“Caesarea Philippi”

Mark 8:27-38

February 28, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 8:27-38

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

| Centering Prayer |

Gospel means “Good News.”

Our Gospel for today,

Our Good News for today,

Is a passage that should be quite familiar

To many of us lifetime Christians.

Though familiar, I’m with many of you

Listening intently for what God is saying new.

If this text is new to you, or

You are not a lifelong Christian,

Hold on to your saddle,

Because today’s Good News is about to give

Your spiritual journey

Quite an exciting ride.

According to Mark

Jesus recently traveled through the region of Tyre,

A Greek, non-Jewish, gentile city

Northwest of Galilee on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

From Tyre, he travels South East to Bethsaida, on the North shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Today, Jesus travels due North

To Caesarea Philippi,

Which is located on today’s Golan Heights,

At the base of Mt. Hermon,

On the border between Syria and Israel.

Geography and local history are important here.

1. First, Caesarea Philippi was the northern most extension of Israel

When it was in its greatest period of expansion and prosperity

Under the rule King David,

One thousand years before Christ.

Though it was ruled by Jews,

No Jewish culture stuck after they withdrew.

At the time of Jesus,

Caesarea Philippi was only populated by Roman and Greeks gentiles.

2. Secondly, Speaking of Romans, Greeks, and gentiles

This village was named after …

… Caesar, the Roman Emperor,

And, Philip II, the son of Herod the Great,

Who earlier named it Paneas,

In honor of the 3rd century BC Greek cult

Who worshiped the pagan god Pan,

A goat-footed god of victory in battle.

The Greek temple can be seen today,

Carved in the side of the mountain.

Pagan worship to Pan was actively taking place

By Gentiles

In this location

At the time of Jesus.

3. Thirdly, located at the base of Mt. Hermon,

Caesarea Philippi is the source of the Jordan River.

The south flowing Jordan

Starts as a mountain spring that gushes forth from a mountain cave.

It is this cave that pagans had carved out their temple to the god of Pan.

That’s right.

The source of the Jordan River,

The water that baptized Jesus,

Springs forth from a pagan temple in Caesarea Philippi.

There is no place in the Holy Lands

That is more diametrically opposed to Yahweh,

  • Our God of creation, covenant, and law,
  • The God of our Jewish ancestors,
  • The religion of Jesus and most of his disciples,

Then Caesarea Philippi.  

Jesus walked into a pagan temple

Takes center stage,

Surrounded by pagan worshippers,

Lifts his voice

And publicly, loudly asked his own disciples in trail

“Who do people say that I am?”

– Mark 8:27

Akin to today?

This isn’t simply like saying,

“One day Jesus walked into a bar.”

This is like saying,

“One day Jesus walked into a wiccan of witches.”

Jesus takes his disciples with him.

Jesus asked them publically to identify himself,

within earshot of everyone present.”

“Who do people say that I am?”

– Mark 8:27

Think to yourself:

What is the most non-Christian setting

You can imagine

or have recently visited?

Where is the voice of the Church,

Not only silent,

But unwelcome?

In your mind’s eye,

Put yourself there.

Place yourself in the center of opposition

And make a public declaration:

Jesus is Lord!

Jesus is the God I serve!

Be prepared to escape and evade like your life depends on it!

You better run, run!

Our Good News for today asks every serious disciple of Jesus

If we are prepared to identify Jesus by

Making a public declaration of faith

In those places in life where Jesus is most opposed.

Where is Jesus most opposed?

Is that where you work?

With family, neighbors, or friends?

Is that with colleagues or collaborators,

Supervisors or staff?

How about the bully on the school bus?

Be they an atheist cousin?

A devilish member of the community who thrives on disruption and destruction?

Or terrorist with a knife in their hand?

Are you and I prepared to

Stare them down and

Make a public declaration that

I serve the Lord and only follow Jesus!

Even amongst his faithful disciples

There was a bunch of mumbling, looking down, avoiding eye contact, and kicking dirt hoping the moment would pass.

‘Well, you could be John the Baptist.

Or maybe Elijah?

Heck, I don’t know.

Maybe you’re one of the prophets?’

It is Peter who speaks up.

Peter is the only one with the courage

To stand up and speak out!

“You are the Messiah!”

– Mark 8:29

Messiah,

Son of God,

The first use of the title

Since the opening chapter of Mark.

Ding! Ding! Ding!

Messiah is the correct answer!

Jesus has publically outed himself as the Son of God

On stage front and center  

Of a pagan temple.

So why in the world does Jesus use this opportunity

Of his public identification

As an opportunity to speak the first of many occasions

About his forthcoming

Suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection?

It would appear

That Jesus is grasping defeat

From the mouth of victory.

The argument could be made

That Jesus is throwing in the towel

Even before he begins to get started.

It is as if Jesus was staring down the pagans

– first stunned into silence

– now growing in rage for having their temple hijacked.

It is as if the pagan crowd surrounded Jesus and his disciples,

Become restless and start itching for violence.

It is as if Jesus threw up his hands and said,

“You win. I give up. Just take me away.”

You and I, like Peter, would have responded with disbelief.  

“What the heck?”

“What in the world is going on here?”

“You’re the Messiah one moment and

The next moment you’re telling us you are going to die?”

Christ’s rebuke is hardly surprising

When one considers

The fact that

Jesus’ suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection

Is as much a part of his identity,

As the fact that he is the Son of God.

Without suffering,

There would be no Son,

No Bethlehem’s baby.

Without Christ dying,

There would be no point to his immaculate conception.

Without the resurrection,

There would be no reason for God to send us his son to save the world.

It is much easier for us,

Looking through the lens of hindsight,

To better see this reality of Jesus

Then did his own followers.

Time and again,

They get it wrong.

It is only after the resurrection,

When the Holy Spirit fills the Church,

Do the disciples turned apostles

Understand Christ’s complete identity:

  • Who Jesus is: Messiah, Son of God
  • Why Jesus came: to suffer, die, and rise from the dead
  • How Jesus changes everything: that the world might be saved

God’s greater plan

Used Jesus as a principle interdiction into humankind,

For the greater purpose

Of a more expansive kingdom.

This surprised the first century Church, and

Has been stunning generations of Christ followers ever since.

How does this revelation of Christ’s greater identity

Impact us today?

Suffering is a shared experience.

It is never alone.

For even when alone,

One is with God.

Even when alone,

One can associate personal suffering

With the suffering of our Lord at his crucifixion.

To suffer as a Christian

Is to allow yourself to crawl upon on the cross,

Let nails be driven into your hands,

And be crucified with Jesus.

Suffering is not to be sought;

But neither is it to be shunned,

For suffering opens new avenues

That can deepen the relationship

Between ourselves and our God.

Death is a shared experience.

We may not like to think about our mortality.

Yet, we all die.

Death is the great equalizer.

It is the final earthly act that unites us.

It is the final act that unites us with Jesus.

As in baptism we put on Christ,

So, too, in death, we are greeted by Christ.

We take his hand

And step through the divide between heaven and earth

Into God’s heavenly kingdom.

Resurrection, likewise, is a shared experience;

For all those who believe in him

Shall have eternal life.

As Christ ascended to the right hand of his Father,

So, too, are we lifted.

Jesus welcomes each of us

And says,

“My daughter,”

“My son,”

“your faith has made you well.”

We are more than healed of our earthly disease,

Our mortality is healed,

Such that we will know death no more.

Crying and mourning will be passed away.

In the final act of today’s Good News,

… which, in my opinion, has been really GREAT News thus far,

Is Jesus challenging those who follow him:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

– Mark 8:34-35

Bold!

Jesus is attempting to recruit a pagan crowd on their home turf!

He’s casting his net for new disciples.

Jesus set’s the terms:

First, deny yourself.

Make Jesus the priority of life,

Subjecting self, family, and tribe to him.

Secondly, pick up your cross.

In other words,

Be prepared to die with Jesus.

Thirdly, follow Jesus.

Learn his words.

Speak his words.

Teach his words.

Behave the way he behaved.

Live as he lived.

Love as he loves.

Others may kill your body,

But no one else can kill your soul.

The risk of not sharing the Gospel,

The risk of not witnessing to the world

about our relationship with Jesus Christ,

is that we will lose our life,

our eternal life;

that our final disposition

will be nothing more than a box in the ground

at Pine Hill cemetery down the road.

The risk of not sharing Jesus Christ with the world

Is that the church today will close tomorrow.

We will all die off

And the property will be sold.

Speak up! Jesus is proclaiming.

Discipleship means you’re

Willing to risk all things mortal for all things eternal.

Witness to Christ,

Share the Good News,

And you’re making an investment

Not only in your eternal life

But also in the next generation of the Church

And every future generation.

Be strong!

Take courage, people of faith!

There is much opposition to Christ in today’s world.

When confronted by those who would oppose our faith,

Make your witness public, loud, and proud.

Wear Jesus on your sleave and make no apologies for him.

Identify

God as our Lord

And Jesus Christ as our Savior.

Be prepared for the consequences.

Know this:

Others may kill the body.

But, only we can surrender our soul.

Live for Christ.

Witness for Christ.

And let God take care of the eternal.

Amen.

Confronting Racism

A Newsletter Article to the Members and Friends of the Rush United Methodist Church

Over a six-week period spanning January and February I participated in an Upper New York Conference supported class titled “Imagine No Racism,” or INR, as most call it. It was my third time in the past five years. Why would I repeat a class that I’d already completed twice before?

Racism matters to me.

If I do not intentionally address the issue of racism, I regress in my cultural competency and ability to pastorally shepherd the Rush United Methodist family. Empathy wanes. I let things slide. I look the other way. Personal discipline is required to intentionally remain engaged in the conversation about the evils of racism and the effort to stamp it out. It is important to make the intentional effort to educate myself, to listen and learn, because I am constantly discovering how complex and pervasive the evil of racism has become today. Listening and learning lifts every voice and makes it sing.

Racism is a Christian issue. Our baptismal vows define racism as anti-Christian and must be renounced and resisted “in whatever forms they present themselves.” Jesus confronted racism often and everywhere. Samaritans were mix-race people who many Jews despised, yet, Jesus identified a Samaritan as a neighbor to be loved. (Luke 10:25-37) Nathanael resisted Philip’s invitation to come and meet Jesus because he asked if anything good could come from Nazareth. (John 1:43-51) Jesus healed a man born blind. The Pharisees investigated and terrorized the man’s parents, who feared being put out of the synagogue. Jesus challenged the religious system that supported an unjust status quo. (John 9:13-34) A Canaanite woman humbled Jesus by her faith when she begged him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. (Matthew 15:21-28)

Sisters and brothers of color depend on Christians in the white community to renounce and resist racism. Thaddeus, a member of my recent INR class, observed the fact that aggressively resisting and renouncing racism might quickly lead to him being dead like George Floyd. As a white person, I must take responsibility to aggressively resist and renounce racism when my black brothers and sisters cannot.

Too often attention is focused on individual abhorrent acts of racism. You have seen the videos on the news or in social media. Each act of racism is gut wrenching. Yet, rarely is attention focused on the institutions, systems, and laws that support wickedness, evil, injustice, and oppression. This lack of light and clarity provides cover for many of us to say “I’m not like that. I’m not a racist” all-the-while justifying apathy and inaction to break down the very systems that allows racism to continue.

Shane Wiegand, a wonderful teacher in the Rush Henrietta Central School District, opened my eyes to the history of structural racism in Monroe County in a class he gives to the community. I learned veterans of color following World War II were ineligible for home mortgages, leading to many families growing up in rental housing, depriving them of building home equity and bequeathing that wealth to future generations. Have you ever heard of deed covenants and redlining? Structural and institutional racism surrounds us. The resulting injustice continues from generation to generation. Do an internet search on “Shane Wiegand”. His class and slides are on YouTube. His research, data, and presentation is stunning.

Racism harms the church and silences the voice of the Holy Spirit. The United Methodist Church, as well as others, has a long history of being guilty of racism. Why are there black Methodist denominations like the African American Episcopal Church (AME) and the African American Episcopal Church Zion (AME Zion)? Because people of color were not welcome and grew tired of being treated unjustly. Being a life-long United Methodist, I own it. As United Methodists, it is our responsibility to own our history, to repent, and to deconstruct racism whenever and wherever possible.

Racism silences the Holy Spirit. This cannot be tolerated. The Holy Spirit speaks through all people, if only you and I listen. When I don’t listen to the Holy Spirit speaking through neighbors of color, I’m turning a deaf ear to God. Lord, forgive me.

When the membership of our church family is rich in diversity we become vital and strong, much more aware of the needs of the community in which we live, and better able to love every neighbor. I’ll never understand the needs of my black or brown neighbor if I don’t ever hear their voice. Diversity doesn’t just happen. A passive approach is insincere. Intentional effort is required to learn and employ effective means of inclusive, welcoming discipleship.

You matter to me. Your race, culture, experience, gender, values, and beliefs matter to me. I hope and pray that you will Imagine a World without Racism and will work with me to make it happen. Learn more about INR at our Upper New York Conference webpage: https://www.unyumc.org/ministries/corr/inr The content and videos are worth your time, attention, prayer, and reflection.

Learn more about the intersection of racism and my personal journey of faith from the MLK Keynote address in January for the Rush-Henrietta Interfaith Clergy Council worship service: It is located on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/BJ67MzOeNUg

With pastoral love,

Todd

“With Wild Beasts”

1st Sunday of Lent, February 21, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

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

Prayer.

Welcome to Lent;

Our 40-day period of preparation by

Prayer, confession, repentance, charity, and self-denial.

This is what we, as Christians, do.

Prayer, confession, repentance, charity, and self-denial.

These are the disciplines we practice,

With focused intentionality,

During Lent.

What are we preparing for? You ask.

These traditional disciplines prepare us annually

To receive the message,

To be spiritually strengthened by the message,

That we might join with Jesus in proclaiming the message.

This is the message:

That by dying, Jesus Christ removes

Our sins and the sins of the world, and

That by rising from the dead, Jesus Christ

Saves us and saves the world into eternal life.

This is the Good News of God,

The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Hear the message.

Proclaim the message.

Become the living message.

There is another dimension to Lent.

Our annual journey through Lent is an opportunity to be transformed.

By reliving and retelling the story

We make space in our existence for the Spirit to enter,

To warm our soul, open our mind, and reveal God’s will.

With the Spirit’s entry,

We are drawn closer with one another and closer to God.

With the Spirit’s strength, daring, and direction

We are transformed into God’s people

Called to transform the world.

Be transformed

That God might transform the world.

The first Sunday of Lent

Always begins with the Gospel account

Of the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

Matthew and Luke give elaborate, detailed accounts

Of the confrontation between Jesus and Satan.

You’ve heard the story of Satan’s temptations before:

‘Throw yourself down from this mountain and call up angels to save you.’

‘Turn those stones into bread to satisfy your hunger.’

‘All these kingdoms can be yours, if you but fall down and worship me.’

You know the details.

I can still recall as a child in Sunday School wondering

If Jesus was alone with Satan those 40 days,

Who was writing down the details?!!!

Our Gospel of Mark is quite a study in contrast.

There are no details in Mark.

Mark is the shortest of all the Gospel books, and

Is believed to be the source document

Upon which other apostolic traditions authored their own Gospel accounts.

Over time and

By means of great effort and councils,

The Church concluded Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

Best reflected the core message of Christian faith,

And included them into the collection of sacred texts

That today we call the Bible.

The brevity of Mark

Gives us a little bit more room for interpretation.

We can allow the Spirit to influence our imagination,

To lead us where it is too difficult to go

If mired down in tedious details.

Today, we follow Jesus

1. First, at his baptism, receiving the Spirit, and

The affirmation of God’s words, to,

2. Secondly, Jesus is immediately driven by the same Spirit

Out into the wilderness,

Where he was “tempted by Satan; and

He was with the wild beast; and

The angels waited on him.”

3. Thirdly, Jesus emerges from his harrowing ordeal,

Goes north to Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God.

A few revealing thoughts.

1. The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness

To be tempted by the strongest source of personified evil, Satan himself.

This makes me wonder.

I mean, on whose team is the Holy Spirit playing?

What possibly could be the motive for the Spirit of God

To drive Jesus into a confrontation with Satan?

The two greatest opposed sources of power in the world

Are destined to clash in a cataclysmic confrontation

In the Judean wilderness.

Why? is a question I cannot answer.

What we can learn by observation, however, is

Living faithfully,

With the Holy Spirit present and active in your life

Sometimes means blessings,

Sometimes means confrontation,

Nearly always, it means mystery.

Living in relationship with God

Means getting comfortable with the fact

That there is much more we don’t know about God than what we do know.

Divine wisdom has no parity.

God’s memory never fades.

The Lord’s motives can never be fully known.

The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness.

Why do you suppose the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan?

Have you been driven into the wilderness?

Did the Spirit drive you in?

See you through?

Bring you out?

2. The site of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River is

In the Southern Jordan valley, near Jericho.

The wilderness land to the West leads straight uphill 18 miles to Jerusalem,

A difference of 3,320 feet in elevation.  

That’s a linear slope of 3.5% … quite a steep hike.

When riding from the Jordan up to Jerusalem today,

Ears are constantly plugging and popping

Due to the change in altitude.

This is the wilderness where Jesus was tempted.

Think rocks, cliffs, brown compacted gravel, and steep mountains paths.

Think dry, sediment filled stream beds at the bottom of impassable chasms.

These dry wadis see water only once or twice a year,

When rare Mediterranean storm clouds

Make it over the central mountains.

Think hot in the day and near freezing at night.

Think danger behind every scrub bush,

Bandits and Bedouins, around every turn,

Lurking in every canyon and cave,

Ready to beat you up, rob you blind, and leave you for dead.

Simply being in the wilderness places Jesus in mortal danger.

The Divinity of Jesus is never on the table or up for discussion.

However, the humanity of Jesus is placed at risk.

3. Forty days.

Forty days, or five weeks and five days,

Is a long time to

Roast in the heat of day and freeze in the dark of night.

Sprain an ankle and you’re done for.

Forty days is a long time to go without eating

(as reported in the other Gospels, but absent in Mark).

Forty days is a long time to be in search of water,

And when water is found, to manage it properly.

Forty days is long time to be exposed to wild beasts.

Forty days is a long time to think.

Forty days is a lot of time for the mind to wander.

Forty days in the wilderness makes Jesus very vulnerable.

4. Temptations.

Mark gives no details.

According to Encyclopedia dot com

The religious form of temptation

“Primarily denotes a trial in which (one) has free choice of being faithful or unfaithful to God;

Only secondarily does it signify allurement or seduction to sin.”

(https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/temptation-bible)

For the Jewish mind

Faithfulness to the Law

Is faithfulness to God.

Satan is attempting to get Jesus

To break righteous adherence to Jewish Law.

Satan was attempting to elevate the human nature of Jesus

To the detriment of his Divinity.

Tempted by Satan.

It is impossible to know

If this was one temptation drawn out over a full forty days,

Or, if this is multiple temptations over the course of forty days.

What can be observed, however,

Is the fact that temptation was for forty days and nights.

That’s enough to break anyone down.

40 days of continuous, relentless temptation

would make even the strongest person weak.

5. Wild beasts.

Therion in the Greek,

Meaning dangerous, life-threatening carnivores.

Meat eaters.

Imagine being

In the wilderness for forty days surrounded by animals that want to eat you.

Think jackals, wolves, hyaenas, leopards,

And, yes, even lions and cheetahs

Patrolled the Palestinian countryside

Before they were hunted to extinction.

(http://natureisrael.com/mammals.html#predator)

Darkness falls.

Cold descends.

Insects and birds fall silent

As wild beasts approach and surround.

Listen to the sounds of animals creeping and stalking.

Eyes blink in the dark.

I can imagine the night coming to life

With the sounds of circling, hungry, wild beasts

Salivating in the shadows.

It is interesting to me that the detail

About wild beasts is left out of Matthew and Luke’s accounts.

Is this intentional? Or an oversight?

Does it make a difference? Or not?

Forty days in the wilderness is forty days living in anxiety and fear.

6. Angels waited on Jesus.

No. I don’t suppose they took his order

Or served him the daily special.

Angels.

Angels waited on Jesus.

Waiting, or Diekonoun in the Greek,

Which, of course, contains the same root as deacon,

Means “to minister, to serve.”

This is what deacons do; they serve.

Much the same way as Simon Peter’s mother-in-law

Served Jesus after he healed here of her fever.

(No, I don’t believe she brought Jesus a sandwich

Or did his laundry, either.)

At the conclusion of his temptations

Angels ministered to Jesus,

Replacing his weakness with God’s strength.

Though shrouded in mystery,

Exposed to mortal danger, vulnerable, weak, anxious, and living in fear,

God takes care of God’s own.

God takes care of God’s own Son, Jesus.

And, in my experience, God can and will

Take care of you and me, too.

Those angels God places in your life?

Angels are not accidents or coincidences.

Living angels are sent as God’s gift to you

To replace your weakness with God’s strength.

Certainly, on this first Sunday of Lent

There are many unanswerable questions from the Gospel of Mark.

Pay attention to those pinch points where we can align ourselves with the life of Jesus.

Consider times and places in life that are shrouded in mystery,

(Like when the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness).

Are we capable of trusting in God to send us His angels

Even though we don’t know Why? How? When?

Even though we don’t know God’s will or motives?

Beloved, it is a sign of faithful maturity

To be at peace with the mystery of God,

Especially when apparent contradictions cause the stomach to churn.

Consider times and circumstances in life

When anxious, frightened, vulnerable, weak, or in mortal danger.

Are you able to trust that God will carry you through

Every crisis, every temptation, every disaster?

When face-to-face with death

And personal faith is in danger of failing,

Can you place your entire dependence upon God,

And come to peace

Even in the presence of remaining uncertainty?

Know this Gospel truth

Taken from Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by Satan himself,

If we depend on God,

God can take the strain.

God will carry your burden.

The Lord takes responsibility for creation.

The Lord makes it, maintains it, and, when necessary, recreates it.

God takes responsibility for humankind,

Making each person in the Lord’s image,

Giving life by the Spirit’s breath.

The Lord strengthens the weak.

God protects the vulnerable.

God calms every fear.

God is willing, able, and eager

To strengthen the sick and bring back to health the broken of this world.

After all, our God is a God of healing and restoration.

At the end of the day,

Let us discipline ourselves.

Find rest.

Find peace.

Just as the Heavenly Father took care of Jesus,

God takes care of God’s own.

God is taking care of you, too.

At the end of this 40-day journey

Through the wilderness of Lent,

Be prepared to proclaim the Good News of God:

Though Jesus was tempted, suffered, died, and rose again,

He did it for the redemption and salvation of the world.

Amen.

“Approaching Inevitable Change”

Mark 9:2-9

Transfiguration of the Lord – 14 February 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 9:2-9

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

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

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

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

| Centering Prayer |

There are occasions in life

Where change becomes inevitable.

It’s a tipping point, or

A singularity.

The confluence of age and circumstances,

Beliefs and values,

Faith and passion

Are taken from the cupboard and refrigerator,

Combined into a mixing bowl,

Poured into a Pyrex dish,

Placed in the oven,

And the temperature is set.

In time

The transformation from raw ingredients

Into a delicious Methodist-style casserole is complete.

The only remaining task

Is for the cook

To make the change;

From stove to table.

Change became inevitable.

For my mother

Inevitable change occurred one day at the Malta Home,

A home for orphans and the aged

Operated by the Knights of Malta,

Outside Lewistown, Pennsylvania.

It would have been 1940.

My mother was a sixteen old orphan,

Her father dying of typhus when she was an infant.

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

He offered to spring her from childhood bondage

And take her into his home.

Should she stay or should she go?

Life came to a head and change became inevitable.

For my father

Inevitable change occurred when his naval ship was under attack.

Kamikazes had been unleashed

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

If Leyte Gulf wouldn’t swallow him whole,

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

He fervently promised the Lord.

Like Jonah he attempted to avoid the inevitable

Until the age of 42,

24 years later,

The year being 1968,

When he turned from the corporate world

And began the ordination process to become a parish pastor. 

Life had come to a head and change became inevitable.

For myself

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

Between collegiate hockey games at the Garden,

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

Exiting the chapel

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

God spoke.

It was time to leave the shoreline behind.

It was time to fish other seas.

Life had come to a head and change became

As inevitable as rain.

Where are the places in your history

When you faced inevitable change?

What was God’s role?

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

What is God’s current role in your life?

Can you trust in God’s cooperation and support

To see you through the inevitable?

….

Jesus had reached the point of inevitable change.

This season after the Epiphany is

Bookended with the words of God,

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

This proclamation came from the clouds at the baptism of Jesus

The first Sunday following the Epiphany.

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

The final Sunday after the Epiphany but before Lent.

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

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

In between these past five Sundays

We have tasted a sampling of his Galilean ministry.

(We will return after Pentecost

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

Over these past few weeks,

We have heard that

Jesus taught with authority in the synagogue.

He cast out demons.

He healed the sick.

He raised the dead.

Crowds had been attracted to him for obvious reasons.

Pressure mounted.

Jesus had to retreat to quiet places

To recharge and replenish the drain on his spiritual life.

Addressing one person from a crowd at a time

The demand for his touch

Overwhelmed his ability to supply the world’s needs.

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

Change became inevitable.

God sent his Son into the world

That who so ever believed in him

Would be saved and inherit eternal life.

Jesus came to the world,

Not just to those who appeared at his door

Or those who were lowered through his roof.

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

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

The transfiguration of Jesus,

His clothing and face becoming dazzling white,

Announced the dawn of a new age,

A new world order filled with hope and promise.

It was time to pivot.

It was time to wheel South,

Head for Jerusalem, and

Embrace his divinely expected destiny.

Jesus would leave Galilee for the last time,

Returning only after his resurrection.

Jesus altered his trajectory

And began his final ascent to Jerusalem.  

“Shush” he told them,

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

(Mark 9:9)

Jesus faced inevitable change

… suffered for it

… died on the cross for it

… rose from the dead for it

Because his deepest desire

Is to envelop

You and me and the rest of creation

With his love and grace.

There are many who look at American Christianity today

And draw rapid conclusions

 – about churches, denominations, emerging generations –

And where all of this is headed.

Blogs are loaded full of

“5 Points of a Healthy” this

and

“12 Signs of a Dysfunctional” that.

The transition from baby boomers to

X-gens and Next-gens

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

For decades, we analyzed attendance trends.

We experienced declining numbers of children and youth.

Many looked at aging faces in regular worship

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

We knew change was inevitable,

We knew it had to come.

We just didn’t know that it would

Sweep our legs right out from underneath us.

Thank you, COVID-19.

The pandemic has undermined our confidence of faith.

We are terrified to pivot with Jesus,

To take a step towards Jerusalem.

We are terrified to trust in him.

Are we able to trust

That Jesus will lead us from the land of

Law and prophets

Into the land of grace and love?

Are we able to trust

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

Into the land of eternal life?

Can we trust that Jesus will lead us

From scarcity and austerity

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

A land of abundance and harvest?

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

Including healing our world of

This despicable pandemic?

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

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

For the revival of our church

And a renewed effort to expand God’s kingdom?

As we stand in the swirling whirlpool of inevitable change

Ask Jesus to ease anxiety,

Transform terror into faith,

Change doubt into belief,

Wash us clean of pessimism, and

Fill us with confidence

In God’s amazing grace.

We sing about amazing grace all the time,

It’s about time we believe it.

The post-pandemic Rush United Methodist Church

Is going to be transfigured into something

More awesome and Holy Spirit filled

Than ever before!

Let us pray that God uses this amazing grace

To help us embrace the inevitable changes that are coming

Personally, individually, to each of us,

In every aspect of life,

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

I’m confident

Where God is leading

It is being revealed.

Our future is going to be great!

Let us discipline our lives,

Prioritize faithful habits, and

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

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

That destination may be

A heavenly feast,

Thousands in Sunday worship,

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

This is yet to be revealed.

But if this is where Jesus is going,

I’m going to follow.

Join me.

Let us follow his lead together.

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

To turn towards Jerusalem and face the inevitable.

But I do know that it is okay

To simply accept Christ’s love

And place every ounce of your trust in him.

If there was certainty,

It wouldn’t be called faith.

Place your trust in Jesus.

Let us overcome the fears of today

And embrace the inevitable change that is coming tomorrow.

Let us join in the journey with Jesus

That leads to his Passion, death, and resurrection.

Let us walk this lonesome valley with him to Jerusalem

Trusting in him,

Trusting his promise,

Trusting that he is bringing us home.

Amen.

“Living Like Jesus”

Mark 1:29-39

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 7, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 1:29-39

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

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

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

| Centering Prayer |

It must be difficult to be a VIP

(Very Important Person).

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

It always feels awkward.

Beyond a smile of recognition,

What do you do?

Do you say hello?

Shake their hand?

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

I met Jim Kelly eight years ago.

He was with people I assume were his family.

I was with my parishioners.

We were in an ICU waiting room at Roswell Park.

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

The sorrow in both of our eyes filled the void

where words might have been.

Intrusions into privacy as the result of fame,

Must make it difficult to navigate through daily life.

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

This season of masks probably comes as a big relief.

Strong is the celebrity who does not become jaded,

Who responds with grace,

Appropriately acknowledges fans, and

Doesn’t mind staying long to sign autographs.

Living like Jesus begins with

Spiritual Self-Care.

In the Gospel of Mark

Our author does a marvelous job of

Recording Jesus dancing an increasingly difficult tango

With his skyrocketing popularity.

Jesus goes from a private place to a public place,

Back and forth,

Alternating between concealment and secrecy,

And, publicity and proclamation.

The pendulum swings between messianic secrets

And our post-Epiphany theme of manifestation and revelation.

Jesus makes his public coming out,

Wading into three years of Galilean ministry,

At the same time,

He swears his followers to secrecy and

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

Christ is able to remain engaged in ministry

Because throughout Mark

He follows up ministering to the crowds

With retreats into privacy

For spiritual recovery,

For time to pray.

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

This rhythm is healthy;

A good discipline for all followers to emulate.

To live like Jesus

Is to dance a similar rhythm of

Engagement in servant ministry

Followed by restorative rest and prayer.

Living like Jesus

Brings healing to the world.

In every community Jesus visits

The more popular he becomes,

The more difficult it gets

To achieve success proclaiming the message.

He is forced to itinerate.

He must move on.

Last Sunday,

Jesus was in the public synagogue

Where he preached Good News with authority

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

He cast out this unclean spirit from a man

Who publicly identified him and challenged him.

The narrative continues.

Jesus leaves the public venue of the synagogue

And goes to the private home of Simon and Andrew.

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

In this multi-generational arrangement,

Common in the time of Jesus.

Jesus takes James and John with him.

It is not a long walk from the Synagogue.

Archaeologists suggest the distance is

Only a few hundred yards. 

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

She was sick in bed with a fever.

Use your mind’s eye to create the scene:

Excavations reveal that housing density was high in Capernaum.

Imagine crowds of people,

“The whole city,” reports Mark,

Filling the streets,

Gathered around her door.

Think of people peeping through the windows,

Hanging from the gutters,

Looking down through cracks in the roof.

Her private residence had become a public spectacle.

We do know

Women often outlive men.  

She was one senior generation older than Simon and Andrew.

There is much we don’t know.

What was her name?

Was she a widow? Or divorced?

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

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

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

What we do know is that her fever was serious because

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

There was an urgency here;

She was experiencing a health crisis that demanded immediate attention.

The newly called disciples turn to Jesus because

They experienced his preaching with authority.

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

If Jesus had that kind of power and authority

They believed Jesus could

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

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

Trust in Jesus.

Lean into the mercy of Jesus.

Tap into the power of his resurrection.

Living like Jesus

Transforms disciples from passive observers

To active, engaged, productive partners in ministry.

What is immensely helpful to me,

And I hope is insightful to you, too,

The message that Jesus brings

Is more than mere words.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is more than talk,

It’s action;

Casting out demons and healing people,

Bringing the afflicted back into the land of the living.

Jesus makes an incursion into the shadowland

of sin and evil, of illness and death,

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

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

It’s answering the summons

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

For the Gospel to speak,

One must act.

Living like Jesus

Demands a life of service.

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

She began to serve.

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

“diakoneo”  (dee-ak-on-eh-o)

Is interpreted as a response of faith.

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

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

Simon’s mother-in-law became an

icon of resurrection and a

paradigm of Christian ministry.

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

The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law

Tells us what Christian discipleship looks like.

Yes, there is a message to be proclaimed,

But there is also servant ministry that needs done.

If you’re a lover of the prophet Isaiah,

You might call it social justice.

Others from a more Christocentric point of view

Might call it kingdom building.

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

Might consider it relational evangelism with a missional response.

I call it living like Jesus.

When we live like Jesus

We reveal to the world

Christ manifest within us.

We demonstrate to the world

True incarnation.

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

Living like Jesus means living an authentic, transparent life.

How does this make a difference?

What does this mean for you and me

On our journey of faith?

Living like Jesus

Begins with relationship;

The relationships you keep

And the relationships you make.

Invest in the relationships you have.

God has placed people in your life for a reason.

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

Before meeting your own needs.

Try to expand your social circle.

Seek new friends and learn their stories.

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

Never let ulterior motives poison a friendship.

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

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

Don’t judge, lest ye be judged!

Consider every neighbor as a potential friend.

Listen with respect.

Consider their wellbeing.

Be humble.

It’s a privilege to be a friend

Serving in Jesus’ name.

Serve simply because of the joy of serving.

Intentionally reach out to those who have no friends.

Reach out to those who have been cast aside by society

And left for dead.

Make it your purpose to love the difficult to love,

To serve those who are difficult to serve.

If they are unclean, clean them up.

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

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

Our compassionate behavior,

Our ministry with the authority of Jesus,

Completes the message

That he came to proclaim.

Like Simon’s mother-in-law,

Serve simply as a response to the faith

That is developing and deepening in your life.

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

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

His message is God’s message to the world,

Not to just one demon possessed person, here,

Or one needing healing, there.

Jesus needed to expand from the individual to corporate,

From single store to the franchise,

The Gospel scales.

The potential is only confided by our imaginations.

God so loved the world.

The Passion of Jesus Christ

Takes redemption, restoration, and healing beyond the personal

To the universal.

God so loved the world.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Takes salvation and eternal life from something personal

To God’s global grace.

God so loved the world.

… That the world might be saved through him.

Trust in the power and authority of Jesus.

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

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

The message of Jesus is spoken in the language

Of both words and deeds.

This is what Christ came to do.

Go, and do likewise.

Live like Jesus.

Amen.

“Rescued from Impossible Bondage”

Mark 1:21-28

January 31, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 1:21-28

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

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

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

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

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

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

| Centering Prayer |

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

Completely overlook some of the positive benefits.

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

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

May the knowledge and practice employed today

Benefit future generations tomorrow.

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

All contribute to lowering the risk of disease transmission.

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

Because of these commonsense precautions

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

Who would have imagined a year ago:

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

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

While this exact phrase is not found in the Bible,

The importance of cleanliness is clearly expressed.

Judaism at the time of Jesus emphasized purity and cleanliness.

Think actual dirt conflated with spiritual dirt.

Think polluted water, contaminated food, and e coli.  

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

All of us become dirty periodically.

Wash your hands after you use the bathroom.

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

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

Repeat weekly.

Boom! you are clean!

Judaism had a way to make people clean.

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

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

Usually at a price.

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

With the expectation that

All who enter are required to

Pay an established fee and take a dip!)

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

But, what about becoming spiritually clean?

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

Jews called the cleansing of impurity “atonement.”

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

(For Christians, Jesus Christ himself becomes the atonement.

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

Reconciling us with God.)

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

That cleaned the body and the soul.

Jesus was newly on the job,

When an unnamed man with an unclean spirit

Interrupted Jesus, who was

Teaching with authority

Astounding the crowds

In the synagogue

At Capernaum

On the Sabbath.

There is a lot of material here to unpack;

Too much for one setting.

What draws my attention is “unclean spirit.”

What does “unclean spirit” mean?

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

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

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

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

I’m asking myself, what makes me unclean?

πνεῦμα Ακάθαρτος

(pneuma ak-a-thar-tos)

In the Greek New Testament

πνεῦμα comes first.

In English it is pneuma,

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

Ακάθαρτος comes next,

Modifying what comes before it.

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

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

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

Put them together and the meaning becomes crystal clear.

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

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

Anger and rage defined his character.  

He was obsessed with evil memories and thoughts.

His heart was at war with God.

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

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

He was a slave to sin,

Incapable of saving himself.

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

The problem with having an unclean spirit

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

For God to enter in,

The dirt needs to get hoed out.

Living with or accommodating an unclean spirit is not sustainable.

Quality of life suffers.

Families and communities suffer.

Truth suffers.

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

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

Time eventually runs out.

Raging people are at risk of ending up prematurely dead,

Emotionally dead, spiritually dead, even physically dead

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

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

(Matthew 26:52)

Jesus rescues this unnamed man from his impossible bondage

Created and imposed on him by his unclean spirit.

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

Jesus rebuked not the man, but his unclean spirit.

(1:25)

All that was unclean about that man’s spirit

Submitted to the command and authority of Jesus.

Jesus silenced it.

Jesus exorcized it.

Out it came.

Jesus won.

All the dirt.

All the sin.

Everything came out,

Making room for the Holy Spirit to fill the void.

The point to be made

Is that Jesus, and only Jesus,

Has the ability to exercise and destroy unclean spirits.

Christ alone breaks the chains of sin and death.

Christ alone rescues us from impossible bondage.

Christ alone can save us.

Jesus wins.

Each of us harbor unclean spirits from time to time.

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

We oscillate somewhere between wholly sinful and complete perfection.

Dwelling too long or too deep

In impurity, defilement, and filth

Hardens one and

Makes it more difficult to break out,

To break the will of the unclean spirit.

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

Resolve to break free of every unclean spirit,

Great and small, in your life.

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

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

It becomes impossible to free yourself.

That’s why we have a Savior.

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

And he will.

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

To take up residence,

To abide in your life.

The benefits?

Peace replaces the war that raged in your heart.

Love overcomes hate.

Faith wins over fear.

I invite each of us to self-reflection,

To ask, “what defiles me?”

“What makes me unclean?”

“What does damage to God?”

I think of messages of hypocrisy,

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

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

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

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

Only to be arrested for illegal behavior on Monday.

I think of renouncing racism on one day and

Not challenging a racist comment the next.

Are there places in my life of inconsistency or hypocrisy

That need to be exercised?

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

I think of the seven deadly sins;

Behaviors or feelings that inspire further sin.

Pride.

Greed.

Lust.

Envy.

Gluttony.

Wrath.

Sloth.

There is much to be considered here.

I temper what I can,

And ask Jesus to help with the rest.

In my experience

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

Just as he rescued the man in the Capernaum synagogue.

I just need to ask him for the help.

What do you say?  

Can you ask Jesus for help?

Will you allow Christ to rescue you, too?

Amen.

“The Price of Discipleship”

Mark 1:14-20

24 January 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 1:14-20

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

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

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

| Centering Prayer |

Jesus crossed a boundary

And I’m quite certain

Zebedee was not a happy camper.

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

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

As you probably know

Leonardo was a famous painter, inventor, and scientist;

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

In 1452,

He died in 1519,

502 years ago

At the age of 67.

Leonardo was truly a renaissance man,

Gifted with curiosity and imagination.

He was born out of wedlock,

The son of Piero da Vinci,

A local notary.

In those days and in that time,

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

He wasn’t a full-fledged lawyer;

But, he was empowered with considerable legal responsibility.

Notaries were held in high esteem in Italian renaissance culture.

Proud fathers passed on their training and professional credentials

From generation to generation.

Piero was at least a fourth-generation notary.

Notaries belonged to guilds,

Who maintained very strict morality requirements.

Because of this,

The out-of-wedlock son, Leonardo,

Was freed from the expectation of

Training for a profession in the law.

The guild simply wouldn’t allow it.

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

The call, apprenticeship, and profession of notary

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

Leonardo was freed up for other, more worthwhile endeavors.

From father to son,

Expectations have ebbed and flowed for centuries.

I recall from my youth

The time when I first spoke with my father

About the possibility of being called to ordained ministry.

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

I loved the science, math, and computer programming.

Yet, there was something more to life,

Still unexplored,

That led me to question

God’s will for my future.

Dad was a second career United Methodist pastor.

When I broached the subject with him

I remember him shifting in his chair, pausing,

Frowning, and furrowing his bushy eyebrows.

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

To be an ordained pastor.

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

I gave it time.

We talked about it on several occasions.

He couldn’t dissuade me.

Then, something broke.

He shared with me about his wonderful seminary experience

At Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

Dad encouraged me to immediately apply.

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

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

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

“Yep. I understand,” he admitted.

A son needs to make his own way.

From father to son,

Expectations have ebbed and flowed for centuries.

We can only imagine the conversation in the boat that day

Following a night of fishing on the Sea of Galilee.

Zebedee and his two sons, James and John,

Were mending their nets.

It was a routine every morning;

Repair the rips and tears from the previous evening.

Depending on the time of year and amount of overcast,

It could have been blazing hot or bone chilling cool.

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

Zebedee, James, and John would have been

Mending, working, cleaning, and carrying on

In a boat dragged on shore

That was 27 feet long and nearly 8 feet wide;

A considerable boat, indeed.

The boat represented the family business,

The primary capital investment,

Passed on from father to son,

From generation to generation.

Small talk and idle conversation

Was interrupted by an approaching stranger.

Jesus appeared to know them

Even though there is no evidence

That any of the three had ever met him.

The invitation “Follow me”

Shattered generational expectations

With revolutionary thunder.

The world would never be the same.

A new reality was at hand.

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

That Incarnation comes at a price.

Undoubtedly, he would have been thinking

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

Allow honorable sons to go tramping off

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

Zebedee was left in a lurch!

He had nets to mend,

Fish to catch,

Bills to pay,

A business to run,

A family to feed!

And his two sons up and leaves him?

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

The Gospel of Matthew reported the slaughter of the innocents;

Certainly their grief filled parents would have understood

That Incarnation comes at a price.

Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt until Herod’s death

And it was safe to return home.

Certainly they understood

That the Incarnation of Jesus Christ comes at a price.

The Gospel of Mark,

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

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

The job description isn’t at all attractive.

The pay positively stinks, and

The pay is usually non-existent!

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

His call is three-fold:

1. To remain with him.

2. To go out and preach.

3. And take his authority and cast out demons.

(Mark 3:14-15)

The first two requirements for discipleship are straight forward.

It’s the third that catches my attention.

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

Was to be an exorcist!

Who’s up for a good case of exorcism?

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

Call out Beelzebul by name,

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

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

Any volunteers?

The line forms here.

Not many applicants?

The Incarnation of Jesus Christ comes at a price.

There is a cost to discipleship.

It’s not free.

Neither is it cheap.

The faint of heart need not apply.

Still early on in Jesus’ ministry

His own mother and brothers call Jesus home.

You can understand their concern, can’t you?

You know how gossip spreads.

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

He was tramping around the countryside,

Attracting crowds and crowds and crowds of

Seekers, the curious, and the desperate.

Jesus hears that his family is calling him home.

“Who are my mother and brothers?” Jesus asks

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

‘Here are my mother and my brothers! 

Whoever does the will of God

is my brother and sister and mother.’”

(Mark 3:34-35)

So much for family values!

The price of discipleship depresses the value of the biological family

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

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

It’s no wonder Jesus’ own flesh and blood

Are whipped up in homicidal rage and

Attempt to throw him off a cliff.

(Luke 4:29)

Jesus,

God in the flesh,

Comes to the world,

Paying a price for our redemption and our salvation.

At the same time,

The world has a price to pay

To become his disciples,

To discern His will,

And to follow in His ways.

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

Belief and faith will come later.

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

The price to pay for following Jesus is more than

Dropping your nets and

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

The price to pay for following Jesus is more than

Disappointing your biological father and mother.

The price to pay for following Jesus is

First, deny yourself.

Second, take up your cross.

Then, come and follow me.

(Mark 8:34)

Following Jesus, God Incarnate, comes at a price.

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

Passion, death, resurrection, and ascension

The disciples struggle to come to terms

With paying the price of discipleship.

The disciples of Jesus live in denial,

Wanting to shout down Jesus’ promise of suffering,

Substituting in their own delusions of grandeur –

That one-day Jesus would ascend the throne.

Peter names Jesus as the Son of Man in one breath

Only to deny ever knowing him nearly a fortnight later.

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

To hang your hat on his Incarnation,

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

It is important to enter discipleship with eyes wide open.

There is a new reality at hand.

Life as you and I used to know

Will be no more.

God has turned the world upside down.

God isn’t afraid of crossing boundaries;

In fact, at the very moment of conversion,

The Lord begins to make a habit of crossing boundaries.

Christ enters your life,

Turns over your tables,

And tramps mud all over your beautiful new carpets.

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

Has barely started to wane,

When the new reality of the price that must be paid

Is laid out in spades:

“You want me to do WHAT?”

“You have got to be kidding!”

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

Yes, Jesus wants us to be his recruiters,

To bring to him new candidates for discipleship.

Jesus expects us

To teach his new disciples everything,

And I mean EVERYTHING!

Everything we’ve ever learned about Him;

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

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

Jesus expects us to open our homes and our church

And to practice hospitality that knows no bounds.

Unlock the doors and

Open the cupboards,

Set the table and start cooking!

Clean the carpets,

Make the bed,

Tidy up and make necessary repairs.

Open the curtains,

Let the sun shine in,

And welcome the world to

Enter into God’s grace.

Anticipate the need.

Meet the need.

Exceed the need.

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

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

Yes, away the sword,

Reject violence and oppression where ever they present themselves,

And to only follow Him.

Learn and practice His ways of non-violence.

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

Take a stand and make a stand.

Do it in the name of Jesus.

Be willing to pay the price,

And when the bill comes due,

Pick up the tab.

Yes, Jesus wants us to gather every Sabbath day,

To be with Him,

To proclaim His Word,

To celebrate His Sacrament.

Others may laugh and ridicule us.

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

So be it.

Let our Savior’s love shine through

our smile,

our gentleness,

our grace,

our every response.

Sometimes I wonder if any sane person,

Who knew the true cost of discipleship before being called

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

It amazes me that people answer the call.

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

The fact that new disciples are answering the call everyday

Convinces me

Of God’s continued presence,

Of God’s active participation,

And of God’s absolute power of conviction.

God isn’t afraid of upsetting the apple cart,

Stepping on toes, or

Ruffling a few tailfeathers.

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

Once the Lord claims you, you are transformed into

God’s forever.

Incarnation comes at a price.

Once we answer the call,

The price must be paid.

Are you with me?

Let’s do this together.

Amen.

“Stand Up, Step Up”

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

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

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

(Centering Silence)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?” I asked dumbfounded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

“Come and See”

John 1:43-51

January 17, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 1:43-51

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

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

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

Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

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

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

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

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

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

| Centering Prayer |

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

Now, a traveling evangelist,

It was as if

Billy Glass was speaking directly to me.

Jesus Christ was his Lord.

He invited me to come and see,

To make Jesus my Lord, too.

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

I joined the crowd of people

Flowing to the altar in that outdoor amphitheater

Where I answered to call to follow Jesus.

A confession of Christ’s identity

With a simple, straight-forward invitation,

Was all it took to claim me as a disciple.

John the Baptist had his own disciples.

When he saw Jesus walk by

He speaks to his followers,

“Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

Hum.

Look. Redirect your attention.

Lamb. A sacrificial animal

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

John the Baptist witnessed to Christ,

The God of atonement.

John’s descriptive identification of Jesus was all it took

For two of his disciples to immediately decide

To terminate their discipleship of John

And to begin to follow Jesus.

A simple confession of Christ’s identity

Was all it took to make disciples.

Jesus asks the two un-named disciples

“What are you looking for?”

“Where are you staying?” they asked.

“Come and see.”

Come: follow me, and

See: observe. Take it all in.

They followed Jesus to where he was staying

And abided with him until late afternoon.

Come and see became for them

An offer to see Christ

With the eyes of faith.

(The New Interpreters Bible)

One of these two is identified as Andrew.

Andrew tells his brother, Simon, saying

“We have found the Messiah.”

Simon comes to meet Jesus.

Jesus immediately names him Cephas,

Translated as Peter, and

The rest is history.

A simple confession of Christ’s identity

Was all it took to make a disciple.

There seems to be a common thread here.

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

Immediately precedes our Gospel lesson today:

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

Hometown.

Rush, New York?

Jamestown?

Hamilton?

Rochester?

Hometown is as comfortable as well-worn bedroom slippers.

For Andrew, Peter, and Philip

Their hometown was Bethsaida,

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

It was little more than a crossroad,

An intersection for travelers from

One of the four points of the compass.

They probably grew up together,

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

They probably attended the same school and synagogue.

Possibly, Andrew and his brother Peter

Could have been Philip’s cousin.

Jesus comes to their hometown Bethsaida

From the lower Jordan valley

On his way to Cana, further north,

Where he and his mother had been

Invited to a wedding and reception.

Jesus finds Philip.

It is as if Jesus seeks him out.

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

Ask yourself.

Did Jesus seek you out, or,

Did you find him, or,

Perhaps a combination of both?

Why you? Why me?

Why did Jesus choose us to be his disciples?

Jesus wastes no time.

No introduction.

No small talk about the weather.

He doesn’t ask.

Jesus straight-up bluntly tells Philip,

“Follow me.”

For Philip

The call to follow Jesus

Came as a command.

Perhaps some people can’t take a hint.

Whatever the reason,

Philip makes three.

He goes to Nathanael.

Who is Nathanael?

Brother? Friend? Relative of Philip?

We don’t know.

It makes simple sense to

First approach those closest to you.

Confess Jesus Christ.

Make them his disciples, too.

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

“We …” he begins.

(Jesus obviously introduced Philip to Andrew and Peter)

Here is the set up:

“We have found him about whom Moses in the law

And also the prophets wrote.”

Philip did see.

He took it all in and came to conclusion:

Think Messiah: God. Promise.

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

Think Nazareth: Blue collar. Construction. Manual labor.

You’ve got to be kidding.

The anticipated Messiah is a common stone mason or carpenter?

Philip takes the words right out of Jesus’ mouth,

“Come and see.”

Sometimes I don’t have the words,

Or the words come with great difficulty,

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

And meaning or intent are obscured.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Come and see,

Jesus invited.

Come and see,

Philip urged Nathanael.

The Messiah language wasn’t working.

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

Moses in the law and the writings of the prophets

Covered too much territory.

Come and see.

Come is the invitation,

Best received when it comes from someone

That is known, trusted, loved.

Come is an action verb;

There is nothing passive about it.

In the Great Commission

Jesus instructs us to go and make disciples.

One disciple brings another to Jesus,

Who, in turn, brings others to Jesus.

Each disciple is charged to make the invitation:

Come and see.

See is the identification that results in conversion.

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

God’s got that.

When one is placed in the presence of Christ,

Taught everything about Jesus that there is to teach,

Baptized by water and the Spirit,

Like the birthing of a baby,

A new follower of Jesus

Comes, sees, and believes.

A new disciple

Begins the journey.

The story of discipleship is incomplete

Until our witness,

Our invitation,

Brings others to Jesus Christ.

Some of us are curious.

That curiosity is a seed of faith planted by God.

Others of us have been invited,

But still find themselves sitting on the fence.

Not taking a position is to take a position.

Others have responded to the invitation to come, and

Now find themselves in the presence of Jesus

Soaking him all in,

Being filled with God’s Spirit and grace,

Primed for conversion into discipleship,

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

Come and see.

Trust God’s process.

Answer the call.

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

Already convicted, converted, baptized, and

Someplace in-between baptism and eternal life.

It is our charge

To bring the next generation to meet Jesus.

It is our charge

To teach them all that Jesus has taught us.

Then trust.

Leave the rest up to God.

In my experience

Practice makes perfect.

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

In time, your words and actions will build confidence,

In yourself and in the invitation.

Dearly beloved

Make the invitation.

Keep making the invitation.

Don’t ever stop making the invitation.

“Come and see,” Jesus invited.

“Come and see,” Philip asked Nathanael.

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

Amen.

“The Word”

January 3, 2021

John 1:1-18

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 1:1-18

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

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

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

| Centering Prayer |

One of the many loses I have felt

Over the course of this pandemic

Is the loss of our choir,

Especially during Advent and Christmas.

I deeply missed our annual Christmas cantata.

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

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

(Britannica.com)

The composer creatively intertwines theme appropriate

Music and narration to tell a story.

The Christmas cantata, rehearsed since September,

Is song and story that

Propels anticipation into Incarnation

With the birth of Jesus Christ.  

The Gospel of John sets its own pace and direction,

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

John speaks broadly about Jesus,

Using symbolism, metaphor, imagery, and irony,

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

The Gospel of John speaks about a God

Who is present, intimate, powerful, and loving.

The opening 18 verses of the first chapter,

An echo of the opening creation chapter of Genesis,

Are constructed as a cantata

Weaving together early Christian music and narration

Into a theological masterpiece. 

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

Interspersed with commentary about John the Baptist.

Sending John to prepare the way

Not only fulfills prophecy

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

Intimate relationship with humankind.

God tears the divide between heaven and earth,

Rips it to shreds,

To muddle in your affairs.

Yep. God is stirring your pot.

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

God has been stirring my soul this past week

Leading me to focus thoughts and meditations on the music,

The theological poetry of John’s cantata.

Even this is too much to consume in one setting.

So I’ll focus on smaller trimmings.

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

“In the beginning,”

A phrase borrowed from Genesis,

Tells us there was a starting point,

With nothing preceding it.

To speak of anything prior to the beginning

Is as senseless as dividing by zero.

The beginning was the beginning,

The starting point,

Defined by the presence of

The Word.

The Word,

Logos, in the original Greek,

Is an amalgam of ancient Jewish and Greek

Theology and philosophy,

Culture and practice.

The Word, Logos,

Is a way of speaking about the creative plan of God

That governs the world.

When John uses the word Logos,

He is plowing new ground.

John uses the masculine Logos

(as opposed to the feminine Sophia)

To expand upon the Jewish understanding of wisdom

To speak of the revelation of God in Jesus.

“In the beginning was the Word”

Word is more than intellectual,

More than cognitive,

More than an unabridged collection of memories,

More than any sense can detect,

More than emotions or feeling.

Word and wisdom are tangible.

Word is John’s introduction of Jesus.

The names of God are many.

The manifestations of God since the beginning are many.

Who are we to pray to?

Sometimes, I get confused.

Do I pray to the Father?

Sometimes that is too gender specific and limiting,

Other times it just feels right.

Do I pray to Jesus?

But Jesus prayed to his heavenly Father.

How about the Holy Spirit?

I invoke the Holy Spirit to be present with

The bread and cup and every participant

During Holy Communion.

“In the beginning was the Word,

And the Word was with God.”

One God

Fully comfortable with being besides himself!

The Word was with God.

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

Is significantly less important than

Having an intimate conversation with God.

Mix and match.

Ancient names like Yahweh or Elohim?

Good Shepherd? Great Physician? The Way?

Jesus? Christ? Lord? King? Spirit?

I Am?

Logos or Word?

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

God is way more expansive than our comprehension, anyways.

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

Pray.

Learn.

Love.

“In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.”

God has existed

Has been present

From the beginning.

This sheds light on God’s stamina and strength.

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

God is sticking around.

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

God is sticking around.

There is no “abandonment”

There is no “quit”

In God’s vocabulary.

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

God stuck around.

When they wouldn’t listen to prophets sent their way

God stuck it out.

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

God stuck around.

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

The Holy Spirit took his place.

God stuck around.

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

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

The Lord is on you, in you, with you

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

This is the season of Emmanuel.

The Word.

God with us.

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

Maybe you haven’t been paying attention.

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

No long-winded recitation of Messianic lineage.

No Gabriel visiting Mary, annunciation, or immaculate conception.

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

The Word became flesh.

Immortal became one with mortality.

Divinity and humanity became One

And his name is Jesus.

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

God remains God.

What changed is our world view.

The God of my experience became like me,

But not me, and lived with similar daily experiences:

Joy and sorrow.

Anger and fear.

Hatred and love.

Betrayal and suffering.

Death and resurrection.

Redemption and salvation.

Sharing life’s journey with Jesus

Allows us to make correlations between what we are going through

With what Jesus went through.

God knows what you are going through

Because God went through it before

And will, undoubtably, go through it again.

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

It’s humbling to consider that

The world is such a chamber pot of sin,

So mad and out of control,

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

At the same time,

It is exhilarating to recognize how much God loves us. 

Enormous. Expansive. Beyond comprehension.

That is how much God loves you and me.

Jesus has you covered.

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

Ten out of ten times

And twice on Sundays.

Adam Hamilton rightly observes

That we often confuse The Word with the Bible.

The Bible is sacred scripture

Sent by God for our benefit.

But the Bible is not the Word. 

Jesus is

The Word

From the beginning

Manifest in many ways

Always God.

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

This is the poetry of John’s great cantata,

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

This is the sound of Jesus.

Amen.