“Keep the Poor Among You Always”

John 12:1-8

April 3, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 12:1-8

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

| Centering Prayer |

Allow me to clear up some confusion.

Mary, the sister anointing Jesus feet, and wiping them with her hair

Is not Mary Magdalene.

This was a medieval western Christianity legend

That attempted to connect her with an unnamed, sinful woman

From the Gospel of Luke (Luke 7:36-50).

This was and is an injustice to Mary Magdalen that is perpetuated to this day.

That unnamed, sinful woman from Luke 7

Also anointed Jesus feet and wiped them with her hair

While he was eating with one of the Pharisees

At his house in Jerusalem.

Likewise, the pair of sisters today, Mary and Martha,

Is not the Mary and Martha sisters

– Mary who sits at the feet of Jesus

while Martha waits on them hand and foot –

As depicted in the Gospel of St. Luke (Luke 10:38-42).

That pair of sisters lived in the region where Jesus began his ministry,

In the north,

In the region of Galilee.

Great story; different sisters.

John’s Gospel account of Mary and Martha

Is about a completely different pair of sisters,

Coincidentally also named Mary and Martha.

Mary and Martha were common names.

St. John’s narrative about Mary and Martha

Takes place in the south,

In a suburb of Jerusalem called Bethany, and

Includes a brother by the name of Lazarus.

You may remember,

Lazarus was dead, stinking, and rotting four days in a tomb

When Jesus came and raised him from the dead and brought him back to life.

Raising Lazarus from the dead, St. John records,

Led to some Jews in the crowd believing in Jesus and following him,

While others went to the Pharisees and the council in outrage.

The council decided to have Jesus arrested (John 11:45-57) and Lazarus killed (John 12:9-11).

Jesus withdrew further away from Jerusalem to Ephraim,

Near the wilderness, and

Remained there with his disciples. (John 11:54)

When Passover drew near,

Jesus makes his way back towards Jerusalem,

Stopping back in Bethany to have dinner with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

I wonder if Jesus inquired about Lazarus’ health?

“Did you walk towards the light?”

“Any lingering effects of being DEAD?”

Seriously, though,

Passover is near, and so too is Jesus’ hour.

A number of items from the Gospel of John,

About this act of love, followed by the confrontation with Judas Iscariot,

Catches my eye and

Captures my heart.

1. Smell.

The stench of Lazarus dead four days in a tomb. (John 11:39)

The smell of costly perfume made of nard,

Filling the house with fragrance. (John 12:3)

Death and life are contrasted in both scenes.

Corruption, on the one hand, and wholeness, on the other.

Smell calls the observant to attention.

Pause for a moment to smell.

Breath in deeply the smell of Mary’s perfume.

Imagine this house filled with its fragrance.

Rudyard Kipling wrote

“Smells are surer than sounds or sights

To make your heart-strings crack.”

(http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_licht.htm)

Smell can be associated with a memory,

Good or bad,

That can last a lifetime.

The smell of costly perfume

Can be a foretaste of the Passion that is to come.

One can almost smell the newly crucified Jesus,

His corpse washed.

Nard smoothed into the skin.

His body wrapped,

Stuffed with myrrh and aloes and laid in a tomb. (John 19:39)

2. Anointing.

Jesus reports

Mary purchased the perfume

For his burial.

“She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.”

(John 12:7)

Kings are anointed at coronation.

Priests are anointed at ordination.

The newly converted are anointed by the Holy Spirit.

The dying are anointed on their deathbed.

The dead are anointed

recognizing new birth to eternal life.

This very day,

On the eve of Jesus riding triumphantly into Jerusalem

Jesus is anointed by Mary, the sister of Lazarus,

As a wonderful, beautiful, loving act of preparation

For Jesus to complete his mission:

To redeem the world,

Reconciling the world to God.

Too often, we experience the love of God, through Jesus His Son,

Moving in a single direction,

From God to humankind,

From God to me.

Mary is one of the rare examples of reversing love’s flow.

She loves Jesus,

Is willing to sacrifice greatly to show him love and compassion.

Mary returns to the Lord the love that first comes from God.

Mary’s love isn’t withheld.

It isn’t miserly or a mere token.

Mary takes a pound of costly perfume to anoint Jesus’ feet.

Mary’s love is extravagant, over the top, excessive, enormous;

Exactly like God’s love for you and me.

We may say we love Jesus.

We often talk about loving Jesus.

Talk is cheap.

Actions speak louder than words.

Mary’s act of love is actually demonstrating love for Jesus.

How might we do the same?

What can you and I do to actually show our extraordinary love for Jesus?

Love Jesus?

Show me.

Show the world.

3. Poverty.

It is impossible to separate Jesus from the poor.

The Gospel author of John

Recognizes how deeply entwined the message and meaning of Jesus

Is tied to how we respond to the poor of this world.

It is no accident that Judas Iscariot

… The one who was about to betray Jesus,

The one who kept the common purse

The one who robbed from it for his personal benefit …

Brings up the topic of the poor.

True, perfume that cost a year’s wages

could have been sold and given to the poor.

After his skimming, the poor would have probably received a fraction of the proceeds.

Judas wasn’t concerned for the poor.

But, John correctly notes that Jesus was.

Jesus brought good news in tangible ways to the oppressed and vulnerable.

He fed the hungry.

He healed the sick.

He returned the broken to wellness and restored them into community.

Jesus resisted oppressive and corrupt

political, religious, and social systems

That lay at the root cause of the worlds suffering.

There is an important insight to John’s Gospel

That comes from the ancient Greek.

Sometimes the present indicative form of a word

Matches the present imperative;

which is an academic way of saying

“maybe we should read Jesus’ statement not as indication of the way things are – ‘You always have the poor with you’

but as a command: … ‘Keep the poor among you always.’”

(With thanks to Lindsey Trozzo, as found at: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3993)

Keep the poor among you always.

Living a life of Christian piety is a life immersed in poverty.

One who understood and practiced piety was Francis Asbury.

A few years ago I read his biography,

“American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodist” by John Wigger.

Asbury rode thousands of miles on horseback

During the American Revolution and in the decades thereafter,

Preaching the Gospel,

Converting the masses,

Expanding the Methodist movement beyond the wealthy coastal cities

Deep into the wilderness and frontier.

Asbury owned little,

Gave most everything away,

Lived on the generosity of host families.

His primary concern was with the saving of souls,

Bringing people into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ,

Then discipling them by organizing people into class meetings.

Class meetings, patterned after the class meetings of John Wesley,

Were led by a lay leader,

Met regularly,

Served to support one another in their discipleship,

And to reach out and serve the poor.

It’s rigid discipline encouraged love and devotion;

A modest, pious Christian life moving on towards sanctification.

Asbury avoided the trappings of wealth and power,

Eagerly seeking the farmer, the slave, the common person.

Asbury avoided locating in the comforts of cities on the Eastern seaboard,

Preferring the interior wilderness of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Tennessee.

Boarding with a frontier family,

Warmed by their hearth,

Speaking of mortal and immortal concerns,

Warms the heart and quickens the soul.

Keep the poor among you always, Jesus commanded.

Opportunities abound to not just talk about poverty

But to do something about it.

One in five children in America live in poverty.

Of our total population, 48% are poor or low income.

At the same time, 1% of the population own 43% of the nation’s wealth.

The bottom 80% are left with just 7% of wealth.

(http://kairoscenter.org/poor-peoples-campaign-concept-paper/)

And that’s just in America.

Love the Lord, the Great Commandment tells us.

Love your neighbor as yourself, it is quickly followed up.

When we can love our neighbors as extravagantly as Mary loved Jesus,

We will go a long way towards keeping the poor among us

And serving their needs.

Just as Jesus fed the hungry crowds,

So too can we feed those who are unable to feed themselves or their families.

Just as Jesus healed the sick,

So too can we make health care affordable and accessible to all who need it.

Just as Jesus railed against systems of injustice and oppressions of this world,

So too can we.

Dearly beloved,

Breathe deeply and smell the fragrance of Mary’s anointing perfume.

Be inspired to love Jesus,

Not just by our words,

But through our actions

With acts of love and charity.

Love God and

Love neighbors,

Especially our poorest of neighbors.

Roll up the sleeves and don’t be afraid of getting your hands dirty.

Serve the poor.

You’re doing the Lord’s work.

Keep the poor among us always.

Be God’s extravagant love.

Live modestly.

Embrace piety.

Live that you may please God.

Let the rest take care of itself.

Amen.

“‘That Son of Yours!’ The Injustice of Grace”

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

March 27, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

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:

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’

So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

| Centering Prayer |

Oh, my.

Where to start?

The challenges of preaching on this parable of Jesus are many.

1. It’s well known.

Most of us are familiar with it.

2. It’s been interpreted by preachers, professors, video Bible study leaders, and countless Sunday school teachers.

Quality and frequency varies, as does memory and age.

Even still, there aren’t many unturned stones.

3. This parable often arouses the dysfunction of families to bubble to the surface.

Coffee hour, the ride home, and conversation around the dinner table could be interesting today.

It might be painful for many.

My Sunday school experience

Labeled this parable

“The Parable of the Prodigal Son.”

But there is a loving father and a resentful brother.

There are a lot of moving parts and multiple levels of Gospel truths embedded here.

In the original Greek

There are no titles, chapters, or verses in the Gospels.

These have all been added later by scribes, editors, early Church fathers, and translators.

The title assigned to a section, event, or parable

Reflect the author’s bias and

Shape the audience perspective.

How we think about the Gospel is often shaped

By how others thought about the Gospel.

So, what should we title our parable?

Here is my top four titles:

1. “Parable of the Prodigal Son”

2. “Parable of the No Good, Good for Nothing, Rotten-to-the-Core Son”

3. “Parable of Lost Sons”

4. “Parable of a Father’s Injustice”

I started out with 10 titles,

Thinking each would make a good sermon point.

If I went with all 10 we’d be here all day.

I wrote 2 and cut it back to 8.

It was still too long, so

I settled in on 4.

At the end of the day,

Jesus promises to offend everyone

By the injustice of God’s grace.

1. “Parable of the Prodigal Son”

This is the traditional, Sunday school title assigned to this parable.

Prodigal means “a person who spends money in a recklessly extravagant way.” (Google search)

It assumes the younger son’s point of view:

He was rebellious.

He engaged in sinful behavior.

He loses everything.

No one helps him.

Life is terrible feeding pigs.

Even non-practicing, secular Jews would find slopping pigs abhorrent.

He plans and carries out a scheme to manipulate his father

With the hope that he will be allowed back home and reinstated as if nothing happened.

The Prodigal Son’s plan is successful.

Moral of the story: no matter how bad you mess up your life,

Your heavenly Father is waiting, watching, and hoping you will return home.

There is nothing – nothing whatsoever – that can separate anyone from the love of God.

It is our Father’s deepest, longing desire that we return home to God.

Can you live with that?

2. “Parable of the No Good, Good for Nothing, Rotten-to-the-Core Son”

This point of view could have come from the grumbling Pharisees and scribes.

Judgment is often decreed by those deemed most pious, privileged, or righteous;

Like card carrying members of the conservative caucus,

The Yacht Club,

Ivy League-ers.

Who would associate

With tax collectors and sinners?

This is the kind of judgment that Pharisees and scribes would have made:

The youngest son is an awful person who gets an awesome party.

If we find ourselves in this group of people

Who work hard to maintain our conservative, righteous credentials,

Along with the Pharisees and scribes,

It’s natural to resent the younger son.

This naturally leads us to question

“What is God’s answer to our resentment?”

Answer: love.

Moral of the story:

God’s love is without regard to prior behavior.

God doesn’t appear to be concerned with

How it plays in public opinion polls

Or what other people think.

Our Father’s love is unconditional, lavish, and abundant.

Can you live with that?

3. “Parable of Lost Sons”

How does a loving Father end up raising two knuckleheaded, hopelessly lost sons?

Growing up the youngest of four

In our Pennsylvania Dutch family,

I know that I got away with murder.

I also know how stubborn and bull-headed I can be.

I could very well be that younger brother seeking to sow my wild oats.

Fact: I don’t like getting my hands dirty.

I don’t like working under a hot sun.

When my brother works sun up to sun down he makes me look bad.

Fact: The younger son does not deserve the inheritance he received.

By tradition and law,

It is all supposed to go to the eldest male child.

Asking for it plays the Father like a fiddle.

Giving it tells me

He is not only soft in the heart,

The Father is soft in the head, too.

My name is “Mayhem” and I star in the Allstate commercials.

At the same time

I could very well be that older brother working out in the field.

Fact: The baby of the family was always Father’s favorite,

And he always gets a free pass.

Fact: That brother of mine never worked a hard day in his life. 

Fact: I was happy when he left.

I hoped he never returned.

Fact: When he did return, no one even had the courtesy to tell me.

Fact: He’s dead to me.

I’m never talking to him again.

To which the loving Father responds:

“‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” (15:31-32)

Moral of the story: Finding the lost and returning them home is our Heavenly Father’s greatest priority.

Can you live with that?

4. How about this for a title:

“Parable of a Father’s Injustice”

Maybe, if dad had raised his sons better, they wouldn’t have turned out so rotten?

Where is the mother in the house?

Talk about dysfunction!

All three of them need psychiatric intervention,

To be medicated, and

Sent to long-term care!

No matter how one experiences this parable of Jesus,

It is obvious to all that the loving, patient Father

Does not treat his two sons equally or fairly.

The Father gives to his young buck a share of the inheritance

That belonged to his eldest son.

It wasn’t his to give.

The Father was watching and waiting for his son to return.

He wasn’t out in the field working with his eldest,

Pulling his fair share of the work.

The Father was quick to give his prodigal son

Even more wealth and riches – that weren’t his to give.

He gives him a robe, ring, and sandals.

He gives him his brother’s prize winning 4-H calf.

The eldest son raised him from a pup.

The Father failed to invite his elder son to the party.

Holy cow; no wonder the elder son is angry,

Dug his heels in, and refused to go inside to the party.

There is overflowing resentment towards his Father who treated him unfairly.

“But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’” (15:30)

He’s outraged!

Can you blame him?

Moral of the story: God’s grace isn’t fair.

If God’s grace was fair

The lost would never be found.

The dead would never be raised.

And the only means of redemption and salvation

Would be to work our way into heaven.

I can’t speak for you,

But I’m just not good enough.

The injustice of God’s grace

Reminds us that we are not God;

To pretend otherwise is idolatrous.

Rain falls on the just and the unjust.

Sunshine comes to the good and the bad.

God’s favor comes to the deserving and the undeserving.

The only way for the lost to be found

Is if God’s grace is apportioned according to God’s wisdom,

Not ours.

Can you live with that?

This parable of two sons

Is no more a creative license to eat, drink, and be merry

Than it is to try to earn your way into heaven.

…..

These are the promises of Jesus: no matter how bad you mess up life,

Your heavenly Father is waiting, watching, and hoping you will return home.

Jesus wants us to know these essential truths: our Father’s love is unconditional, lavish, and abundant.

Finding the lost and returning them home is our Heavenly Father’s greatest priority.

Moral of the story: God’s grace isn’t fair.

But it is sufficient.

God’s grace is motivated by our Father’s love

Who desires the lost to be found,

The sinner to be forgiven,

The estranged to be reconciled,

The dead to be given new life.

That’s good enough for me.

Can you live with that?

Amen.

“Time is Short”

Luke 13:1-9

March 20, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 13:1-9

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

| Centering Prayer |

Lent is a season of many facets.

It points us towards Jerusalem and invites us to travel with Jesus towards mortal confrontation.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere,

Lent is a season where Spring teases us with hints of that which is to come,

While reminding us of the reality right before our eyes:

Slush, mud, and that sloppy mess endlessly wiped away from our windshield.

There just isn’t enough windshield wiper fluid in this world.

Keeping a clean windshield this past week made me think about repentance;

A common thread woven throughout Lent,

Addressed each year through the Gospels,

Especially prevalent and characteristic of Luke / Acts.

Had the presence and actions of Jesus Christ taken place today in our cultural environment

Jesus may have used windshield wipers as a metaphor for repentance.

It might have gone something like this:

‘Consider the slush of Spring,

Salted, plowed, and sprayed upon your windshield.

Your windshield wipers are like repentance;

Every sin and moral failure is wiped away,

Never-freezing fluid cleans and shines.

Just as one is able to see more clearly,

Slush and spray return and gradually obscure sight.

Repentance is needed all over again.’

Silly speculation? Perhaps.

Yet, allow our windshield wipers to remind us

Of our need for continual, repeated, lifelong repentance.

…………

Every preacher of experience will have used the Lenten theme of repentance

To address the issue numerous times throughout their career.

I’ve personally interpreted and preached on this Gospel passage on repentance twelve times.

Yet, the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ,

Never ceases to amaze me.

The more I study,

The more I digest and discern,

The more I reflect and pray,

The more the Gospel opens up to me.

I’m always learning something new,

Which allows me to fall deeper into relationship with Jesus.

New is a model of repentance that reflects maturing spiritual growth,

Which I’ve crafted into my imagination a flowing river

Leading us directly to God.

At the beginning of the journey

Is Christianity 101.

Freshman year.

We step into the boat called the Church

And begin our lifelong journey of faith.

We emerge from our baptismal waters an empty slate;

A clean pallet, upon which our mentors, the Saints, begin to paint.

“Teach them all that I have taught you,” Jesus commanded. (Matthew 28:20)

We begin with a definition:

Repentance means

“the activity of reviewing one’s actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs, which is accompanied by commitment to change for the better.”

(Wikipedia, with reference to: Jeremiah Unterman (2017). Justice for All: How the Jewish Bible Revolutionized Ethics. University of Nebraska Press. p. 109.)

Repentance.

Reviewing one’s actions.

Feeling contrition or regret.

A commitment to change for the better.

The God of our Hebrew ancestors,

As recorded in our Old Testament,

Call God’s people to repentance:

“Thus saith the Lord GOD: Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations.” – Ezekiel 14:6

Self-assessment inevitably leads to the feeling of sorrow

And a desire to return to ways of righteously following God’s will and ways.

Our Early Church ancestors

Use the Greek word Metanoia (met-an’-oy-ah) to describe repentance;

A change of mind and a change of conduct. 

John the Baptist called for people to repent.

Jesus called for repentance. (Matthew 4:17)

Jesus instructs his disciples to proclaim repentance. (Mark 6:12)

Peter calls on people to repent in his Pentecost sermon. (Acts 2:38)

Paul calls on both Jew and Greek to repent towards God. (Acts 20:21)

Obviously, the beginning of repentance is an important early step

In the journey that leads us to God.

The behavior of the world,

And our sinful behavior,

Must be recognized and assessed.

We must experience the sorrow that follows;

Sorrow that comes from the heart,

That comes from disappointing God.

Sorrow must drive a growing, burning desire

For moral transformation with a stubborn intention

To never again fail God.

Christianity 101. Repentance begins with moral transformation.

But that’s not where it ends.

……

Christianity 201.

Are you ready

To grow with the flow and

To be brought closer to God?

Turn on your windshield wipers.

Repent.

Rinse.

Wipe.

Repeat.

A clean windshield allows us to see more clearly the reality that surrounds us.

Repentance allows us to see clearly

The hazards and dangers of the world.

Repentance allows us to see clearly

A safe way forward, an escape from the mortal realities of life.

Repentance allows us to bring into sharp focus

The purpose and meaning

Of Christ’s Passion, Suffering, Death, and Resurrection.

It’s impossible to interpret the times without the ability to see clearly.

“You see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens.” Jesus teaches (12:54)

Clean off the windshield so you can see the clouds!

Repentance makes it clear to see the randomness of suffering and death.

Planes fall from the sky and people die.

Eighteen were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them.

The tyrant Pilate killed Galileans and mingled their blood with Temple sacrifices.

Random. Senseless. Suffering.

Repentance makes this crystal clear:

We all die. Age 6 months, 21 years, 59 years, 94 years.

Bad things happen to good people, to bad people, to all people.

Our mortality is shared with everyone else in God’s creation.

Here’s the Good News:

We’re alive right now.

Take advantage of this moment and repent, Jesus encourages us,

“Unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” (13:5)

Repentance can only happen in the here and now;

You can’t repent after you die.

Time is short.

This breath and this heartbeat is a gift from God;

Take advantage of it.

Repent now.

This is what we can see with a clean windshield:

Repentance brings into focus the actions and meaning of Jesus.

With our repeated repentance we can come to a deeper understanding

Of Christ’s love for us,

The generous and abundant gift of atonement,

Substituting our sins for his death upon a cross.

Repentance allows us to see, confirm, and claim God’s promise;

The eternal gift of salvation,

Victory over the grave and a promise that

The river of faith leads us into an eternal presence with God.

Wow.

Repent.

Repent often.

A safe way forward is clear.

Follow the Way;

God’s Way forward.

……

Keep those windshield wipers working

And use your wiper fluid lavishly.

Christianity 301 is right around the next bend.

Repentance makes clear an individual characteristic of a Christian life.

What is often overlooked,

But can now be clearly seen before us,

Is the reality and power of communal repentance.

What happens when more and more of the world’s population

Engages in the repeated acts of individual and collective repentance?

The Kingdom of God advances.

The Kingdom of God grows in strength.

The Kingdom of God welcomes home new disciples of Jesus

And the world is transformed.

Like a rolling snowball that grows with increasing size

The momentum of the Kingdom of God grows with such power and force

That God’s Kingdom will not be deviated.

God’s Kingdom will only have one eventual and certain outcome.

Stand confident in this fact:

There is nothing that you or I can do that will derail or bring to destruction God’s Kingdom.

We are freed with creative license to facilitate and participate in Kingdom growth.

So, let’s repent; and get to work!

Stand confident in this fact:

The outcome of God’s Kingdom is certain;

God’s Kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. (11:2)

Bank it.

Count on it.

……

Our senior year culminates with graduation;

What John Wesley called

Christian Perfection.

Perfection is a complete state of clarity, purity, and love.

Perfection is what we strive for with every act of repentance,

With every wipe of our windshield.

Perfection is the example we attempt to set for those who come behind us.

Perfection is God’s gift of being forgiven,

Being re-made righteous,

Striving to maintain perfect righteousness.

Perfection is God’s gift of salvation,

Living in eternal love and presence of God.

Perfection of the world is God’s deepest desire.

……

Jesus calls you, me, and the world, to repentance.

“Turn back, oh man. Forswear thy foolish ways!” Jesus sings in the musical Godspell.

Assess yourself.

Raise your self-awareness. 

Taste bitter regret.

Rise to the commitment of moral transformation.

Repent, Jesus commands.

As that sin is forgiven and wiped away

See the world more clearly.

Time is short and the length of our lives is unknown and sometimes arbitrary,

So, repent now. Repent repeatedly.

With repentance comes clarity:

See the dangers, trials, and snares before us.

See the path God gives us to safely make forward progress.

Repent, Jesus so desires,

That we may see clearly and journey boldly

With Christ

To his cross and empty tomb.

Repent, beloved.

Repent knowing that

Repentance advances God’s Kingdom, that

Repentance brings us to Christian perfection, that

Repentance brings us home to God.

Amen.

“Cry of Lament”

Luke 13:31-35

March 13, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 13:31-35

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you.

And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

| Centering Prayer |

Lent is a time of prayer;

A continuous conversation directly with God.

Throughout salvation history,

The narrative of God’s creation and intervention in the lives of God’s people,

God expresses a consistent desire to be open and responsive to prayers.

Communication goes both ways.

When God does the talking, it is important for us to do the listening.

God speaks through our thoughts, dreams, visions, intuition, imagination, and creative arts.

God speaks through the words of others,

Through the presence of others,

Through the support of others.

God speaks in the movement of worship;

Scripture proclaimed,

Music and silence,

Sacraments celebrated, experienced, felt, tasted.

Listen.

Listen carefully.

Listen actively.

Listen attentively.

Write it down, less we forget.

There are times when we are directly connected to God in prayer

That we are the ones called upon to do the talking.

Our Biblical history is full of experiences where God longs to hear our voice.

Like a loving parent with an adult child far from home,

God wants us to pick up the phone and share some face time with us.

God wants us to take the time to put pen to paper and fill him in on our latest activities.

God wants to remain intimately engaged in every aspect of your life and mine.

There are many ways that we can do the talking.

Like a good pitcher, it’s good to be able to throw a lot of different kinds of pitches.

Mix it up.

Keep it diverse.

Make it fresh.

First, we can bless and praise the Lord.

Praise and adoration is all about putting into words

Our experience of a powerful, eternal, loving, gracious, forgiving, saving God.

Words come easier for some than for others;

Praise and adoration may be expressed with dance, instrument, ritual, color, or parament.

For others,

It may come simply from awareness

Of being in the presence of the Holy Spirit.   

Secondly, we can use prayer to ask God for what you need.

The fancy title for this is a “Prayer of Petition”.

Jesus tells us to ask, seek, knock.

So we should do it.

In need of forgiveness? Ask for it.

In need of help or support to get through a rough time? Ask for it.

In need of strength to ward off temptation. Ask.

God wants to be asked.

Just do it.

Thirdly, we can use prayer to ask God to assist others.

This is called a “Prayer of Intercession”.

Our prayers are not so much as an expectation that

God Doesn’t know what’s going on, or,

Isn’t concerned with what’s going on, or,

That God will get right to our intercessions

And answer every one of them just as we ask.

Our intercessions create a change in the heart of the one doing the praying.

Intercessions soften us up;

Creating a determination to partner with God

To address the needs of the world.

Fourthly, prayer can be used simply to say “thank you” to God for what God has given and for what God has done.

Attribute the goodness of the world to our God who wants the best for us.

Attribute the victories in life to our God who loves us and works on our behalf.

God’s miraculous work is sometimes obvious, often times not.

Leave nothing up to coincidence or luck.

Give thanks always.

Lastly, often overlooked, but highlighted by Genesis 15 and Luke 13

Is recognizing that cries of lament are also an essential means of prayer.

What is a lament?

Simply stated, a lament is making a complaint.

Stop complaining to one another.

Take your every complaint to the Lord.

Take them straight to the top.

When making your lament,

There is no need to ask for anything.

Simply name your pain.

Spell it out in every detail.

Make your pain God’s pain.

Make your problems God’s problems.

Make God complicit in your suffering.

Make your lament to God,

Leave it at God’s altar,

And walk away.

Leave the rest up to God.

This is exactly what Abram does with God.

God had made covenant with Abram way back in Genesis 12;

He would be given the land,

God would make him great,

Abram would become the progeny of generations of people,

Blessed by God,

Who would populate the earth.

Problem was, Sarai, Abram’s wife, was barren;

… and she was 90 years old. (Genesis 17: 17)

“Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield;

Your reward shall be very great.” (Genesis 15:1)

Reward? Payment?

Abram didn’t want material things;

He was already wealthy.

What Abram wanted was an heir.

Abram doesn’t ask for children;

He just lays it out there.

Abram named his pain,

And made his pain

God’s pain.

That’s a lamentation.

The Lord brought Abram outside and said,

“Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them … So shall your descendants be.” (Genesis 15:5)

You’ll have so many offspring, you won’t be able to count them all.

God reaffirms the promise,

And takes his promise to the next level.

God expands the promise with unlimited abundance. 

God is open to our suffering.

God invites us to share our pain.

This is God’s promise when we cry with lament.

Jesus overlooks the city of Jerusalem

And he cries out in pain.

“Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” (13:34)

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

Who’s very meaning is peace.

-Salem comes from the Hebrew Salom, or Shalom.

Jerusalem had become a place of ruthless, destructive violence, stoning, and killing.

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

This lament is a resounding echo of

Jesus being nearly thrown off a cliff and killed

After reading from the Isaiah scroll

In his hometown synagogue of Nazareth.

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

Is located and established by David on top of Mount Zion.

David had the Ark of the Covenant,

The dwelling place of God,

Located in the center of God’s people

On top of the mountain.

God present.

God centered.

God with God’s people.

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

Whose Temple crowned the peak of Zion,

Became the only place where there was a

Constant connection between heaven and earth.

The Holy of Holies was that intersection

Where God passed freely.

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

The location where God engaged in constant warfare

Over the powers of sin and death

With none other than the devil himself,

Fighting with everything at stake,

Even the life of Jesus.

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

Where belief had waned,

Where faith had become complicit with Rome,

Where organized religion had become drunk with power,

Where Herod Antipas was one of many tyrants the world would know.

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

In this time of Lent,

Jerusalem becomes for us a foreshadowing

Of the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus, yet to come.

Jesus cries with lament;

But this isn’t the final word.

Allow God to lead you outside

To gaze into the night sky.

“Look to the heaven and count them …

So shall your descendants be.” (Genesis 15:5)

Like with Abram,

God responds to the lament of Jesus

With reaffirmation and an expanded, abundant promise.

Jerusalem would not only become known for crucifixion,

Jerusalem would now become known for its empty tomb.

Jerusalem! We will celebrate in a few short weeks

Is become resurrection!

Ascension!

The descent of the Holy Spirit!

The origin for all apostolic missions!

The promised sign for the return of our Messiah, Jesus Christ!

When Jesus cries of lament,

You and I are given license to share our complaints with God, too.

There is no point in complaining to one another;

That only stirs up the hornet’s nest for no good reason.

Take your complaint straight to the top;

Straight to God.

Just spell it out.

Name it.

Invite God into your suffering.

Leave your pain at this altar

Confident in the knowledge, experience, and promise

Of a loving, gracious, and abundant God.

Amen.

“The Liar, and the Lies He Tells”

Luke 4:1-13

March 6, 2022 ~ Lent 1

the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 4:1-13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

| Centering Prayer |

Initially I planned to title this message “Temptation.”

However, my thoughts, reflections, and prayers this week

Have taken me in a different direction.

So I’m calling this “The Liar, and the Lies He Tells.”

Over the years I have preached on this text many times,

usually focusing on temptation.

As I sat reading, rereading, and studying this Gospel narrative,

The role of the devil captured my attention.

We know that Jesus Christ is the head of the church;

and the church is the gathering of all disciples

engaged in His ministry of

grace, love, forgiveness, redemption, and salvation.

In today’s Gospel lesson,

we are presented with a stark contrast to Jesus and the church;

the complete opposite pole,

an absolute contradiction to

everything we believe and know to be true.

We are served up the devil on a silver platter,

the embodiment of all that is evil,

the head liar,

who rules over all that is sin, vile, and immoral.

When I came out of seminary,

I was naive,  

I was ready to explain away the devil and hell.

“After all, how can a loving God create a hell?”

Life and experiences the past 40 years have taught me otherwise.

We’ve become master craftsmen at building our own hell

And accommodating evil and sin.

The danger of denying the existence of evil and immorality

Is being swept away and overwhelmed

Before even being aware of its attack.

A ground war in Europe was unthinkable

Until ten days ago.

Online sports betting came out of nowhere.

Pornography is one click away,

Or less.

The county is being swamped by ghost guns

Being used largely by violent, young adults.

Lord, have mercy.

We are being smothered with apathy,

ungodly civil libertarians,

self-centered, instantly gratifying materialism, and

by freedom that has no responsibility.

Lord, have mercy.

Social trends reveal

Closing churches,

Declining attendance,

A society that is increasing a-religious,

even, anti-Christian.

The pandemic has been like throwing gasoline on the fire.

Lord, have mercy.

The Church’s silence on social issues

Is like handing over of the surrender flag to the devil himself.

One of my earliest memories of church,

was at the Camp Street United Methodist church

in Jamestown, New York.

This was before my father entered the ministry.

The pastor was H. K. Geiser.

I may have been 4 or 5 years old.

I still remember Rev. Geiser preaching in one sermon

that each of us face a fork in the road,

at one point or another in our life.

“The decision is up to you,” he preached,

“which direction will you choose?”

Which direction will you choose?

Will you choose Christ and His Church?

Or, will you choose the devil, the head liar, and the lies that he tells?

Making no choice

Makes one to risk it all,

To be caught and swept away

In the flood of sin and evil.

We hear Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit.

It doesn’t say that the Spirit led him into temptation;

it simply says he was led into the wilderness.

This follows the proclamation of John the Baptist,

the Baptism of Jesus,

and a listing of Jesus’ ancestors.

His identity is firmly established.

Jesus is the one promised by John

who will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit,

who will clear his threshing floor with his winnowing fork,

who will gather the wheat into his granary,

and burn the chaff in unquenchable fire (Luke 3:16-17).

Jesus is the Son of God, the Beloved,

with whom God is pleased (Luke 3:22).

Jesus is a direct descent of Adam,

the first son of God (Luke 3:23-38).

Jesus is the Messiah,

the Savior,

sent to save the world from going to hell.

Now he finds himself facing his first test.

Jesus is in the wilderness, alone,

when the devil comes knocking at his door.

Not just once.

Not just three times, as we like to remember.

But for 40 days the devil comes to Jesus and tempts him.

This is the first characteristic of the devil; the devil is persistent.

He will attack, and attack, and attack;

all the while trying to wear you down,

just like he tried to wear down Jesus.

If we are told time and again

that something evil is all right,

before you know it,

we’ll just start believing the lie that it is okay.

If it is legal it must be right.

But this is what the devil does;

his persistence lures us into the quicksand of sin,

and before we know it, we’re gone.

The devil comes to Jesus and

knows that he is hungry from his fast (Luke 4:2).

Call it paranoia, if you will, but

I believe our Gospel reveals that

the devil is able to identify with us and understand our needs,

just as he did with Jesus.

Jesus didn’t tell him that he was hungry.

The devil looked upon him and knew;

he knew that Jesus had hunger churning in him.

Consider the weakness you and I have today.

Couldn’t it be possible that

the devil knows our every weakness

and is poised ready to exploit them?

Just where do you think those thoughts come from?

thoughts tempting us to sin,

to steal,

to lie,

to abuse,

to exploit,

to objectify,

to destroy?

The Gospel reports that

“The devil said to him,

If you are the Son of God…’” (Luke 4:3).

Wait-a-minute-here, buddy-boy!

It’s already been established who Jesus is

and why he has come.

What the devil is doing is taunting;

he is taunting Jesus with the whole ‘if you are’ routine.

This is the next characteristic of the devil.

The devil taunts us,

just as he taunted Jesus.

These taunts come in many devious forms.

“Go ahead, you don’t need permission.

You are a good Christian.”

Or, “if you think you are so good,

then you would never

– wink, wink –

do something as terrible as this.”

My gracious,

Such delusional, self-justifying thinking

happens all the time.

Beware of the devil’s evil taunts!

The next characteristic of the devil

might be dismissed by some

as simply having bad manners,

instead of being outright evil.

The devil tells Jesus what to do;

he is bossy;

he is full of himself.

“Command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” (Luke 4:3)

Hold it right there, buster!

Don’t speak to Jesus that way.

You don’t speak to elders, teachers, pastors, parents, or grandparents like that.

Commanding people might have a place in the business world,

but not in the world of nurturing human relationships.

I’m tempted daily to become full of myself.

It is humbling to learn

that this is how the devil works

to weave evil into our world.

Jesus responds with scripture,

word for word from Deuteronomy, 

“It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

When attacked by the head liar,

do what Jesus did:

return to the Word of God.

Fall back on scripture.

Let God speak through scripture to give you strength.

The devil resorts to

his main characteristic:

he is a liar, a big fat liar!

He takes Jesus to the top of the world and says to him,

“To you I will give their glory and all this authority;

for it has been given over to me.” (Luke 4:6).

Actually, no.

No it hasn’t!

It’s a lie;

the devil doesn’t have ownership of the world.

It isn’t in his authority.

The world’s glory isn’t his to give away.

Think of the lies in your experience.

The lies that have been told to you.

Consider the lies that you have told.

The big ones.

The small ones.

The ones distorted to fit our best narrative.

Dishonesty is the work of the devil in today’s world.

It is a way for sin and evil to stain society,

to ruin relationships,

to destroy trust.

When you feel tempted to not tell the truth,

know from whence that temptation comes.

“If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours,”

the devil tells Jesus. (Luke 4:6)

Ah, the devil reveals his hand, doesn’t he?

The devil desires our worship.

Join me in my determination to never worship

anything or anyone other than God.

The devil knows that worship is one of the Ten Commandments,

as listed in Exodus and Deuteronomy,

given to us from God Almighty.

Again, Jesus relies upon the Word:

‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” (Luke 4:8)

Know that what is flesh is flesh,

and what is God is God.

If we worship anyone or anything besides the Lord,

we are, in fact, worshipping the devil.

It doesn’t have to be pentagrams and satanic cults.

If you worship money, or your status, or the toys that fill your garage …

you are being lured

into worshipping the devil.

Can your bank account save you?

Can your title or position in the company save you?

Can your luxuries save you?

Let us turn our backs on flesh,

deny the world,

and worship only the Lord our God.

The devil taunts Jesus a second time.

If you are the Son of God …” (Luke 4:9)

Don’t be taken in by this ploy,

and I’ll tell you why.

It would be easy to suggest that the devil slow on the uptake,

that Jesus couldn’t be taunted.

But, remember,

we know the devil is persistent.

Quoting scripture isn’t beneath him!

He knows that Jesus draws strength from the Word.

“… it is written, 

‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’

and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,

so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” (Luke 4:10)

The devil quotes scripture!

Not just one verse,

but two verses, taken right from Psalm 91,

as we spoke in our Call to Worship this morning.

The devil is learned in the Word,

and he isn’t afraid to use it towards his own evil means.

Scripture can be used either

As a knife,

Or as truth that leads to the heart of God.

Because of this,

Christians need to keep a critical eye for those who quote scripture.

Ask yourself who? What? Where? When? How? And why?

Employ the Wesleyan Quadrilateral,

Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.

Is it reasonable?

Is it traditional and does it fit with experience?

After all, God does work through history,

and has been at work in my experience, too.

The test I use is this;

Does it square itself with the Gospel?

Be wary of those who use the Word

To support their belief

– be they Sunday school teachers,

preachers,

even bishops or popes!

Discern.

Question.

Ask: Are there ulterior motives?

Is there a hidden agenda?

By quoting scripture,

the devil reveals that he is a trickster, too.

He tempts Jesus to call upon the angels to protect him,

as a demonstration of his power.

God’s power isn’t for testing purposes.

It is what it is!

God uses power only as God sees fit.

It isn’t some solution that we can conjure up,

to stop speeding bullets

end Covid,

or cause cancer to be cured.

Yes, God works miracles,

through Jesus,

through His disciples,

and through you and me.

Yes, Jesus tells us that his power will work through His faithful.

Yet, it isn’t our power that we are deploying.

It is God prerogative to work through us

when,

where,

and for whatever purpose God sees fit.

God used divine power to still a storm.

That doesn’t mean tomorrows storm will be stilled.

God has used divine power to give sight to the blind,

cast out demons,

heal the paralyzed,

and to raise from the dead.

Yet, God’s power is God’s prerogative, not ours.

Jesus responds directly from Deuteronomy once again,

“It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Deut.6:16).

Boom!

Jesus slams the door right in the devil’s face.

So, too, should we.

One last observation about the devil:

St. Luke reports

that even though the devil had finished every test,

he still wasn’t finished –

“he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13).

Did I tell you that the devil is persistent?!

Let me think… when were those opportune times?

  • Remember Jesus’ struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane?
  • How about when the devil bought out Judas for a few pieces of silver?
  • And don’t forget Peter’s denial!
  • The ultimate “opportune time,” hanging on the cross, stripped, tortured, humiliated, and left to die – when Mark reports Jesus’ cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)  

The devil waits for opportunity.

He is patient.

The devil is never done.

He is always waiting for that one way he can wiggle his way into your life.

It is up to you and me to deny the devil his opportunity.

Be strong!

Take courage!

Put on the armor of God!

Don’t give in!

If you succumb to temptation,

as on occasion we all do,

immediately repent,

call on the name of Jesus,

and you will be saved.

Jesus defends himself by walking in the Spirit.

He is born of the Spirit,

baptized in the Spirit,

led by the Spirit.

If we likewise lead our lives in the Spirit of God,

then we also will have a sure defense

against any evil that may assail us.

Jesus was prepared to defend himself from the devil.

We know it was his practice to attend synagogue,

to learn as a youth,

to teach,

and to preach.

Let us also find strength

Through the discipline

Of regular worship attendance.

Finally, Jesus found strength in the Word.

He relied upon scripture to repel

every temptation of the devil.

Let us work diligently to prepare ourselves in the same way.

It is essential that we learn the scriptures;

that we are constantly feeding our souls with the Word of God.

Beloved, do not be naive!

The devil is the very real embodiment

of all that is evil and sinful and immoral in this world.

These are his characteristics:

  • He is persistent.
  • He is able to identify with us and understand our needs.
  • He taunts us.
  • He tells us what to do, is bossy, and he is full of himself.
  • He is he is a liar, a big fat liar!
  • The devil desires our worship.
  • The devil quotes scripture!
  • The devil is a trickster.
  • The devil waits for opportunity and is patient.

Being aware

is being forewarned.

Being warned

calls us to be vigilant.

Being vigilant is to be prepared.

Being prepared is to be strong.

Find strength, beloved, in Christ,

and in His Word.

Amen.

“The Only Constant in Life”

Luke 9:28-36

February 27, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 9:28-36

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 

Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. 

While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

| Centering Prayer |

I’m getting my taxes prepared March 25th.

I’m hoping for the best

But bracing for the worst.

It reaffirms one of many axioms of life to be true:

The only certainty in life is death and taxes!

Luke’s account of the transfiguration of Jesus

Reminds me of two additional axioms of life and faith:

The only absolute in life is the absolute love of God.

And, the only constant in life is the constant state of change.

Transfiguration, by definition is

“a complete change

In form or appearance

Into a more beautiful or spiritual state.” (Google Dictionary)

Something in Jesus changes.

Physically he changes.

Visually he changes.

The trajectory of his purpose, motive, and methods change.

I boldly suggest that the arc of God’s intervention in salvation history changes.

The Gospel invites us to keep pace with this change.

Are we up to the task?

Since Christmas, we have been following Jesus

Almost exclusively traveling throughout Galilee,

His hometown province in northern Israel.

Jesus launched his ministry of preaching, teaching, exorcism, and healing.

We remember how the ministry of Jesus began,

With his baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We recall Jesus calling his first disciples from the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

He orients them, instructs them, and prepares them to become apostles.

To this day, the Church draws heavily from Jesus’ Galilean ministry

To prepare people for a life of discipleship.

This is Christianity 101.

Word of mouth

Is the highest form of evangelism.

The presence and actions of Jesus draws a crowd.

Of course it would:

The world is in search of healing.

Just look at our long list of prayer concerns.

The world longs to learn the Word,

The truth about God,

Not some rigid fundamentalist rant.

A diverse crowd assembles,

Drawn like metal filings to a magnet.

The crowd included Jews and Gentiles,

Dark skinned, mixed race Samaritans from the South and

Caucasian, worldly Greeks from the North.

All surged to touch him, that they may be healed.

All crowded closes to hear and learn from Jesus.

Jesus ministered to every last one of them.

Jesus was preaching from the barrel,

Teaching his familiar Beatitudes.

Jesus preached truth.

What he taught was explosive, revolutionary, a complete reversal of the world’s order.

What Jesus taught reveals the details

Of a loving and gracious God,

Deeply invested in life and relationships.

The only constant in life is the constant state of change.

The mountain air was charged with electrons.

All that was needed was

A divine touch.

The moment was electric.

Jesus makes the pivot

In dazzling light.

Once the ozone cleared,

God’s arc of salvation history would begin to play out:

Passion,

Death,

Resurrection,

Ascension,

Followed by, as so eloquently described in the Gospel of Luke / Acts,

The coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of

The Spirit led, empowered Church.

To prepare for the monumental changes that Jesus enacts,

He takes Peter, James, and John on a prayer retreat.

They go to a near-by mountain top.

Being on top of a mountain frames the perception that one is near God.

Lisa, our in-house real estate agent would affirm the importance of

Location! Location! Location!

Good call, Jesus.

Just like all mountain top experiences in life,

One can not live at the peek for long:

Mountain tops are barren, windswept, and devoid of water.

The air is thin.

Mountain tops are cold, often overcast, and rushed:

One has to get down from the mountain before daylight is lost.

Jesus prays.

Peter, James, and John claim they were “just resting their eyes.”

Actually, they peek.

Reminiscent of a burning bush,

God’s presence is made known

When the appearance of his face changed

And his cloths became dazzling white.

Epiphany!

The whole manifestation of God in Jesus Christ his Son,

Confirms to a world languishing in sin and brokenness

That something new is in the making.

Epiphany! God with us, doing something new!

Moses appears before their eyes;

The first prototype sent by God

On a mission

To deliver to the world the gift of Law,

That the world might be saved from sin.

God desires the world to be saved from sin.

But as each successive wave of judges

Attempted to rule as God’s representatives,

Each judge sunk deeper into corruption, sin, and death.

(See the Biblical book of Judges)

Elijah appears before the eyes of Peter, James, and John.

Elijah is the forerunner,

Historically the next divine initiative

To warn the world of their sin

And to call the sinful to repentance.

The prophetic age used chosen individuals

To serve as God’s spokespersons

That the world may be saved by the repentance of sin.

God desires the world to be saved from sin.

Moses and Elijah together with Jesus;

The Messiah,

The circle of salvation is completed.

God steps directly onto the world stage

In the person of Jesus Christ.

Moses, Elijah, and now Jesus.

The only constant in life is the constant state of change.

It’s happening right before our eyes.

Luke is the only account of the Transfiguration to reports the content of their conversation:

“They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure,

When he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (9:31)

Already, Luke is one step ahead.

In hindsight, our Gospel author tells us that

God’s unfolding plan was never to stop

With death and resurrection.

God intended to send the gift of the Holy Spirit

To guide and empower us post-ascension,

After Jesus left with the promise to return.

God completely ignores Peter’s offer to Jesus

To draw out this moment of Epiphany.

The Lord doesn’t play fetch when it comes to

Our will, petitions, or prayers.

The Lord always acts

In God’s own time

In God’s own ways

According to God’s greater plans.

Note to self: playing fetch with God

Ends with a discouraged, shallow faith,

Feelings like you’re being ignored, and

Becoming ultimately frustrated.

I’d suggest that

Telling God what to do

Is irreverent, at best,

Idolatrous, at worst.

God doesn’t fetch.

God speaks from a cloud

With familiar, often repeated words,

“This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (9:35b)

Reminiscent of his baptism,

Jesus emerges into the newest era of life

With the same divine words that ushered in his first calling.

Jesus is clearly identified to Peter, John, and James

Who he is: God’s son, the anticipated Messiah, and

By what authority Jesus has license to act.

When Jesus speaks,

God is doing the talking.

When Jesus speaks,

God is doing the talking.

Better pay close attention.

The only constant in life is the constant state of change.

Jesus is transfigured from a teaching, preaching, healing, ministering Son of God

To a more beautiful, spiritual state.

Jesus is transfigured into

God on a mission

To bring redemption and salvation into the world;

God on a mission

To send the Holy Spirit to guide and develop

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

Individual salvation breaks open a new divine reality;

That God intends to save the collective whole

God intends to save the world.

God doesn’t exclude.

God leaves no one behind.

Nothing can separate you or me

From the love of God

Through Jesus Christ.

This change in God’s approach

Is dramatically revealed this coming week.

The Church likewise pivots from Epiphany to Lent.

The Ash Wednesday worship experience

Hits us with startling, mortal abruptness:

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”

Spoken as ashes are imposed.

Yet, the anxiety of change is tempered

By the enduring axiom of God’s

Unending,

Unconditional,

Overwhelming

Love.

A living, breathing, resilient Church

Must be willing to pivot when God pivots.

The Church has endured much change down through the centuries.

Early apostles gathered to deal with how to fund the spread of Christianity.

Early Church leaders divided into East and West over beliefs, rule, and the wording of creeds.

Our Western Church divided again over the abuses of clergy and distorted doctrines.

Our Protestant heritage is marked with change

As there has been further division into denominations.

There will certainly be future divisions.

Will we pivot with God

Or will we cling to our former ways

And want to return to Egypt?

In our Wesleyan heritage

Change took place over issues of slavery,

The Sunday School movement, and

The Social Gospel movement.

Attendance and participation has ebbed and flowed,

Sometimes dramatically.

The only constant in life is the constant state of change.

United Methodist are teetering on the precipice of change.

At the last United Methodist General Conference

We decided to stay the course,

To exclude our LGBTQ sisters and brothers.

How’d that work out?

Everyone lost.

The issue is a growing theological fist fight since 1976

(and before).

We are good at kicking the can four years down the road

until our next General Conference.  

The Church will continue to lose

Until the decision is made

Collectively and individually

To boldly go where God is calling:

Unified by Christ.

An end to the fight.

A peaceable separation.

Epiphany?

God always shows up.

The mercy and love of God is with those who are hurt

Even as the future remains clouded in a fog of mystery.

If only answers came easily.

“Do not be afraid,” Jesus reassures on numerous occasions.

Do not be afraid of change.

Do not be afraid of adapting to change.

Change is coming from both within and from outside

The Church of Jesus Christ.

To believe in a relational God and

to follow Jesus as our Lord and Savior,

It is helpful to be aware of how God responds to the needs of the world.

Jesus changed at his transfiguration.

God changes to meet the needs of a needy world.

To keep in relationship with God,

We, too, must be willing to adjust course.

We, too, must be willing to leave the familiar Galilee behind

And journey with Jesus to Jerusalem,

To the cross and

To the tomb.

To keep moving towards Jesus,

We must move.

We must allow God to transfigure us.

Transfiguration is hard.

It requires us to give up the old, familiar, comfortable ways.

It forces us to trust in the Lord,

That the new and uncharted path down which we are being led,

Is indeed, the will and way of the Lord.

Transfiguration is frightening.

I don’t know what the new me will look like

Or where God will be calling me.

Transfiguration is uncertainty.

Through all the whirlwind of change

One thing remains firm, solid, and absolute:

The love of God.

God loves you.

God loves all children.

God created.

God continues to create.

Nothing stays the same.

Indeed, the only constant in life is change.

Jesus changed right before the eyes of his closest disciples.

He changed from being a preacher and miracle worker

Into Messiah, God’s chosen,

Redeemer and Savior of the world.

Jesus changes from life, to death, to resurrection, to Holy Spirit.

So too are we called to change;

To draw closer in our journey with Jesus Christ,

To respond to God’s evolving plan,

Bringing His kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.

Are you up to the challenge?

Amen.

“Do Unto Others”

Luke 6:27-38

February 20, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 6:27-38

“But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 

But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

| Centering Prayer |

I’ve finally found a political party that I can support.

No. It’s not the Democrats.

Neither is it the Republicans.

Though I have a lot of Libertarian leanings, it is not the Libertarian party, either.

Socialist? Nope.

Communists? Heavens to Betsy, NO!

My politic is the Gospel.

I’d invite you to join me

In making the Gospel your politic, too.

I invite you to place Jesus Christ front and center in your life.

The Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ.

With Jesus as the top priority,

All other concerns of the world are transformed and

Fall into place in God’s order:

Politics.

Economics.

Ethics.

Business.

Law.

Science.

Health.

Relationships.

Family.

All must be reconsidered and reprioritized.

All have their foundations rocked and upset by Good News.

All take their place in a supportive role for the priority:

The ministry, message, and promise of Jesus Christ.

….

Rules.

Many individuals who decide to follow Jesus

Will look for a black-and-white list of rules to live by:

A Christian direction manual.

For many the Bible becomes this book of rules to be followed.

The Ten Commandment and the Beatitudes,

This Sermon on the Plain, as found in Luke,

Can be stripped down to bare bones

And reduced to a bulleted list.

These are the laws to live by.

These are the approved behaviors for Christian living.

Rules can only take you so far.

The problem with following a simple list of rules

Is that it stunts the growth of faith

And inhibits spiritual development.

Biblical inconsistencies undermine a fundamentalist belief.

We get stuck in the quagmire of righteousness and judgment.

Judgment and fear become the quicksand of a dead-end, failed faith.

When we become followers of rules

Instead of followers of Jesus

Rules become the new idolatry.

The Good News of Jesus Christ,

His mercy and grace,

Is drowned out by the noise of schism, inquisition, exorcism, and death.

Come with me, if you dare,

And let us discern Gospel more deeply.

Keep the rules, yes,

But let us draw a little bit closer to Jesus, if you dare.

….

Expectations.

Many Christians will experience

Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain

And say to ourselves, “Oh, boy.”

“I’m not worthy.”

“I don’t love enough.”

“I’m miserly and don’t like sharing.”

“I’m not merciful to others.”

“I’m way too judgmental of others.”

Others will say to themselves, “Yep, that’s me.”

“I try to love everyone.”

“I’m generous.”

“I’m merciful.”

“I try to be non-judgmental.”

“I try to forgive.”

Jesus is calling this diverse crowd of followers,

Gathered on the coastal plain,

Straining to hear his words and to be healed by his touch,

To ask themselves

“Am I living up to God’s expectations?”

“Am I living up to God’s expectations?”

You and me;

How are we doing?

Are we living up to God’s expectations

As outlined and taught by Jesus?

It’s nearly impossible to talk about enemies

Without militaristic testosterone laden bravado.

Talking about those who hate and curse you

Brings up painful memories of being bullied and humiliated.

Speaking about those who abuse you

Will be different for survivors of sexual abuse or rape

Than it is for those who’ve never been assaulted.

Abuse opens pandora’s box of pain and trauma.

Love

Can’t be an all-or-nothing proposition.

If it was,

Every one of us would come up short.

Love comes from God.

God’s expectation is that disciples of Christ

Are called to spread this love throughout every area of life,

Like smoothing cement from a concrete pour into every area of the form,

Or spreading icing completely covering a cake.

We are called to spread God’s love into every human relationship,

Starting with the easy,

Eventually smoothing love into the most

Painful, shameful, hurtful, broken areas of life.

Loving the easy makes it easier to love the less-than-easy.

Loving the less-than-easy makes it easier to love the hard.

Loving the hard makes it easier to love the enemy,

Those who hate and curse you,

Even those who’ve scared you with the shame of abuse.

Are we living up to God’s expectations, as Jesus taught?

Let’s talk about mercy.

How merciful are we towards others in this world?

Do we do good to those who are less fortunate than we are?

Are we generous,

to a fault?

Are we generous,

until it hurts?

Do we work to bring relief to those imprisoned by barriers and circumstances beyond their control?

Are we committed to serve, rather than being served?

Are we all in

Righting injustice and ending oppression?

Like love, mercy is an essential, core characteristic

Of our loving God,

Placed on display for all the world to see,

In the life and actions of Jesus.

How can you and I expand our capacity for mercy?

How can we expand our capacity for mercy?

The first place to start is to get off the couch,

Get out of the sanctuary,

Roll up the sleeves and get our hands dirty in the mission field.

Serve.

Volunteer.

Take a meal, deliver a meal.

Sort, sew, pack, and send.

Muck out, rebuild, and do it in the name of Jesus.

That is the intersection of mercy and love.

….

What’s at stake?

There is more.

The expanse and depth of the Gospel politic knows no end.

I continue to discover more

Every day I immerse myself in the Good News.

Let’s examine what is at stake here.

For Jesus the stakes weren’t simply

If people believed him or not.

The stakes of the Gospel ended up getting him murdered.

Jesus was crucified because of the Good News,

Because the norms of this world are upset.

The Gospel is revolutionary.

The primary sign of what is at stake in the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Is when the world pushes back;

When resistance rears its ugly head.

Resistance is always a sign of God’s presence, work, and will.

The hometown congregation threw Jesus out of the Synagogue.

Jesus was criticized by authorities for healing on the Sabbath and

Violating numerous other Jewish Laws.

Jesus upset cash flow, the Temple treasury, and angered the Finance Team.

Organized religion pushed back, using Rome as their blunt instrument.

Arrest, suffering, trial, humiliation, and death was intended

To put Jesus into the tomb

and keep him there,

once and for all.

We all know that’s not how it ended.

God always triumphs over resistance.

Good News proclaims redemption and salvation.

Good News paints a picture for what living in God’s kingdom looks like.

Our partnership with God and with one another

Is at stake moving forward

In our faithful effort to discern and follow God’s will,

As we engage in the sacred task of kingdom building.

Do unto others:

How we treat others

Matters.

How we treat others

Dives to the core of the Christian experience

And maturing faith.

God’s kingdom is a land at peace,

Where love and mercy abide,

Where judgment is replaced by acceptance and inclusion.

Expect resistance in our work of kingdom building,

Even as Jesus was resisted.

….

Rules.

Expectations.

Resistance.

Thus it is with Luke’s sermon on the plain.

Jesus invites us to grow deep,

To mature beyond living by rules.

Jesus invites us to grow deep,

To explore, develop, and mature our faith.

Jesus invites us to grow deep,

To come into God’s season

In God’s due time.

Amen.

“Blessings and Woes on the Plain”

Luke 6:17-26

13 February 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 6:17-26

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

| Centering Prayer |

A friend and colleague of mine

Was telling me about a lunchtime conversation

She had with the highly acclaimed professor

of preaching and worship, Fred Craddock.

She asked if it was ever acceptable to preach the same sermon

As one delivered in a prior parish.

Professor Craddock replied with a smile,

“If it was good enough to preach it the first time,

It should be good enough to deliver it a second.”

Indeed, I have found

Gospel truth is eternal.

The core, raw exegesis never changes.

Update the context,

Modify the message to fit the life stories of the audience,

Draw out the essential truth,

Make the challenge, and

I’m good to go

For another Sunday in the pulpit.

My message today is original this week,

Though Jesus’s sermon probably wasn’t.

Like every good preacher,

Like circuit riders of old,

We suspect Jesus had a number of good sermons

That he would update,

Modify to fit the audience and circumstances,

And reuse.

The Sermon on the Plane is one of them.

The Gospel of Luke reports

The Beatitudes, or blessings,

Were delivered to

Both his disciples and

A multitude of people.

The crowd is diverse,

Mostly Jews from Judea and Jerusalem and

Gentiles from the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon.

A modified version of Jesus’s Beatitudes

is found in Matthew, chapter 5.

There, Jesus retreats from the crowds,

Went up a mountain, and

Taught only his disciples.

Instead of the four blessings

Delivered in Luke,

Jesus uses the private, intimate setting of a mountain top

To expand his blessings to nine.

Two different settings.

Two different audiences.

The same, essential Gospel truth.

A few thoughts.

1. What brings you to Jesus?

Last Sunday I asked if someone was

Sent by God,

To fish for you,

Catch you, and

Reel you in,

and land you at the feet of Jesus.

A good fisherman can do that.

Yet, the Gospel of Luke today

Paints a more complete palate of

What motivated individuals

From all kinds of backgrounds

To travel great distances

To place themselves

On that flat plane

In a crowd

Surrounding Jesus.

Some came to hear him preach.

– Luke 6:18

They longed for the Word,

Christ’s essential truth,

God’s message and will

For the transformation of the world.

Some were sick

And came to be healed of their diseases.

– Luke 6:18

The sick gathered,

Despite social quarantine laws,

Because they believed Jesus could heal them.

Others were troubled with unclean spirits.

– Luke 6:18

Troubled emotionally?

As in having a mental health crisis?

Or having a chronic mental illness?

Perhaps.

Or being possessed by unclean spirits?

As in having evil taking up residence,

Abiding in you

In place of Christ and his love

Abiding in you?

What brings you to Jesus?

The eternal truth of the Gospel?

Oh, how I love the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

And I hope you share my enthusiasm.

Are you sick? Like with an illness or disease?

Jesus can heal you,

According to God’s will.

You won’t get what you don’t ask for.

Make the spiritual trek.

Place yourself in the crowd.

Ask to be healed.

Christ heals to bring laser focused attention

To God’s love and compassion.

Those healed are expected to witness,

To testify

To the world what Christ,

The Great Physician,

Has done.

Are you troubled with unclean thoughts or spirits?

Touch Jesus

For power comes out of him.

Be cleansed.

Be healed.

Touching Jesus today

Implies an intimate relationship

With the Body of Christ.

The Body of Christ,

The Church,

Is here to love and support you

And lead you to healing.

2. “Blessed are you who are poor,

For yours is the kingdom of God.”

– Luke 6:20

Simply put,

Economic status

matters to God.

God has given humankind sufficient abundance

That poverty should not exist.

Not now.

Not ever.

Period.

Where there is poverty

There are wealthy individuals withholding

Shares they are not entitled to.

Guilty as charged.

Lord forgive me.

But! I protest, attempting to plead my case,

Jesus means “poor in spirit!”

Not today.

Different sermon.

Different location.

Different audience.

Today,

Jesus is talking wealth and poverty,

The rich and the poor.

Jesus is talking about stewardship,

Our efforts to use the gifts God has given us

To eliminate poverty wherever it exists,

Both in the City of Rochester and rural Livingstone County,

In the hills of Guatemala,

In Palestinian camps,

and in the villages of distant South Africa.

God brings joy and perfect happiness to the poor

And future woes to those of us who are rich

Who are unwilling or uncaring to share the wealth.

“What’s in your wallet?” the television commercial asks.

Jesus is standing you and me straight up

Looking us right in the eye

Asking, “what are you doing

with what’s in your wallet?”

3. “Blessed are you who are hungry now,

for you will be filled.”

– Luke 6:21

Food matters to God.

Google reports that 800 million people

Live every day with food insecurity,

Without reliable access to

a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

That’s one in ten of the 7.9 billion people in the world.

According to data published by the United Nations

The number of people who did not get adequate nutrition last year increased to 2.4 billion.

That’s 30% of the world.

The cause?

The UN cites

COVID, climate change, and conflict.

At the same time

Between 2000 and 2019

The world’s production of primary crops increased by 53%

According to ReliefWeb

Hitting a record high of 9.4 billion tonnes in 2019.

Food supply is increasing.

At the same time so is hunger.

What’s the deal?

The deal is you and me.

We waste food.

We hoard food.

Inflation and transportation costs

Disproportionately impact the poor.

Poverty and hunger are insidious reflections

Of our failure to act.

Woe to us

Who don’t need to check prices in the supermarket,

Whose refrigerator needs emptied of rotted or expired food,

Who have failed to support our local food pantry or soup kitchen

With gifts of food, money, or volunteer efforts.

You and I may not be able to solve world hunger,

But we can have a huge impact eliminating hunger right here in our community.

4. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

– Luke 6:21

Jesus recognizes the fact that sorrow is one unfortunate characteristic of life,

Whether sorrow is due to death and grief,

Losses, such as employment or divorce,

Anxiety or depression,

Incarceration or hospitalization,

Regret or shame,

Natural disaster or just dumb luck. 

Sorrow is real.

Being a disciple of Jesus doesn’t shield one from sorrow or misfortune.

Each of us are one breath or one heartbeat away from catastrophe.

If you haven’t yet wept with sorrow,

Brace yourself.

Woe to you if you’re laughing now

for you will mourn and weep,

Jesus promises.

At the same time,

Jesus makes the point that God’s blessings go to the sorrowful,

For sorrow is not God’s intended goal for humankind.

The Lord wants us to live in joy!

Joy today and joy tomorrow!

Joy is the gladness of heart

that comes in knowing God,

Abiding in Christ, and

Being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Think of angelic joy coming to shepherds and

To the virgin Mary when told she was to carry and deliver God’s son.

Think of the joy of a wedding feast and an unending flow of wine!

Think of

Christ’s promise of a lifetime of joy to his disciples and

Of the early Church living in the joy of the Holy Spirit.

Joy is identified by Paul

As one of the fruits of the Spirit.

It is God’s intent

that you be filled with joy.

5. My final thought is on the fourth blessing

Jesus offers:

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.”

Luke 6:22

It has taken a lifetime for me to learn

That being liked isn’t a goal or quality of my journey of faith.

Most everyone likes to be liked.

I like to be liked.

But my discipleship does not depend on what other people think about me.

Taking up a cross and following Jesus

Is going to lead to crossed sticks at times,

Sometimes even with people you love.

Discipleship depends on discerning the will of God

And faithfully fulfilling God’s will

as a servant leader.

Jesus and the Gospel is revolutionary.

God’s love and grace is counter-cultural.

As a Christian it means that

(as was promised at our baptismal waters)

We must work to

Renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,

Reject the evil powers of this world,

And to repent of our sin.

This leads to those who personify evil and behave wickedly

to hate us and our God.

So be it.

The United Methodist version of our baptismal vows continue

To identify why discipleship may make you and me the targets of hatred.

It reads

“Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you

To resist evil, injustice, and oppression

In whatever forms they present themselves?”

That’s going to make evil people angry.

Standing up to injustice may win you Christian allies,

But it’s also going to upset those who thrive on the status quo.

Ending oppression isn’t going to be popular with the oppressors of this world.

So be it.

Our Savior’s response?

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven!”

Yes, the world will know that we are Christians by our love.

Let the world will also see us crazy Christians leaping around with joyful abandonment!

What brings you to Jesus?

For me,

It isn’t the thought or hope of a perfect life.

For me,

It is the blessings of discipleship,

The satisfaction and joy of serving on behalf

Of an all loving, gracious God.

May you also be so blessed.

Amen.

“The Call”

Luke 5:1-11

February 6, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

| Centering Prayer |

Yep.

They left behind the largest catch of their life

Just to follow Jesus.

Not that the fishing bug ever left them.

They returned for a one day outing after the resurrection

Where Jesus found them, shared breakfast on the beach, and questioned Peter’s love.

What would cause a person

To leave everything behind …

Family, job, hometown, home, everything …

To follow Jesus and

Transition from catching fish to catching people?

Perhaps

The fishermen

Had their pump primed

By what they heard:

Jesus teaching the crowd

While they quietly listened as they washed their nets?

Almost certainly,

It was the supernatural miracle

That pushed them over the edge …

At Jesus’ command

Both boats were filled with fish

Such that they began to sink.

Holy mackerel!

Recognizing the fact that Simon Peter

Found himself as an active participant

In the miraculous whirlwind of God’s direct intervention at the hand of Jesus,

He self-consciously drops in submission

Like a sack of potatoes.

“Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Simon Peter, Luke 5:8)

Nope.

That wasn’t going to cut it.

Past sin doesn’t disqualify anyone.

No one gets washed out due to prior history, criminal record, or past sins.

The only thing that qualifies a person for discipleship

Is being chosen by God.

God present.

God at work.

God overcomes every obstacle,

Overlooks every transgression,

To bring God’s chosen into discipleship.

That’s how discipleship works.

A few thoughts.

1. You and I didn’t choose to follow Jesus.

God called you and me,

Just as God called James, John, and Simon Peter.

We don’t make disciples of Jesus.

God does.

Our role is to catch people,

Teach them,

Lead them,

Invite them

Into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

God’s role is to convert that individual into a disciple of Jesus.

My call began

When the Lord warmed my parent’s heart,

Leading them to bring me to my baptismal waters.

I was an infant and don’t remember my initiation into Christianity.

I do reaffirm the vows they made on my behalf at every subsequent baptism.

God’s call to follow Jesus evolves over time,

At least, it has with me.

In my experience

The call is new every day.

That’s a heavy responsibility.

The first conscious memory of my call

Came when I answered an altar call by Billy Glass,

A traveling evangelist.

I was probably about three years of age.

I knelt.

Hands were laid on my head.

I cried, and said, “Yes, Lord. I believe.”

After church during Christmas 1965

I walked past the Pastor’s Office

And saw H. K. Gaiser taking off his robe.

He saw me and invited me in.

He asked if I had a Bible.

I did not.

I hadn’t gone to kindergarten and had not yet learned to read.

He gave me this Gideons New Testament, with Psalms and Proverbs.

I was three and a half years old.

God was at work

Leading others to fish for me.

My parents.

Billy Glass.

Reverend Gaiser.

In the congregation today are two types of people:

Those who have already answered the call

And those who will.

If you’ve answered the call

And take following Jesus seriously

Reflect on how God called you.

Who did God use to catch you?

Tell God, “Thank you!”

How were you brought to acceptance of God’s invitation?

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.

That moment when you responded like Isaiah, saying,

“Here am I; send me!”

Your sins were forgiven, and eternal life began,

Brought to you without personal cost

By the selfless death and resurrection of Jesus.

That’s some

Amazing grace,

Amazing love,

Right there.

My question to you is this:

What are you doing to catch others,

To reel them into God’s presence,

So God can do His conversion thing?

If you are one of those who have yet to answer the call,

What are you waiting for?

2. Past sin didn’t disqualify Peter,

And it isn’t disqualifying you, either.

Growing up a preacher’s kid,

I sowed my share of wild oats.

I attended church because I had to, but I had no idea why.

I did some things that would probably land me in jail today.

Out from under my parent’s thumb,

My first two years of college were out of control.

It was a college chaplain

Who stood me up,

Looked me straight in the eye, and asked,

“Todd. What are you doing with your life?

Where are you going?”

He was fishing.

Where was my life headed?

Where is your life headed?

I didn’t know,

But my spiritual antenna tingled,

calling me to attention.

I swerved to avoid the ditch.

I drove a carload full of fraternity brothers to Boston to cheer on our college hockey team.

Between games I visited a friend and fellow “preacher’s kid.”

She was a graduate student at Boston University and gave me a tour of the seminary.

Exiting the door of the chapel

I stood before the Martin Luther King memorial statue

And knew immediately where God’s call was leading me.

I was called to be a pastor,

A spiritual leader of congregations,

Just like my father,

Just like James and John, and Simon Peter who went before me.

Most individuals caught by disciples,

Called and converted by God,

Do not go on to become pastors.

Only some of us do.

As the Apostle Paul recognized

The trajectory of one’s call

Is defined by the spiritual gifts that God gives

And the disciple develops

For the common good

Throughout their life.

Are you called to pastoral ministry?

If you’re wondering, come see me.

Perhaps you’re given the gift of wisdom

And your call is to teach;

In the classroom, in Sunday school, in your writing, or in the coffee shop.

Perhaps you’ve been given the gift of healing

And your call is to the clinic, the bedside, the operating table, the back of an ambulance.

Where is God’s call for you? And

What are you doing to develop that call,

Learn, grow, maximize the talents God has already given you?

Answering the call

Is an ongoing process of discernment.

Ask God these questions:

Who is God calling me to become?

What does God want me to do?

Where is God sending me?

When and what’s the time frame? Because timing is everything.

How am I going to overcome every obstacle and ensure success?

Why me?

Why not me?

Though I answered the call to ordained ministry forty years ago,

I’m still answering God’s call for my life

Every single day.

What are you doing today

To discern and

Answer God’s call for your life?

3. Fishing for people and

Reeling them into God’s house

Is our common, equal responsibility.

The student,

The ditch digger,

The welder, plumber, and electrician,

The car salesperson,

The drive-through window employee who takes your order,

Are all called to fish for new disciples of Jesus.

The retiree,

The educator,

The preacher,

The healer,

The lawyer,

The programmer,

The prisoner and their guard,

Even the politician (pun, yes even the politician)

Are all called to fish for new disciples of Jesus.

If we are fishing,

But God isn’t catching.

That’s on us.

One does not just walk into Dick’s Sporting Goods,

Buy a rod and reel,

Stop by the bait store,

And immediately start filling up the cooler.

One must be taught to fish.

Teaching how to fish is done by those who have experience at successful fishing.

There are many different ways to achieve the same success.

There’s fly fishing (the only true kind of fishing, pun),

Bass fishing,

Downrigger fishing from a boat, and

There’s pulling copper.

(You can tell I’m a child of upstate New York)

Likewise, when fishing for people to become disciples of Jesus

There are many different techniques.

Learn what’s successful.

Do that.

Learn what isn’t successful.

Don’t do that.

Fish smarter, not harder or longer.

Use past experience to make improvements in future efforts.

In my experience,

What brings people to Jesus?

A lot of things:

A desire to turn life around.

A need for relationship and love.

Being broken.

A need for forgiveness.

The quest for eternal life.

A desire for sobriety.

Recognition that you’re in over your head.

Guilt.

Longing for meaning.

Searching for redemption.

Spiritual curiosity.

That’s the kind of tackle that

Has brought me success.

What brings you success? or

What’s it going to take to bring you to Jesus?

Prevenient grace is

That mustard seed size of grace that God planted in your life

Before you knew it was there or that it was needed to grow into something greater.

You and I didn’t supply it.

God already primed your pump.

Put the effort in.

Fish for people.

Bring people to Jesus.

Leave the rest up to God.

Amen.

“Rejection at Nazareth”

Luke 4:21-30

January 30, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 4:21-30

Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.

They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’

And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”

And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

| Centering Prayer |

This Gospel selection from Luke is a continuation of

Last Sunday’s illustrative narrative

Of Jesus returning to his hometown of Nazareth,

Attending Synagogue on the Sabbath

And reading from the Isaiah scroll.

Jesus chose

Selections from chapters sixty-one and fifty-eight.

“The Spirit of the Lord was upon me,” Jesus announced. (4:18)

The Holy Spirit was upon him, just as it had come to the Virgin Mary.

It was the same Holy Spirit that acted and spoke at the baptism of Jesus.

And it was the same Spirit that drove Jesus into the wilderness to face temptation and protect him from the Devil.

Luke reports that Jesus begins his ministry

by returning to the region of Galilee,

filled with the power of the Spirit,

Teaching throughout the area

In the numerous small towns and villages.

The presence, power, and action of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus

Is prominently displayed in the Gospel of Luke

And becomes a defining characteristic of the Church that would follow.

Where there is Church there is Spirit.

No Spirit? No Church.

Like a good Jewish, young rabbi,

Jesus reads aloud from one of the beloved Hebrew Prophets: Isaiah.

Good choice.

It was a people’s favorite.

You or I might be intimidated by going back to our hometown to preach.

Family, relatives, neighbors – they can all be harsh critics.

Pulling the Isaiah scroll was a good call on Jesus’ part.

Who doesn’t like to hear the pronouncement of

The forgiveness of debts?

Justice for the oppressed? and

Healing for the sick?

Who wouldn’t want to hear this proclamation from Isaiah

Especially if you felt

you were the victim

of poverty, injustice, or ill health?

Apparently Jesus’ one sentence sermon went over pretty well

Because when he said

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (4:21)

Luke reports that “All spoke well of him

And were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” (4:22)

I’m guessing people weren’t pleased with the brevity of Jesus,

Though some might have been happy because they had a roast in the oven

Or they wanted to get into the restaurant before the lunch crowd.

My guess is that they viewed themselves

As victims, not the perpetrators,

As the exploited, not the oppressors,

As those who had been harmed, not the ones causing suffering.

It is precisely at this moment that the wheels fall off

And Jesus nearly veers off a cliff.

Literally.

Light turns to darkness.

Acceptance is replaced with rejection.

What goes wrong? We are left to question.

Where is the Good News in a crowd rejecting Jesus,

Turning homicidal, and

Attempting to throw him off a cliff?

What are we to learn

And how can we apply what we learn

To our lives today?

A few thoughts.

1. The back of the sanctuary conversation

Turned on a light bulb for the hometown congregation

Of family, friends, and neighbors.

One (obviously distant) neighbor says

Hey! “is not this Joseph’s son?” (4:22)

It would be a mistake to read this

as if the questioner was filled with astonishment.

This isn’t confirmation of a hometown boy making good.

“Is not this Joseph’s son?” should be read dismissively,

With a dash of sarcasm and

A pinch of privilege.

“Is not this Joseph’s son?” someone sneers.

What lifts the veil is our Lord’s response to the people:

“And you will say ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” (4:23)

In other words

From Jesus’ point of view

The people thought they were better than everyone else.

‘We’re as good as anyone else,’ was the sentiment of the congregation.

‘Actually, we’re better than everyone else.

Treat us with deferential entitlement.’

The people were turned completely upside down

When they realized that Jesus came to their synagogue

As the fulfillment of prophecy.

He wasn’t there to make friends.

Yes, Joseph was his father.

But also, yes, God was his heavenly Father,

Which they failed to grasp.

The presence of Jesus was bringing divine condemnation

For privileged entitlements

At the expense of the poor, the oppressed, and the broken.

None of us like

Getting blindsided by Jesus,

Publicly condemned,

Of having our system of beliefs completely pulled out from underneath us,

Of having our faith completely turned upside down exposing all of our hypocrisy and sin

For the whole world to see.

Come on, bro!

Don’t do me like that.

If Jesus only taught in the abstract

And only brought judgment upon others.

Today, Jesus gets personal.

The people of Nazareth respond violently, rejecting Jesus and his message outright.

This begs us to ask the question of ourselves

When and under what circumstances do I feel most confronted by Jesus?

What elements of the Good News do I reject completely?

What can turn my faith into a rage of anger?

Yes, I have questions and

So should you.

Is it the fact that we’ve hurt others, oppressed others, taken advantage of others?

How have we allowed this to happen?

What can we do to correct it?

Are we most uncomfortable when Jesus challenges our privilege,

Our entitlement, which we too frequently and conveniently deny?

Is it the fact that Jesus reveals each of us as flawed and broken?

Because he came to bring Good News and judgment,

Redemption and forgiveness.

Is it the fact that Jesus exposes our hypocrisy?

Out of one side of our mouths we agree with

“Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you,”

Yet, out of the other side of our mouths we say

“Jesus didn’t live in the real world.

We must arm ourselves to the teeth

And defend what we’ve got.”

The kettle begins to boil.

Perhaps that’s the point:

That which we reject

Deserves our deepest attention.

The Good News bites,

It kicks more than Tabasco.

Jesus turns the world upside down,

Igniting the flames of a new revolutionary world order,

Where the last become first

And the first become last.

When we are the first,

we don’t like it anymore than the people of Nazareth did.

Pay attention to when the Gospel of Jesus is most revolutionary in your life and faith journey.

Instead of dismissing Jesus and throwing him off a cliff,

Dig deeper and examine how the Gospel’s bite

is an opportunity for spiritual growth.

2. Jesus pokes the hornet’s nest

When he probably could have left well enough alone

And slipped out the back door.

“The truth is,” Jesus lays down the gauntlet,

Elijah wasn’t sent to the chosen Hebrew widows.

God sent Elijah to Gentile widows.

Elisha wasn’t sent by God to the Israelite victims of leprosy.

God sent Elisha instead to heal Naaman, the Syrian.

In other words,

The Jewish Nazarenes probably heard Jesus say to them,

When compared to everybody else,

You’re not that special.

Yes, they’re precious and near perfect as a created child of God,

But their covenantal monopoly has just been broken.

They were unprepared and unable to hear

The exclusive covenant between the Lord and the descendants of Abraham

Was getting a messianic upgrade.

God was doing a new thing.

The age of the prophets had wound down.

The messianic age was dawning.

Jesus had come to save the world.

The world.

The whole world.

Jews and Gentiles alike.

Losing out on an exclusive contract hurts.

Consider, for a moment, how this might relate to you and me.

Do we ever find ourselves desiring the attention of someone special

Only to have them turn their attention elsewhere?

When others receive a blessing that we feel should have been ours?

Do we cursed because we felt it was undeserved or given at our expense?

Allow me to use the Gospel to disrupt our world view for a moment.

How do we feel about the alien at our door?

This is my house, my land, my country.

Why should the bounty of our community

Be extended to people from different lands?

How do we feel about those on public assistance, Medicaid, disability?

I work hard to pay taxes,

Why shouldn’t everyone else?

Jesus comes to save the world,

Not just the descendants of Abraham.

Allow me to churn your faith a bit,

How does it make us feel about God’s grace?

When God extends grace to others,

Are there times we react with jealousy?

When God reaches out with mercy and love to people who are different than we are,

Do we experience a twinge of “Hey, when do I get my share?”

Does God’s grace cause us to become resentful?

There’s plenty of grace to go around.

Consider our less-than-lovely responses to God’s grace towards others

As a wake-up alarm,

As a moment of epiphany,

A time when God breaks in and becomes manifest, present, and active in our world.

Pay attention!

Wake up when those internal alarm bells begin to ring,

For God is present and demands our attention.

Be intentional about self-awareness!

Listen for God to speak Good News!

Consider these moments as an epiphany

As an opportunity for us to drink God in, grow in faith, and

To draw closer and learn more about Jesus Christ,

To journey further along the way.

3. Add these two dynamics together

And you’ve got yourself some homicidal hometown heroes.

Having walked up this precipice outside of Nazareth numerous times myself

I can’t help but wonder how Jesus was able to

Pass “through the midst of them” (4:30) and go on his way.

The way isn’t wide enough.

The cliff, though not sheer,

Is steep enough to ensure anyone’s inability to escape.

Jesus was trapped.

There was no way out.

Death by hurling was the only possible end to the story.

So how’d he do it?

And, why is it important?

Luke leaves the details of escape intentionally obscure.

What we do know is that Jesus wasn’t sent to the world

To die on a mountain in Nazareth

At the hand of a homicidal mob.

Jesus was sent to die on a mountain in Jerusalem

To take away the sin of the world

That all the world might be saved.

His escape was vital for the sake of the world and

God made it happen.

I don’t know how.

I do know that God made it happen.

I’ve got more questions than answers.

Are there areas of life

From which Jesus needs to make an escape?

The American experience informs us that there should be a separation of Church and state

Religion and politics.

Jesus informs and influences our leaders,

At the same time, our leaders do not favor or exert control over Christ and the Church.

How about personally?

What are we up too that we shouldn’t be?

That would bring harm or discredit to Christ?

I suspect we all have time and experience where we are

A part of the crowd who tried to fling Jesus off the cliff,

Not a part of the crowd who let him escape?

God has created us with the capacity to change,

To grow,

To improve.

Our God is one of second chances;

Take advantage of this Divine gift of grace.

Do better.

Be better.

Make way for Christ to fulfill his will

In the world and

In you.

What can be found from this near-violent narrative?

The Holy Spirit empowers!

Jesus is the Messiah.

He’s come for the benefit of the world.

God shows no favorites.

Watch for God’s presence and action.

Make way for God’s will.

This works for me;

I trust it will work for you, too.

Amen.