

The Roman denarius sported an image of Caesar

Together with the slogan,

Augusti Filius August Pontifex Maximus 

Which means

“Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest”

(Boring, Eugene, Matthew – MarkThe New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, volume 8 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 420.)

Whose head?

Whose title?

Of course,

A righteous Jew was forbidden from

Worshipping another god,

Or sporting an idolatrous image of a god,

Especially right there in the Temple courtyard.

Let’s be clear,

It’s never a good idea to break the Ten Commandments.

It’s really bad when you do it right there in the Temple!

Yet, the Temple authorities had no trouble

Presenting Jesus with a denarius

Sporting a graven image.

In the clash between civil righteousness and spiritual righteousness,

At the intersection of life and faith,

Loyalties are conflicted.

This once seemingly familiar Gospel narrative

Now presents itself worthy to start a revolution,

Tossing some money changing tables,

Just like the world has been tossed upside down.

The last shall be first and the first shall be last.

Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.

This newly plowed ground

Drives us to the foot of the cross

And begs each of us to inquire about the conflicting loyalties in each of our lives.

What are yours?

What are the conflicting loyalties in your life? and

How do you justify the choices you make?

What sacrifices (yes, I said sacrifices) need to be made to place Christ first?

Like carrying around a few denarius in our pockets,

Or a few Abe Lincoln’s in our wallets and purses,

What idolatrous commitments do we make?

How are we complicit in the larger sins of the world?

How is Christ calling you and I to respond?

Yes,

Jesus is asking us to re-examine the choices we make

Whether or not to let our kids play Sunday morning Pop Warner football

Or cheer for the team.

This is only the tip of the iceberg.

Jesus is much more serious than simply

Challenging us to a mundane conflicting loyalty.

His sacrifice nailed him to a cross

and dropped that cross into a hole,

complete with a flesh tearing, bone breaking jolt at the bottom.

That’s his sacrifice for you.

What are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus?

Amen.

“Many Called, Few Chosen”

Matthew 22:1-14

October 11, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 22:1-14

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.

The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.

Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Prayer.

This parable

Causes me to remember my defiant adolescence.

With hair down to my shoulders,

Sporting rose colored glasses,

I’d turn off my loud rock and roll,

Come bounding down the parsonage stairs

Burst into the kitchen

And ask dad for the keys to the car.

Inevitably, my mother would turn away from

The dishes in the sink or dinner on the stove.

She would take a look at my outrageous tee shirt or clothing, and say

“You’re going out looking like that?”

“Yeppers, mom. Catch you on the flip side of life.”

And off I’d go,

Acting as if there was no accountability, …

… Knowing full well that there was.

This parable is the third in a row.

It is important to be reminded that

Jesus is confronting the Temple authorities,

The Chief Priests, Pharisees, and leaders of the people.

The confrontation in Matthew 21 and 22 is explosive,

Extremely dangerous, and potentially violent.

For contextual reasons,

It is important to remember that this confrontation

Is taking place in the final days of Jesus’ life.

Try to imagine this confrontation taking place

During the early days of Holy Week;

Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday.

Just remember,

Jesus only has hours to live,

Share a final meal with his disciples,

Wash their feet,

Be arrested and tried and condemned,

And be crucified.

Time is short.

If ever there was a moment

To clearly and concisely communicate to the world

What the Kingdom of God looks like,

It was now.

Characteristics of God’s Kingdom have been revealed by Jesus

Throughout this high-stake confrontation in Matthew 21 and 22.

This is what we have learned so far:

  • Jesus’ authority comes from God, his heavenly Father.
  • God’s Kingdom is inclusive.
  • Those who do the will of God, in spite of past sins, will go first into the Kingdom.
  • God seeks justice and righteousness.
  • God’s Kingdom is given to those who bear fruit.

Today, Jesus turns up the gain,

Amps it up, and

Takes this confrontation over the top.

It isn’t pleasant.

This isn’t the Christmas baby Jesus

Or the gentle Jesus, meek and mild, with children sitting on his lap surrounded by cute little lambs.

That’s the Jesus we want,

But that isn’t the Jesus we get.

This is our Jesus,

At the height of his ministry,

Fulfilling the will of the Heavenly Father.

He is filled with disciplined, righteous anger

Confronting authority,

Speaking truth to power.

The environment is teetering on the edge of explosive violence.

Why is Jesus whacking the hornets’ nest?

Jesus confronts Temple authorities

To expand our comprehension of the Kingdom of God.

There is more to learn and his time is short.

This parable causes us to ask

What kind of power does God exercise?

And how does God exercise it?

A closer look.

The King interacts on three occasions with four different players.

1. The first player the king engages is the royal elite.

These are the ones who would not come,

Despite two personal invitations.

What kind of person in royal circles declines an invitation from the king?

They owe their status and influence to their proximity to the throne.

Why wouldn’t they come,

Unless they, themselves had reason to believe

They would be called to accountability?

Had they become so smug that they had nothing to fear?

But those who believed and acted as if they were first in the kingdom,

… The A listers …

… The Primadonnas …

Didn’t really know their king and

They didn’t want to be held accountable by him.

(Sounds to me like the Chief Priest, Pharisees, and the elders of the people)

The king’s response is proportional:

First, he decides to send a second invitation.

When even the second invitation is mocked …

Made lite by some,

Ignored by others, and

Flaunted by still others,

They seize the king’s slaves,

Mistreat some and kill others,

Then, and only then, the king resorts to judgment.

Judgment rains down.

He “destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” (22:7)

There is a price to be paid for rejecting the king.

Yes, there is accountability, Jesus’ parable teaches us.

There is accountability in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The king will not be rejected.

Judgment is decisive.

2. The next two players the king engages are commoners,

Described as both the good and the bad.

Peasants?

A king mixing with mere commoners?

This is over the top!

This is Good News for those who are left out and

Treated with contempt

By the aristocracy.

Both the good and the bad are invited, and they come.

In some respect

This was an offense to the good;

They’d been working in the vineyard since the early morning,

Then along comes those who were hired at an hour before quitting time?

However, they get a free meal out of it;

So why not attend?

Good news is still good news.

It was also good news to the bad people on Main street.

The invitation wasn’t predicated on their behavior or reputation.

The invitation was color blind.

It demonstrates the king’s hope for

Transformation in the present and

The hope for a better future.

This was of greater importance than

Any sin they had committed in the past.

The king believes in redemption,

A second chance.

A wedding hall filled with guests

Would have certainly pleased the king.

The banquet was over the top;

Oxen, fat calves, a royal banquet unlike anyone has ever experienced,

A true feast, where all could gather and eat their fill.

(Much like our communion table)

With this second encounter with both the good and the bad

Jesus’ parable also teaches us that

The king’s grace is inclusive and unconditional.

The invitation to the banquet is extended to everyone.

The king’s grace is abundant,

Rich and overflowing,

Exceeding the expectations and the experience of his people.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!

Now that’s some good news!

3. The last player the king engages in this parable

Is the man caught not wearing a wedding robe

In open defiance of the king.

One could possibly title this final portion of the parable

“The Parable of the Wedding Crasher”.

Oh, the king gets his wedding feast,

But he noticed a man who was not wearing a wedding robe.

Again, the king is patient and proportional:

He gives the man who is openly defying him

An opportunity to justify his behavior.

“Friend,” he asks,

“how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” (22:12)

The man is speechless.

Perhaps he is speechless because he had earlier witnessed the king’s wrath.

Judgment had resulted in death.

Perhaps he is speechless because he had witnessed

The mercy the king had shown

By including both the good and the bad at the wedding banquet.

There is plenty in this parable that leaves us speechless.

The King passes judgment,

But notice, again, judgment is limited.

“Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (22:13)

The phrase Jesus uses

“weeping and gnashing of teeth” to pronounce judgment

Has been used three times before in Matthew (8:12, 13:42, 13:50)

And will be used twice again (24:51, 25:30)

Mostly in the context of a parable.

Don’t assume this is a reference to hell.

I’d suggest this is Jesus’ way to simply indicate

Their removal from the banquet at hand.

He doesn’t kill the wedding crasher,

Unlike those who rejected him.

Defiance might get you kicked out,

But it didn’t preclude the possibility of his future return.

O, dear Judas. Rejection of the king leads to death.

But defiance, dear Peter; there remains hope for redemption.

In a powerful way, Jesus reiterated that,

Yes, there is accountability in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The King will not be rejected.

The King will not be mocked.

Judgment may be proportional,

But it is decisive.

The King’s grace is inclusive and unconditional.

The invitation to the banquet is extended to everyone.

The King’s grace seeks the redemption of his people.

The King’s grace is abundant,

Rich and overflowing,

Exceeding the expectations and the experience of his people.

Jesus uses this parable to fill in some of the remaining characteristics

About what life is like in the Kingdom of Heaven.

He tells us a lot about the power of God,

His heavenly Father and our King.

What kind of power does God exercise?

And how is it exercised?

God’s power comes from grace.

God gives everyone a second chance.

God acts with discipline and proportionately.

God includes everyone, the good and the bad.

This is good news because

God has a place in the kingdom,

At the table,

For everyone,

Including both you and me.

God’s power comes from restraint.

Vengeance is the Lord’s, and God’s alone.

There is no place for vengeance in the life of a follower of Jesus.

This is an especially important message to us

As we attempt to navigate life and faith in our turbulent world.

Leave vengeance up to God, knowing that it is only used as a last resort.

God’s greatest desire is for everyone to enter the Kingdom

And to feast at the heavenly feast.

This is good news!

Let there be no misunderstanding.

Don’t believe that we can take advantage of God’s grace.

God cannot be gamed.

Because, Jesus warns us,

God’s power also comes from decisive judgment.

God demands accountability.

Let us conduct ourselves accordingly.

Amen.

“Producing Fruits of the Kingdom”

Matthew 21:33-46

4 October 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 21:33-46

“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way.

Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

Prayer.

The high stakes, life or death, confrontation with the religious authorities continues for Jesus,

As he transitions from his first of three parables to this, his second.

Pharisees had circled in with the Chief Priests and elders of the people

Challenging Jesus’ authority

Right there on the Temple steps.

How dare he enter the city like royalty and overturn the money changing tables in the Temple?

Which is better, Jesus asked, a son who sins then does right?

Or, a son who makes promises but fails to keep them?

The answer, of course, is the one who sins, repents, and does right;

You know, kind of like a tax collector or prostitute who turn back on their former ways, stops the sin, and follows God.

But, whoa to those who are all talk and no substance;

You know, kind of like hypocritical, crooked religious authorities.

Either you’ve got a moral compass, or you don’t.

Either you are moving towards God, or you’re not.

In today’s second parable Jesus teaches about wicked tenants

Who woefully abuse the landowner’s servants,

Even killing the landowner’s son,

Abusing the extended authority of the landowner.

Jesus asks the religious authorities what should be done.

The Chief Priests, elders of the people, and Pharisees show their stripes

By their violence filled answer:

The landowner should kill the wicked tenants, they replied.

There you have it.

Kill ‘em. Kill them all.  

Not exactly a pro-life position.

High-five, however, for law and order.

Jesus holds high the essential truth he intends to teach with this parable:

Those who fail to produce,

Those who break apart and destroy,

Those who would kill the Son,

Those are the ones who will have the kingdom taken away.

Wicked tenants are like religious authorities who have no God,

Who perpetuate corruption for personal gain,

Who exert power, control, and authority,

Who publicly speak faith but privately practice otherwise.

Leadership matters.

Producing fruits of the kingdom matters.

It matters so much,

This parable about wicked tenants

Compels us to ask three important questions.

1. First, what does God loving, Jesus following, leadership look like?

Who will answer the call?

Who is going to step up and take responsibility?

Leadership should be on the mind of every Nominating committee headed into Church Conference season.

As we pray we listen and discern who will lead us with Spirit filled conviction in coming years.

Who has the talent to get the job done?

Who has the track record of getting work done?

Who is reliable, dependable, and lives by faith?

Likewise, leadership should be in the thoughts of every follower of Jesus.

What am I being called to do?

What is the Lord’s will and the best way for me to fulfill it?

Some are called to social action,

Others to missions,

Even others to preach the Word, maintain order, and celebrate the Sacraments.

Every follower of Jesus is called.

Do something.

Do something productive.

Cooperation with each other is essential for unity.

Communication must be clear, concise, and align with behavior.

Results strengthen the Body.

Results matter.

Results matter to God.  

Whatever your call to leadership looks like, or

Wherever your call to leadership takes you, or

With whoever the Lord is calling you to serve,

Produce good fruits for the Lord.

Accept nothing less from yourself

Than excellence.

2. Secondly, what are the fruits of God’s Kingdom?

We should not assume that people know,

Especially newer Christians.

The astute student of New Testament Greek will notice

The Greek word for “fruits”

Shares a common root with

The Greek word for “blessed.”

(KARpoud visa vi maKARioi, Interlinear Greek-English New Testament)

Jesus is pointing his finger back to his Sermon on the Mount,

The Beatitudes,

In the opening chapters of his teaching and ministry.

Those who have ears to hear

Know that Jesus is teaching us that the fruits of God’s Kingdom

Are blessings,

Blessing others.

Those who bless the poor, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry, the merciful … are producing fruits of God’s Kingdom.

Those who bless the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and victims of persecution … are producing fruits of God’s Kingdom.

Those who dig into the work of ministry seasoned with salt, shining the light of Christ to the world, and who follow the Law and prophets … are producing fruits of God’s Kingdom.

Bless those discipline their anger,

Who reconcile with their estranged sister or brother.

Bless those who do not retaliate, who love and pray for their enemies.

Bless those who give to the poor, who pray and fast, and who serve only God.

Bless those who do not judge others, but leave judgment up to the Lord.

Bless those who seek after God, who do unto others the way you would have them do unto you.

Bless those who love God, love their neighbors, and have are known as Jesus followers because of their love.

Bless those who hear the words of Jesus and does them.

People that bless are people that produce.

These are the people producing fruits of God’s Kingdom.

3. Thirdly, what fruits of the Kingdom,

However large or small,

Are you tending right now?

As you contemplate your personal fruits of Kingdom production,

In tribute to my mother, Alice Goddard,

Who died in the Lord this past Tuesday,

I’ll witness to her fruits of the Kingdom.

As a pastor’s wife of 19 years

There wasn’t a church floor that she didn’t scrub,

… On her hands and knees.

She blessed God and fellow Christians with spic and span clean floors,

Reflecting a belief in a God of creation, beauty, and perfection.

She baked multiple apple pies a week, blessing members of the parish and the larger community with her love and witness.

A slice of apple would come with an invitation to come to church

And an invitation to follow Jesus.

She blessed my brothers, sister, and me with faith in Jesus Christ, that became for each of us the Light of the World.

Her blessings flowed with her habit of tithing, attending worship without fail, and actively working in United Methodist Women to reach out in mission to the world.

My mother produced a lot of fruit in her 95 years.

What fruits of God’s Kingdom

Are you tending right now?

How’s production?

I can not remember a previous time in my life

That has been more important to be laser focused on producing fruits for God’s Kingdom.

This despicable pandemic is wearing people down and it’s not going away anytime soon.

Headed into winter,

It is more important than ever to be

Disciplined, discerning, and determined to bear fruit,

To bring blessing, to produce results, to pronounce joy.

Discipline.

It is all about Christian maturity.

Discernment.

It is all about listening for God’s will.

Determination.

It is all about our willingness to act,

To follow through,

To get the job done.  

What does God loving, Jesus following, leadership look like?

It looks and sounds just like Jesus.

Who will answer the call?

The answer is you.

What are the fruits of God’s Kingdom?

Matthew, chapters 5-8.

Read them.

Comprehend them.

Live them.

Become the blessing.

What fruits of the Kingdom,

However large or small,

Are you tending right now?

Take stock.

Be determined to produce fruits

With strength and grit and discipline

Worthy of the Lord.

The Kingdom of God will be yours.

Amen.

“High Stakes Showdown”

Matthew 21:23-32

27 September 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

Prayer.

The trains ran on time, so to speak.

One hundred years before Jesus

The conquering Romans and

Family leaders from one of many branches of Judaism

Came to an agreement.

Winners make the rules.

Rome spelled out the terms to the agreement:

You and your family collect taxes and keep a small cut for yourselves.

You keep the peace so we can spend our time expanding the Empire.

Rome had the weapons, soldiers, and a winning record.

The family could choose any color for their chariot,

As long as it was black.

The deal had worked well for one hundred years.

Only one, single Legion of troops were needed at Caesarea on the coast and

A small garrison in Jerusalem.

On the grand scale of the Roman Empire,

Palestine was a small backwater that needed little attention.

Palestine also so profitable to Rome they practically printed them money.

Any hint of insurrection or revolt

Was quickly and violently put down.

Word of any potential rebellion would have been uncovered

by an extensive network of spies.

Intelligence would make its way to the Priestly family,

Who passed it on to the appointed Roman governor,

Who commanded the troops

With orders to fill up the dungeons and speed up crucifixions.

Taxes flowed in.

The Priestly family wealth and status increased.

Temple efficiency improved.

New sources of income were found.

Temple markets selling purebred sacrificial doves and lambs, and,

Currency exchanges swapping out money for the local shekel

Were big money makers,

All under the watchful eye of the Priestly family.

Authority was passed from generation to generation.

The peace was kept.

Few things are more beautiful than a well-organized syndicate.  

Then Jesus comes and kicks in the door.

Prior to the Gospel passage for today,

Jesus makes his triumphant entry into the city,

Dressed in royal colors,

Riding a donkey to fulfill messianic expectations

Leading a parade of protesters

Waving palm branches and exercising

What we would call their First Amendment rights

(Sadly, they had no American Constitutional rights),

Shouting, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Word quickly made its way to Temple chambers.

A new challenger to the throne had come to town.

Intelligence was quickly passed to the Roman muscle housed in the Antoni Fortress adjacent to the Temple.

Swords were sharpened.

Knives were honed.

Armor would be polished.

Crosses for crucifixions, hammers, and nails were readied for use.

The alert status for today’s Gospel

Is Defcon 5.

One minute to midnight.

Jesus kicks the hornet’s nest.

He cleanses the Temple,

Overturning the money changer’s tables,

Overturning tables of people selling doves for sacrifice.

“The money! The money!” the bean counters probably cried, as coins scattered everywhere.

The crowd loved it.

Jesus was sticking it to the man.

Even onlooking children loved it.

When children cried out “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (21:15)

The Chief Priest’s blood began to boil.

Before Jesus could be arrested,

He snuck out the backdoor for a night in the ‘burbs.

Bethany, across the valley was only a short walk to the Temples steps

Where Jesus is found teaching today.

Jesus was a wanted man.

Jesus kicked the hornet nest a second time.

The knives came out.

“By what authority are you doing these things,” the Chief priests and elders of the people asked,

“and who gave you this authority?” (21:23)

It was a moment of deafening silence.

Electricity filled the air.

A keg of dynamite was primed and fused.

Soldiers who accompanied the Chief Priest and elders tightly gripped their swords.

The standoff between Temple authorities and Jesus came to a head,

Just like a charged, downtown standoff between protesters and police.

One could see the angry stares,

The careful dance,

The trickling beads of sweat.

To the crowd’s delight,

Jesus, the country bumpkin from Galilee,

Kicked in the door,

Kicked over the hornet’s nest,

Not once, but twice in two days!

And now, he sticks it to the man a second time.  

He did it with an unanswerable question

That every self-respecting leader in charge should be able to answer.

Jesus asks the unanswerable question right out there for all the world to hear.

Either way they answered Jesus

Would result in disaster.

They knew they couldn’t answer.

“We do not know,” they replied from their painted-in corner. (21:27)

Jesus wasn’t going to answer their question about authority …

… until they answered his question about the baptism of John.

Instead, Jesus does what Jesus does best.

He teaches in parables.

He tells three stories,

Each with an underlying message,

The first of which concludes today’s Gospel passage.

Sinners, like tax collectors and prostitutes,

At first deny the will of their father by doing wrong.

But, they reconsider and turned around and did the right thing.

Initially they didn’t believe the baptism of John the Baptist came from God,

But now, even they do.

Why can’t you Temple authorities be more like tax collectors and prostitutes?

Why can’t you believe that authority comes from God?

This is THE question of the day.

Why is it so hard to believe authority comes from God, and behave accordingly?

The world tells us otherwise.

The world tells us authority comes simply because you are a biological parent.

The world tells us authority comes from earning a place at the table:

Education. Credentials. Certifications. A license to practice.

Authority comes from the teacher or professor with the power of the grade.

Authority comes from wealth, tucked away, drawing interest, freeing up time for other endeavors or interests.

The world tells us authority comes with a badge and a gun,

Power projected like a boxer standing over a vanquished foe

Or an aircraft carrier deployed to a distant gulf.

Jesus tells us authority comes God.

Authority comes from the voice of the I AM,

Who whispered creation into being,

Who spoke from a cloud at our Lord’s baptism and said,

“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I AM well pleased.” (3:17)

Authority came from the very same voice with the very same words on the Mount of Transfiguration. (17:5)

Authority comes from God, and from God alone.

Authority speaks power.

No mortal power can compare to the power of God.

Our imagination is incapable of grasping the fullness of God’s infinite power.

The creator of the atom splits it.

The maker of matter destroys and returns it to energy without a second thought.

The giver of life overcomes death with eternal life.

Now, that’s power.

All authority and power comes from God.

Authority directs, commands, and controls the future into being.

Like an admiral commanding fleets of ships,

Divine authority shapes today

To ensure Divine resolution tomorrow.

How is it that God can make such over the top promises?

How is it that God has a perfect record of promises fulfilled?

To speak of God’s faithfulness

Is to speak of the Lord’s ability to shape the world

Into God’s planned outcome.

God’s planned outcome is for

God’s kingdom to come to earth as it is in heaven.

All authority, power, and control comes from God.  

Our Authority rules with grace and love.

Look to Jesus, Son of God, fully human, fully Divine.

Look to Jesus and witness the characteristics of God’s Authority.

Jesus exerts his Divine Authority to bring mercy to the last, least, and lost of this world.

Jesus exerts his Divine Authority to forgive every sin,

Repair every broken relationship,

Return all people into perfect communion with God.

Jesus exerts his Divine Authority to open every tomb,

Win victory over the grave,

And deliver the world into eternal life.

This is the nature of our Divine Authority.

Grace and love; and it comes first and only from God.

All God’s authority, power, and control is finely balanced by God’s grace and love.  

Jesus stares down the Chief Priests and elders of the people,

Using his time and talent

To delay arrest until it was God’s time.

Jesus teaches with stories about God’s kingdom,

God’s authority, 

God’s power,

God’s will, and

God’s grace and love.

Accept it or deny it;

This is God’s world.

We are God’s people.

The Lord is our King.

For the Lord’s grace and love,

I chose to gladly accept God’s authority

With praise and thanksgiving.

Join me!

Amen.

“What’s in a Name?”

Matthew 20:1-16

20 September 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 

And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 

But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Prayer.

To label a parable is to interpret it.

This is always a fun way to begin a Bible study:

Tell everyone to cross out the nifty title

Slipped in-between the text

In their version of the Bible

And replace it with a title of their own.

Discuss.

To label a parable is to interpret it.

For years I’d been content to accept the title given me

By the New Revised Standard Version,

The academic brand I prefer,

For this particular Gospel parable.

It is titled “The Parable of Laborers in the Vineyard.”

One might just as easily title this parable

 “The Parable of the Just and Generous Owner,” or

“The Parable of the Grumbling Workers,” or

“The Parable of the Provocative Land Owner.”

In a similar way,

To create a sermon title

Is to give the listeners a clue

To how the preacher is interpreting the Gospel.

If I called it “Moaning and Complaining” you might believe

That my interpretation of Matthew 20

Is focused on the discontented laborers.

Had I titled today’s sermon “Grace and Generosity”

Your imagination might be led in a completely different direction.

To label a parable of Jesus is to interpret it.

What if some parables are more complicated? …

… Stacks of multiple layers of meanings?

What if Jesus desired to communicate different messages

To different audiences

Over the span of time, distance, situation, and circumstances?

What if Jesus desired a parable’s meaning to evolve over the life span

Of the person in the audience,

The disciple doing the listening?

At the risk of pushing this, or any other parable, for that matter,

Too far or too hard,

I’d like to suggest there are at minimum

Three different ways,

Three different lenses,

Three different world views,

To view this parable from Matthew 20.

It all begins with what you call it.

1. Let’s title this parable

“The Parable of the Just and Generous Land Owner.”

This is the easiest, simplest, most obvious path of interpretation

Any thoughtful disciple can take.

Indeed, I have taken this world view many times

In prior sermons on this passage.

A just and generous land owner

Assumes that the land owner is a representation of God.

God is just,

exactly like this land owner.

Certainly justice is high up on God’s list of values.

A parable of a justice minded God squares itself with other teaching of Jesus.

A just God is consistent with Hebrew scripture (the Old Testament),

And a justice abiding God fits in well with Acts and the Epistles.

Indeed, God is faithful to his word.

Just as the land owner pays each worker what was promised,

God is just,

Making certain that everyone who is willing and able to work is hired.

All are paid sufficiently to support themselves and their needs for the day.

No one goes hungry.

Everyone gets paid.

God is generous, especially when it comes to

Making certain His will is accomplished.

Likewise, the land owner pays at what amounts to be a greater rate

As the shadows lengthen and the day grows long.

Money is no barrier to God winning,

Getting work done.

Achieving and exceeding goals,

Bringing in the harvest.

When viewed through the lens of a just and generous God,

Our Lord’s parable casts God as the ultimate landowner.

It gives God the sufficient goodness

And true-to-your-word honest integrity

To be a loving, understanding God.

God uses all of the created order for God’s good and will,

Even if we fail to see it.

In Jesus’ earlier words,

God’s perfection is exemplified in God’s rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:48)

In our world of a just and generous God

Jesus chides us to stop moaning and complaining!

Stop with the envy and resentment.

Don’t complain about what others receive,

and don’t complain about what you think you deserve.

Stop viewing the world as if you’re looking with an evil eye or an angry heart!

Jesus brings encouragement to be thankful for the God we got.

Every promise is kept.

Every need is met.

Like the story of God liberating the children of Israel from slavery, and

like the story of the cross …

… of how Jesus liberates us from sin and death …

… our parable for this morning isn’t about worldly wisdom.

It is a story about divine grace;

of God’s unlimited love and concern for every last one of us.

It isn’t about what we deserve

but rather it is about what we need,

and how God generously provides,

sometimes even when we don’t deserve it.

But, perhaps today

Jesus is calling us to label his parable differently.

2. Let’s consider titling this parable from Matthew 20

The “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere Parable.”

No.

I’m not talking about justification for drinking.

If we call this parable “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”

We are freed to pull back the curtain

And have our assumptions about normal life deeply challenged.

Perhaps Jesus intends the focus of this parable to be

Those who are last hired,

Those who had to wait until five o’clock to be chosen.

In doing so,

The land owner is cast in a much more negative view.

Indeed, one could not associate God with the wealthy land owner.

Take God right out of the picture.

Think of the wealthy vineyard owner as nothing more than a shrewd businessman.

The land owner,

Desperate to bring in the harvest,

Approaches the last to be hired and asks,

“Why are you standing here idle all day?”

They said to him,

“Because no one has hired us.” (20:6-7)

Who is in the employment line at five o’clock in the afternoon?

Who are the last to be chosen?

Well, it certainly wasn’t the strongest workers.

It wasn’t the vineyard workers with the greatest experience.

It wasn’t the agri-tech researchers from Cornell Cooperative Extension.

It wasn’t the most efficient or most able.

Those hired at five o’clock in the afternoon were the disabled;

People who were physically and mentally frail.

Standing on this street corner was

The single mother who fed her 3 children tea for lunch

Because she had no food in the cupboard.

(By the way, they are home alone, without a baby sitter or day care)

Waiting in his wheelchair is the man who had been

Shunned by his parents and shamed by his peers.

At five in the afternoon there

Was that kid on the autism spectrum

Rolling his head back and forth

Who’d been bullied by others and told all his life

That he’d never amount to anything.

The homeless, the diseased, the addicted,

And all the residents from the local asylum and poor house

Were the last ones remaining on that street corner,

Waiting in the hot sun,

Patiently,

All-day long.

They were the most desperate to earn a check.

Yet, they were the most willing to work to the best of their abilities.  

“Why are you standing here idle all day?”

When I hear the landowner ask this question,

I get mighty angry.

They said to him,

“Because no one has hired us.” (20:6-7)

This makes me want to cry.

Calling this parable taught by Jesus

“It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere Parable”

Describes a normal way of life and blows it up.

Blows. It. Up.

This turns everyday life inside out and upside down.

Be careful, because

This world view is revolutionary.

It better aligns this parable with the Beatitudes earlier in Matthew.

Blessed are, Jesus teaches us.

Blessed are …

The poor,

Those who mourn,

The meek,

Those who hunger and thirst.

Blessed are …

The merciful,

The pure in heart,

The peacemakers.

And blessed are the persecuted.

Blessed are those who have waited in line all day,

Judged unworthy time and time again,

Yet, who keep the faith unto the end.

We are forced to bless others even when we feel

They’re all a bunch of freeloaders

Gaming the Medicaid system for additional food stamps.

We are forced to bless others even when we feel like

The boss is cheating me out of overtime and

I’m working myself to death at my second, part-time job,

Just to make mortgage and car payments.

We are forced to bless others

Even when we feel like we are the ones being ripped off.

This parable exposes the

Problem with identifying people’s worth with what they earn.

It reveals how wages divide the world.

And it is like a cold splash of water in the face

Waking us to the danger of assuming the rest of the world

should be the same as me.

Perhaps, Jesus is suggesting,

Every life has value.

Every person is important.

Every individual is necessary to fulfill God’s will,

To complete the Kingdom of God.

3. Let’s consider calling this parable of Jesus

“The Parable of the Provocative Land Owner.”

This world view builds on the previous example.

In the same way, God cannot be assumed to be the wealthy landowner.

Perhaps Jesus paints this parable in a way

That draws attention to the attitude of the landowner.

Let’s take a deeper look.

“I will pay you whatever …” (20:4)

It is as if he couldn’t be troubled with calculating the expense.

“Why are you standing here idle all day?” (20:6)

What are you? Blind? Or just plain ignorant?

Then, he acts like he’s poking a stick in the eye of those first hired:

“Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” (20:8)

I’m going to provoke those I hired first,

By schooling them and shaming them in front of everyone else,

That I’m paying the last hired the same amount as I paid those hired earlier.

It’s my money;

I’ll do with it what I want!

“Friend” he says to those who grumbled and complained,

“I am doing you no wrong.” (20:13)

Correctly translated,

“friend” is a sneer,

Intended to provoke a reaction!

When viewed this way

The landowner incites envy.

The landowner provokes those who brought him success.

That landowner is no God of mine!

How does it make you feel

When people of power and privilege and wealth

Talk down to you?

It makes me feel small.

It makes me feel worthless.

It strips away my dignity and my self-esteem.

Every one of those workers in Jesus’ parable

Would have to return to work the very next day

No further ahead,

With less dignity and self-respect,

More fully aware of the insurmountable gulf

That separated the rich from the poor

And the haves from the have nots.

Every one of those workers

Would return to work the next day

Knowing that there was no way to escape poverty.

There was no way up;

No way out.

Jesus reveals through this parable

A world where workers have no name and

Where laborers are identified as

“limitless and disposable fuel;

Bodies to be burned up.”

(Thanks to

 Rolf Jacobson, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner

 who discussed this approach

on the podcast

“Sermon Brainwave”

posted 9/23/17 http://download.luthersem.edu/media/working_preacher/podcast/561WPBrainwave.mp3)

I can see and hear your minds whirling.

“Workers of the world, unite!”

“That pastor Todd is starting to sound like a communist!”

Well, no.

That’s what our biased culturalism leads us to believe.

When workers are nothing more than fuel to be burned

Or fodder for cannons,

Then what Jesus is revealing about our world

Is a limited and false justice.

He is pulling back the curtain and exposing a world

Of justice available to the few who can afford it,

Where kids are drafted and blindly sent into the line of fire,

Where an organization hires its own investigator to conduct a so called independent investigation.

Oh, come on!

Wait.

That looks like our world!

Justice works just fine for

Those who are able to buy a plane ticket or fill their gas tanks to get out of the path of the hurricane,

Those able to donate enough money to have a building dedicated with their own name on it.

Justice works out swell for

Those who have friends in high places.

Justice works just fine for people with networks,

Who know politicians,

And who will never be eligible for the services of a public defender.

But,

What about those who had to ride out the hurricane?

Who are standing in a pile of rubble that used to be called “home”?

What about those who had to clean up the banquet hall after the dedication? Where good food went to waste, the bathrooms were left a mess, and where the wait staff was treated like dirt?

What about those who have been victimized,

Who filed a complaint,

Only to have it dismissed because it was decided to be “Unfounded”?

What about those who don’t have a friend,

Never knew a person in a high place,

And who lives a life alone?

Jesus is describing a divided world,

Not a world of relationships, healing and wholeness.

The contrast that Jesus creates with this parable

When we title it “The Parable of the Provocative Land Owner”

Is one that calls each of us into community,

Restoration, and

Healing

With each other

And with our God.

The world divides us;

Separates us into parties and factions,

Into casts and classes,

Into those who are saved

(those who are in)

And those who are not.

Scripture accurately describes the world

As “original sin”

Or, as the Apostle Paul describes it,

The work of “the flesh.”

Opposing this world

Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ,

Where God’s grace is inclusive of every individual,

Where God’s justice is sufficient,

Where God’s love is universal,

Where God’s forgiveness is unconditional,

And where God’s salvation is without exception.

That’s the God that I believe in.

When we remove the parable from the surrounding text

We are left with a preposition and a conclusion

That goes like this:

“The kingdom of heaven is”

Where “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (20:1, 16)

As you consider your own title for this parable,

Carefully consider this value statement:

“the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Does this lead you to any conclusions?

Can you see the mind of Christ,

Feel his heart,

And understand his will?

For some of us,

Our Gospel is a reminder of divine grace,

Not about what we deserve,

But about how our generous God provides

Sometimes even when we don’t deserve it.

For others,

Our Gospel reminds us that

Every life has value.

Every person is important.

Every individual is necessary to fulfill God’s will,

To complete the Kingdom of God.

And yet for others,

Our Gospel teaches us that

While the world attempts to divide us

Our Lord and our God

Is always at work to unite us,

To welcome into community,

To welcome into relationship,

To welcome into his kingdom

The last and the least and the lost and the left behind.

Amen.