“Prayer for Unity; Prayer for Protection”

John 17:6-19

May 16, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 17:6-19

”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

| Centering Prayer |

This is the seventh and final Sunday

Of the liturgical season of Easter.

Next Sunday is Pentecost.

Pente-, meaning 50, or

Fifty days following the resurrection,

The Holy Spirit comes and fills the disciples

With tongues as of fire.

So, next Sunday, join the celebration.

Revive the Holy Spirit in your life,

And testify to the spiritual reality

By wearing the colors of fire:

Red, orange, yellow!

Each year, during this season of Easter,

We dive deep into the Gospel of John,

With this Seventh Sunday always focused on the 17th chapter;

Jesus praying for his disciples.

We cover the whole 17th chapter in a three-year cycle,

This year with a focus on the middle third.

Jesus is praying to God

On behalf of his disciples

In the Garden of Gethsemane,

On the Mount of Olives,

Immediately prior to his betrayal by Judas and arrest by soldiers and the police.

Jesus is having a prayerful conversation with his heavenly Father,

The creator of the world,

The one who fathered him,

The one who sent him, to save the world.

His prayer reveals

Much is going through the mind of Jesus;

Certainly, the work, ministry, teaching, and outreach he had accomplished,

Low the past three years.

Certainly, his thoughts turned to his mortality,

Expected suffering, pain, humiliation, and death.

Just as most who are facing impending death

Jesus prays for the wellbeing of loved ones and friends.

Certainly, he prayed for

Their safety,

Their strength to faithfully follow through

With their Apostolic Commission

To bring the world to him.

There are two key themes that catch my attention in Jesus’ prayer:

unity and protection,

As found in verses 11 and 15.

“Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. …

… I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” (17:11b, 17b)

Our Lord’s prayer in Gethsemane

Is an invitation for us to have a deeper conversation about unity.

The unity Jesus prays for is

For disciples to be unified just as

God and Jesus are unified.

What unifies our Divine Creator with our Divine Redeemer?

What is the special sauce that binds God and Jesus together that we should use liberally to bind us together?

May we be united by responsible stewardship of the natural world.

God created it.

Jesus lived in it.

We take care of it.

May we be united by grace.

God knew we needed mercy and forgiveness before we did,

So Jesus was sent and died to take away our sins.

God knew we needed salvation.

Because we are utter failures to even save ourselves.

Jesus was risen from the dead, and so, too, are we.

Grace is the gift of eternal life.

May we be united by love;

The same Old Testament love that shows that our God doesn’t quit on us,

To the love of Jesus

That heals and casts out demons, that

Teaches us to love God and love neighbors so much that we become known, identified, by our love.  

Christian unity is a common rallying cry

And fervent prayer for many when

Facing conflict that threatens division.

Word came to the Apostle Paul twenty years after the ascension of Jesus

That members of the local church he helped establish in the Greek city of Corinth were embroiled in turmoil:

Jealousies, rivalry, and immoral behavior.

Paul appealed to them to be unified by love, the same love God has for the Son,

And the Son has for those who follow him.

Today is no different.

We find ourselves cooking in a boiling stew of

Conflicts and threats of division.

Be it politics, race, or religion …

Be it a controversial zoning variance, vaccine requirements, who should get unemployment benefits, or how to safely open schools …

… There are as many divided opinions and conflicts as there are stars in the sky.

The Church reflects larger society.

External conflict and division are imported into faith communities by members themselves.

It’s unrealistic to expect an absence of

Internal conflict and division.

It is wise to be cautious about unity.

It is possible to be unified in

All the wrong things.

Jesus doesn’t pray for our unity in all things, only in that which unifies himself with the Father.

Unity is not conformity.

Diverse opinions and world views are welcome and

We must create a threat free environment that supports diverse points of view.

There is a dangerous nature of unity that should not be ignored;

The tempting call to be unified by the evil one.

For example,

I do not pray for unity or seek unity

With those who hate, who hurt, who destroy.

It is unholy to seek unity with racists, bigots, or those who employ violence and oppression.

Unity is sacred when we are unified in faithful response to God’s will.

However, unity is unholy and profane if aligned with the evil one.

We, Protestants, tend to get all nervous when talking about “the evil one,” the “devil,” or “Satan.”

Joining hands and singing “Kum Ba Yah” may avoid the topic and make us feel better,

But it does nothing to address the reality of evil in this world.

To deny evil is to enable it.

Jesus doesn’t mince words,

And neither should we.

Jesus engages in a cosmic fight with the evil one and our place is right by his side.

Our Lord’s prayer in Gethsemane

Is an invitation for us to have a deeper conversation about

Divine protection.

“Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. …

… I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” (17:11b, 17b)

Jesus prays for the protection of his disciples.

One can observe that all his disciples, with the exception of John, the beloved,

Ended up being martyred, so,

Why didn’t God protect them?

Jesus isn’t praying for physical protection, although this may take place.

He is asking for protection of Christian unity, and,

Jesus is asking for the disciples to be protected from the evil one.

Jesus is praying for you.

God is being petitioned to protect us and all that holds us together: stewardship, grace, and love.

Jesus is praying for your success.

Care for the world, and all that fills it.

Be the grace and love of God, and the Lord will protect you.

Jesus is praying for your safety in the cosmic fight between good and evil.

He is praying for your strength to overcome evil with good.

Jesus is praying for you

Because he loves you.

Simple as that.

Life can get dirty and sloppy real quick.

There is so much that threatens to divide us.

May we focus on what unites us:

Stewardship of God’s creation,

Living as an instrument of God’s grace,

Channeling God’s love to every corner of God’s world.

God will protect you.

Remain focused, and,

By God’s strength,

We will successfully build out God’s kingdom.

In God’s protective safety,

We will defeat the evil one,

Once and for all.

Let us pray:

Holy Father, protect your disciples so that they may be one, as you and Jesus are one.

Protect your disciples from the evil one.

In the name of Jesus,

Amen.

“Chosen Friend”

John 15:9-17

9 May 2021 – Sixth Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 15:9-17

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

| Prayer |

“If I could only have one food

To eat for the rest of my life?” Gordie asked.

Vern replies,

“That’s easy. Pez.

Cherry flavor Pez.

No question about it.”

(“Stand by Me”, 1986. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092005/)

These lines are from one of my favorite movies of all times,

“Stand by Me” written by Stephen King and directed by Rob Reiner.

The move is about a writer who recounts a boyhood journey

With his closest friends

To find the body of a missing boy.

I believe this movie appeals to me so much

Because it captures my childhood in a nutshell

(except for the missing body part).

“Stand by Me” describes my growing up,

Especially between the ages of 8 and 11.

My family lived in Sinclairville, New York

Midway between Jamestown and Fredonia.

My closest friends were Tommy Jordan and Kevin Kochersberger.

Our foil was Brian, who lived next door to Tommy.

Though we used Brian as comic relief,

He had an intimidating older brother.

Tommy was the son of the undertaker.

Kevin was the son of a college professor and wicked smart.

Brian was the youngest son in a broken, dysfunctional family.

Of course, I was the son of the Methodist preacher in town.

We roamed the neighborhood on banana set bikes,

Built treehouses,

Raided neighbor’s gardens,

Shot off Estes rockets and BB guns,

Road Tommy’s minibike,

Slept outdoors under the stars.

We cleared off snow from local ponds and played hockey with shovels.

We caught crawdads in the creek,

Went sledding down the hill at the town park,

And spied through the bushes when ever Tommy’s father

Brought a stiff to the back door of his funeral parlor.

The 1960s were very good to my friends and me.

Friends.

Like the writer in “Stand by Me”

We’ve all gone our separate ways,

Fallen off each other’s radar.

My friends of yesterday

Might still be only 3 degrees of separation because of social media,

But nothing can recreate that sense of friendship

That I experienced growing up.

Friends.

We were palls, companions, playmates.

We kept each other’s secrets.

We got in trouble together.

We explored the world together.

We stood up for one another.

We were loyal to one another …

And your word was your virtue.

We would not have used this word at the time,

But we loved one another.

Indeed, friend comes from the Dutch vriend,

An Indo-European root meaning “to love.”

(Google definitions)

In John’s Gospel passage,

It should be noted that

Jesus begins with a different kind of love: agápē love. (Ibid.)

Agape, from the Greek,

Describes a selfless, sacrificial,  unconditional love of God for his children,

A love that advocates, that acts, that wills

The good of another.

It is the highest of the four types of love in the Bible.

“As the Father has loved me,

so I have loved you;

abide in my love,” (15:9)

Jesus teaches his friends;

Disciples from whom he will soon depart.

The relationship between the Father and Jesus, the Son,

Is that of agápē love,

A relationship that Jesus has attempted to replicate

Between himself and his disciples,

A relationship that Jesus instructs all disciples to replicate

Amongst ourselves and those who join our community.

Agápē love.

Let’s get to it!

The context of this passage is vitally important

When it comes to describing Agápē  love.

Jesus loves his friends even when they tried to hurt him.

He loved Judas,

As he demonstrated by washing his feet,

Immediately before Jesus foretells his betrayal. (John 13)

Jesus loved Peter,

Who’s feet he also washed,

Even as he foretells of Peter’s denial. (John 13)

Jesus also loved his closest friends:

John, called the beloved.

Jesus loved his friend Lazarus

So much so he wept for him

Before raising him from the dead. (John 11)

Jesus loved each of his disciples.

He prays for them immediately following this passage,

Right before he is arrested in the Garden. (John 17)

Jesus loved his disciples selflessly when he speaks of his future

“No one has greater love than this,

To lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (15:13)

The cross is the symbol for the supreme act of love

Between Jesus and his friends, his disciples.

The cross remains for us today that same symbol

Of Christ’s love for the world.

Jesus makes an important connection in this,

His farewell discourse,

When he refers to his disciples as friends.

Jesus changes words for love of friends, from

Agápē to Philia.

From the Greek, philia, philon, or friend, (15:13, 14, 15)

Friend means “tenderly loving, kindly affectionate.”

(Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, George Ricker Berry, Baker Rook House, Grand Rapids MI, 1897, p. 105)

Jesus ties his message together with philía love;

Love between friends that is loyal, virtuous, even joyful!

“I have called you friends,”

Jesus teaches,

“because I have made known to you everything

that I have heard from my Father.” (15:15b)

Jesus admits as much:

“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you,

and that your joy may be complete.” (15:11)

If there is a common strand of

Gospel DNA that weaves its way through John

It would be love.

“God so loved the world …” (John 3:16a) drives to the heart

Of John’s message to the early Church.

You are loved,

Jew and Gentile alike.

You are loved,

Just as you are,

Saints, sinners, even the dead and resurrected.

You are loved.

You are loved as the Father loved Jesus.

God loves you so much that he sent us Jesus

Who willingly gave his life

That we might inherit eternal life.

Granted, commanding a friend to do something

Isn’t a very friendly thing to do.

No one likes a Mr. Bossy Boss.

That’s why you won’t find the Gospel of John

Full with Jesus’ commandments,

Or references to Jesus teaching

To uphold Moses’ Ten Commandments.

(Like what can be found in Matthew, Mark, or Luke).

Yet, it is important to take note of the one exception in this narrative:

Jesus commands his disciples to love one another,

To be friends.

Love one another,

Just as Jesus taught and lived,

Just as the Father loved Jesus, his Son.

Loving others fulfills all other commandments.

One loves God when one maintains fidelity to God,

Mimics God’s work and rest habits,

And treats God with respect.

When you love your neighbor

You don’t steal from them, lie to them, or covet their stuff.

When you love your neighbor

You don’t sleep with their spouse or kill them.

Loving others is the fulfillment of all commandments.

Loving others is our Lord’s greatest desire.

Love.

Abide in that love.

Dwell in that love.

Make your home in that love and live in that love forever.

Just as God chose to send us Jesus,

So, too, Christ has chosen you to be his friend.

You were led,

Or are being led,

By Jesus to baptismal waters.

Baptism seals each of us eternally with Christ,

Uniting us as friends.

You’ve been chosen.

You’ve been chosen by Jesus.

You’ve been chosen by Jesus to be his friend.

You’ve been chosen to become friends with one another and with the world.

You’ve been chosen to become God’s love in the world.

Abide in his love,

And your joy will be complete!

Amen.

“I Am the True Vine”

John 15:1-8

May 2, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 15:1-8

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

| Centering Prayer |

Like the Good Shepherd from last Sunday,

Today’s image is another expanded metaphor of the infamous “I Am” statements

As quoted by Jesus in the Gospel of John.

“I Am,” Jesus draws from Hebrew scripture to remind his audience

Of God’s self-disclosure

Speaking directly to Moses on Mount Sinai, through a burning bush.

“I Am,” Jesus says,

“The bread of life.”

“I Am the light of the world.”

“I Am,” Jesus repeats, time and again,

“The door,”

“The good shepherd,”

And “the resurrection and the life.”

“I Am,” declares Jesus,

“The way, the truth and the life.”

And today, Jesus proclaims,

“I Am the true vine.”

(John 6:35. 6:48. 8:12. 9:5. 8:58. 10:9. 10:11. 11:25. 14:6. 15:1)

The extended true vine metaphor

Is very helpful in sculpting out the details of Christian life and faith.

Often times metaphors and parables begin to lose form

The harder one pushes.

“I Am the true vine” holds up wonderfully

Under the pressure.

Indeed, God presents it

With a longing desire for us to dig deeper.

So,

Grab your spiritual shovel

And join me in the dig!

Jesus is the TRUE vine, meaning there are false vines.

Beware, the world is full of quacks, charlatans, and snake oil salesman

Who all claim to be second coming of Jesus Christ.

They will promise you the farm

If only you buy what they’re selling,

Drink what they are peddling,

Believe what they are preaching,

Or follow where they are leading.

Beware, even the Devil quotes scripture.

False vines lead gullible and uninformed sheep to slaughter;

To a dark, damp spiritual alley to rob them blind and leave them for dead.

Many will claim insider knowledge,

Some divine divination,

Or will attempt to scare us with threats of assorted dark horsemen

From the impending apocalypse.

Tell them to talk to the hand!

Jesus is TRUE.

He is the only TRUE vine.

Listen and follow none other.

The Father is the vinegrower.

Our heavenly Father created the world and all that is in it.

God cleared the land,

Planted the seed,

Constructed the trellis.

And tends the vines.

God is not some absentee landlord

That created the vineyard then moved on to another project.

The hand of God

Touches his branches,

– touches us –

To thin us, to prune us, and to maximize the yield of fruit.

It is, after all, all about the fruit, isn’t it?

When Jesus abides in you,

And you in Christ,

You will bear much fruit.

All it takes is abiding in Christ;

Which means

Making your home in the love of Jesus.

Spread the Savior’s love extravagantly

To a world that would rather hate,

That is overflowing with hate,

That is burning to the ground with hate.

Center life in God’s love.

Dive in.

Splash.

Drink in the love of God.

This is what it means to “abide.”

When we abide in the Lord,

The one who is our divine gardener,

We can leave the rest up to Him.

Dead branches

Will be cut away and burnt.

Those under producing will be pruned back,

Appropriately pruned;

Not because of any failure on our part.

God prunes to maximize the harvest of fruit.

It is, after all, all about the fruit!

Here is an observation for you:

A branch cannot bear fruit

Simply by a force of will.

If it was my will,

Churches would be filled to overflowing.

Everyone would be engaged in Spirit led missions and ministries and the entire world would be on fire for Jesus Christ.

Many a church growth efforts have been launched in past decades

Only to sink before they ever exit the harbor.

All those leadership development and mega-church seminars have led to a few success stories

But at the expense of thousands of other local churches.

If you’re trying to force fruit,

You’re doing it wrong!

Attempting to force the production of fruit

Is the pinnacle of arrogance and a pathway toward idolatry.

Stop trying to force the fruit.

Be authentic.

Abide in the love of Jesus Christ

And let Christ’s love abide in you.

This is the sweet spot were the greatest and best fruit will be harvested.

When you and I can be the love of Christ living in this world

The rest will take care of itself.

There is great comfort,

Great confidence,

In trusting in our divine gardener.

It is by the efforts of the true gardener that fruit is produced,

Not by anything we have said or done.

Fruit happens organically

Because the vine is true, and the gardener is good.

Apart from Jesus you can do nothing.

Apart from Jesus you can do nothing.

Sadly, most of us assume that doing something is equated with

Wealth, power, status, property

And having a “Leave it to Beaver” type of perfect family.

This is not true.

We all know people who live their lives in the love of Christ

Yet, their poverty overwhelms them,

Cancer is overcoming them,

Or their families are a wreck.

Likewise, we all know people who live with such wealth

And with such disregard for others,

Yet, still find it possible to climb to the highest,

Most privileged seats in society.

What gives?

Apart from Jesus, you and I can do nothing.

It isn’t about doing something.

Jesus is speaking about abiding in his love.

He’s talking about making

Our home in His love.

Separate ourselves from the love of Jesus,

From the love of God,

And the world begins to reveal itself for its true nature:

Treasure rusts.

Property become dilapidated and returns to dust.

Families go their separate ways.

Estates are dispersed.

Status is forgotten as soon as the undertaker makes his house call.

Have faith in the divine gardener’s larger plan.

It is a plan which we cannot know.

Failure to abide in Jesus results in

Destruction and forgotten memories.

There is no future in focusing on fruitless branches.

There is no point in comparing ourselves

To other disciples or other communities of faith.

Our only future is to make our home in the abiding love of Jesus Christ.

We cannot discern what is happening to the rest of the vine.

The work of the other branches is the work of the Father.

Our sole responsibility to the rest of the branches is to love.

If you abide in Jesus, ask and it will be done for you.

Little doubt what a branch is to ask for.

Ask to be fruitful!

The purpose of abiding in Jesus,

Of living in His love,

And welcoming the love of Christ to take root and grow in our lives

Is simply to glorify the Father.

Our faithfulness will result in bearing much fruit.

Living in the love of Christ

And welcoming Him into every aspect of our lives

Will lead us

On our eternal journey that carries us

Directly to the center of His heart.

Glorify the Father.

Abide in Christ.

Live in His love.

Amen.

“The Good Shepherd”

John 10:11-18

April 25, 2021 – Easter 4B

the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 10:11-18

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

| Centering Prayer |

Today’s Good News marks a

Post Easter shift

From eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection

  • The empty tomb
  • Twice to the Upper Room
  • On the road to Emmaus
  • On the shore on the Sea of Galilee
  • To the moment of ascension

To reflecting upon who this resurrected Christ truly is and

What it means to us today.

This is a core characteristic of John’s Gospel.

John provides multiple witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel identifies beyond a shadow of a doubt

The human and divine identity of Jesus.

John challenges early Church Christians,

And us today,

To grow our relationship with Christ,

Deepen our faith, and

Witness to what we know.

Consider the grand opening of John’s Gospel.

“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. 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.”

– 1:1-5, 14

He speaks of God who existed before time began

And through whom all things came into being.

Jesus is the Word,

Became flesh,

And dwelt among us.

Using sweeping “I Am” statements

That echo the great “I Am” of the Torah and prophets

We hear Jesus saying

  • “I Am the vine, you are the branches.” – 15:5
  • “I Am the bread of life.” – 6:35
  • “I Am the light of the world.” – 8:12
  • And today, “I Am the good shepherd.” – 10:11

The reason for this shift

From witness to identity is simple:

John wants identity to become the seed

Of a personal relationship between you and Jesus.

Christ wants into your life.

The context for the Gospel today

Is a larger narrative of a man born blind,

Being outcast and isolated like so many of us have been

Isolated, quarantined, and locked down this past year.

The man didn’t lose his sight.

He was born without sight.

When asked if sin was the cause of his blindness,

Jesus stops,

Makes mud with his spit, 

Spreads the mud on the man’s eyes, and

Tells him to wash in the pool of Siloam.

Simple.

A gift of sight.

From the only source of sight.

Jesus gives him sight, something only a supernatural God can do.

The newly sighted man testifies only to his personal experience.

Pharisees investigates the man and his parents.

This only amplifies the man’s testimony of divine intervention at the hand of Jesus.

Jesus found him, gave him sight, brought him into the fold.

From begging by the side of the road, he is invited into the community, where there is safety and abundance.

This example right here, friends,

Is the work of a good shepherd.

John assumes a knowledgeable Hebrew audience who is

Well educated in Jewish law and tradition.

All would know the familiar 23rd Psalm.

It begins with:

“The Lord is my shepherd.” – Ps 23:1

Who is Jesus?

He’s the good shepherd, John tells us.

At the same time

The Psalmist tells us

The Lord is my shepherd.

Therefore, Jesus is my Lord.

See how the Gospel of John lays his theological foundation?

This Psalm paints a picture of royalty,

Of a Lord

Who is powerful, steady, loving, understanding, comforting, providing.

Many in the crowd probably also knew

the conclusion of Psalm 79.

“… we your people, the flock of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.” – Ps 79:13

Beyond the Psalms

One only has to turn to the prophet Ezekiel

To hear further echoes of John’s Gospel: 

“I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out …

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep,

and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God.”

– Ezekiel 34:11, 15

Who is Jesus?

He’s the good shepherd.

At the same time

Ezekiel reports

The Lord is the shepherd of his sheep.

Therefore, Jesus is my Lord.

QED, John completes the theorem.

Thus, it is demonstrated that

Jesus is Lord.

The question of Jesus’ identity

Is rooted in the Pharisees relentless, often paranoid inquiry

And the crowds enthusiastic curiosity:

Who are you and from where have you come?

The Pharisees had a good thing going

And they didn’t want any backwater redneck to throw a monkey wrench into the cogs of organized religion.

Organized religion was printing money for them hand over fist.

It was laying their golden eggs.

Likewise, the crowds eagerly sought a new Messiah,

A political solution to the Roman occupation and oppression.

They wanted to know if Jesus was the one

Who was sent by God

To save them from their captivity.

Quite patiently

John lays out the case for who Jesus is.

He is NOT an unreliable hired hand who runs in the face of danger.

Jesus stands up in the face of danger

And protects his sheep from all worldly perils.

Jesus calls his sheep,

Feeds and waters his sheep,

And tends to their every need.

Jesus knows each and every one of his sheep by name

And his sheep personally know him.

One-to-one.

With no intermediary.

Jesus is willing to give his life for his sheep,

And we know he eventually does.

Jesus ultimately is the one who

Will bring all sheep together,

Sheep in other folds tended by Jesus of whom we have no knowledge.

He will bring us together to make one flock.

All well and good, if we are to believe

The Good News was only relevant to Jesus’ followers,

His detractors,

And perhaps the first century Church.

That is an argument I’m not willing to sell.

My faith leads me to believe that

The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is also meant for us today.

John’s message about identity is meant for

Pharisees,

Followers,

Early Church Christians,

And for each of us today,

living out our Christian journey half a world away 2,000 years later.

“I Am the Good Shepherd” begs the question

Who is Jesus to you?

Who is Jesus and why has his life, death, and resurrection intersected with yours?

You’ve heard witness of his death and resurrection the past three weeks.

Now you are hearing the case John makes for his identity as shepherd and Lord.

Is Jesus the topic to be avoided at work and in social circles?

Is Jesus the one who is to be denied if pressed by inquiring minds?

Is Jesus the necessary consequence of doing the right thing by going to church on Sundays?

Perhaps Jesus is simply a historical character who models good moral behavior.

Perhaps Jesus is just the focus of a delusional Church.

Perhaps Jesus is a necessary psychological crutch that we need to get through life.

Everybody has an opinion, and believe me, I’ve heard them all.

I cannot tell you what to believe.

I am only able to witness to you

what I believe.

You are invited to make up your own mind.

Jesus is my shepherd, and he is good.

He has provided for my family and I every day of my life.

I have never been in want of food, drink, or shelter.

I have always been loved and cared for.

Jesus sought me

Just as he sought the man born blind.

Jesus brought me into the fold at my baptism

Just as Jesus gave the blind man the divine gift of sight

Bringing him out of isolation and into community.

I have come to know that

Jesus knows me through-and-through;

The good, the bad, and, yes, the ugly.

There is no hiding from him.

Jesus is the source of my healing when I’ve been broken.

Jesus is the one who judges me and forgives me, when I have sinned, confessed, and begged for forgiveness.

I fully anticipate Jesus will be the one who saves me into eternal life.

I know that Jesus was willing to give his life for me, because he did.

I know that Jesus is at work bringing all of God’s people back into his one fold;

Into his eternal kingdom.

I know it, because I’ve lived it.

I know it, because I’m living it.

This is my witness to you.

Won’t you join me?

In your thoughts this week,

I’d like you to focus on this essential question:

Who is Jesus and why has he come into your life?

Make it be all about you.

This is one occasion where it’s good to make it “all about me.”

Who is Jesus to you?

Why is Jesus in your life?

Let me know where your thoughts and prayers lead you.

Let me know how you have been drawn closer

To our good shepherd.

Amen.

“Simply Be Peace”

Luke 24:36b-48

April 18, 2021 – Third Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 24:36b-48 http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=390623186

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

| Centering Prayer |

Whenever a scripture passage begins with

“While they were talking about this, …”

The preacher better be prepared to talk about what this is.

This is what the disciples were talking about:

Cleopas and another disciple were walking to Emmaus earlier in the day

When the resurrected Jesus appeared and joined them.

Strange; they did not recognize Jesus.

It is as if he was unexpected.

They told the apparent stranger of all the events they had just experienced:

Arrest, passion, suffering, death, the burial of Christ.

They briefed him about the women’s report.

They said the tomb was empty.

They claimed to have met and spoke with two angels who told them that Jesus was alive.

The still unrecognized Jesus calls Cleopas and the other disciple fools for being

Slow of heart and

Not believing in the teaching of prophets (Ouch!).

Then begins to teach them about himself and the scriptures.

As they approach the village of Emmaus

It becomes apparent that the mysterious traveler intended to leave them.

Cleopas and the other disciple invite the unrecognized Jesus to dinner.

At dinner, during the hospitable act of breaking and blessing the bread,

Their eyes were opened.

They saw the Lord.

They recognized Jesus.

Miracle number one: Jesus rose from the dead.

Miracle number two: Jesus vanished from their sight.

They became so excited that

They immediately dropped everything,

Returned to Jerusalem, and

Told the other disciples all that had happened.

“While they were talking about this,” (24:36)

This is the this, our passage begins with today.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus begins. (24:36)

Like every ghost we have ever heard about,

Just as Jesus dematerialized

In the presence of Cleopas and the other disciple just hours earlier,

He now miraculously materializes right in front of the eyes all the gathered disciples.

This is something like right out of a scene of Star Trek.

The Gospel account in Luke is different than John.

In Luke, this is the first post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to all his disciples.

They are startled and terrified.

Already, they were locked away in the Upper Room

For fear of the Jewish authorities and crowds.

‘They came for Jesus.

They bagged their man.

They’re next coming for us,’

Or so they probably thought.

Already, their collective anxiety was through the roof.

When Jesus appears out of thin air,

They are startled and terrified.

Which begs me to asks,

What startles and terrifies you?

“Peace be with you,” Jesus says.

Jesus appears to correlate fear with doubt.

“Why are you frightened, and

Why do doubts arise in your hearts?” he asks. (24:38)

Perhaps, if we address our fears,

We might be able to better able to get a grasp

On our faith and our doubts.

Perhaps, we might be able to

Keep our doubts constrained,

At the same time, we might be able to

Deepen and broaden our faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ.

What startles and terrifies us?

It is impossible for me to speak on your behalf

Or from your experience.

I can only speak from my personal experience of fear.

What do I fear? What terrifies me?

First, and foremost,

My greatest fear is harm coming to my immediate family,

Cynthia, Nicholas, or Christian.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus tells me.

Intellectually, I can think through the theological jungle gym;

God is watching over each of us in the family.

We should – I should – just trust in the Lord.

And leave the rest up to God.

Emotionally, I’m far more at peace

With my own passion, suffering, and death,

Than I am with the suffering and mortality of those I love.

Yet, every day, from my privileged point-of-view,

I experience faithful, God-fearing Christians

Being put through the wringer

Of a loved one’s passion, suffering, and death.

Frankly, I shake my head in awe

At the amazing capacity for faith that you, and others, show me

All

The

Time.

I can only pray that

If, and when, I should have to go through such painful circumstances

That I will have a fraction of the faith and strength to endure my gale.

“Peace be with you,” the Body of Christ reassures me.

What startles or brings you fear?

For many, I’m confident that we share our greatest fear:

Harm, pain, or suffering coming to our family and loved ones.

I’m asking you to join me in deeper introspection.

What do you fear?

Some fear a pop quiz, a final exam, an end of semester grade.

Some fear that teacher, professor, confrontation, being misunderstood.

Some fear the prospect of changing majors, disappointing parents or peers.

Some fear there won’t be a job at the end of the line, only debt.

Some fear that they just don’t fit in, aren’t bright enough, or good looking.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus gives to you.

Some fear Covid19.

Some fear being ruined by the pandemic.

Some fear not being able to pay bills.

Some fear unemployment.

Some fear being forced to choose between food and their prescription medicine.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus says to you.

Some fear the government.

Some fear our government taking away liberties.

Some fear being racially profiled, pulled over, shaken down, and shot down by authorities.

Some fear our local, state, and national leadership.

Some fear war with China, Russia, North Korea, or Iran.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus tells all who follow him.

What do you fear?

Some fear technology, social media, big data.

Some fear the loss of privacy.

Some fear being hacked, personal data and identity stolen, and bank account wiped clean.

Some fear being spied upon.

Some fear losing control of everything.

Some fear science, research, and innovation.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus says to you.

Some fear going to a nursing home, lingering long, becoming a burden.

Some fear pain and suffering.

Some fear disease, loss of cognitive abilities, becoming the victim of abuse.

Some fear falling off the wagon, having a mental health breakdown, overdosing.

Some fear going to the doctor.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus tells you.

Some fear our church will come out of this pandemic wounded, weak, and in decline.

Some fear our church growing, the loss of personal control, the awkward hassle of associating with new people.

Some fear handing over the reigns of leadership to the next generation.

Some fear the Holy Spirit taking control and driving this train!

“Peace be with you,” Jesus says to us.

Some fear prayer, opening a direct, intimate line with God.

Some fear judgment, punishment, wrath, going to hell.

Some fear making peace, ending old grudges and offenses.

Some fear the prospect of forgiving or being forgiven.

Some fear eternal life.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus says to us.

We are the Body of Christ;

It is our responsibility to extend the peace of Jesus,

Even as we are recipients of his peace.

Being vessels of Christ’s peace,

Stills our fears,

Lessens our doubt,

And strengthens our faith.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus materializes right in front of their eyes.

He brings recognition to some of his disciples,

Showing them his wounds.

For those still stunned, whirling, or questioning

Jesus gives them more.

“Have you anything here to eat?” (24:41)

Ghostly apparitions don’t have a functioning GI tract.

More importantly,

The hospitable act of breaking bread had become the signature act of Jesus and those who follow him.

Peace be with you.

Jesus brings assurance to his disciples

By opening their minds to understand scripture,

“That everything written about me in the law of Moses,

The prophets, and

The psalms must be fulfilled.” (24:44b)

Diving deep into scripture;

Academically, critically, emotionally, prayerfully, spiritually, worshipfully;  

Diving deep into scripture and drinking it in completely

Brings peace.

Peace be with you.

“You are witnesses of these things,” Jesus teaches his disciples then, even as he informs us today.

“You are witnesses in my name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (24:47b-48)

Disciples. Christ followers. That make you and me witnesses.

Witnesses testify.

If you’re not testifying to others about the risen Christ

And what he brings to the world,

You’re doing it wrong.

Christians witness and testify,

Some more, some less,

Some better, some not so certain,

All somewhere on the spectrum between absolute belief and doubt.

Oh, I forgot to add …

Some fear old school evangelism, knocking on doors, inviting people to church!

Some fear speaking up and giving a personal testimony about how God is interacting with your life.

Some fear the witness, the possibility of rejection, ridicule, confrontation.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus tells us.

Take a deep breath.

Start small.

Make a friend.

Be a friend.

Build a network of relationships and fill each full of love.

They will know we are Christians by our love.

Speak from your personal experience.

Marry your word with the hospitality of the table,

Exactly as Jesus did.

God stirs the souls of those who bring together Word and Table.

Start local.

Gain traction.

Spread your witness and experience.

Watch it take off like wildfire.

Be assured,

Responsibility to witness doesn’t rest completely on any one disciple.

The responsibility to take the witness of Jesus Christ global

Is upon the network of friends and relationships we call

The Body of Christ.

“Peace be with you.”

Be not afraid.

Witness to your experience.

Simply be peace.

Simply believe.

Amen.

“Recognition”

John 20:19-31

April 11, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

| Centering Prayer |

For a seven-year period

The bishop appointed me ‘beyond the local church’

To serve as the Director of Education for the Alzheimer’s Association.

I learned much about neurodegenerative diseases and how to care for people experiencing these devastating illnesses.

My staff and I taught professionals and family loved ones,

Throughout an eleven-county area.

We taught in nursing homes, group homes, churches, day programs, and firehouses.

We taught professional and lay care partners alike

How to care for people with dignity and respect regarding history, respect, culture, religion, core values, safety, and love.

The pathology and progression of a neurodegenerative disease,

Such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or ALS,

Correlates with a change in behaviors and the ability to communicate.

When the region of the brain that controls short-term memory is impaired,

We taught the value of routine: Establish a routine, maintain a routine, and God help those who disrupt the routine!

The value of getting in a rut is that you know where you are going.

As we age, many of us fear the loss of memory or recognition.

The normal slide, starting in our twenties, is called ‘Age Associated Memory Impairment,’ or AAMI.

It’s normal to experience a gentle, gradual, decline of cognitive ability.

A neurodegenerative disease is a sharp deviation from normal and not in a good way.

How does one tell the difference?

I run into a familiar person in public.

I look at their face, but I draw a blank.

It is even more difficult in this pandemic season when everyone is wearing a mask.

“What is his or her name?” I ask myself,

Hoping not to embarrass myself if caught in my failure to recognize.

Researchers and doctors taught us to teach you to perseverate.

Rack your brain for the next 24-hours.

Try to remember.

If you eventually remember, that’s generally a good sign that you can probably wait to report this to your doctor at your next regular appointment.

If, however, after a day of trying to put together a face and a name and you just can’t remember, call your doctor, make an appointment, and inform your doctor of your memory concerns.

You’re welcome.

Recognition.

I raise your awareness about recognition

Because of the difficultly disciples of Jesus had recognizing the resurrected Christ.

Today, John reports his disciples were locked away and fearful from the crowds on the evening of the first day of the week.

Locked down. Fearful.

Everyone of us living through this horrid pandemic should understand what they were experiencing.

Last Sunday we heard about the first two witnesses to the resurrection,

John, the disciple Jesus loved, and Mary Magdalene, the one who misidentified Jesus as the gardener.

John saw the empty tomb and believed. Period.

Mary recognized Jesus when he spoke her name. Mary believed.

In a parallel sort of way, today Jesus first appears to his ten disciples

(12 minus Judas and Thomas).

When he appears he fulfills his prior promise to fill them with the power of his Holy Spirit.

Jesus then appears to a skeptical Thomas a week later, when recognition of the resurrected Lord came when Jesus showed Thomas his wounds.

The disciples witnessed Jesus materialize right before their very eyes.

He kept his promise.

He had the wounds to prove it.

Jesus was alive.

“The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” (20:20)

Thomas, a week later, was invited to touch his wounds.

Thomas recognized the Lord, not by sight, but by examination of the laceration and puncture marks.

He recognized the Lord, with his witness and confession, “My Lord and my God!” (20:28)

Following today’s resurrection narrative, the Gospel of John reports Jesus appeared to seven of his disciples on the Sea of Galilee.

They failed to recognize Jesus until he gave them a fishing tip that resulted in a miraculous catch of 153 fish. (21:11)

It took a divine miracle brought recognition to those seven disciples.

What can be learned and applied to our lives today?

1. Christian disciples are all over the spectrum between belief and doubt in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It’s normal.

You’re normal.

(I’d say ‘I’m normal’, but there may be some who don’t believe me).

Strength of faith does not correlate with absolute belief.

We shouldn’t judge others who express doubt as being weak or flawed.

We should be patient and love those who have normal doubts and applaud their courage to express them openly.

Likewise, I suggest you go easy on yourself if you find yourself somewhere on the spectrum sliding between absolute faith and complete doubt.

Faith is hard work, and doubt is difficult to ignore.

There is no shame or guilt for doubt, regardless of amount or duration.

I recognize doubt as the environment …

… the people, the place, the time, the circumstances …

That are necessary for you and I to have an interaction with Jesus,

To recognize ‘Christ has died. Christ is risen! Christ will come again!’

Recognition results in our confession and witness to the world

That Jesus is my Lord and my God.

2. We each have diverse motives and needs to recognize Jesus.

Each of us are different,

Shaped by our life experiences, childhood development, values, parents, and faith community (or lack, thereof).

For some, recognizing and believing in the resurrection of Jesus comes as easy as water off a duck’s back.

Others need to hear Jesus call us by name.

Others need to see his apparition.

Yet others, require the awareness of the Holy Spirit dwelling within and empowering their life.

Others, like Thomas, need to be able to physically touch Jesus to believe he is alive.

And others need a full-fledged, over-the-top, water-into-wine kind of miracle to open their eyes.

The Gospel of John recognizes the diversity of Christians

And intentionally lays out numerous ways for us to come to recognition.

Doubt is expected and is normal.

God’s grace meets us where we are at.

Grace does not require us to be a square peg pounded into a round hole of doctrine, theology, or belief.

It is by grace alone that we are drawn to that day of Christian perfection, when we, too, will recognize and proclaim, “My Lord and my God.”

3. Faith comes to those who perseverate.

How does this work?

Make your faith and commitment to follow Jesus a priority in your thoughts as you go about your day and make your way through the week.

Perseverate on Jesus;

His life,

His teachings,

His actions, behaviors, and motives,

His love,

His death and resurrection.

Recognition comes to those who perseverate about Jesus.

Facing a difficult test or paper?

Consider the role of Jesus.

He will love you regardless of the outcome.

Fail to study one subject or topic sufficiently?

Jesus is the author of forgiveness and redemption. Study harder next time, like Jesus did when he was a youth left behind at the Temple and was found learning from the Rabbis.

Knock that test out of the park and earn a top grade?

That exceptional grade is just a taste of the salvation offered by a resurrected Lord.

Recognition of the resurrected Christ comes to those who perseverate about him.

Facing the end of life?

Consider the end of Christ’s life.

Can you associate your personal suffering with his suffering, abuse, passion, and death?

He cared for his mother while on the cross.

Consider how Christ is leading you to care for your family for your eventual absence.

Think about Christ’s death, his ability to wholly and completely surrender to the will of his heavenly Father.

Carrying a heavy load of sin or regret to your grave?

Jesus paid your bill and didn’t even leave a receipt.

Atonement for sins?

His permanent scars on his hands, feet, and side

Are a reminder that atonement isn’t a one-and-done proposition.

Atonement is a moment-by-moment, ongoing, intimate relationship with Jesus.

Perseverate your thoughts on Jesus.

Make him a priority in your thoughts as you face every challenge in your life.

Thinking about Jesus all the time does not turn you into a Jesus freak or a holy roller.

Thinking persistently about Jesus Christ creates a worldview that provides the opportunity to address issues of evil and suffering, trauma and pain, war and peace, righteousness and justice, healing and grace.

4. Take time to linger; hang around with Jesus.

Mary lingered outside the empty tomb.

The disciples lingered, a week later in the upper room.

Lingering around Jesus creates space for recognition to happen.

Lingering, watching, waiting is a rhythm that is like that of Advent; The season of anticipation; waiting for Jesus to be born; waiting for Christ to come again.

The God of my experience leads me to believe the day is coming when I will meet Jesus face to face.

Will I recognize him? I hope so.

I’ve been preparing for a lifetime

To grow my faith, deepen my belief, focus my life on Jesus

With the hope and prayer that I have come to recognize my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and enthusiastically witness to his name, that all may come to believe, “and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (20:31)

Are you prepared to meet Jesus face-to-face?

There is no time like the present to start making preparations.

Amen.  

“From Sorrow to Joy!”

John 20:1-18

1st Sunday of Easter, B

April 4, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 20:1-18 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=389420953)

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

| Centering Prayer |

Last Sunday our worship started with a bang!

Joyous “Hosanna” and waving of palm branches

Was followed by the reading of the Palm Sunday

Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey.

“All glory, laud, and honor 
to you, Redeemer, King, 
to whom the lips of children 
made sweet hosannas ring. 
You are the King of Israel 
and David’s royal Son, 
now in the Lord’s name coming, 
the King and Blessed One.”

(Tune: St. Theodulph, Author: Theodulf, Bishop of Orleans, 820 AD)

The Messiah had entered the Holy City! We proclaimed.

We were giddy with revolutionary zeal.

We knew God was on our side

And our occupation and oppression was soon to be ended.

Our taste for freedom had been wet,

And the future never appeared so promising.

But, faster than a whiplash

The wind left our sails;

Our bellows collapsed like a deflated whoopie cushion.

Jesus was arrested, imprisoned,

Tried on trumped up charges,

Sentenced to death, flogged, humiliated,

Crucified, died, pierced,

and his bloodied corpse was buried in a borrowed tomb;

All within the span of three nights and three days.

The passion stunned, froze, and traumatized us.

Hope had been replaced by despair.

Life had been stolen and replaced with meat on a slab.

Light had been replaced by darkness.

It doesn’t get much darker than defeat,

Especially when it appears that

Our God blew the lead in game seven.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

(Words: Negro Spiritual, Tune: Were You There)

Night fell on Friday.

Darkness overcame all but one candle.

We left the service in darkness and silence.

Today, Good News!

With the dawn’s early light and the rising of the sun,

We have news that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!

“Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia! 
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia! 
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia! 
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!”

(Tune: Easter Hymn, Text: Charles Wesley, 1707-1788)

Bust out the lilies.

Brush open the blinds.

Break out the Alleluias!

The embargo is over.

Light triumphs over darkness!

Life is victorious over death!

From triumph to shock,

From sorrow to joy,

The path of discipleship

Bucks like a bull that doesn’t want to be ridden.

From our Jewish ancestry

We follow a similar path from Lent to Easter;

Remembering the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Our path resembles the one traveled by our Jewish sisters and brothers

Remembering Passover from a first-person point of view;

Freedom from Egyptian captivity, the gift of the Law, journey through the wilderness, and passage into the promised land of Israel.

To remember

Is to experience the journey.

We tell the story.

We live the story.

We become first-person, eye-witnesses to the story

Of freedom, redemption, and salvation.

When we become so intimately woven into the story

Of passion, death, and resurrection,

We become like the disciple,

“the one whom Jesus loved,” (20:2)

The first to the empty tomb and the first to believe.

We don’t need anything more

Than an empty grave and a pile of bloody burial cloths.

Our relationship with Jesus is so close

That we don’t have to witness his resuscitation.

We don’t have to see his face, his hands, his side, his feet.

We don’t even have to hear his voice.

We are just filled with joy!

We know that Christ is alive!

Christ is risen!

The most important divine interaction with creation has just taken place

And we’ve been privileged to have been a first person eye witness.

Forgiveness and salvation become the capstone.

Christ’s historical ministry has been transfigured into one that

Transcends time,

Glorifies God, and

Brings to creation the gift of the Spirit.

At our Good Friday service light faded to darkness.

White faded to black.

Night fell.

I know some of us are so closely in love and relationship with Christ

That we’ve become one with the “beloved disciple”;

The one who just knows,

And is ready to witness to,

The resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Yes, life sometimes gets in the way of faith.

I get that.

Yes, sometimes we slide on the spectrum between belief and disbelief

Like furniture on a sinking ship.

It is sometimes true for me, too.

But, for many of us,

We need something more.

Often, I need more than just the memory or the experience.

We might be more of a kindred spirit with Mary from Magdala.

Mary Magdalene finds faith another way.

Mary lingers.

Mary’s examination of the empty tomb and cast aside burial clothing

Resulted, first, in her anger –

An assumption that Jesus’ corpse had been stolen,

To, secondly, sadness and weeping –

Over her apparent failure

To care for, and respect, the dead:

“They have taken away my Lord,

and I do not know where they have laid him.” (20:13)

Mary came and saw.

She saw the stone had rolled away.

She saw two angels in white through the tears in her eyes.

Angels! Mind you! She saw angels!

Mary hears the voice of angels, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (20:13)

Mary responds to angels from the Lord by answering their question.

Mary turns and she saw.

She saw Jesus, face to face.

Jesus! Mind you! Mary saw Jesus!

The corpse she had seen dead and buried no more than 72 hours ago

Was standing right in front of her

Fully breathing, alive, and engaged in a conversation.

Holy, Zombieland!

Mary sees, but, as of yet, fails to recognize her BFF.

Mary hears the voice of Jesus.

He asks the same question the two angels asked,

Woman, why are you weeping?” (20:15)

One would think his voice would be familiar to her.

After-all, she had been on the road with his “Traveling Salvation Show”

For the past 3 years.

She thought she was talking to the gardener.

Resurrection was so outside her realm of understanding

It wasn’t even considered.

In her traumatized mind

She was talking to the gardener.

Mary only comes to recognition and belief

When Jesus speaks her name, “Mary!” (20:16)

Remember Jesus earlier teaching

“Very truly, I tell you,

The one who enters by the gate

is the shepherd of the sheep. 

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him,

and the sheep hear his voice.

He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 

When he has brought out all his own,

he goes ahead of them,

and the sheep follow him

because they know his voice.” (10:1-4)

The Good Shepherd calls his own by name

And they know his voice.

Like Mary, many of us come to recognize the Risen Christ

Through the Word of Christ,

And by his Word,

We are see and

We are fed.

Remember the majestic opening to the Gospel of John,

“The Word was made flesh … and dwelt among us,” (1:14)

The Word,

Christ’s spoken word and his broken body,

Together with his willingness to call and claim us by name

over our baptismal waters,

Is what keeps our ever ebbing and flowing faith

Confined within acceptable limits.

The Word speaking our name

Brings recognition to us.

Now we know who we’re talking to!

Now we know we are seeing the resurrected Jesus!

Christ is made known and present,

Inviting each of us to engage deeply in relationship with him

And with one another.

To experience the story,

Many will join the movement from sorrow to joy

With the proclamation, “Christ is risen!”

Others will come from sorrow to joy by another route.

We have to have our creaky scaffolding of faith

Sustained and supported by the Word of Christ.

Regardless of how we make progress on the journey

Together we can join the movement from sorrow to joy

Blending our voices this day, proclaiming, “Christ is risen!”

Christ is risen, indeed!

Alleluia!

Amen.

(Thanks for the creative insights to the Beloved Disciple and Mary Magdalene is extended to Craddock, Hayes, Holladay, and Tucker in their 1990 commentary, “Preaching the New Common Lectionary Year B Lent, Holy Week, Easter”.)

“Five Good Friday Meditations”

John 18:1 – John 19: 42

April 2, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

(The inspiration for these meditations come from “Preaching the New Common Lectionary Year B” by Craddock, Hayes, Holladay, and Tucker. 1990)

Meditation #1: “Resistance”

(John 18:1-12)  http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=389163373

After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him.

In John,

Jesus does not resist.

Jesus does not resist the detachment of soldiers,

Uniquely described in this Gospel,

Totaling an estimated 600 men.

Jesus does not resist the police from the Chief Priests and the Pharisees,

Estimated to be another 400 well armed men.

One thousand man posse.

Jesus does not resist the political and religious powers of this world

That have joined in opposition to the Word of God.

“In the beginning was the Word …

And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” (1:1, 14)

Jesus does not resist,

But he remains in charge.

His hour had come.

He knew it.

He accepted it.

“Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (18:11b)

Take heart.

Jesus remains in charge.

Meditation #2: “Jesus in Charge”

(John 18:13-27)  http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=389165244

First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people. Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

Jesus was arrested and forcibly held that night

In a dungeon beneath the house of Caiaphas.

He was lowered down by a rope.

One way in.

One way out.

One would think the authorities had the upper hand.

They moved the levers of influence.

They had the weapons.

They had the power.

Yet, Jesus remained in charge.

His hour had come.

Since Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead,

The outcome of his trial had been planned and settled.

The trial of Peter, on the other hand, would continue.

The trials of Apostles and Martyrs would continue.

Our trials today continue.

With premeditation,

Jesus was signed, sealed, and delivered to the cross.

God’s will was about to be done.

Meditation #3: Irony

(John 18:28-19:16) http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=389165557

Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.) Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.” Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.”

Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

Oh, the irony of Jesus before Pilate!

Christ, the one in chains, is in charge!

Pilate the governor, shuffles back and forth with indecision

Like a school child trying to please everyone,

Pleasing no one.

Oh, the irony of Jesus before those who would indite him!

The Jewish crowd preached

Righteousness according to the Law, on the one hand,

Yet, they were calling for the murder of Jesus,

A violation of the Ten Commandments, on the other hand.

Oh, the irony of Jesus before his accusers!

How quickly they would confess their true faith:

“We have no king but the emperor.”

On Passover,

The anniversary of freedom from Pharaoh,

Pharaoh is embraced.

Oh, the irony.

Meditation #4: Our Good Shepherd and King

(John 19:17-30)   http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=389165697

So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.

Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

“I am the Good Shepherd,” Jesus taught.

Indeed, Christ was the Good Shepherd until the end.

As he hung there dying

Jesus made arrangements for the care of his mother,

Mary the wife of Clopas,

and Mary Magdalene.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, gives his life for his sheep.

Even Pilate knew what the crowd did not:

That Jesus was the King of the Jews.

He had it printed up there in three different languages

So that everyone would know where he stood.

“What I have written I have written,” he informs

Those who just confessed that the emperor was their king.

What would only become apparent in hindsight

Is that Jesus Christ is the King of all God’s creation.

By his death, he promised to ascend from the grave.

By his resurrection, he promised to ascend to the right hand of his Father.

These aren’t empty promises from a wise Rabbi

Who had a large following,

Who’s own followers turned on him.

These promises would be fulfilled

By the One who keeps his word,

Is faithful to his covenants,

Who has the power and the love

To be our King.

These are the promises of our King!

Meditation #5: The New Exodus

(John 19:31-42)  http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=389165782

Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

The dirty work was left up to the soldiers,

Grunts on the ground.

The very ones who had flogged Jesus,

Dressed him like a comic and struck him in the face,

Pounded stakes through his hands and feet,

And raised up wine on a stick right before Jesus died

Now had the responsibility to remove the corpse from the public’s eye.

It was the soldiers who hand divided his clothes,

Had scorned him with their taunts,

Who had cast lots for his seamless tunic,

To fulfill scripture.

Sometimes the movement of God

Is nearly imperceptible,

Like a 3.2 earthquake three states away.

It was the soldiers who didn’t break a corpse’s legs,

Instead pierced it in the side

“so that scripture might be fulfilled. (19:36)

The soldiers found more courage in scripture and in life

Than Joseph and Nicodemus could only find in death.

Christ dies as the Passover lamb,

Exactly according to scripture,

And thus his caretakers treat his corpse.

This Passover proclaims a new exodus,

Not from Egyptian slavery,

But from bondage to sin and death.

A new exodus has begun;

The water and blood of Christ co-mingled

Becomes a new cosmic reality.

Through Baptism and Eucharist

We now venture out into an unexplored spiritual landscape.

We now leave behind the self, the finality of death.

We now make a new exodus:

We are now the Body of Christ.

We’ve become his body.

“Love One Another”

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Maundy Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

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

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

| Centering Prayer |

Today’s message comes in three meditations with a moment of silent reflection following each.

1. Knowing

That the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas to betray him,

Jesus loved his own who were in the world,

He loved them to the end;

Yes, Jesus even loved Judas Iscariot.

Knowing

That the Father had given all things into his hands,

And that he had come from God

And was going to God,

Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and wiped them with a towel,

An act that would have usually been relegated to

The servant of the lowest stature.

It must have been an interesting dynamic

When Jesus stoops to wash the feet of Judas.

What was Judas thinking?

Were his eyes filling with tears?

Or were his teeth clenched in rage?

John leaves little to the imagination what Jesus was thinking:

Love and service.  

Love, then serve.

Start with love.

Always lead with love.

“Have you loved them first?”

I gently asked a fellow Christian,

Who was filled with frustration and anger

Over the apparent apathy of others.

Granted, apathy isn’t in the same league as betrayal;

But both are to be turned back to

Our Lord’s ultimate concern …

Judgment is God’s affair,

Not yours, mind, or anyone else.

Lead with love.

Love the easy to love.

Love these who are more difficult to love.

Love one another with the same love that Jesus had for Judas.

A question for your reflection:

How does the fact that Jesus loved Judas

Enough to wash his feet,

Enough to love him to the end,

Impact your life

And your relationship with Christ?

(Silent reflection)

2. Resistance.

While we don’t know how others responded,

Peter responds with resistance.

He resists Jesus’ effort to love him

Every step of the way.

Knowing

That his hour had come to depart from this world

And go to the Father,

Jesus comes to Simon Peter with a bowl and towel in hand.

Unlike Judas,

Who had conspired with the devil

And had already put his plan of betrayal into motion,

Simon Peter probably hadn’t even thought of denying Jesus.

It mind not even crossed his mind.

Denial had no discernable premeditation.

Bold, brash, and full of himself;

Peter’s self-confidence

And personal belief that

He was taking part in some grand, history making political insurrection

Probably keep him blind to his greatest vulnerability:

Denying Jesus if cornered and threatened.

To one degree, or another,

Isn’t our Christian bravado similar to Simon Peter’s?

Of course, we’d never deny Jesus,

Even if put in a pinch,

We say to ourselves.

Of course, we’d never allow Jesus to wash our feet,

Even though our life might be a wreck and

We are soiled and covered in filth.

Of course, we’d never allow Jesus to love us,

In such a way that would crack our most stubborn defenses.

But then, we find ourselves

Whistling while walking past the graveyard at night,

Wondering,

If it could happen to Simon Peter,

Maybe it could happen to me, too.

Would you or I deny Jesus if cornered or threatened?

(Silent reflection)

3. Christian bravado and pride

Has a potent antidote,

Jesus teaches us;

Humility.

Humble service.

Loving service.

Practically speaking,

Should we be in the business of foot washing for cleanliness sake?

Or, should we be in the business of serving others

To remove all that makes one and the world unclean?

Christ’s love is leading us to clean up the world,

Starting right here,

Right now,

With you and me

Before this Table.

There is no greater symbol of humility,

Of service and love,

Than our Lord, Jesus

Sharing his body and blood

For the forgiveness and salvation of creation.

His body and blood makes us clean.  

The loving sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood

Is cosmic in reach, while

Personal in experience.

Bread and wine fill us

And remind us,

Of God’s great love for us.

Love tenderizes the heart

And leads one to roll up the sleeves.

Love spreads faster than Covid-19

And is more powerful than any treatment, surgery, or therapy.

Love teaches by example

Causing all the world to take notice.

Love one another,

That all the world will

Know

That you and I

Are disciples of Jesus Christ.

Does the world see Jesus in your love?

(Silent reflection)

Amen.

“For This Reason I Have Come”

John 12:20-33

March 21, s021 – Fifth Sunday of Lent

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 12:20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

| Centering Prayer |

It is my habit to listen to podcasts in the car.

I heard one podcast commentator recently say,

“We’re all going to die; and it’s going to be hilarious!”

I nearly drove off the road.

The conversation was about technology.

One spoke about his son watching

YouTube failure videos.

Failure videos are short clips of

People making really bad decisions,

Doing really dumb things,

and often getting really badly hurt …

Why would anyone create a failure video?

It’s all about producing the “failure,”

Posting the video online,

Going viral, and

Hoping popularity and fame results in a paycheck.

Yes, people get paid for such nonsense.

“We’re all going to die; and it’s going to be hilarious!”

Another commentator spoke about artificial intelligence;

Where computers are programmed to learn on their own initiative.

A video from a University of Michigan robotics lab was cited

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QhyMyXRutqY )

Showing a robot learning how to walk.

The implications of a self learning robot

Evoke images of sci-fi movies like “The Terminator”

With robot uprisings that take over the world.

“Be afraid,” the commentator said. “Be very afraid.”

To which the other repeated,

“We’re all going to die; and it’s going to be hilarious!”

Jesus is about to die

and it is anything but hilarious.

Thank goodness our Lord’s suffering, Passion, and death

Didn’t take place in today’s world,

Because it would go viral on social media …

For about 10 minutes.

It would be found and pulled down as inappropriate content.

It would be in the spotlight until the next “breaking news” event broke.

Then it would become an obscure piece in the newspaper

Or a lost soundbite on the evening news.

Jesus is deadly serious.

And so should we.

Early Christian Apostles

Set aside 40 days for all Christians to prepare ourselves

For the passion, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Lent was, and remains to this day, a time of preparation.

Early Christian practice

Used the first three weeks of Lent

As a time for inward preparation.

Self-reflection.

Self-examination.

Personal confession.

Repentance.

Forgiveness.

Absolution.

Fasting.

Abstinence.

The final two weeks of Lent

(starting this Sunday)

The focus of the faithful is to pivot

To the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross.

We have two weeks to contemplate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Think Passion and death.

Some Greeks from out-of-town attempt to drop in and cold call Jesus.

The best way to get past the door keeper is to know someone,

Or know someone who knows someone.

Any kind of connection will do.

Philip, with his Greek name,

From Bethsaida, a mixed population of Jews and Gentiles in the north,

Was the perfect go-between.

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (12:21)

As I’ve often said, the Gospel of John is most deeply concerned

With answering the question, “What does it mean?”

What does it mean to see Jesus?

To perceive this Jesus who is about to die?

A good place to start over these next two weeks

Is to create a visual devotional of the passion and crucifixion of Jesus.

This is where the internet is so valuable.

Consider doing an image search.

Start with fine art: The masters. Renaissance art.

Do an image search of crucifixion using the key words “stained glass”. “Cathedrals”. “Artists”. “Guilds”.

Don’t forget to do an image search of crucifixion icons;

You’ll discover some of the most moving visual images of the crucifixion

Mostly coming from our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters.

Save your favorite pictures.

Print them out.

Surround yourself with visual masterpieces of the crucifixion of Jesus

Even as you contemplate this faith changing event in your daily devotions and prayers.

We wish to see Jesus.

Perception is more than visual.

Consider diving into the music of the passion and death of Jesus Christ

Over these next two weeks.

Every year I make two tried and true visits:

The first is Handel’s Messiah.

I listen to it over and over again.

During the conclusion of Lent and Holy Week

The second part of Messiah takes on added weight,

For it covers Christ’s passion and death,

His resurrection and ascension.

The second stop I make is the 1970’s rock opera

Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

I play it loud in the car and I sing along with every word.

I play it quietly in the office, filling my environment with Jesus

(I’m playing it as I write this sermon).

I’ve loved Jesus Christ Superstar from the beginning.

Perceiving Jesus as he makes his way to the cross

Can become life changing.

Music is a graceful compliment to the words of passion and crucifixion.

Allow sacred music to help you see Jesus.

Listen for the whisper of God to help answer the question,

“What does the crucifixion mean?”

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” (12:23)

Jesus responded to the unnamed gentile world-travelers who came to see him.

Most of us have a deeply developed Gospel world view

That is rooted in the synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

In each of these Gospels

We have shaped an image

Of a Jesus who was reluctant to die,

Negotiating with the Heavenly Father in the Garden of Gethsemane,

“… if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” (Matthew 26:39)

Even on the cross, Matthew reports Jesus crying out

“My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

The narrative from Matthew and Mark are nearly word-for-word identical matches.

Yet, here in John, we hear in Jesus’ final discourse

With these unnamed Greeks and his disciples serving as his audience

A complete willingness to accept, even embrace, his crucifixion.

John’s Gospel requires us to ask,

Who would embrace their own death?

Why would Jesus welcome his own death?

Faithful followers of Christ

Have heard the promise

And believe his word.

O death, where art thou sting?

There is no sting when we have the courage

To face our own mortality

Believing that

Just as Christ faced his mortality,

Was resurrected and ascended to heaven,

So too, can we look forward to the same gift of grace.

Death becomes no more of a sting

Than stepping from this world and entering the next.

John faithfully allows Jesus to answer the “Why? question.”

“Father, glorify your name.” (12:28)

Jesus dies to glorify God.

The humiliation of public shame, suffering, and death,

Is completely erased

By the glory of God’s gift of resurrection.

The selfless act of crucifixion propels the message of God’s grace

Far beyond a single, isolated act,

In a foreign culture,

In a faraway land,

Separated by thousands of years

Into a cosmic, ongoing truth.

The glory of God

Through death and resurrection

Becomes a compassionate act of inclusion.

The Greeks who came to see Jesus were included in God’s plan for salvation.

The early Church exploded,

Caught fire,

And spread to every corner of the world

Because God was glorified.

We worship today

Because Jesus brings glory to God.

This gift of God’s grace

Only scratches the surface of the enormous love

God has for you and me.

Imperfect as we all are,

God still loves every last one of us.

Indeed, “God so loves the world

That He gave His only Son,

so that everyone who believes in him

may not perish

but may have eternal life.” (3:16)

Crucifixion and resurrection brings glory to God

“And I,” Jesus continues,

“when I am lifted up from the earth,

Will draw all people to myself.” (12:32)

All people are engulfed

In God’s radical hospitality,

God’s extravagant grace,

God’s enormous love.

“For this reason I have come,” Jesus tells us. (12:27)

Dearly beloved,

Over the course of this coming week and Holy week to follow,

Try not to be distracted by the complexities of life.

Avoid distractions.

Do the best you can to ease the anxiety of fragile health and uncertain outcomes.

Be still and avoid the temptation to be swept into disputes and conflicts.

Temper the tongue, step back, and count to ten.

Reject temptations and bring an end to sinful behavior.

Dearly beloved,

Keep your undivided attention upon Jesus.

See and hear Jesus.

Perceive our Savior as you’ve never experienced Him before.

Wear his suffering, and may your suffering be eased.

Witness his death, and may the sting of death in your life be removed.

Dearly beloved,

Journey forward.

Lean into the crucifixion

Knowing full well,

The glory that comes beyond the grave,

The glory of our Lord, our Heavenly Father.

May this glory keep us close to Christ

And draw all people to Him.

Amen.