“The Rich Man and Lazarus”

Luke 16:19-31

Proper 21C, September 25, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 16:19-31

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 

The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.

The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 

But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 

He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 

He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

| Centering Prayer |

Our Gospel lesson for this morning provides options;

We like choice, don’t we?

There are opportunities for the faithful Christian to make choices.

On the one hand,

It would be fully understandable for one to examine these words of Jesus

Through the lens of personal, eternal salvation

And believe that it is the intent of Jesus

and the point of Luke

That this is a parable about heaven

and the eternal disposition of the soul.

Does death deliver us to our eternal fate?

The apostle Paul suggest

that the hope for life resides on in the resurrection

(see 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians).

Is this a parable meant to convey essential truth about heaven and hell, and what happens to you after you die?

On the other hand,

If we pay attention to Luke’s context,

From which we’ve been reading these past few Sundays,

We recognize that this parable follows the passage of:

The Widow’s coin,

The Prodigal’s inheritance,

And the Dishonest Manager’s handling of debt.

Is there a trend here?

(yes, of course there is)

Luke has been talking about money, treasures, and riches.

So why wouldn’t he be continuing the theme here?

This is parable of Jesus,

a fictional story created by Jesus,

about a broken man named Lazarus

and a rich man, commonly known as Di-ves.

This parable is a capstone in Luke,

a pinnacle of successive stories Jesus uses

to teach about the dangers of wealth.

When we experience this story,

consider these words echoing in the background:

+ Mary declaring her praise of God in the first chapter of Luke:

“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly.”

+ When we experience this story,

consider a discreet, angry voice in the third chapter of Luke,

John the Baptist warning

“God is able from these stones

to raise up children to Abraham,”

and “the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

+ When we experience this story,

consider the voice of Jesus

who just taught in the sixth chapter of Luke

that “the kingdom of God belongs to the poor and the hungry,

but woe to those who are rich and who are full.”

Eternal life?

Dangers of wealth?

Yes.

The curious will note

This is the only parable Jesus creates

where he includes a name: Lazarus.

Jesus makes the story personal and intimate.

Jesus casts the Lazarus as someone who was disgusting.

It gives the parable a sense of familiarity, doesn’t it?

We all know someone who makes us sick.

The master storyteller

Tells his tale that

Lazarus was a despised man,

who threw himself at the gate of a rich man,

or was dumped there

(as the Greek suggests)

so that he might beg;

perhaps even obtain some of the wasted bread

used to clean dirty fingers.

(They didn’t have paper napkins at the time)

He was covered with sores.

Lazarus was seen.

He was known.

He was identified.

He was so weak,

he couldn’t prevent the dogs from licking his sores.

Jesus’ audience of rich Pharisees

probably were saying to themselves,

what did he do to deserve this?

for it was believed that hardships

where caused by God

as a result of unrighteous behavior.

Who sinned?

What was the sin that God punished with such a response?

Lazarus dies.

Did he die of starvation? disease? infection? or did the dogs …?

Premature death is just one of the consequences of being poor.

(Sigh)

Angels came,

gathered him up,

and carried him to Abraham.

There, Lazarus completes eternity in the bosom of Abraham.

Throughout this parable,

Lazarus is never spoken to,

and he never speaks.

The lowly is lifted up.

Then there is the rich man, Di-ves.

This is really a parable about him.

He lives a pampered life,

dressed like royalty in purple robes and fine linen,

feasting sumptuously every day,

using bread to wipe his greasy fingers

and throwing it on the floor.

The rich Pharisees probably thought he was blessed by God,

because of his accumulated excess.

Wealth is a sign of God’s approval, isn’t it?

And the rich man had more wealth than he could shake a stick at.

Wealthy often see wealth as a sign of God’s blessing.

The poor?

Not so much.

The rich man probably thought he had been blessed abundantly.

He overlooked the fact that Lazarus was begging at his gate.

In fact his table and his gate

separated himself from all the riffraff of society.

Have you noticed

that once one has achieved a minimum amount of money

to become self-supportive,

additional wealth only serves

to become additional insulation between the wealthy and the poor?

… and so it was with the Rich man.

Di-ves died and was buried

(notice the contrast to Lazarus,

who was immediately whisked away to the bosom of Abraham).

We must assume

The Rich man didn’t take his wealth with him.

He and his treasure were parted.

The Rich man, Jesus reports, was taken to hell, Hades, as it was called.

He was tormented and in flames.

There wasn’t much he could do.

But he could look up;

far away, in heaven

he could see Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham.

He recognized Lazarus!

This privileged millionaire knew Lazarus enough to avoid him on earth, yet he was able to recognize him in heaven.

How convenient.

In the torments and flames of hell,

Di-ves speaks as if Lazarus didn’t exist:

Father Abraham,” he calls,

hoping to play his trump card

(I’m one of your children, a family member, a child of Israel).

“Send Lazarus

to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue;

for I’m in agony in these flames.”

Lazarus is right there.

Yet, Di-ves acts as if he is invisible.

If you don’t see the poor, they must not exist.

(Sigh)

He acts with callous disregard.

He acts as if Lazarus is his servant. Or less.

What nerve!

Agh!

Abraham rebuffs him the first of three times:

“Remember that during your lifetime

you received your good things,

and Lazarus in like manner evil things;

but now he is comforted here,

and you are in agony.”

Di-ves tries a second time: “Father”

(another foolish attempt to play on Abraham’s goodness),

send Lazarus

“to my father’s house-

for I have five brothers-

that he may warn them,

so that they will not also come into this place of torment.”

He still acts with callous disregard.

Lazarus is no errand boy.

The (formerly) rich man doesn’t get it.

Lazarus isn’t a second-class citizen.

He is selfishly looking out for his own family,

not Lazarus, and no one else, either.

Abraham rebuffs him a second time:

“They have Moses and the prophets;

they should listen to them.”

Moses.

And the prophets.

Listen to the words of Moses in Deuteronomy,

as I’m certain the rich Pharisees knew from childhood:

“Do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.” (Deuteronomy 15:7)

Consider the prophet, Isaiah, who spoke

“Is not this the fast that I choose; to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cloth them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)

“No, Father Abraham,”

Di-ves makes a desperate plead for a third time,

send Lazarus.

“If someone goes to them from the dead,

they will repent.”

Scare them with a ghost.

Consider all those who witness resurrection.

In hind-sight consider

those confronted with the witness of Jesus’ resurrection

who still do not believe.

“If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets,

neither will they be convinced

even if someone rises from the dead.”

You can be sure,

All who are in Luke’s post-resurrection audience

Get this ironic joke.

Is this a parable about heaven and hell

Or a story about wealth and riches?

Perhaps it is a little bit of both.

It certainly is a warning

We’d all be prudent to heed.

I’m uncertain God is in the hell creating business.

I do know that humankind has gotten pretty good at making our own hell.

We create hell

when we act with callous disregard for human suffering.

We create hell

when we stereotype and marginalize,

when we talk down to people,

when we use phrases “like them.”

We create hell

when we hurt other people,

either intentionally or unintentionally.

We create our own hell

when we act as if we were better than someone else.

We create our own hell

when we allow abundance, wealth or food

to come between us and someone in need.

We create our own hell

when we refuse to forgive and can’t ask for forgiveness.

We create our own hell

when we fail to love.

Hell is everything we believe, say, and do

that separates us from one another and from our God.

Although nothing can separate God from us,

hell is everything we do to separate ourselves from God.

Hell is not created by our loving God.

Hell is created by you and me.

Then when we die,

the hell we’ve created, we are warned,

is fixed,

“so that those who might want to pass from here to you

cannot do so,

and no one can cross from there to us.”

Unquenchable fire.

Gnashing of teeth.

Everlasting torment.

Fire and flames.

The ability to look up into heaven,

Like Di-ves, and see the results of our evil ways.

Yes, these are images we are given of hell;

the hell that is fixed after our death.

These are images that Jesus gives to us.

They serve as a warning.

It is wise to heed them.

So look to the needs of others,

Those right at our doorstep.

Look to our neighbors in need beyond the horizon.

Restore the broken.

Heal the sick.

Feed the hungry.

Welcome one; welcome all.

Make friends,

Be friends,

Live as friends,

as neighbors,

peaceably in God’s kingdom.

Make hell into a fading memory

That slowly, but surely, fades to black.

Amen.

“The Prudent Use of Wealth”

Luke 16:1-13

September 18, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 16:1-13

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’

Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’

So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly;

for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?

No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

| Centering Prayer |

Our Gospel passage for this morning

is a parable

followed by three declarative applications.

It is traditionally titled “The Parable of the Dishonest Manager.”

While true, the manager was squandering his master’s property,

Naming him dishonest can misdirect the faithful from the points Jesus is attempting to make with his audience.

What is his point?

Context is important.

Here are some observations.

1. First, Jesus is in his final weeks before his

Arrest, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension.

It’s crunch time.

He is on the road,

Traveling from Galilee in the north

To Jerusalem in the south.

The closer to Jerusalem,

The larger the crowds.

Luke reports that the crowds were composed of

All the tax collectors and sinners, and,

Pharisees and scribes who complained about them.

2. Jesus is teaching in parables.

The parables of the Lost Sheep,

The Lost Coin, and

The parable of the Prodigal and His Brother

Immediately precede today’s

Parable of the Dishonest Manager.

The narrative of the Rich Man and Lazarus follows.

It is important to recognize that our parable for today

Is bookended by the Prodigal Son and His Brother and the Rich Man and Lazarus.

From a younger son who squanders his father’s possession by dissolute living to

The crisis of eternal life of Lazarus and a rich man sent to eternal Hades

We find a dishonest manager of his master’s treasure today

Smack dab, right in between.

3. The use of treasure and wealth

Is a common thread that draws our attention.

Jesus is teaching about what’s in your wallet and how are you using it?

He’s talking cold, hard cash.

Not volunteer time.

Not putting your skills and talents to use.

Jesus is talking about mammon

(Μαμμωνάς, Greek, def.- riches, money, possessions, property).

Cash, savings, pension, 401(k) and 403(b)s.

House, properties, and businesses.

The beginning of understanding Christ’s parable of

The Dishonest Manager

Starts with a personal review of your personal wealth.

4. The parable is a fictional story

Jesus created to

Communicate a deeper truth.

In the time of Jesus

It was common practice for wealthy landowners

To employ a professionally trained manager to manage their financial affairs.

They would have power of attorney,

The ability to buy, sell, borrow, and engage in business and commerce on behalf of the wealthy owner.

This shielded the rich from Jewish usuary laws, and,

Freed them to do whatever it is that wealthy people do.

Pass the Grey Poupon, please.

5. A professional manager, as we have in today’s parable,

Would earn their wage by adding a percentage of a loan

And skimming it off the top.

Let’s call it a “Steward’s Commission.”

Say a wealthy person had 60 containers of wheat to loan.

He could tell his manager to loan it out at an interest rate

Such that it would take 80 containers of wheat to pay off the loan.

The manager would mark up the loan to owe 100.

The rich man makes twenty.

The manager makes twenty.

It’s a pretty slick system for the wealthy;

Not so much for the poor debtors covered in sores laying at the gates. 

6. In today’s parable the rich man catches his manager with his hand in the cookie jar.

He was charged with squandering his property.

The manager neither denied the accusation,

Tried to defend himself, or

Attempted to beg off.

Guilty as charged.

What to do? He thought.

How does one respond?

How does one respond such that it his future is assured?

7. This is his plan:

Mark down each loan

By the amount of his cut.

This makes the debtor happy;

He or she feels they’ve received a discount.

This makes the wealthy man happy;

He or she has their loan paid off with interest.

The prudent manager doesn’t burn his bridges;

He makes certain

That the present crisis

Provides future opportunities.

What are we to learn and

how are we to apply what we’ve learned

to our circumstances?

Four things.

1. Keep yourself

future oriented;

You, personally,

And, in general, the Rush church family.

The temptation is to relive yesterday.

“Remember when” …

Our idyllic life growing up?

“Remember when” …

Our church was growing families, staff, and programs?

An equally dangerous temptation is to complain about today.

It is easy to become the victim of unrealized grief or loss,

To fester lingering feelings of rejection,

To blame the pandemic, prior or current pastors, and society as a whole.

Like the dishonest manager,

We can take control of our own destiny.

It is our choice,

Individually and collectively,

To plan and implement means to

Maintain our personal spiritual lives, and

To maintain and grow the vitality of the Rush church family.

The responsibility is shared.

The responsibility is ours.

2. We, children of the light,

(Disciples of Jesus)

Can learn from the children of the world,

Such as this dishonest manager.

The lesson isn’t dishonesty;

The lesson is prudence.

Prudent stewardship can be learned from

Your financial advisor from Goldman Saks as well as

The treasurer of the local Hell’s Angels gang.

Prudence is a universal virtue

that Jesus is teaching us to apply to our own lives,

Individually and collectively.

Discipline your financial and business life as much as possible.

Budget. Plan. Pay attention to details. Stick to it. Improve every day.

Trim spending on the self as much as possible.

Stick to the bare necessities.

Prudently put to use savings, assets, and property

To capitalize on present and future opportunities.

I’m look at Cindy, Michelle, and Eric;

Our chairpersons of the

Board of Trustees,

Finance Committee, and

Endowment Committee.

Is your committee acting with prudence?

Practicing good stewardship?

What are you and your committees doing well and what can you improve?

Budget. Plan. Pay attention to details. Stick to it. Improve every day.

3. Responsibility and fidelity in small things corelates with responsibility and fidelity in large things.

When it comes to personal wealth

God gives to some little,

To others much,

Each according to God’s will.

When it comes to the wealth entrusted to the church,

We’re talking about God’s money,

God’s property,

God’s affairs.

Handle with care.

‘nuff said.

4. Lastly, check your attitude about wealth.

No one can serve both God and wealth.

Ask yourself, will wealth govern my life?

Or, will God govern my life?

Are finances and property the purpose of our congregation,

Or, is our purpose

Discipleship to Jesus and

Loving neighbors in his name?

When wealth is managed prudently,

There is no anxiety,

There is absolute freedom to serve the Lord.

If all we’re focused on is wealth,

Obtaining wealth,

Growing wealth,

Using wealth for our own benefit,

Then we’re squeezing God out of our lives.

Keep your eyes on Jesus.

Trust in the Lord to take care of the rest. 

God has already given us more than we need.

Today’s question is

how will we use this amazing, abundant  grace of

Money, property, and income?

How will you put to use

your personal wealth

To serve the Lord

Prudently,

Responsibility, and with

Fidelity?

How will we,

As the Rush United Methodist Church family,

Use what God has given us to achieve the possible

Today and tomorrow?

Today’s Gospel is challenging;

But just wait to next week

When we find Lazarus begging at our front gate.

Amen.

“The Joy of the Lord”

September 11, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 15:1-10

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

| Centering Prayer |

It is a dangerous thing to be critical of others,

especially when it comes to faith or religion.

When others find fault in us

We tend to take it personally.

When we find fault in others

it is like an invitation for others to return the favor.

Let the trench warfare begin.

“Judge not, lest ye be judged”

Jesus reminds his followers (Luke 6:37).

Jesus takes a different approach.

Instead of finding fault with others

he joins the tailgate party,

he joins the crew and orders an abundance of chicken wings,

he gets off his theological high horse

substitutes common talk for church talk,

and welcomes everyone to dinner.

Jesus knows how to flip a burger,

slather on the BBQ sauce,

and throw a block party

where everyone is welcome.

Jesus playing loosely with the law offends many, especially those in power and authority.

Healing on the Sabbath,

Touching the unclean,

Forgiving prostitutes,

No, don’t fault Jesus for being one

Who colors outside the lines.

Knock his behavior if you want,

but do so at your own peril.

“Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

We hear the biblical narrative of the woman sweeping her house looking for the lost coin,

and of the shepherd leaving behind his 99 to go in search of the one lamb who is missing,

and we assume that this is a divine imperative that

we chase after those who have become lost to us.

We assume it is all about us.

The coin has no conscious knowledge,

so if it is to be found,

it is wholly dependent upon OUR initiative.

The sheep is a dumb animal,

most certainly never to find its way home,

so, it too, is completely dependent upon OUR attempts to bring it home.

Jumping to conclusions,

making assumptions,

leaping before you look,

and completing the sentences of others

just is not a helpful strategy!

Consider the equally powerful parable of Jesus,

the story of the Prodigal Son and his brother,

that immediately follows our Gospel for today.

I see a father who,

despite every cell in his body telling him not to let his son go,

he bites his tongue,

he lets him go,

and then he doesn’t go running after him.

I can’t help but stop and ask, “where is the consistency here?”

“Dad, go after your son! …

like the good shepherd who goes after the lost sheep,

like the woman who searches for the lost coin.”

And yet, the loving Father

watches, and waits,

watches and waits,

watches and waits,

with every expectation that at any moment that rascal son of his

will round the corner in the road and return home.

When does one watch and wait?

and when does one corral the 99

and set out on a mission to retrieve the one who is lost?

Let us consider another way forward.

Perhaps these parables are not about us;

perhaps the parables of

the lost sheep,

the lost coin, and

the return of the prodigal

are all about God.

When viewed through this lens

These parables may be

parables about God’s joy

when the lost is found,

when a sinner repents, and

when the formerly lost is reconciled back into the fold.

Jesus may be telling us something

about God’s nature and characteristics,

more so than instructing his disciples in policies and procedures

that should be followed in his absence.

Listen carefully to these words of Jesus,

“When he has found it (the lost lamb, that is),

he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.

And when he comes home,

he calls together his friends and neighbors,

saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’

Just so, I tell you,

there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents

than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

(Luke 15:5-7)

In my mind,

throwing a party

for recovering what could have been a one percent loss

is a little over the top …

Which is exactly as Jesus meant it to be!

Similarly, with the woman searching for a lost coin,

“When she has found it (the lost coin, that is),

she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying,

‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’”

(Luke 15:9-10)

Which,

in my mind,

throwing a party

for finding a lost coin

is a little over the top …

Which is exactly as Jesus meant it to be!

Two thoughts.

1. God’s joy comes from the find.

The joy of the Lord is our strength.

And the joy of the Lord spreads as fast as a contagion to the rest of God’s kingdom.

I don’t know where we ever got this impression

that our God is an ogre, prude, or square,

but it is wrong.

Yes, God’s history of involvement with humankind,

as recorded in the Hebrew / Old Testament scriptures,

paints a picture of a God of law, covenant, and judgment.

With this as the only lens through which one observes and creates a knowledge base,

yes, I can see how one might draw an incomplete conclusion about God.

Yet, when put together with the Gospels and the epistle letters of Paul and Peter,

we can easily see that God would rather not be in the business

of shelling out punitive judgment upon creation

or God’s beloved children.

God is so much more concerned with our well-being.

God sent us his Son, Jesus Christ,

not to condemn the world,

but that the world might be saved through Him.

Our well-being is rooted in living the example of Jesus,

creating an environment of forgiveness, redemption,

and in the gift of eternal life.

Our God is in the joy business:

working in the creativity department,

and in shipping.

There is joy in living by the Divine example;

reaching out to the lost, the lonely, the outcast, the untouchables, and the unclean.

There is joy in serving others, knowing they can never repay you, and they shouldn’t try.

There is joy in reaching out a helping hand and for someone else to take it.

Isn’t there joy in forgiveness?

Forgiveness is like opening a locked gate in the barnyard.

It allows a relationship to move forward,

sharing the road together for a while longer.

It sets free souls

that stagnate in a pen of purgatory,

awkward avoidance,

and wounded pride.

God experiences such joy with forgiveness

that his joy overflows and infects all the souls in heaven.

Angels rejoice! and why not?

No one goes over the top with

the biggest, best, wonderful party

more so than God.      

2. My second thought is this: Being found isn’t about being returned to a former state.

The former state was of a life living in sin.

Being found is all about repentance;

Ongoing, continual repentance this is the key to God’s joy.

We downplay the role of repentance,

to our peril,

in today’s society.

And yet, it is repentance that holds the key to solving so many of the world’s problems.

Fundamentalist fueled terrorism; either Moslem, Christian, or Jewish

ends when all agree to a process of repentance.

Racial and gender discrimination would come to an end

with a commitment to repentance.

Economic injustice would cease

with a universal acceptance of the repentance process.

This is what would bring joy to God, and to all of heaven!

It is time to stop talking politics and to start talking about reconciliation and repentance.

That process, which brings such great joy to God,

begins when we stop offending others.

Repentance begins with the end of oppression.

Let go of the power and the pride.

Give up the attitude of deserving anything in life; nobody deserves anything.

Everything comes from God’s grace, not through bloodline or birthright.

Lose the sense of privilege.

Instead of paying a premium to go to the head of the line,

join me at the end,

along with everybody else.

The second step of repentance is a personal resolution …

to never, ever commit the offense again.

Make it your personal, internal crusade.

Stop the hurting, and vow never to hurt again.

Make the vow,

and most importantly,

work diligently keep it.

Thirdly, and this may be some of the most difficult to accept,

repair the damage that was done.

Make reparations.

Make right the wrong that you committed.

My mother would call this “Cleaning Up After Yourself”.

Camp counselors call this “Returning the Woods to the Way You Found It”.

If your actions caused another to be injured,

pay for their hospital expenses, rehabilitation

and their pain and suffering.

Finally, God is filled with joy when repentance is complete,

and that begins when we set out on a new direction.

Turn your back upon the old ways,

ways that led to pain and sorrow.

Turn and face a new beginning.

Turn your life around and make a new start

….

The Lord is throwing a joyful party

Because you have been found.

Come and take a seat at the Lord’s table!

Keep your eyes on the prize,

Jesus Christ, our redeemer, and savior.

Finally, let me recognize the fact that

we can’t force people to behave,

or even to return our initiative with a civil response.

The person repenting of sin must cooperate with those whom he or she has harmed.

Perpetrator and victim cooperate?

Oh, boy. This is going to be hard.

Time.

Trust.

Vulnerability.

How is repentance and reconciliation going to work?  

This is where the faithful must swallow hard, lay everything at the feet of Jesus,

(as difficult as this may sound), and walk away confident in God’s grace and love.

Trust God that

hearts will be healed and all parties will be able to move on.

The reason we fail to get cooperation

may be according to some larger, more grand, divine plan.

We may never know the answer to the question,

“Why?”

And so, dearly beloved, join God’s party!

Rejoice, for it is a good one!

At the same time give thanks to God

that you haven’t been left behind,

that God has found you.

Write repentance upon your heart:

Your personal repentance from your sins;

And the repentance of others for the pain they may have caused you.

Repent, and there will be less sin in the world.

Repent, and give God some joy.

Repent and watch that joy spread to every angel in God’s heavenly realm!

Repent, and God’s kingdom will become …

one step closer than it was before.

Amen.

“The Weight of the Cross”

Jeremiah 18:1-11 and Luke 14:25-33

September 4, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Jeremiah 18:1-11

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.

Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

Luke 14:25-33

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

| Centering Prayer |

In our lesson from Jeremiah (18:1-11)

God commands His prophet to go to a potter’s house

and observe his work.

“The vessel he was making was spoiled in the potter’s hand,

and he reworked it into another, as seemed good to him.”

“Can I not do with you, O house of Israel,” the Lord says,

“just as the potter has done?”

A potter reworks the clay until it becomes perfect.

The potter isn’t afraid to start over from scratch;

in fact,

it is better to begin again

than to live with that

which will become

forever flawed.

The work of the potter is that of transformation;

transforming a lump of clay

into the perfect creation,

the habitation of the Divine eye.

God, as our potter, takes our lifetime

to mold us and shape us into God’s living vessels;

reworking us as necessary,

time and again,

each time

until we are fired in the kiln of death

and perfectly cast into our eternal form.

It is a beautiful metaphor, isn’t it?

We like the thought of God molding us and building us up.

But rarely do we consider the times when God breaks down and destroys,

reducing us to a lump of potential

with which the potter begins anew.

Love it or hate it; the life lived in the hands of God

is a life in a constant state of transformation;

of change,

of being built up

and being brought down,

but always

with the goal of Divine perfection.

Is it worth the cost?

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. 

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Daniel Iverson (1890-1977)

Jesus had large crowds of people traveling with him

seeking transformation.

Had there been polls,

They would have been bad.

Rome, as occupiers, wasn’t too popular.

Neither were Pilate, Herod, or any of the Temple authorities.

Problem is,

they were seeking the transformation of their political and social reality

while Jesus was addressing the transformation of their spiritual reality.

Jesus is talking about

Voluntarily putting down the sword

– disarming –

and picking up the cross

– willingness to die.

The political reality of Jesus day

was armed occupation by Rome,

who developed an elaborate syndicate

with Jewish organized religion

to maintain the peace and

extract maximum money

for Rome’s insatiable empire building appetite.

Judaism was a puppet of Rome.

As long as the Temple extracted peaceful cooperation from the populace,

Caesar’s soldiers would keep organized religion afloat.

Destabilize the peace

and Rome would bring the whole network down

(which is exactly what they did 40 years after Jesus

when they destroyed the Temple and burned Jerusalem to the ground).

The political reality of Jesus day

was armed oppression

and the people saw in Jesus

the potential that he could be

the revolutionary solution

to their misery.

Jesus had an abundance of volunteers

to support their delusional dreams.

Plenty of people lined up

to become the modern day equivalent of

suicide bombers,

underground builders and planters of IEDs,

and covert rocket launchers.

Problem is

this isn’t the transformation Jesus desires of his followers.

“Put down your weapon

and pick up the cross,”

Jesus told the crowd,

just as he is telling us today,

“and come, and follow me.”

The transformation that comes from the sword, an AR-15, or a semi-automatic,

may be intoxicating and euphoric,

but it’s benefits quickly fade into the mist.

Power and violence takes a king to the top of the mountain,

only to await to be bested by a new king rising.

Force and might are characteristics of this world,

whose deep roots writhe their way back to the Garden’s original sin.

A life lived by the sword

is one that ends in a grave.

Lay down your weapons,

pick up your cross

and come and follow Jesus.

Is it worth the cost?

I ask again.

Is it worth the cost

to reject the tempting transformation this world offers,

to place ourselves in the potter’s hands

and to accept the transformation Jesus offers?

Before one commits to Jesus,

before one re-commits to Jesus,

consider the cost,

the weight of the cross.

A builder totals the costs before they begin.

A ruler weighs the cost of battle before they start a war.

Shouldn’t we weigh the cost of discipleship before we hitch our wagon to Jesus?

What then, is the cost of discipleship?

First, it is to become vulnerable.

Lay down your weapon,

and you make yourself vulnerable to those who have weapons.

Pick up the cross of Christ

and your witness

will return from upon the waters

multiplied with abundance.

Weather it is God’s love and grace

working through you

that overcomes the aggressor,

or, if necessary,

your martyrdom,

you will become an eternal witness to the Christ who claims us.

Second, the cost of discipleship is to take the risk of being hated by family.

When Jesus uses the word “hate” in today’s Gospel,

he is not talking about emotional hatred.

Hatred, as it is used here,

is a Semitic way of expressing detachment,

or turning away from.

Show me a family where everyone has picked up the cross

and I’ll offer to sell you a bridge in Brooklyn.

Sadly, some members of your family may turn away.

Be well assured,

the cross of Christ

always trumps the idolatry of family

especially as it is worshipped today.

Thirdly, the cost of discipleship is that Jesus wants everything.

Jesus doesn’t just want ten percent,

he wants it all.

“None of you can become my disciple,” he tells the crowd today,

“if you do not give up all your possessions.”

If it isn’t family

money and possessions easily become the focus of idolatry

and Jesus won’t stand for it.

He wants and demands our complete and undivided attention.

All of our money and possessions were here before we were born

and will remain of this world after we die.

God created wealth

and gives us the freedom to exercise good stewardship over it

while we are here.

Use it all, Jesus implores us,

to lift of Christ

and promote His kingdom.

Lastly, the cost of discipleship,

the weight of our cross

that we must consider

is this:

are we prepared

to stretch out on our own cross

and to be crucified with Jesus?

Are we prepared to die,

even as Jesus did,

confident in the fact

that we, too, will step forth from our empty tomb

and walk into God’s heavenly glory?

So, you’ve weighed the cost of discipleship

and have decided to follow Jesus?

Wonderful!

Be about the business of sharing Christ with the world.

You’ve weighed the cost of discipleship

and have decide to pass?

That’s okay for the time being.

There are seasons in every person’s life.

As the potter wheel turns,

keep an opened mind and a receptive heart

for God’s next movement, mold, shape and sculpting.

Leave yourself open to God’s time.

It is all in God’s time.

Have Thine own way Lord

Have Thine own way

Thou art the potter I am the clay

Mold me and make me after Thy will

While I am waiting yielded and still.

Jim Reeves (1923-1964)

Amen.

“Take Your Place at Christ’s Banquet”

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 and Luke 14:1, 7-14

August 28, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 14:1, 7-14

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

| Centering Prayer |

I don’t know about you, but

I’ve always been uncomfortable with social status,

as it presents itself to us, in our culture.

For example, when I’m around a powerful person ….

someone who has wealth, political office, an academic, or a celebrity ….

I’m uncomfortable.

(Photo of Groundbreaking for Candence Square Veteran Housing,

Canandaigua NY 2012. Senator Chuck Schumer, center. I’m far left.)

I worry that I’ll say something improper,

without class or sophistication.

I worry that they will take notice of

my complexion or the fit or brand of my clothes.

I worry that I’ll trip on the carpet,

step into a hole,

spill something discoloring,

or break wind during a moment of deafening silence.

Though I know they put their pants on one leg at a time just like I do,

the attitude, tone of voice, and the look all has to do with

being privileged,

exclusive,

that says

“sorry, we don’t associate with your kind.”

Likewise,

I have discomfort at the complete opposite end of the spectrum;

but it comes through the radiation of discomfort that emanates from others when I’m around.

While I’ve always felt comfortable

in blue jeans and flannel shirt pitching in at a work bee,

cleaning up the fellowship hall, or drying dishes in the kitchen,

I often get a sense that some

would rather not have the preacher be there.

I don’t know if the issue is the education I’ve earned,

the salary I receive,

or the fact that ministers are supposed to be righteous,

and comparatively,

that might be embarrassing.

Perhaps it has to do with the perceived authority of the office ….

or maybe it is a combination of these factors.

But the fact remains,

though invited,

that waitress really doesn’t want to pull up a chair and join me in good conversation.

One might think that I am most at ease in a gathering of my peers;

people of equal status.

But if you are anything like me,

when I’m around peers,

other subtle issues sneak in and skew the playing field.

And that makes me uncomfortable.

I’m care to watch what I say, how I  say it, and how it will be interpreted.

One never knows who will be the boss some day!

There are issues of comparison and competition,

Compensation,

envy, power, and pride.

“Oh, you’re serving the Rush Church,”

“You must be very important.”

In interfaith settings

Issues of gender, race, and religion

often makes everything far more complicated.

“You must make one heck of a preacher,” you’d probably think sarcastically to yourself. “Can’t get along with those over you, under you, or next to you?

Well, just who can you get along with?”

I’ll tell you.

And my response comes largely from our Epistle lesson from Hebrews

and our Gospel lesson from Luke.

With whom do you keep company?

I love being around humble people;

not necessarily that I’m humble,

but when I’m around truly humble, God loving people,

I feel I have the most to benefit by their example.

Humility has a lot to teach me.

Though I’ve come a long way in 61 years,

there is so much more to living a humble life

that one day I pray that I might embrace.

The gift of simplicity and downsizing,

becoming green in energy consumption,

and protecting the environment is a humble stance.

It recognizes the fact that others are in the room,

and that they have an equal claim to the same resources,

the same benefits,

the same God

we’ve come to know and experience in our lives.

I love being around loving people;

people who not only love those who obviously return their love ….

parents, siblings, children, cousins ….

but also those who love the unlovable, just because they can.

These are the people who volunteer in homeless shelters,

read to inner-city kids,

collect gloves and mittens for seniors and children,

and are people who visit the prisoner, the sick, the shut-in, and the dying.

Sometimes loving people are outwardly demonstrative,

other times, quiet and reflective.

But just remember, whether or not one is emotional, touchy, or huggy

has little to do with how loving they may be.

Some of the most loving people I know are quiet and reserved.

Almost without exception,

loving people recognize the fact that

love first comes from God,

and that God’s love is meant to be shared.

I love rubbing elbows with hospitable people.

These people may have the most to teach me.

Hospitable people anticipate the needs of others and address them,

aggressively and pre-emptively,

before those needs become a problem.

Hospitable people greet the traveler with a warm washcloth,

to remove the grit and grime from their face and hands.

Hospitable people know the value of a warm meal and a hot shower.

Hospitable people put others first in line, themselves second.

They know, they are assured, that God has set a place for them.

Hospitable people smile and rarely complain,

they laugh a lot and give up their last umbrella to a stranger if it begins to rain.

Hospitable people are aware that the kindness they show to any one person,

at any time over the course of their life,

may be the kindness that they show to an angel,

as the Apostle wrote in Hebrews.

I love being around people who make it their effort

to give all their money away and tend to be habitually broke.

Not broke because they don’t have an adequate job or income.

Rather, they are broke because they have recognized God’s abundance and blessing.

Their lifestyle has benefited, often greatly.

But now they are giving it back to society, to the poor, the sick and the less fortunate.

People who give generously are some of the happiest people I know.

Because they know

that even the most modest, simplest gift can change a life.

I like being around people who are modest.

I don’t want to share in your sexuality;

neither do I want to invite others into this aspect of my personal life.

This might explain why I get nervous when the topic is raised casually.

Sexuality is a gift from God,

but it is not meant to be worn on the sleeve,

to be spoken of crudely,

or to be a source of titillation.

The faith community is strongest

when it embraces monogamy, fidelity, and respects the secrets of two brought together by God’s whisper.

Finally, I am most content when

I’m surrounded by people who share the same love for Jesus Christ as I do.

He is my Lord, and I am his disciple.

I’m not going to surround myself with a crowd

who is going to drag me down and tempt me to do things I’d later regret.

I need to be with people who love and follow Jesus.

They are the ones who have so much to teach me.

I want to follow their example.

And I want to set a good example for faithful living for others to follow, too.

When we share a common love for Christ, what can others do to us?

Nothing.

When we share Christ, we will be humble.

We will be loving.

We will be hospitable.

We will be giving.

We will be modest.

We will be as one in the Body, this the Body of Christ.

Choose well the company you keep.

Humbly take your place at the banquet.

Have no worry; you will be invited by our heavenly host

exactly where God wants you to be.

There is room for everyone, who with a humble and loving heart approach the table.

Take your place at Christ’s banquet.

Taste and see the goodness of our Lord.

Amen.

“Setting the Thanksgiving Table”

Luke 13:10-17

21 August 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 13:10-17

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 

When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.

”But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 

When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

| Centering Prayer |

When I was a child,

My mother would set the Thanksgiving table four or five days prior to the gathering.

Once the table was set,

she was free to work on the meal;

Thawing the turkey,

Making the stuffing,

Baking the pies,

Pealing the squash and potatoes.

We had to be especially careful in the dining room,

Less someone bump the table and break a piece of my mother’s precious china.

The end result, of course,

Was a grand meal, attended to by family and friends,

Wrapped in love and prayers of thanksgiving

For all the Divine blessings our family and friends had received.

Delving into our wonderful Gospel lesson for today from Luke

Is a lot like setting the Thanksgiving table.

Of course, once the table is set,

The meal begins,

And like the formerly bent over woman in the story,

She “began praising God!”

So, too, this passage leads us to praise and thank the Lord.

Thanksgiving and praise are beautiful things.

There is a lot for us to consider setting the Gospel’s table.

  • This is an account only found in Luke; You’ll not find this in Matthew, Mark, or John.
  • We have a story of a miracle; a healing tainted by religious controversy.
  • It is a narrative of a woman injured by the spirit of Satan, bound for eighteen long years.
  • There is the leader of the synagogue being charged with hypocrisy as well as violations against religious law.
  • There is a question of “who’s in and who is out”, who is a daughter of Abraham and who isn’t. Jesus is redefining the people known as Israel.
  • And, where I’d like to start the discussion today, is the simple observation that Jesus sees this nearly invisible woman.

Where did she come from?

This woman appeared, Luke wrote.

She appeared in the crowd

In the synagogue where he was teaching,

Presumably in a village,

A stopping-off point on his journey,

From Galilee in the North

to Jerusalem in the South.

She doesn’t see Jesus

Unless she strains,

Then only out of the top of her eyes.

She is bent over.

She is looking at the ground and the legs of people surrounding her.

She can only look down.

It is only with great difficulty that she would be able to look people in the eye when speaking and listening.

Being bent over means that she had lost over the past 18 years

All social fluidity and

Ease of conversation.

This bent over woman had lost dignity and social standing in her community.

Jesus sees this woman,

Whom the world did not see.

Though she is bent over and a fraction of her height,

She would have been surrounded by people of greater height.

He picks her out in the midst of the crowded synagogue.

Jesus sees her and chooses her

Even though this woman gave no indication

That she came for any favors from Jesus.

This leads me to the first conclusion about our Gospel for today:

Jesus seeks out the lost, the least likely,

The most easily overlooked people in the world.

It is his intention to seek out those who are different than the crowd,

The last, the least, the lost,

Even though they may not want to be found.

Jesus is on the hunt.

He isn’t satisfied until his Father’s will

For healing and wellness is fulfilled.

If one searches rigorous demographic data

It doesn’t take long to discover that people with disabilities are the least likely to self-identify with a community of faith.

In short, people with different abilities

are the most unchurched people in America.

It is sad, but true.

Unlike Jesus who intentionally seeks out people different than the norm,

Congregations worship in buildings that exclude people with special needs.

Services are conducted without inclusion in leadership or music, without sensitivity to sight, sound, feel, smell, or taste.

Sadly, for many, people just freeze them out,

Or, worse yet, nice Christian people simply ask them to leave

Because of distracting behaviors.

The very people Jesus seeks to save,

Organized religion finds reasons to exclude.

Let’s not be that church.

Let’s not be those Christians.

Let’s be more like Jesus,

Look, see, and welcome

The invisible

Marginalized

People of the world.

Jesus call’s this woman closer,

Tells her “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” (13:12)

He lays hands on her,

And she immediately stands up straight

And began praising God.

Image for a moment,

The joy this woman experienced when she stood up straight

For the first time in 18 years!

She could look people in the eye.

She could carry on a conversation.

Salvation was for her, expanded in depth and breadth.

This unnamed, previously invisible woman

had been socially imprisoned, and now,

Jesus set her free.

Her dignity was restored.

She had been imprisoned by a spirit

Jesus named as Satan (13:16),

But now, she had shaken loose of it,

Simply at the hand of a Savior who

Saw her,

Sought her,

Healed her,

Reclaimed her as God’s own child.

Like Baskin Robins,

Salvation is scooped in more flavors than eternal life.

What is it that imprisons or enslaves you?

What holds you back?

Where is Satan holding onto the scruff of your neck

Giving you a good thrashing as if you are in a death grip?

Where has your dignity been crushed?

It is time to experience the touch of Jesus,

To stand up straight,

And to be saved.

Salvation isn’t the only concept Jesus intends to expand upon.

Just like Jesus will soon call the traitor and chief tax collector, Zacchaeus,

A “Son of Abraham,”

Jesus enlarges the circle of who he considers people of Israel.

Jesus enlarges the circle of who he includes in the kingdom of God.

Indeed, throughout his life Jesus is constantly making the family of Abraham bigger, and bigger, and bigger.

Before long, non-Jews – Gentiles – will be added to the family.

The blood of the cross

Is inclusive of the whole world.

This sense of inclusion is very important to understand Jesus’ trajectory and ministry. 

Inclusion in God’s kingdom is the foundation

Of the Christian experience.

One barrier often cited by people with different abilities, is this:

‘Jesus healed the bent over woman,

The blustering blind Bartimaeus by the side of the road,

And the guy lowered through the hole cut in the roof,

But he hasn’t healed me.’

The pastor in me, needs to pause, take a deep breath, and ask,

“Yet?”

… meaning, that one anticipates healing at some future time.

Likewise,

“How do you know you haven’t already been healed?”

… meaning, can you imagine what your life would be like without Jesus?

Furthermore,

“What does healing look like to you?”

… in other words, let’s talk about expectations.

Where do your expectations intersect with God’s grace?

This is an interesting concept

That floats to the surface

With our Gospel today:

Where do expectations intersect with grace?

Another theological barrier often cited is this:

“If I’ve been created in the near perfect image of God

Then my physical, mental, developmental, medical disability

Isn’t anything that needs to be healed or cured.”

“I’m good, just the way I am.”

Many in the different-ability community have grown confident in knowing

That God created them in God’s near perfect image.

I agree whole heartedly!

Like the first chapter of Genesis so eloquently states,

“Man and woman were created in the image of God,”

And they … “were very good.”

– Genesis 1:27, 31b

The person with Down Syndrome?

near perfect image of God.

That person with Cerebral Palsy?

Near perfect image of God.

That man with Autism,

Nealy perfect.

The girl with Developmental Delays?

Yep. She’s nearly perfect, too.

The difference with our Gospel lesson today

Is the report of Satan being introduced in this woman’s past.

Luke goes to great effort

To indicate that it was this spirit that crippled her,

And that it was Jesus who named that spirit, “Satan.” (13:16)

The lesson that can be learned from the Gospel,

Choreographed with our real-world experience,

Is that

It is really important to be careful about judging others,

Especially when it comes to

Distinguishing between who is normal and who isn’t normal,

Who is in need of healing and who is not.

Our personal assumptions

Can unintentionally lead to inflicting pain and destructive trauma.

The approach Jesus takes consistently

Is to treat people as individuals,

Not as labeled groups.

He approaches this bent over woman

As a friend in need

Doing all that he can to bring her salvation. 

The last item set on our Thanksgiving table

Is the miserable leader of the Synagogue.

Both in the Bible and remaining true today,

Leaders of organized religion,

Lay and clergy alike,

Can be stubborn, miserable pups

(Present company included).

This man is indignant (13:14).

Indignant.

He harangues Jesus to the crowds,

“There are six days on which work ought to be done;

Come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.” (13:14)

In other words,

“Can’t you wait, ma’m?”

“JUST ONE MORE DAY?”

No.

She cannot wait one more day!

She cannot wait one more second!

This helpless victim in the cosmic struggle between good and evil

Has been living in hell for 18 years!

That’s a long time;

She can’t wait one moment longer.

What points to God more powerfully

Then channeling the miraculous powers of God?

And oh, that Law you seem to love to quote,

Jesus notices

With a pinch of spice and a dash of irony,

Is the same law you hypocrites break when

You tie and untie your ox or donkey

On the Sabbath.

If you’re spewing judgement,

Jesus teaches,

Talk to the hand.

Like watching the confession of an exposed televangelist,

It is easy to smirk with the satisfaction that he deserves what he’s got coming.

Nobody loves a hypocrite

Like a publicly exposed hypocrite!

The dignity the bent over woman gained

Was the pride the leader of the Synagogue lost

When his hypocrisy was exposed for the world to see.

Translated for us today,

Our Gospel is a clear warning against legalism.

Legalism exposes the hypocrisy in our own lives.

Since all are guilty of sin,

A legalistic approach to scripture

Always does harm to ourselves, our neighbors, and to God’s kingdom.

Likewise, Jesus states

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets;

I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

– Matthew 5:17

This makes Jesus Christ the only judge any of us need to face.

Judging others becomes the height of idolatry,

For passing judgment is substitution of ourselves in place of God.

It doesn’t work that way.

Judgment is exclusively the Lord’s prerogative.

Avoid the temptation to pass judgment on others.

Examine and judge yourself,

But leave the judgment of others up to God.

Instead of judging others

Love them.

Lastly, weaponizing scripture

To justify personal beliefs and opposing others

Is to turn our backs on the overwhelming gift of grace

That Jesus brings into our world.

It is by God’s grace that each of us have been saved through faith.

It is by God’s grace that Jesus died for our sins.

It is by God’s grace that Jesus brings to us salvation,

Served up like ice cream in every kind of flavor.

Christ is the human embodiment of God’s gift of grace to humanity.

Like the bent over woman who Jesus heals,

Who immediately stands and praises God,

So too should we take our place

At God’s table of Thanksgiving

And join together with our praise.

Judge not, less ye be judged; leave the judgment up to God.

Err on the side of grace.

It’s better to bite your legalistic tongue.

Treat people as individuals; each a beloved child of God’s kingdom.

Seek out people who the rest of the world does not see, or sees but ignores.

Discern the need.

If you don’t know, ask.

Observe, orient, decide, act.

(attributed to Colonel John Boyd, USAF)

Meet the needs of the world.

Exceed expectations.

Beloved friends and neighbors,

Our Gospel today has set a table of Thanksgiving,

Resting solidly upon the rock of Jesus Christ,

Graciously offering to each of us a feast

For which it is incumbent

To offer our praise and glory to God.

Amen.

“Interpreting the Signs”

Luke 12:49-56

August 14, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 12:49-56

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

| Centering Prayer |

Buckle in.

Pull tight your restraining belts.

Like strapping on a fighter jet

Or stepping into an extreme rollercoaster

The Gospel of Luke is taking us for an uncomfortable ride.

Last Sunday, Jesus gave us a pail of cold water to the face

With scriptural contradictions about behavior

And God’s scandalous, amazing, revolutionary, upsetting grace.

Jesus continues the scandal today.

If Jesus doesn’t upset you,

You may want to check your pulse,

Because, when he says

‘I came to bring fire!’
‘I bring division!’

Many of us may have flatlined,

Asystole cold as ice,

Seized up like an engine that ran out of oil.

Jesus has us riding this bucking bronco,

his Gospel directives and teachings,

for the next couple of months.

Jesus seeks not our comfort.

Jesus seeks our faithfulness;

Our complicit effort to overturn

The current world order anchored in evil and sin.

Jesus is seeking for us to enter into a divine collaboration to create

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

Jesus disrupts our routine and

Leaves us holding the bag of responsibility

To continue his work.

Getting routine disrupted is uncomfortable at best,

Life threatening, life ending at worst.

With every step Jesus makes towards Jerusalem, time is running short.

It is the same urgency he intends to instill into the heart of every one of his disciples.

With every beat of our heart,

With every breath we take,

Time is running out.

……………..

What are we to make of Jesus preaching about

Burning down and dividing households?

Juxtapose what he says today with his prayer for Christian unity in the Garden of Gethsemane.

(Take an aspirin and call me in the morning.)

What are we to make of interpreting the signs?

A few thoughts.

1. Passion.

The intense passion of Jesus

Communicates to us his deepest desire

For the transformation of the world.

The current order is flawed and unsustainable.

The world must be turned upside down.

Repair or replace?

Isn’t the question we ask when a major appliance breaks down?

Prophetic tinkering just didn’t get the job done.

Judges and Kings just couldn’t stay the course.

Either they couldn’t keep hand to plow, or, despite best intentions,

Were unable to fulfill God’s will.

Jesus is in the business of full stop renovation,

Out with the old,

In with the new.

A God in the business of continual re-creation

Is One to get passionate about.

A God with the open invitation to join in this effort

Is One to praise and thank.

Got passion?

If not, where has it gone, and

More important, how can you get

The passion of Jesus back into your spiritual life?

2. Choices.

For the world to be transformed into the Kingdom of God

Choices must be made.

Hard choices.

Jesus isn’t talking superficially about

What kind of cookies to supply coffee hour after worship

Or weather to bring a casserole, salad, or desert to our picnic in the pavilion.

Jesus is talking about family splitting decisions,

A willingness to divorce ourselves from

Anyone and anything

that destroys, obstructs, or distracts God’s will, efforts, and progress.

Church isn’t play and

Discipleship isn’t kindergarten.

Divorce is painful, but

Choices must be made about what is to be left behind.

Divorce means some things, not all things, must be ended with the same finality as wood on a campfire.

Like our parking lot sorting shed,

Some church relic’s need to be tossed,

Others must be allowed to sunset and fade away,

To make way for what God is creating new

Right here in our midst.

Divorce means making the hard decisions,

Painful decisions sometimes.

Walking away and leaving yesterday behind frees us to live today and face tomorrow.

Choose to journey with Jesus.

Accept our new roll and responsibility

For the transformation of the world.

3. Interpretation.

Reading the signs and

Making an informed opinion of what the signs mean

Is not simple or easy.

Nor is it for the faint of heart.

Pity the fool whose conclusions are made in haste or undisciplined emotion.

Our brightest and best have trouble reading the present times,

What makes you or me think that we can do better?

“Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” Jesus asks.

It is essential for disciples of Jesus to maintain situational awareness

Of what is transpiring in the world

To make the best-informed decisions.

Be alert.

Be awake.

Gather every ounce of information possible.

Listen.

Learn.

Reason.

Resist the temptation to judge.

Pray.

Watch and listen for the Holy Spirit to respond.

The need for interpretation is not an invitation for the preacher

To create policy or legislation, or

For the layperson to abandon scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.

Interpretation doesn’t shape the facts to fit the opinion.

Beloved,

Cut each other a little slack.

Recognize the fact that we are all questioning.

Each of us struggle with the question, “What does it mean?”

Interpretation is hard work and the risks of getting it right or wrong are enormous.  

Take the risk, anyways.

4. Urgency.

When the house is on fire there is an urgency

To get out of the door.

Jesus is bringing the fire,

Meaning we must get it into high gear.

You and I see the storm clouds approaching,

The wind and the rain marching across the field,

Meaning its past time to take cover.

The time to take cover was yesterday.

Get in the storm cellar.

Hunker down in the bathtub.

Get going.

Now!

What is Jesus in such a hurry about?

Jesus is in a hurry for our repentance.

Recognize our faults, seek forgiveness for our sins, make changes to amend our ways.

You and I only have a limited amount of time,

A limited number of breaths and heartbeats

To get it done.

Do better, and

Bring the world along with you.

Likewise, Jesus urgently is in need for the Church to bear fruit.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

Prune the vine and burn the branches.

Harvest what God has sown, nurtured, created, grown.

The Church bears fruit when it lives out its mission:

… to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

… to share the body and blood of Christ when we gather in Christ’s name.

… to love the Lord our God, with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

…………

If the Gospel offends, good;

You’re paying attention.

Better to be offended and saved from the fire.

Where’s your passion?

Got any passion in your spiritual journey? If not, why not?

If it’s gone, what are you going to do to get it back?

You’ve got choices to make.

Time to put on the big-boy pants and decide

What gets left behind and what doesn’t.

What needs to get done to prepare for God’s current and future creation?

Interpret the signs.

Slowly.

Carefully.

Deliberately.

Prayerfully.

Then, and only then,

Act urgently and decisively.

Repent.

Bear fruit.

Live the mission for the transformation of the world.

Amen.

“Your Father’s Good Pleasure”

Luke 12:32-40

August 7,2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 12:32-40

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

| Centering Prayer |

We learn to live with contradictions in our lives

or else we go crazy.

Consider for a moment Science and Religion.

Those who know me well

know that I am a child of the Scientific method.

In other words, if you want me to believe something

prove it to me.

Spare me the anecdotes and testimonials,

I require a higher standard.

With my undergraduate in mathematics

taking a lot of engineering and computer science courses,

coupled with my advanced EMT training and learning from neuroscience researchers at the University of Rochester and around the world,

I demand the rigor of scientific studies

that can be replicated by others,

that are assured of the removal all subjective influence by evaluators,

and that can demonstrate safety and efficacy.

Safe and effective.

That’s the goal, isn’t it?

We want things to work.

And we want them to work safely.

Here is the contradiction:

I’m aware that there is great mystery in the world.

Things happen in the absence of scientific explanation.

People from non-western cultural backgrounds

appear to be in much better acceptance

of this reality than I am.

Our Eastern Orthodox sisters and brothers would give an eye roll

with any Western skepticism of Jesus’ miracles

and demand for scientific explanation.

Roman Catholic colleagues would refer the unexplained

to committee for further examination

for Papal consideration and possible sainthood.

Even the faithful in non-Christian traditions

appear to be more comfortable with

experience serving as an equivalent

or even superior

means of discernment

than that of the scientific method.

In late Spring 1964 I was struck by a car

In front of Lincoln Middle School,

Jamestown NY.

The car slammed me into a curb,

breaking my skull.

(That might explain a lot)

Headaches were eased by aspirin

whose methods of efficacy still are not known.

My skull healed without any medical treatment

other than the physician’s directive for my mother to

“wake the boy every hour for the first night.”

I didn’t die.

To me it is a mystery.

In the Spring of 1981 I walked through the doors of

Marsh Chapel on the campus of Boston University

stood in front of a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was swept away by the unexplainable.

An Aldersgate moment, if you will;

Similar to John Wesley’s heart being strangely warmed follow a prayer meeting on Aldersgate Street in London, England.

My mind let go,

I was awash in love,

I experienced the complete acceptance of grace,

and had my inner spiritual polarity reversed.

The direction of my life was changed from becoming a chemical engineer

to becoming a servant of Christ and his Church.

My heart was strangely warmed.

I cannot explain it.

In 2009 I stood on a wind and storm-tossed boat on the Sea of Galilee

(this is an actual photograph, above)

reading the Gospel narrative of Jesus calming the storm.

I looked out to the water, the weather, and the terrain

and commanded wind and the rain to be still

just as Jesus did.

And it became

still.

Immediately still.

I cannot rationally or scientifically explain it.

In my life,

I have stopped trying.

I have stopped trying to explain the contradiction of Science and Religion;

the juxtaposition of proof vs faith.

I have become comfortable living with the two

in dynamic tension,

perhaps the two even engaged

in an intimate slow dance

that is the pinnacle of human experience.

For me, this has come with a confidence of faith

grown through maturity and experience.

I know

The God of my experience

Is in control.

I can let go.

Grow comfortable with contradictions

or go crazy.

I choose the former.

Our Gospel lesson for today highlights two apparent contradictions

that has caused encyclical temper tantrums and ecclesiastical melt-downs

in the Church for centuries.

Allow me to lay it out for you

to see for yourselves.

Jesus continues to travel with his disciples on the road

From Galilee, in the north,

to Jerusalem, in the south,

to his eventual passion, death, and resurrection.

Jesus tells them, and,

By extension, he tells us today,

Our hearts follow our treasure.

We are directed to prepare

And remain alert for Christ’s eventual return.

To forgive sins and

To conquer death

Jesus only had to die.

Likewise

To have our sins forgiven

We must overcome death and be raised into eternal life.

Do you see a common theme here?

It’s death.

Which, fortunately, is the one certainty that lies in each of our future.

The only thing we must do is die.

All the good works in the world are not going to matter one iota.

Be the saint, if you want to,

or be a sewer dwelling rat.

With Christ,

he died for us all.

Adolf Hitler and Mother Teresa:

both are in.

Vlad the Impaler and Gandhi the peacemaker:

both are in.

Your bully and your beast;

Yep, they’re in.

Your fellow classmate, teacher, or overbearing boss; in.

Your adversary and your ex;

your tormentor and your evil twin;

they are in, too.

“But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”

(Romans 5:8)

This, my beloved, is often referred to as “The Scandal of Grace”.

Love it or leave it.

This is the Good News of God’s grace.

And God’s grace isn’t going away.

Grace never leaves you or me.

Our Gospel lesson for this morning is just one example of the contradiction

that turns the thoughtful disciple of Jesus

to the medicine cabinet for a bottle of antacid.

The parable that Jesus tells us this morning

clearly conveys the message to

Be awake!

Be alert!

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.”

The Son of Man is returning at any moment

and we must be prepared.

Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (12:37-40)

The contradiction is this:

On the one hand, it sounds like our behavior doesn’t matter:

we are simply redeemed and saved by the grace of God

won for us by the cross and the resurrection.

On the other hand, it sounds like our behavior does matter:

We must prepare for the coming of the Son of Man.

What gives?

In my opinion, and,

In my interpretation of the Gospel,

The answer to the question

 – Does Christian behavior matter? –

comes from a confidence of faith

and willingness to live with the contradiction

by dancing with God

and observing the following:

Regarding personal salvation; no, behavior does not matter.

Regarding the salvation of the world and the transformation of the world into the kingdom of God; yes, Christian behavior does matter. A lot.

The answer comes in the opening verses of our Gospel for today.

It is our Father’s good pleasure to have already given us the kingdom,

Like an old car in need of restoration,

now we are being asked to take part in the transformation of the world;

not with the goal of our own personal salvation

but with the goal of God collectively saving humanity.

God has already given us the kingdom,

rendering all our possessions and money useless.

Our treasures might as well be catapulted

to the eternal depths of the Labrea Tar Pits.

Things, property, money lose their power and value

because

God has already given us everything.

The rest is up to us.

Instead of investing our time and effort in what has no value

invest in the unfailing treasure of heaven.

Give your whole heart to the treasures of heaven

that the earth might be transformed.

Give your whole heart

to bringing the kingdom of God

to the kingdoms of this earth.

A confidence of faith

residing in the certainty of God’s favor;

revealed, lived, died, raised, and ascended in Jesus

gives us the freedom to die to our self.

We don’t need to worry about our final disposition.

We are confident in our redemption and eternal life.

This confidence of faith gives us

the freedom to live for others.

Why reach out to families living with food insecurity in Rush and Henrietta all-the-while serving up lunches at “A Meal and More” in downtown Rochester?

Why should we care about the children and families in our neighborhood supported by the love and Christian values of PromiseLand Childcare?

Why love individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families in Monroe and Livingston Counties?

Why maintain a relationship with people dying and the care of their children half a world away in South Africa?

Because we are confident

that God means to transform the world

and make all creation

into God’s eternal kingdom,

just as it is in heaven.

“Do not be afraid,” Jesus assures us.

It is okay to live with apparent contradictions of faith in life.

In time

a life awash in God’s grace

becomes a life of confidence;

of discipleship

following in the example of Jesus

to bring justice, peace, and love to our broken and sin filled world.

This is your Father’s good pleasure

dearly beloved.

It’s up to you and me

To make it so.

Amen.

“When Something is Enough”

Luke 12:13-21

July 31, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”

But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

| Centering Prayer |

It’s good to know that Jesus practices what he preaches:

If your brother has a log in his eye,

take the log out of your own eye,

then go directly to him

and help him get the log out of his eye.

Don’t invite others into your dispute with someone else.

Just as importantly, don’t let yourself get sandwiched in between two others who are in dispute with each other.

This important quality is taught in

Introduction to Pastoral Care the first year of seminary.

It is call triangulation.

Don’t do it.

Don’t get caught in it.

Jesus avoids triangulation this morning;

getting himself caught between two brothers feuding over a family estate.

By Jewish law at the time of Jesus

The entire estate went to the eldest son.

So, the argument is coming from a younger son

Without a legal claim

Who desired an abundance of possessions.

It is sad their focus is on the inheritance

and not on giving thanks to God

for the life that made the inheritance possible.

Guard against all kinds of greed, Jesus tells us.

The problem of greed,

as Jesus correctly observes,

is that greed steals the focus away from God,

away from one another

– where life is lived –

and inappropriately places that focus on the abundance of possessions.

When we chose possessions and property over people

we surrender our lives

and find ourselves increasingly isolated.

When we chose possessions over God

we surrender our souls

and find ourselves increasingly without meaning.

The issue does not appear to be one of quantity.

In other words, I find little evidence in the Gospels that wealth, per se, is evil.

It doesn’t matter if your net worth is ten dollars or ten billion.

Rather, the issue is what you do with what you’ve been given.

The stewardship of time, talent, and treasure

Is continually addressed by Jesus

as being one of where your life focus lies.

Do you think about things?

Do you obsess about money, income, expenses, or things?

Because when we do, you’re not thinking about God.

We’re not listening to the whisper of the Spirit

about God’s will for our lives

or our things.

If we keep our eye on Jesus

and live according to the will of the Holy Spirit

God can get anyone through the eye of any old needle.

Life doesn’t consist in the abundance of possessions.

Life only has meaning when it’s lived faithful to the will of God.

Not for nothing,

but when one person has an abundance

it often means

it has come at the expense of another.

When there is a huge difference in wealth,

where people with much

live next to people with little

– poverty, hunger, powerlessness –

a culture of greed and crime is nurtured and fertilized.

I’ve seen the devastating results of income and wealth inequality

In Nicaragua, Guatemala, Israel, and Palestine.

Inequality,

And its associated consequences, exists right here in Monroe County.

Like a meteorological flux in temperature

The resulting gusts of crime and evil

Destroys communities, neighborhoods, and families.

Is this the world Jesus wants to preserve?

Absolutely not!

Christians cannot be in the business of nurturing and growing greed

in others or in ourselves.

Loving our neighbor means

reaching out from our abundance

to the last, the least, the lost, the left behind,

the poor, the widow, the orphaned, the diseased, and the left for dead.

This is not political.

This is all about the kingdom of heaven that Jesus desires

by the transformation of the earth.

Unlike last Sunday’s mislabeled scripture

(“The Lord’s Prayer” should have been labeled “The Disciple’s Prayer”)

today’s parable from Jesus is correctly titled

“The Parable of the Rich Fool”.

Fools are not unique to wealthy people.

In my humble opinion

fools are evenly distributed across the socioeconomic spectrum.

Today, however, Jesus is talking about a rich fool.

His foolishness operates at many levels.

First, the rich man is a poor planner.

He planted way too much for his established capacity

to harvest, store, market, and transport his crop.

Let’s just say

Math wasn’t his strong suit.

Neither was business, economics, or project planning.

This dude is in way over his head.

What a fool.

Secondly, before you tear down existing production capacity,

wouldn’t it make more sense to build the new, improved barns first,

so that production could be seamlessly transitioned from the old barns to the new one?

What would happen if your contractor walked off the job?

or weather struck and building was delayed

with the fields full of rotting crops?

Even I can see that this would be foolish.

What a fool.

Thirdly, you’d rather place your faith in your storage capacity

than in God?

Seriously?

So, what happens next year when drought hits and your oversized barns are emptied?

Eventually the food is going to run out.

Empty barns are expensive to maintain.

Markets go up and markets go down.

But the everlasting love and sustenance of God never waivers.

It’s foolish to trust in anything but God!

Fourth, eat, drink, and be merry?

Dude, grow up.

What about the farm workers

who made the abundant harvest possible?

Are you seriously thinking of partying it up in front of those

by whose sweat and hard work

pulled you away from the brink of failure?

That’s mighty selfish of you!

How about throwing a party for those who earned it

and not for yourself

and your foolish failure to plan?

Fifth, think of God.

God created the land, the seed, the water, and the sunshine.

God gave life to the seed.

God created the land to produce,

To sustain all God’s creation.

To under utilize or abuse

the fields God created to support humankind

Is an ungrateful response to God’s amazing grace.

We all know a fool when we see one.

So does God.

“You fool!” God says to him.

What God gives, God can take away.

Life, given by God, can be demanded this very night.

… this very moment.

Abundance, given by God, can be redistributed

by your estate and a handful of lawyers in a New York minute.

And what will it have gained you?

Is this the legacy you want to leave behind?

Meaning comes

when we make Christ our life’s focus.

This is when we are rich towards God.

Meaning comes

when we slice out greed from our heart

and replace it with love of God and love of neighbor.

Meaning comes

when we are so focused on Jesus

that the background noise of this world is drowned out

and we can only hear the Spirit’s whisper.

Greed is such an easy temptation;

this is why greed must be greatly opposed.

Who wouldn’t want to see a swelling retirement account,

a beautiful house,

and a swag-o-licious sports car in the driveway?

Who wouldn’t want to attend a church

with a million-dollar endowment,

new carpets,

a new parking lot,

and a perfectly manicured lawn?

Yet, these things have the potential to divert our eyes off the prize.

The prize is Jesus.

God has given us all we need

with overflowing abundance.

The question is

how are we distributing our wealth

of time, talent, and treasure?

Waste is a sign of poor stewardship.

Vital and effective worship and outreach

Is a sign that we are practicing good stewardship,

Making investments in our neighbors,

And taking time for our God.

What kind of stewards have we become?

My eyes are on Jesus

when I share generously out of my abundance.

My eyes are on Jesus

when I encourage others to listen to the Gospel

and apply the stewardship of Jesus to their own lives.

Dearly beloved,

join me

in placing this vanity behind us.

Let us stop building bigger barns

and let us build bigger

the kingdom of God.

Amen.

“A Posture of Persistence”

Proper 12C, July 24, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 11:1-13

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’

And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

| Centering Prayer |

Prayer is a teachable skill.

At a young age

Parents, Sunday school teachers, and pastors alike

Teach our children

Prayers for bedtime,

Prayers before a meal,

Prayers at the communion table.

Guidelines and expectations are set:

Don’t let your thoughts stray;

The posture for prayer,

Often, hands folded and head bowed;

Even how to pray in public,

Usually, keep it short and simple!

Mechanics are taught by rote memorization

And burned deeply into our memories

For recall at a moment’s notice.

The goal is to create idealism,

A placid countenance,

A reverence regarding prayer

That becomes acculturated into life-long Christian practice.

We age,

We mature,

We ripen into adulthood,

And the silver polish of prayer begins to develop tarnish.

Life experiences create questions beyond mere mechanics:

How does God answer prayers?

Why aren’t my prayers always answered?

Tragedy, illness, suffering, death

Can create a tremendous amount of

Christian frustration,

disappointment,

misunderstanding,

and pain.

I asked, Lord.

I begged you, Lord.

Yet, you didn’t appear to hear my cry.

You told me to pray like this;

I prayed like that,

And nothing seemed to happen.

Indeed,

There may come patches in life

Where we stop praying altogether.

Yes, we bow,

Close our eyes,

We may even recite,

But it is oh, so easy for our minds to be elsewhere …

Simply because we’ve become

chronically under whelmed.

Results often don’t appear to live up to our expectations.

Late life brushes with mortality,

Taking inventory of one’s ultimate concern,

I’ve observed.

Often creates a renewed passion

To re-engage in an active prayer life.

No place in the Gospel narratives

Is a better place to begin

A deeper reflection about prayer

Than this eleventh chapter of St. Luke.

In thirteen short verses we are given

The Lord’s prayer,

A parable on prayer, and

Several sayings on prayer.

Answers to our deeper questions

Can be squeezed from scripture.

The words of Jesus

Give us direction

And set the larger context

In which conclusions about prayer can be made.

I don’t know why we’ve come to call

Jesus’ response to the disciples question

“The Lord’s Prayer.”

Given the disciples exposure to our Lord’s practice,

(Luke gives at least nine accounts of Jesus praying)

it might more appropriately be called

“The Disciples’ Prayer”

[With thanks to David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, as found at workingpreacher.org]

More plain,

more simple

than Matthew’s version,

Luke offers a more down to earth signature

That emphasizes bread for tomorrow,

The importance of forgiveness,

And an intimate invitation to address the Holy One of Israel,

Whose name no Jew would ever speak or write,

To address God as Pater,

Father;

As a child would ask a loving parent

For anything of need or desire.

Pray simply.

Pray intimately, Jesus teaches us.

“Suppose one of you has a friend,”

Jesus begins his parable with a premise

That almost sounds like an attempt at Scottish humor or a skit from Monty Python.

(Knock)

“Go away!” is the first response to the knock.

(Knock)

“I’ve got company, and nothing to serve.”

“Can you help me?”

“We’re already in bed; go away!”

(Knock)

Persistent knocking, however,

Persistent pleading

brings results.

“Alright, already! Let me see what I can find you.

Just stop the knocking; you’ll wake the entire neighborhood!”

I’m told by Greek scholars

That the word Persistence,

Anaideia,

Is better translated as

“shamelessness.”

It implies

a boldness that comes from familiarity and

the knowledge that the neighbor is beholden by the community’s expectation of hospitality.

The friendly neighbor is probably thinking to himself,

“you know I can’t turn you away!

Let me see what I can find you,”

As he sighs in resignation.

I like this boldness;

This parables’ posture taken towards prayer.

Pray with Anaideia!

Pray boldly.

Pray persistently.

Pray shamelessly, Jesus teaches us.

In a similar way,

Ask, search, knock.

This is often thought of as a directive to be persistent.

However, it appears that when these commands are coupled

With Jesus’ hyperbolic, rhetorical questions

… Who would give your child a snake when they asked for a fish? …

… Who would give your child a scorpion when they ask for an egg? …

one can advance these sayings beyond the obvious:

Ask, search, knock may be

more about confidence

… knowing that you will receive what you ask for …

and more about trust

… trusting that God will respond to your every petition …

than it is about persistence.

Yes, persistent prayer is the obvious reach that Jesus is making.

Yet, confidence and trust are the foundation that lay just below the surface

Text, letter

Description automatically generatedFor those willing to dive deeper.

Pray with confidence.

Pray, trusting that God will respond, Jesus teaches us.

So, where does this leave us?

Like the original disciples

We love the questions about mechanics:

How?

Why?

When should we pray?

Given the complexity of life

And our innate desire for instant solutions

…. Point zero nine seconds for a Google search, finding 14 billion results …

…. 40 minutes to resolve the toughest case on CSI or Law and Order …

it is entirely understandable

why most of us never move beyond

the mechanical question about prayer.

Yet, for those who are spiritually evolving and curious

It is important to recognize that

Jesus is more interested in invitation than explanation.

Prayer becomes the means

To invite us into a relationship with God,

“offering us

the opportunity to approach

the God whose name is too holy to speak

and whose countenance too terrible to behold

with the familiarity, boldness, and trust of a young child

running to her parent

for both provision and protection.”

[Quotation by David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, as found at workingpreacher.org]

Indeed, prayer is less about getting

Then it is about

being in relationship with God.

Though God may know all our needs before we ask,

Today we are invited to ask anyways.

Ask because we are invited into the conversation with our Creator,

We are invited into an intimate relationship with our God.

We are invited to ask

With the confidence that

Regardless of the outcome

Our relationship with God

Can bear the strain,

Will survive the immediate need,

And finally, will continue to deepen and grow.

Perhaps our relationship with God

May even depend upon God hearing our every need.

Pray intimately.

Pray shamelessly.

Pray with confidence, trusting that God will respond.

Pray, beloved, and be drawn closer to God.

Amen.