#ChurchStrong

Matthew 16:13-20

23 August 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

@ToddGoddard

Matthew 16:13-20

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Prayer.

It’s pretty apparent.

People do not agree on who Jesus is.

I have Muslim friends who consider Jesus as a great prophet.

Many of my Jewish friends think of Jesus as a wise rabbi,

While a few others think of him as a failed Messiah.

I have some friends who claim they are not people of faith,

Who think of Jesus as a wise, but mortal man.

I have many friends who are afraid of Jesus, as if the next Corona Virus might turn you into a Jesus freak.

I have a lot of friends who just don’t know what to believe about Jesus.

Even among my Christian friends and colleagues

There is a diversity of views about who and what Jesus is.

Church councils, conferences, and enclaves for generations

Have been debating if Jesus is fully human or fully divine,

Born of a virgin,

Expected to imminently return,

The nature of is imminence and his transcendence,

The substance of His body and blood in our Sacrament,

And His role in the Church today.

The aperture set by ordination boards varies by time and membership.

Clergy candidates must possess beliefs that can pass through the opening.

While there may be some debate on the periphery in the United Methodist Church,

Core beliefs about Jesus never change.

At the risk of sounding overly self-centered

Today’s debate in much of the American Church,

In both the Roman Catholic church and the Protestant house, isn’t about doctrine or theology.

Debate about Jesus around the kitchen table is about the question

“What makes Jesus relevant to my life today?”

If we have difficulty stating clearly and concisely who and what Jesus is,

There should be little mystery why

His disciples failed to come up with an answer to His question,

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (16:13)

The best they could do is to come up with a list of historical prophets.

They even hedge that bet by saying, “Some say …”

But, others say …

And still others …”

Holy non-committal, Batman!

Indeed, much of the world doesn’t know who Jesus is

Or what to do with Him.

The Gospel of Matthew runs this fine line

Of embracing the world

That is conflicted and contested

With the identity and nature of Jesus Christ.

Thirty-five years ago

Cynthia and I traveled to Caesarea Philippi.

Hopefully, my memory will serve us well … that and Wikipedia!

It is important to paint the picture of the environment

Where Jesus intentionally led his disciples

And initiated this Gospel discussion.

Caesarea Philippi is an ancient city,

Built in the third century BC by the Greeks as a center of cultic paganism.

Merriam Webster defines a pagan as a person who worships many gods or goddesses or the earth or nature … a person who is not religious or whose religion is not Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.

Pagan worship ran deep in ancient Assyrians people.

At Caesarea Philippi, they are known to have worshipped the pagan god named ‘Ba-al’.

It is located approximately twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee.

It lies on the southwestern base of Mount Hermon west of the modern-day Golan Heights.

It would have taken Jesus two days to lead his disciples

From Capernaum on the North shore of the Sea of Galilee

To Caesarea Philippi.

A two-day walk is a journey made with intention.

Jesus wants to lead the conversation about his identity specifically

At Caesarea Philippi, in an environment surrounded by paganism.

A spring gushes forth from caves in the mountain at Caesarea Philippi

Forming one of the main tributaries of the Jordan River.

Here, the Greeks dedicated shrines to the pagan god of Pan,

and related deities.

On the walls of the cave behind Jesus

Are carvings of Pan, the god of the wild, shepherds, music, and the companion of nymphs.

Pan is depicted as sporting hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat.

Behind Jesus were even more ancient carvings of Ba-al,

The pagan god associated with storms and fertility.

Sculpted icons and symbols in the rock walls around Jesus

Created a Mount Rushmore type environment from which Jesus spoke.

From the mouth of this cave, on center stage,

Set before numerous and diverse symbols of pagan worship,

Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (16:15)

At least the disciples were smart enough to choose a list of dead or ascended prophets …

… John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

Good thing no one pointed to Pan or Ba-al and say, “You’re that guy.”

That would have been bad!

Jesus brought his disciples to the Mount Rushmore of the pagan world

To make a statement,

Not only about identity,

But also about how one comes to know Him and relate to Him,

Beginning that day, moving forward.

Jesus isn’t a stone-cold monument to a distant, transcendent god.

Jesus is the living, breathing, loving, personal, caring God.

Jesus is an ever-present companion on life’s tumultuous journey.

This is a vitally important lesson Jesus taught His disciples.

It is just as important for us to learn today.

Simon Peter steps up to the challenge

With his short, succinct, persuasive elevator pitch:

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  (16:16)

Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner people.

The winning ticket is punched by Peter in a pagan cave at Caesarea Philippi.

Jesus correctly observes that flesh did not reveal his identity.

In other words,

It wasn’t the pagans,

The Romans or the Greeks,

Who revealed to Peter who Jesus is.

It was our Father in heaven. (16:17)

Peter’s statement of faith is based on

A personal encounter with Jesus

And with a living, contextual, and relevant heavenly Father.

This essential truth from this Gospel passage

Clearly marks the lines of responsibility when it comes

To establishing and implementing

God’s policy manual

For leading a Christian life.

We disciples,

Are charged with introducing people to Jesus,

Creating the personal encounter with Christ.

That’s it.

We do the introduction.

Then get out of the way.

God does the rest.

We disciples provide the foundation

Upon which God will build.

It is through that introduction,

Through our clear, concise, succinct elevator pitch,

That God finds a way to enter the lives of others.

God finds a way to nest into their contextual setting.

God finds a way for everyone

To be discipled and educated in the ways of Jesus,

That Christ may become relevant in the spiritual life and journey

Of every called and claimed Christian.

This is our pitch.

This is our song.

Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

We introduce people to Jesus.

Trust that God will do the rest.

Do not worry about our Jewish or Islamic friends;

God’s promise to our Jewish and Islamic sisters and brothers,

As is God’s promise to us, remains strong and true.

Jesus does not break that which God has vowed by sacred covenant.

Rather, Jesus comes as a living God to the Christian Church.

Our God, through His Son, Jesus Christ, desires an authentic relationship

With each of us individually,

And with us corporately, as His Body, as His Church.

Peter is likened to a rock,

Petra, in the Greek,

And upon this petra foundation,

Christ will build his ekklesia,

Jesus will build his Church.

Peter is rock strong.

Jesus is Church strong.

Many of you are social media animals.

You’re all over it like hyenas on roadkill.

I’m encouraging you to use the hashtag #ChurchStrong.

If you don’t know how to use hashtags in Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram,

Ask a friend, or ask your grandchildren.

They’ll show you how.

Drop in the hashtag #ChurchStrong as you talk about

The Gospel passage and today’s message in social media.

Doing so will allow us to search #ChurchStrong,

Read each other’s replies,

And witness to the world

That we follow Jesus,

As built upon Peter, the rock.

Let me start the conversation

About what makes #ChurchStrong,

And I look forward to reading from you this afternoon and in the coming days

Your thoughts, your beliefs,

About what makes Church Strong.

1. #ChurchStrong

A Church strong foundation comes when we

Live an honest, authentic life.

Live humbly.

Live righteously.

Follow the rules.

Nothing undermines the Christian message or the messenger more than hypocrisy.

Purge hypocrisy right out of your life.

2. #ChurchStong

A Church strong foundation comes when we

Love God.

Love neighbors.

Lead with your heart.

Be kind in every circumstance,

Especially when the spiritual forces of wickedness attack you.

Be passionate in your love of God and neighbors.

Few things undermine the integrity of the Christian life than casual indifference.

3. #ChurchStrong

A Church strong foundation comes when we

Speak and act with conviction.

Make a commitment and keep it.

Introduce a friend to Jesus and let God warm their heart.

Study together with others, the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Testify how God is at work in your life

And celebrate how God is at work in the lives of others.

Take a stand for

That which is just, honorable, and true.

4. #ChurchStrong

A Church strong foundation comes when we

Praise God.

Praise God in your waking and when you go to sleep.

Praise God in your prayers and in your devotions.

Praise God in your work and in your relaxation.

Praise God at home and together in weekly worship.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Never stop praising God.

5. #ChurchStrong

A Church strong foundation comes when we

Grow confident in being the people God has called us to be.

It doesn’t mean big, or rich, or powerful by any measures of this world.

Being Church Strong doesn’t mean taking a seat at the head table,

But giving up your VIP seat for someone else.

Being Church Strong means being the compassionate hands of Jesus

Reaching out to the last, the least, the lost, the left behind of this world.

Being Church Strong means encouraging all to become servant leaders for the transformation of the world.

If you’re not on the cleanup crew

You’re not called to be a leader.

Church of Peter,

Be #ChurchStrong!

Body of Christ,

Testify to who Jesus is:

Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Tell the world why God has sent us His Son:

Just like Peter had a personal encounter with Jesus,

God would like to have a personal, loving relationship with you, too.

Be #ChurchStrong! Amen.

“Words Matter”

A Pastoral Message for Sunday, August 16, 2020

Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Prayer.

Indeed.

“It is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” (Matthew 15:10)

Words matter.

When we speak, we make choices;

Which word to use

To match the emphasis of our choice

For the audience we intend.

We make choices all the time when we speak.

So choose carefully.

Choose wisely.

One who is vile and vulgar in one setting

May choose to be

Polite and proper in another.

Others are remarkably consistent;

Always polite and well spoken

Or endlessly provocative and inflammatory.

(Those are the ones I block on social media)

Most of us live someplace in-between.

Words matter.

Words matter.

This is why I write out every sermon, word for word.

I’m very careful about my word choices.

Is it right?

Does it convey the thought,

The spirit,

The intent of what God is saying through me?

Does it bring laser focus upon that which God intends

Or does it distract,

And should be, therefore, discarded?

Four years ago

I faced a significant challenge

When Pastor Juan invited me to preach

At his church in Tecpan, Guatemala.

His congregation spoke Spanish, with bits and pieces of Mayan.

Pastor Juan asked me the night before!

It was only by God’s grace

And the support of prayer

That the extemporaneous words I chose

Were culturally sensitive,

Historically sound,

Politically neutral,

Adequately translated,  

And, yet, still capable of allowing

The truth of the Gospel to be communicated.

Try threading that needle!

Words matter.

“What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart.” (Matthew 15:18)

Our baptism is when God

Calls us and grants us an identity as “Christian.”

There’s no going back on our part,

Because it is God who is doing the calling and naming.

You and I have been named.

We’ve been forever labeled,

Branded like a Texas steer.

Our name is “Christian”.

We are a people who God has chosen

To be disciples of His Son, Jesus Christ.

At our baptism

Three promises are made.

Promises are made by us directly,

Or, if we were baptized as infants or children,

Promises we personally confirm at our Confirmation.

These three promises have remained remarkably consistent

Over the course of two-thousand years;

Ever since the ascension of Jesus

And our Apostolic beginning.

Words matter.

Do you …

“Renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,

Reject the evil powers of this world,

And repent of your sin?”

Friends, let us not be naïve.

Neither let me beat around the bush.

In recent memory

Evil sent children of God to the gas chambers.

Evil segregates people by skin color.

Evil stakes the claim that some are more deserving

Or of greater value than others.

Evil hates, hurts, steals the rights of others.

Evil is quick to blame others for personal dissatisfaction.

Evil distorts truth by attempting to create moral equivalences, half-truths, and outright lies.

Evil is quick to resort to violence.

Jesus names evil:

“Evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Matthew 15:19)

The spiritual forces of wickedness

And the evil powers of this world

Are causing us to writhe like we are passing a kidney stone.

We find ourselves in a whirlwind of wickedness.

The Devil is personified by torch bearing hatemongers

And by those who stand silently to the side,

Failing to use our baptismal voice

To renounce wickedness and evil.

Words matter.

At our baptism

This affirmation was made by us, or on our behalf:

Do you …

“Resist evil, injustice, and oppression

In whatever forms they present themselves?”

I do.

Do you?

The word “Resist” has taken on a political nuance in recent years.

It is used by some with an agenda.

But “resist” is a politically neutral word

When the politically reality of this world can successfully

Establish and maintain

Freedom, equality, justice, and liberty for all.

“Resist” becomes energized

When leaders and principalities of this world

Take away freedoms,

Endorse inequality,

Deny and withhold justice,

Imprison liberty.

Then every baptized Christian,

By our vows,

Is called to resist.

Resist!

Not just for our sake,

But for our neighbor’s sake, too;

Less we break our baptismal vows with our God.

Jesus learned the lesson of resistance

When he came across a Canaanite woman.

When he failed to grant her request for mercy,

She schooled him.

She schooled him hard.

This Canaanite woman “resisted”

Jesus’ rejection:

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel …

… It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (Matthew 15:24-27)

Now, there, …

That, there is resistance.

There is resistance that speaks of greater faith!

“Woman, great is your faith,” Jesus relents,

“Let it be done for you as you wish.” (15:28)

Resist

Evil, injustice, and oppression.

This is our vow.

Our words matter to God.

Words matter.

The third promise that is made by us, or on our behalf, at our baptism is this:

Do you …

“Confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,

Put your whole trust in his grace,

And promise to serve him as your Lord …?”

Many of us equate serving Christ

As loving our neighbor.

I do.

When I go on mission trips,

I make friends.

I love neighbors.

I do so serving Christ.

When I support local ministries,

Food pantries, campus ministries, chaplaincy, and other similar efforts,

I do so as a fulfillment of my baptismal vow to serve Christ.

Serving Christ can be, and should be, more than doing the work of Christ.

Serving Christ should also include speaking up

And speaking out on behalf of Christ.

By our baptismal vows we are called to advocate

For Christ,

For the Gospel;

The message of grace and love,

Forgiveness and salvation,

And for the emergence of Christ’s kingdom;

Where peace and justice reign and God is glorified.

Advocating for Christ

Is hard.

It’s intimidating.

Even I struggle to speak up and speak loud

For fear of offending or crossing political boundaries.

Yet,

By our baptismal vows,

We must speak up and speak out for Christ.

Words matter.

When we rise to claim the resistance of our baptismal call,

Do so boldly;

With the conviction that Jesus Christ is right by our side.

Don’t worry about the words, we are assured.

The Holy Spirit will give us words.

Do not be filled with anxiety about those that leave, we are assured,

Even Jesus regretfully allowed some to walk away.

Serving the Lord, Jesus Christ,

Requires that we speak up, speak out, and speak loud,

To open hearts to

All people,

All ages,

All nations,

All nations,

All races.

All means all.

Words matter.

“What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart.” (Matthew 15:18)

When Christ fills your heart,

The words you choose

Are words given to you directly from Jesus.

Keep your eyes

And your heart

On Jesus.

At the same time, use your voice.

Speak up and advocate for Christ.

Resist all that is evil, unjust, and oppressive.

Resist wickedness and the evil powers of this world.

Let us not sit idly on the sidelines.

God’s kingdom is at stake.

Our baptismal vows are on the line.

Words matter.

Choose your words wisely.

Amen.

“Peter and the Sea”

Matthew 14:22-33

9 August 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Prayer.

Finally, Jesus caught a break.

The crowds were fed, so he dismissed them.

His disciples were done collecting the leftovers.

The kitchen was closed.

Jesus put them in a boat and might have told them as they pushed off from shore,

“Thanks for your help cleaning up.

I’ll catch up with you later.”

Imagine the conversation in the boat:

“Wow! 5,000 people, plus women and children. That was the biggest crowd yet.”

“Whoa! Did you see what Jesus did?”

“Completely healed; like the broken arm set itself; a miracle right before my very eyes!”

“The demon leapt right out of him!”

“Unbelievable! I saw that, too!”

“All that food left over? There were 12 extra baskets! He fed everyone with nothing more than five loaves of bread and two fish.”

Imagine the conversation Peter was having with himself.

Peter might have remembered Jesus inviting him

“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people,” (4:19)

“5,000 people, plus women and children.

Yep. Fishing had been good today.”

The setting sun.

The smell of the sea.

The lapping of waves.

Seagulls circling overhead.

The rocking boat was familiar to Peter, the fisherman.

Peter and the sea were one.

The gentle afternoon wind accelerated with dusk.

The sun set and the wind and seas rose.

The increasing storm

Might of reminded Peter of the not-too-recent past

When Jesus,

In a boat just like this one,

Was woke from sleep by his frightened disciples.

He stilled the storm and

Saved all their lives from drowning.

“Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Jesus asked them. (8:26)

Little faith.

Perhaps Peter was searching for something more than just ‘little.’

Finally, Jesus could get some personal time in this desolate place to pray.

Prayer, spending time alone with the Lord, listening, discerning,

Is a way forward when trying to sort out family issues and broken relationships.

Remember? Jesus had just been rejected by his family in Nazareth.

Family or relationship problems?

Turn to God in prayer.

Setting aside the world and focusing on God in prayer

Is a way forward when working through,

Pushing through,

Wading through,

Death, grief, and mourning.

Remember? Jesus had just received news that Herod Antipas had murdered his cousin, John.

Suffering through the pain and loss of a loved one?

Turn to God in prayer.

Jesus ascended a mountain to pray.

He climbed right to the top;

Where he could look out over the expanse of the Sea of Galilee

13 miles long, north to south,

8 miles wide, east to west.

Jesus knew from his Jewish upbringing and education

The God of creation,

Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,

Often came calling on a mountain top.

Jesus could see it all from the pinnacle,

Memories of his outreach, ministry, and healing

Were folded into the small villages, roads, and fields below in his view.

He could see it all from the peek,

Where one could be closest to God.

Reflection.

Connection.

Listening.

Discerning.

Put it all together.

Searching for meaning in life?

Trying to put it all together?

Climb a mountain.

Turn to God in prayer.

As evening fell

Jesus gazed down to the sea below.

Being a native Galilean,

He would have known the western breeze

Cascading over the high ridge,

Sweeping down,

Accelerating across the water,

Meant for a rough ride,

A true storm for the east side of the lake.

The eastern shore;

Right were Jesus knew the disciples would be in their boat.

Refreshed by prayer,

Restored by quiet time with the Lord,

Healed by the merciful grace of God’s hand and presence,

Jesus discerned what he was meant to do next.

His quick-to-answer-the-call disciples,

Were slow to comprehend what

They had experienced in Jesus’ presence.

Now they were in danger of sinking, drowning, and losing it all.

Jesus descends the mountain and

walks on water

to save disciples of little faith

from the storm.

Allow this Gospel truth to wash over you for a moment.

This is mercy.

This is God’s grace.

Jesus comes to disciples of little faith

And saves us from the storm.

What is your storm?

Where is your heart boiling over in anger?

What is threatening you life? Your soul?

Fight the fear of ghosts, prior failures, and immediate dangers.

Jesus is approaching.

“Take heart,” he assures.

“It is I,” he identifies himself.

“Do not be afraid.” Jesus commands.

The heart you have is sufficient.

Little faith doesn’t mean no faith.

Little faith is sufficient

To get someone out of the boat,

To meet Jesus halfway,

To walk on water and for

The raging storms of life to be stilled.

What makes Peter different from his eleven colleagues

Is that he wanted to go to where Jesus was.

He wanted to answer the Lord’s invitation to come.

The rest of them must have been content to roll the dice and take their chances.

I have learned like Peter that

Failure is inevitable in life.

I have failed so many things, so many people, so many times.

I can be defeated.

Or, I can learn from it,

Be better because of it.

From personal experience

I know I can trust in Jesus;

He’s not going to let me perish.

Though I might be sinking

I’m still walking on water.

Though I might be going down in defeat

I’m still making my way closer to our Savior.

Jesus comes to disciples of little faith

And saves us from the storm.

Take the little faith you have,

Get out of the boat, and

Make your way to Jesus.

Peter does great

As long as he keeps his eyes on Jesus.

He begins to sink when he notices the strong winds,

Becomes frightened, and

Calls out “Lord, save me!” (14:30)

“You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus asks

As he reached out his hand and caught Peter. (14:31)

Doubt caused Peter to sink,

Not the distraction of the storm.

Jesus’ response reveals the fact that the

God given little faith,

Freely given to each person in our creation,

Is sufficient to overcome all doubt,

Even when doubt threatens our life.

We, Methodist,

Drawing our theological lineage from John Wesley,

See the world through the eyes of God’s amazing grace.

Prevenient grace …

Pre- meaning before

-Venient meaning God’s intervention …

Means that God gives us all the grace that is necessary,

From the moment of our conception,

Before we know or become aware of needing it.

Prevenient grace is the dollop of “little faith” that Jesus repeats

Throughout the Gospel of Matthew.

The little faith you have already been given and received

Is sufficient for the living of these days,

As a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, and

For the living of every day in your future.

Your little faith is more than enough to overcome every doubt,

Now or in the future.

Little faith is all that’s necessary to lock hands with Jesus and

To let him pull you to safety. 

Dearly beloved,

It’s almost a given

There are times when you and I will

Find ourselves just like

Peter and the sea.

We will find ourselves swept up in a storm

Fearful for our future,

Fearful even for our very life.

Watch for Jesus to come.

Take whatever faith you have …

You’ve got enough …

Get out of the boat, and

Go where Jesus is.

He will catch you.

Jesus will save you.

In the end,

The wind will cease.

The storm will be stilled.

In the calm that follows,

Worship the Lord.

Worship the Lord, Jesus Christ;

For he is truly, the Son of God.

Amen.

“Five Loaves | Two Fish”

Matthew 14:13-21

August 2, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”

Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”

They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”

And he said, “Bring them here to me.”

Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Prayer.

Context is everything.

Context tells us why Jesus withdrew;

Why Jesus sought to find a deserted place by himself.

When context is revealed

Deeper truths are exposed.

Insight to God’s Word, will, and ways is provided.

The rest is up to us.

At the conclusion of the prior (13th) chapter of Matthew

We heard Jesus was rejected by his own hometown,

By his own neighbors, friends, and family.

Their offense at him

Cut Jesus deep.

“Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house,” Jesus observed. (13:57)

Untangling the double negative,

Jesus is saying there is no honor from home or family.

Honor only comes to prophets doing the Lord’s work

Who leave the dysfunction of family offense and criticism,

Who dare to follow where the Lord is leading

To people and places beyond the known,

To places beyond the horizon.

Their offense at him

Cut Jesus deep.

The Gospel of Matthew reports

“He did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.” (13:58)

Get out of the nest,

The safety and security of the nest.

Get away from the doubt, criticism, and complaints

From blood relatives, neighbors, family friends, and fellow members of the synagogue.

They will tap you dry of all the power God has given you,

Just as they did to Jesus.

It was time to move on.

“Jesus withdrew to a deserted place by himself.” (14:13)

Being cut by his own,

Being hurt and abandoned by those who are expected to be closest and most supportive of him,

Speaks of Christ’s humanity,

Speaks of Christ’s intimate knowledge and understanding

Of our shared humanity, our families, and our tangled webs.

If families could only be perfect.

They aren’t.

There is no such thing as a perfect family.

A deserted place was needed for Jesus to sort it all out.

Create a vacuum and allow God to fill the void.

God’s voice is easier to be heard in the silence and solitude of a deserted place

Then in the context of conflict, criticism, and disbelief.

Where is your quiet place?

That place deserted,

Where you can be by yourself,

Where you can allow yourself to be emptied of the world’s troubles,

Where you can allow yourself to be filled by the Spirit and revived by the Spirit’s power?

Context is everything.

Familiar conflict and hometown doubt sapped his strength.

But, it isn’t the only thing that drives Jesus into the wilderness.

The Tetrarch, Herod Antipas,

Like an ancient ancestor of modern-day ISIS,

Beheaded John the Baptist.

Word of his murder spread at the speed of viral social media.

News sent Jesus fleeing

(probably for his life)

To the other side of the Sea of Galilee,

Beyond the limited rule of Herod.

Talk about a dysfunctional family.

Herod had it in spades.

Herod the Great,

Famed at the time of Jesus’ birth,

Had five wives.

Each wife had one or more children.

There were a lot of step-sons and step-daughters,

Half-brothers and half-sisters.

“Game of Thrones” scale

Adultery and perversion were the norm,

Not the exception,

In Herod’s family line.

Herod Antipas, Herod Philip, and Aristobulus

Were 3 of 9 half-brothers of their father, Herod the Great.

Three half-brothers drink deeply from the well of debauchery.

Aristobulus had a daughter, named Herodias.

His half-brother, Herod Philip, takes his daughter, Herodias, for his wife.

Yikes! Sick!

Herod Philip takes a dive into a shallow gene pool.

They have a daughter, named Salome.

Herod Philip and Herodias divorce.

Herod Antipas marries Herodias, his step-brother’s ex-wife,

Making Salome his teen-aged step-daughter.

Yikes! Disgusting!

Cultural offenses are just as terrible today

As they were 2,000 years ago in Herod’s family.

Herod Antipas was infatuated by Salome.

Salome had her step-father, Herod Antipas, wrapped around her little finger

In a sexually perverted, Jeffrey Epstein sort of way.

Yikes! It makes me sick!

Here is the seat of power,

The palace of the Tetrarch of Galilee.

Money is no object.

Food is abundant.

Sex and lust were a Covid like forest fire raging out of control.

Attendees were drawn to power, perversion, and corruption like moths to a light.

When lust is mixed with alcohol, bad things happen.

The result was the beheading of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, who had been held in prison.

“When Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” (14:13)

Context is everything.

Jesus rejected by his hometown and family,

Left powerless by their unbelief.

Jesus, hearing news of the beheading of his cousin, John the Baptist,

Sent by God to prepare his Messianic way,

Murdered in a drunken, glutton, orgy …

Yeah, Jesus needed to get a way to a safe, deserted place for some alone time.

He needed some time to grieve.

If only … alone time was meant to be.

Jesus may not have had the hearts and minds of

His family, hometown, or Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee,

But he does have the hearts and minds of the people.

The people draw out the compassion of Jesus.

The crowds who followed him from town to town

Restored his power to cure the sick.

The people make it possible

To miraculously change scarcity into abundance,

To teach by word and deed about the characteristic of God.

Context reveals the breadth and depth of Christ’s compassion.

Rejection and grief bring out Christ’s compassion.

Whether it be the rejection and grief of his own hometown and the death of John the Baptist, or,

The rejection and grief of his own Passion and death,

The grace of Jesus Christ plays out for the crowds overlooking the lake

Just as his grace played out on the cross and at the empty tomb

For the redemption and salvation of the world.

How does this apply to our lives today?

Consider the dark valleys you travel:

Family dysfunction.

Temptation and indiscretion.

Excess, gluttony, and greed.

Mourning, suffering, pain, and loss.

You’ve seen it.

I’ve seen it.

Life has some pretty deep, dark valleys,

Filled with shadows, snares, and death.

There is no greater compassion

Then Jesus dying for you.

No greater love than God helping you through

Suffering, pain, and loss.

The compassion of Jesus Christ

Reveals the deep love God has for the world.

The compassion we show to the world

Reveals the deep love we have for God and one another.

Compassion compels Jesus to act.

His compassion intersects with the world’s greatest need:

Sickness is healed,

Hungry bellies are filled, with plenty left over.

Ask yourself this:

How is it possible to be like Jesus,

To make myself a vessel of God’s compassion

To meet the needs of the world?

Weeds and chaff don’t do a thing.

They are worthy of fire.

Grains of the harvest are compelled with compassion to act,

To do the work of the Lord.

Context reveals the power of Jesus to cure the sick and return them to health.

Jesus cures many people of their illness, injury, or disease.

Why?

Miracles bring in the crowds

Like carnival barkers,

Like event organizers with an unlimited budget,

Like a winning team and an undefeated season.

Miracles pack the stadium and draws the crowds.

Gather the crowds.

Why?

Jesus gathers the crowds

To teach …

To call …

To transform the world into God’s kingdom.

Jesus gathers the crowds

Not only by the healing of one or two selected individuals,

But to demonstrate for all the world to see

God’s amazing grace and unlimited love.

The miracle of giving sight to the blind

Saves an individual from isolation and exclusion,

At the same time,

The miracle serves as a powerful message that

Christ brings light into a world filled with darkness.

The miracles of Jesus

Give testimony to God’s amazing grace and unlimited love.

The emotional, compassionate response of Jesus to the needy crowd,

Results in the miraculous actions of a loving and all-powerful God.

How does this apply to our lives today?

It is natural to attempt to explain miracles away,

Especially in our, enlightened (so we think), scientific age.

Avoid the urge.

Accept the miracles of Jesus at face value.

Believe by faith; and leave the apparent conflict with science up to God.

At the end of the day, I suspect

There is no conflict between faith and science,

Given the fact we have a common Creator.

Recognize the seen and unseen miracles of today,

Of healing, restoration, of cure,

Not as random acts of luck,

Or the predictable reaction of science,

But of God’s presence and active participation in your life and mine.

The accident I just avoided

Can be attributed to good quality, high tech, steel belted tires and

God’s merciful, loving, miracle to spare my life

And the life of the other driver.

My recovery from the plague, HIV, or covid-19

Can be attributed to good, peer reviewed science and

God’s mercy, love, and plan for me to live another day.

Make every miracle an opportunity to witness to

The amazing grace and unlimited love of God.

Context reveals the depravity of this world and the abundance of God’s kingdom.

Contrast the abundance and waste of Herod’s gluttonous, adulterous party

With the party Jesus throws out of compassion

For the crowd out in the wilderness.

Jesus starts with nearly nothing:

Five loaves. Three fish.

That’s all.

That’s it.

Gathered from five thousand people, plus women and children.

The God of Creation,

Fully human in the being of Jesus,

Takes nothing and turns it into something.

Jesus takes scarcity and miraculously turns it into abundance.

This is God’s way.

How does this apply to our lives today?

The way disciples of Jesus think and talk about money

Reveals much about our trust and faith in the Lord’s abundance.

All my life,

As a child and preacher’s kid, and

Throughout my 35 years of pastoral ministry

I’ve heard moaning and groaning, grumbling and complaining,

About insecurity and scarcity:

“We don’t have enough …

Money, volunteers, youth, or children.”

“We can’t ask people to do more, increase their pledges, to tithe, to grow the financial capacity of the church.”

Beloved friends, the stewardship capacity of every parish

Is deeply related to this Gospel passage

Of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish.

We see 5 loaves, 2 fish, and a hungry crowd.

We think we live in scarcity.

The tendency is to hoard and save for a rainy day.

The tendency is to cut expenses to the bone and complain when income takes a similar dive.

Jesus proves us otherwise.

5,000 fed, full, and satisfied members of the crowd,

Along with women and children

Testifies to the abundant environment and nature of God.

Gather the leftovers friends.

After everyone is fed, we can still return 12 baskets of food to Jesus.

The church thrives when we come to accept the abundance of God. 

It is easy to proclaim “Our God is an abundant God”

But it is hard to trust that it is true.

Rejection and grief

Led Jesus to a very dark valley filled with shadows and death.

Rejection and grief

Led Jesus to a very deserted place.

Sickness and a desire to be cured brought crowds of desperate people to him.

Compassion compelled Jesus to act.

Jesus healed the sick,

Every last one of them.

Hunger and scarcity grew with the late afternoon sun.

Compassion compelled Jesus to act.

Jesus turned just five loaves and two fish

Into a banquet of abundance,

Feeding every last one of them,

Complete with twelve baskets left over.

God uses compassion to compel us to act, too.

Where is your compassion leading you?

What are you going to do about it?

Trust in God’s miracles.

Trust that God provides with abundance.

Amen.

“Parables of the Kingdom”

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

July 26, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

“Have you understood all this?”

They answered, “Yes.” 

And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Prayer.

This thirteenth chapter of Matthew is truly

One of the wonders of the world!

Two weeks ago we heard the parable of the sower;

Three out of four seeds sewn will fail, but …

Seeds that are sewn on good soil produced beyond the wildest imagination.

So too, will those who

“hear the word

(of the kingdom)

and understand it.” (13:19, 23)

Yeah! I want to be that guy!

I want to hear the word of the kingdom and understand it

That I can begin to immediately put the word to use

In my words and actions.

Tell me more, Jesus …

Last week we heard Jesus teaching his parable

Of the weeds among the wheat.

He starts with

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to …” (13:24)

The Son of Man sows the good seed,

Then sends out his angels

To separate all causes of sin and evildoers

In in one fell swoop of final judgment.

In the pre-pandemic world

That’s a fist bumping win for the home team.

Good wins over evil.

The righteous end up shining like the sun.

I want to be that guy;

The righteous one who ends up shining like the sun.

Boo-yah!

Jesus is teaching in parables

From a boat

To a crowd on the shore.

It is the perfect amphitheater,

Complete with natural acoustics

and the soothing sound of lake water lapping on the beach.

The momentum of the first two parables

Is like a flood surge topping an earthen dam.

It slowly erodes, accelerates, digs in, and quickly catastrophically fails.

Parables teach a lesson,

Communicate a Divine truth,

Using common themes the majority understood,

At the same time,

Providing Jesus with sufficient cover

To prevent his premature arrest.

Brilliant!

“Jesus,” voices from the crowd cry out,

“Tell us more about the kingdom of heaven!”

We want to know more …

In rapid fire succession,

Jesus fills in the details

With today’s five brief parables.

The kingdom of heaven is like …

The kingdom of heaven is like

A mustard seed.

When it comes to faith

Size doesn’t matter!

Let us not forget that the mustard plant

Is invasive as mint,

Fast growing,

And quickly becomes a tree.

From the very modest

Great things will come.

A mustard seed can move mountains,

Jesus teaches in Matthew 17:20.

What is nearly invisible

Can have an overwhelming impact.

Like in the first parable,

One small seed has the potential to produce a fantastic yield.

Every individual,

Every child of God

Has the potential to be that mustard seed

In the emerging heavenly kingdom.

The migrant farmer

will rise up and lead the fight for justice,

Sweeping immigration reform,

Fair wages, and

Appropriate living conditions.

The homeless, single mother

Will rise up and become the leader in the community

That brings nutrition to babies,

Jobs and childcare to mothers,

And affordable housing for every family.

That non-violent protester today

Will rise up and one day will become

The member of congress that replaces oppressive racism

With equality and justice for all.

That individual who overdosed or was arrested and charged with DWI?

The one who’s family tired of his relapses,

Who disowned him,

Who society had stigmatized,

And who was left for dead

In that inner-city drug house?

You know, the one

Found, revived by Narcan, and got their life together?

The one who sobered the disease into remission

And is now making two meetings a day?

Yeah, that guy or gal.

One day,

That person will become the researcher who finds the

Root cause, deep in the brain, of addiction …

And will find a way to reverse this neurological affliction

That transforms every patient

Into a model of health and wellness.

Wow.

Even I have a shot!

Tell us more, Jesus!

Can you hear the crowd clamoring for more?

The kingdom of heaven is like …

Yeast that makes flour rise.

The kingdoms, empires, and thrones of this world

Are like unleavened bread;

Dull, flat, and tasteless.

But when the kingdom of heaven comes ripping in

Three measures, or nearly

50 bushels of flour,

Will be transformed by

A teaspoon size amount of yeast.

That’s all it takes!

A teaspoon

Leavens 50 bushels.

A teaspoon is all it takes to change everything!

When Jesus steps in,

Passing through the bulkhead that links heaven and earth,

This world is transformed.

Jesus empowers all God’s children

Leavens us like yeast

To rise above life’s circumstances,

To become more than ever imagined, dreamt, or hoped to be.

The presence of Jesus in your life

Is more than just that well-meaning pep-talk from a childhood coach.

Jesus Christ is the power surging in your veins,

Blood of His blood, blood of our blood.

Jesus Christ gives life, health, and goodness.  

Wow!

Jesus, we can rise above all this.

Even I can be transformed into something worthwhile!

Tell us more about the kingdom of heaven …

The kingdom of heaven is like unbounded, exuberant joy!

Imagine, finding unclaimed treasure;

Chests of gold, diamonds, and jewels.

Keep it a secret until you can legally lay claim to it.

That joy, that inner desire to laugh, that grin you can’t wipe off your face,

Looking forward to the moment you can announce your find to the world?

Yeah,

That joy!

That joy is what the kingdom of heaven is like.

There is great joy in the justice that Jesus brings.

Others might call it “Karma”, but I don’t.

The justice of Jesus Christ levels the playing field,

Overturns the wrongs and rights the rights.

The justice of our Lord

Brings down those who hoard the abundance God has provided.

The justice of Jesus redistributes wealth

Such that every mouth is fed,

Every family has a home and every child is clothed.

The justice of God provides meaningful employment for everyone who can work

and support for those who can not.

There is exuberant joy in the peace that Jesus brings.

With peace there is prosperity.

With peace there is security.

Imagine a world without violence, terrorism, or war.

This is what Jesus is pulling through the portal from the kingdom of heaven.

This is the peace that Jesus is sowing across our flawed lands.

The peace that Jesus brings

Gives us joy!

Oh. My. God.

I couldn’t be more overjoyed!

Jesus, tell us more about the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven is like …

A merchant, a common retailer,

Who searches for and finds a valuable treasure,

Like a pearl of great value.

That merchant then is willing to

Sell everything,

Do anything,

To claim it as their own.

Obsession should be more than just the name of a perfume.

Obsession is the attitude every person of faith should take

In seeking out and obtaining

Everything Jesus has to offer.

Are we obsessed with loving God?

Then let us bring our A game to worship and

Insist on excellence instead of apathy,

Unity instead of division?

Are we obsessed with loving our neighbors?

Then why do we continue to divide, offend, and criticize?

Why do we nurture unresolved hatred and conflicts

And enjoy watching passively while neighbors suffer?

Are we obsessed with sharing the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus?

Of proclaiming to the world

Good news of God’s grace,

Redemption and salvation for all?

Faith without obsession

Is like watering a weed.

SNAP!

Sweet Jesus.

The age of passive Christianity needs to be dead and buried.

The age of apathetic Christianity has come to an end.

The kingdom of authentic, effective, obsessed Christian action is upon us.

Be a part of the solution that transforms this world into God’s completed kingdom.

Anything else we need to know about the kingdom of heaven, Jesus?

Why yes, there is.

The kingdom of heaven is like …

A net that catches everything.

The time for judgment is coming, and soon will be.

But for now,

The net catches fish of every kind.

The kingdom is diverse and inclusive.

You and I don’t have to pick and choose.

Just cast the net and bring them all in!

Stop looking for rich prospects

Who we hope will pay our bills.

Stop looking for replacements because

We’ve grown old and are worn out.

Stop looking for people who look just like us

Who we hope will share the same values and beliefs.

Stop looking for millennials, x-ers, busters, and boomers.

Cast the net and bring them all in.

Sweet Jesus,

You’ve given us more than we expected today.

There’s more here about the kingdom of heaven

And our place in it

Than we ever could have imagined.

God created you,

Gave you life,

And now

God calls you and me

to spread and grow

The kingdom of heaven.

You and I,

We play an important part

In leavening this world;

Transforming it and allowing the kingdom of heaven to rise.

This brings us joy!

This makes us obsessed!

Burn with obsession

Until all are brought in;

Until all love and serve the Lord.

Amen.

“God’s Prerogative”

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

July 19, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

Prayer.

I look out at my brown, arid, un-watered lawn,

Speckled like a mine field with

Iron weeds, dandelions, and unknown variants of thistles.

It almost appears that the Lord has given me divine insight into

Matthew’s Gospel parable of the Wheat and the Weeds.

Sometimes a parable is just a parable,

But not today.

Jesus is planting seeds today, that,

For the observant,

Results in abundant harvest,

Spanning time, culture, and place,

Generation, after generation, after generation.

A few thoughts.

This parable of Jesus, and its explanation,

Is only found in the Gospel of Matthew.

Unlike most other narratives of Jesus and his teachings,

The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds

Isn’t paralleled in Mark, Luke, or John.  

Matthew remembers and records this parable of Jesus

Because of their unique setting, circumstances, and audience.

The world’s superpower occupation government, Rome,

Had crushed the Jewish uprising a decade or two prior to its writing,

Hurling the few survivors to every corner of the world

In what is known as the diaspora.

In Matthew’s setting,

The tax thirsty, violent, oppressive occupation of Rome

Were the weeds sown by a cosmic enemy.

The destroyed Temple-centric Judaism further confirmed for Matthew

That corrupt, greedy, power thirsty organized religion

Were also weeds sown by an enemy sowing evil.

Matthew’s primary audience was the first Century Church;

One or two generations removed from the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.

They eagerly anticipated the promised return of Jesus,

Which, they believed, as we do today, when Christ returns

It would usher in a time of Divine judgment.

Divine judgment is a unique characteristic of the Gospel of Matthew.

If God’s judgment makes you uncomfortable,

Hold on to your horse,

Because this bronco of Gospel judgment is going to give you a ride for your money

Right up through November.

Matthew today surveys the landscape,

Sees the weeds, Rome and organized religion, sown by the enemy, who Jesus names, “the devil”. (13:39)

At the same time, he sees the Church as a field of grain,

A beautiful field of grain,

Newly sown by the hand of a benevolent, responsible Creator.

The sower sows with an expectation of harvest.

The first gem we find today

Is this enduring truth for all disciples of Jesus:

That you and I have been created, planted, and nurtured by our Creator,

Who expects results out of us,

Who expects us to yield a harvest of grain and seed.

In my mind’s eye, and

In the tradition of Matthew’s Gospel,

I can imagine my future self

Standing before the Lord,

The God who created me,

Being asked the question, “How did you do?”

Judgment is like two farmers at the Grange comparing yields of their harvest.

“How did you do?”

It is the Lord’s prerogative to judge,

To ask of every Christian for accountability for our actions.

Think about it.

God doesn’t hold us accountable for the quantity of wealth we accumulate.

God does hold us accountable for how we’ve put that wealth to use to maximize the harvest.

Think about God’s judgment.

God doesn’t hold us accountable for our achievements, titles, degrees, or awards.

God does hold us accountable for how we’ve used our talent and experience to maximize the harvest.

God’s judgment isn’t a thumbs up or thumbs down

Effort to decide eternal disposition,

Between a molten hell or celestial heaven.

God’s judgment is being held accountable

For our time, talent, and treasures

To maximize the Lord’s harvest.

“How are you doing?”

Newly sprouted, immature grain, like young Christians, are vulnerable.

Roots aren’t established; they aren’t mature.

Better not tear up the newly planted field of grain to go after the weeds,

Jesus teaches.

Jesus warns of misleading new Christians in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew:

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

(18:6)

Focus every effort on growing the grain,

Maximizing the harvest.

Allowing the weeds to grow among us

Is the only way we are assured of

Our survival, ability to grow, and future ability to provide a harvest.

Allowing weeds sown by the enemy to grow

Is a courageous act of faith.

Yes, we live in a world where evil is alive and mortally dangerous.

Let none of us be naïve.

Yet, we believe to the depth of our marrow,

That the Lord is our final arbitrator.

Weeds that do not bear fruit or harvest,

The Lord will judge worthy of fire.

Trust in the Lord’s judgment.

Make way for the angels to cull the weeds,

Gather them up, and

Set them on fire.

Weeds are worthy only of destruction,

Nothing more, nothing less.

Weeping and gnashing of teeth? So be it.

God’s prerogative is to judge that which has been planted,

To hold us accountable for the harvest.

I’m not responsible for judgment; God is.

This frees me to focus on what is important:

Loving God, loving neighbors, inviting the world into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Being judgmental of another’s faith, spiritual development, or effectiveness

Is too heavy a burden to bear.

Drop that millstone.

Leave it up to God.

I know I struggle keeping my judgment in check,

Biting my lip and sitting on my hands.

How are you doing?

…..

Lastly, a question I’ve been mulling over a lot this week:

Does the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds give us a pass on confronting evil?

Jesus is pretty clear that we are to leave the weeds alone.

I’m not searching for a pity opinion that preaches well.

I’m searching for an observation that squares itself with the rest of the Gospel and Scripture.

The Apostle Paul ran up against this same question …

… are Christians to confront the evil of this world, sown by the devil?

Paul outlines a standard for Christian living and engagement

In his letter to the church in Rome:

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:9-21

Instead of judgment and condemnation

Christians are called to love

Until evil is destroyed,

Until evil is no more.

Love and make room for the wrath of God.

I commend to you, beloved, Romans 12:9-21.

Make it the focus of your prayers and devotions this coming week.

….

I love the fact that God holds me accountable.

I’m expected to do something about the faith that I’ve been given.

It’s a challenge I readily accept,

A goal I strive to achieve.

Christian faith expects each of us to speak and act with love and

To lead the world to Jesus.

The Lord sets the bar of expectation extremely high and

Holds every Christian accountable.

How are you doing?

Accountable faith is confirmation of the fact that

God’s grace may be free, but it isn’t cheap.

God’s grace,

Especially when held in the context of Divine judgment,

Is paid for by the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.

The price of God’s grace is the life of Jesus.

God’s grace,

When each of us comes before the Lord,

Is played out in mercy by our Divine Judge.

This is mercy: Your sins are forgiven by the blood of Christ.

This is mercy: Your salvation is assured because Jesus rose from the dead.

Being held accountable to our merciful God

Is a small price to pay for such a loving gift of amazing grace.

Amen.

“The Illusion of Independence”

Matthew 10:40-42

June 28, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 10:40-42

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

Prayer.

Sometimes I just get it wrong.

I read one thing and think another.

I’d like a quarter for every time I just knew I was right,

only to be proven wrong.

This has nothing to do with gender or marital status, quite frankly.

(I’m not going there!)

Humans tend to interpret the world from our unique point of view,

looking at life from our own background, experiences, values, and beliefs.

This leads us to jump to conclusions,

make assumptions,

which may, or may not, be accurate or true.

You know what they say about assumptions?

Communication is hard work;

far more dependent upon the commitment of two parties to communicate

than on the actual content that is transferred from one to another.

Many years ago the United Methodist Church embarked

on a new media campaign.

The tag line is this:

“Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors;

We are the People of the United Methodist Church”

Sounds great.

Problem is, it is not completely true and

Most of us know it.

The reality is

not EVERYone is welcome.

Our minds, hearts, and doors are open to

People just like us;

Who look like us,

Who think like us,

Who behave like us.

People different from us,

probably will not become just like us,

so they should just go someplace else.

The door slams shut.

If you are homeless, you probably smell and won’t get cleaned up.

If you are addicted, you will probably relapse and disappoint us, one more time.

If you are intellectually challenged, behaviors distract me during the worship service,

so look someplace else.

If you don’t look like us, act like us, or ask too many questions,

perhaps you should just keep church shopping.

If your sins are little, you’re in;

but, if you have some whoppers in your past,

keep moving on.

It’s impossible to not call out a history of racism in the church.

The United Methodist Church has long and painful history of segregation:

Laity, congregations, pastors, and conferences.

Central Jurisdictions were created to separate blacks from whites.

Denominations like the AME, African Methodist Episcopal church, and

AME Zion, African Methodist Episcopal Zion church,

Split away from the United Methodist Church

(or our predecessor denominations)

To be freed from our discriminatory ways.

We reflect the larger society.

Now racism is raging, boiling over in social discontent.

I own it. Do you? Are we willing to start a conversation about it?

There is so much work to be done.

Listening. Conversations. Education. Repentance. Forgiveness. Prayer.

Partnerships. Friendships. God’s love and grace.

It is going to take it all to open this door.

The message of

Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors is painful.

The message it portrayed is

“Come to us, become like us, and we will all be united.”

The media campaign is inconsistence with Jesus’ charge to his disciples

as he sent them forth,

into the villages, towns, and countryside.

Jesus didn’t tell them

“Build it and they will come.”

Ministry doesn’t begin with flashy ad campaigns, beautiful buildings, big budgets, or flawless preachers.

Ministry begins when we go;

when we GO!

meet people where they are at,

and address their deepest human needs.

It is helpful to remember the Church never closed during this pandemic.

The building closed, but the Church did not.

The past 17 weeks have forced all of us to

Take ministry out from the building,

Make ministry new, and

Take ministry into the world.

Ministry begins when we go;

when we GO!

If people are sick, cure them.

If people are dead, raise them.

If people have leprosy, clean them.

If people are living with demons, cast them out.

Often the interpretation of the Gospel for today is backwards;

totally upside down.

We often assume it is all about us extending gracious hospitality.

It is not!

Jesus is sending OUT his disciples

and instilling in them a sense of dependency;

the complete and utter reliance upon the

hospitality of strangers

and the grace of God.

Take no money for your work.

Leave your purse or wallet at home.

Don’t dress nice or drive a fancy car.

Don’t pack an overnight bag.

Don’t bring your own food.

If Jesus was speaking today, he’d say, “leave your cell phone behind.”

Stay as long as people will support your dependency

and leave when hospitality runs out.

Dependency is primarily an act of faith.

It makes us vulnerable.

Dependency can also be dangerous.

Consider old school missionaries:

They’d go to another country,

Christianize it,

Baptize everything except the kitchen sink

and expect that locals to be reformed just like us.

Christian colonialization stinks

and the whole world knows it.

Jesus is telling us this morning the complete opposite;

something altogether different.

He’s telling us to GO!

Go to other people,

become dependent upon them,

assimilating their culture,

all the while

communicating Christ’s love

and extending Christ’s invitation

to become his disciples.

When we correlate our culture with the Gospel,

we’ve gone astray.

Jesus’ message isn’t

“come, be like us”.

The message of Jesus is

“GO,

become dependent upon the Lord.

Trust in the Lord.

Love the Lord.

Love your neighbors and

Invite your neighbors into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

The danger and vulnerability of dependency

is a complete reorientation for us,

a massive paradigm shift.

At the same time,

It can be insightful for Christians

who are ready to plumb to new spiritual depths.

We live in insular worlds of delusion.

We believe we are greater, stronger, smarter,

and more independent than we really are.

We live an illusion of independence.

We take pride in our accomplishments;

our education, our job, our compensation, our pension.

Egos swell

over our cars, our properties, our toys, and things.

We are lured to believe we are masters of our own universe

and there isn’t anything or anyone else to change it.

Yet, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and nursing homes

are filled with dependent people

who once believed in their independence.

Each of us are a heartbeat away

from a catastrophe of dependence.

People with chronic mental illness, developmental disabilities, addictions

may have a lifetime of dependency

– may have never had a dream of becoming independent as we know it –

yet are no different from us

other than a barely mutated snippet of DNA

or a slightly different dollop of brain chemistry.

Graveyards are full of corpses,

once the vessels of life

of people just like you and me,

yet, whose souls are now completely dependent upon God for eternal life.

There is great danger and vulnerability

in one of the hardest stories in the Bible:

Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son, Isaac.

God called,

Abraham went,

not knowing when, or how, or why.

Yet, in his vulnerability,

confronted with the danger of losing his son, Isaac,

Abraham placed his complete and absolute trust

in the Lord.

Abraham’s trust, faith, and courage

forever grafted his life with that of God.

As great as Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac,

there is no greater example of dependency

than our Lord, Jesus Christ,

laying down his life,

offering his life on the cross

with complete and absolute trust

knowing

 – this was the way forward –

for the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of souls.

Willingly stretch yourself out on a cross sometime;

ask a soldier to pound in a few nails.

That’s vulnerability.

That’s danger.

That’s what I’m talking about.

At the end of the day

we are no more independent than the last choice we made.

We are dependent upon God for everything.

Everything.

We are dependent upon God for grace:

for life, health, and breath.

We are dependent upon God for love:

for the people who are placed in our lives,

for the gifts and talents each of us are divinely given,

for the opportunities granted to us with the start of each new day.

Today,

let us join our destiny

with those new, fledgling disciples of Jesus.

You and I are given authority to perform miracles

in the name of Christ.

We must GO, as Jesus commands,

that his invitation might be to

“COME, follow me.”

GO! he tells us.

Take no money, no clothes, no food.

Place your whole trust in God;

It is primarily an act of faith

to follow God’s will and Jesus’ commands.

Be the dependent guest.

Allow vulnerability to teach you.

May the humility of dependence

grow our relationships with one another.

Let it deepen your faith and trust in God.

Amen.

“Do Not Fear”

Matthew 10:24-39

June 21, 2020

the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 10:24-39

“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Prayer.

The Gospel of Matthew picks up from last Sunday:

Jesus naming, commissioning, and sending forth his 12 apostles.

Their charge was to go to Jewish towns and villages

  • Proclaim the Good News that the kingdom of heaven is near,
  • Cure the sick,
  • Raise the dead,
  • Cleanse lepers, and
  • Cast out demons.

Do it without pay or preparations.

Depend upon the Lord for your daily bread.

Get out there and get the mission done.

Like coming out of a huddle:

One, two, three. Hike!

Let’s go!

Apostles of Jesus must be innovators by nature.  

Status quo for the Church is a cold cell in solitary confinement.

Watch us slowly become irrelevant and die if we continue to put new wine into old wineskins;

If we fail to innovate,

If we continue to stubbornly refuse to change.

Innovation is the only way to get the mission done

As Tasked to us by Jesus.

Mission accomplished?

Has all the world heard the message that the kingdom is near?

Is there sickness or death?

Are the dead being raised?

Has evil been vanquished?

Have you noticed the protests?

Do we have a cure?

Has all the world been introduced to Jesus?

Christ’s mission is not accomplished.

The game hasn’t been won.

There is still time on the clock.

Change the world.

Transform it into to God’s kingdom.

You know what happens to innovators?

Jesus pumps the brakes of his newly ordained.

A shadow drifts over Jesus’ teaching

When he warns his apostles that

They will receive passive-aggressive resistance.

Expect it.

Don’t take it personally.

Don’t fight it.

Shake the dust off your feet and move on.

If it was only that simple.

Today, Jesus locks up all four tires in our Gospel lesson

When he teaches about consequences and conflict.  

If you’re not stunned, you are not paying attention.

Listen to what comes out of the mouth of Jesus:

“I do not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

(Matthew 10:34)

This is the same Savior

At his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane

who told his disciples

to put away their swords!

Are you kidding me?

What gives?

Jesus knows how to attract a crowd.

Consider all the occasions when crowds of would-be disciples

Follow him across the lake,

Put him in a boat to teach,

Or packed the synagogue to experience

His traveling salvation show.

People loved his sermons.

He often repeated the Beatitudes,

Teaching about injustice,

And parables about the Kingdom.

Peace, love, mercy, and blessings win over a crowd,

Especially if they were free to do nothing about it, or

If there was a free magic show and fish dinner afterwards.

However, today’s Gospel message

Appears to be the complete opposite,

A totally opposing message,

As if Jesus is pulling back the curtain

And revealing the Ugly Stepchild of Discipleship.

There are consequences of following Jesus.

Just as doing nothing is not an option,

The things we say and do as a faithful follower of Christ

Is going to end us up in conflict and mortal danger.

We rarely hear about the thousands of would-be disciples

who received his invitation,

but decided the price of discipleship was too costly,

so they walked away.

There are a few exceptions.

Consider what never happened because

  • That one guy decided to return home first to bury their father?
  • That rich guy decided to walk away sad because he couldn’t bring himself to sell all he had and give the money to the poor?
  • Another one decided the ridicule he would face from his family was too great for him to bear?
  • Yet another decided Jesus had been just another shooting star who disappointed the nation?

Consider the Passover crowds who welcomed Jesus

With shouts of Hosanna on Sunday,

But who were screaming “Crucify Him!” to Pontius Pilate by Friday morning.

They just walked away.

This is why the kingdom has yet to be completed and

We’re still hammering away at it today.

There are consequences to following Jesus.

There is persecution and possibly death.

There is a price to be paid for exposing injustice,

for fighting evil,

for bringing the light of Christ into a world of darkness and shadows,

where the evil one veils himself

and hides his despicable work.

We will be falsely accused of working for Beelzebul,

The devil,

just as Jesus was falsely accused

of being the king of the Jews.

(Matthew 10:25)

Consequences for following Jesus run deep.

You may be estranged from family

– the ones who are supposed to be your closest loved ones.

Weigh the consequences.

Consequences of following Jesus?

Say good-bye to football, cheerleading, and soccer.

Worship is the only Sabbath activity.

What are the consequences?

I’ve been mocked and shamed by the hypocrisy and failures of the Church,

Just as I’m sure you have been, too.

People will stare in disbelief and say, “what are you, nuts?!”

Expect the world to throw an emotional fit worthy of a three-year-old

When we work to innovate,

When we work to change,

When we improve

This broken world into God’s kingdom.

The consequence of following Jesus is conflict.

And it doesn’t always come from those outside the church.

I’ve been a part of 22 churches in my 59 years.

Plus, I have inside knowledge of a whole lot more.

I’m here to tell you that there is not one church

in which there was no conflict.

Internal conflict can be hurtful.

Church folks reflect the larger culture.

Not all Christians are nice all the time.

We make mistakes.

Sometimes we hurt others.

We are a community of sinners

Striving to become Saints.

I’ve learned one of the signs of a healthy congregation

is not the absence of conflict,

but how the members of a church family respond to it.

  • Avoidance: Is conflict swept under the carpet, denied and ignored? That is a sign of disfunction, at best, a ticking time bomb, at worse.
  • Discernment: Are people able to listen and discern God speaking in their own life AND listen and discern God speaking in and through others?
  • Healing: Is repentance and reconciliation an occasional occurrence OR has it become so much a part of the community that an outsider would comment, “Look how much they love one another!”
  • God’s Will: Is joy ever found in submission OR is the will so strong each has to get their own way?
  • Love: Is there gentleness in the voice, love in actions, and faith in heart, OR is there suspicion, criticism, avoidance, or sarcasm?

How does our church rate?

How do we handle conflict?

I pray we do so with prayer on the one hand

And the Gospel on the other;

With humility, dignity, respect;

With love, repentance, reconciliation, gentleness, and faith.

I pray we begin with Jesus,

Submit our will to His will,

To heal all the issues that divide us.

Allow the memory of conflict to be swept away by the grace of God.

Let it go.

Let it be.

As we face the withering resistance to Christian innovation and progress,

Both from within, and by outside critics,

Jesus calms our disquieted hearts.

“Do not fear,” Jesus repeats.

Do not fear!

“Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered.”

(Matthew 10:26)

The truth will be revealed.

The truth will set you free!

The Lord is light, the Light of the World,

and where he is,

there is no darkness for evil to hide.

Do not fear! Jesus proclaims.

“Do not fear those who kill the body

but cannot kill the soul; 

rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

(Matthew 10:28)

Opponents to God have limited power.

They can only hurt you so much,

they can only go so far.

God, on the other hand, is unlimited in power.

Fear only God;

He is the Lord of life,

and the Lord of life everlasting.

Do not fear! Jesus proclaims.

God’s love for you is detailed and compassionate.

If God is concerned with a sparrow not even worth a half penny,

isn’t He so much more concerned about you?

If God loves you enough to count the hairs on your head,

isn’t God so much more enveloping you in His love and grace?

Do not fear! Jesus proclaims.

Do not fear the consequences of being a Christian;

the presence of conflict in your life because you are trying to be faithful.

Jesus promises that  

He will be our advocate at our judgment,

IF we live our lives as advocates for Him.

(Matthew 10:32)

Build the Church of Jesus Christ …

… expand God’s kingdom …

and Jesus will appeal for you.

Extend the invitation to discipleship and

The invitation to salvation is made to you.  

Grow in spiritual depth and maturity,

drawing close to Christ,

and He will draw close to you.

Do not fear! Jesus proclaims.

Do not fear the consequences of being a Christian;

the presence of conflict in life because you are trying to be faithful.

This, our Savior also promises:

Lose your life for His sake, and you will find it.

(Matthew 10:39)

Sacrifice time, energy, money

– give it all for the sake of Jesus Christ,

and discover true life,

Freedom that brings substance and meaning.

Serve the Lord,

and your fellow human beings,

and you will be served.

Take the seat of least honor,

and you will be lifted up.

Submit your will to the will of God,

and Thine will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Do not fear! My beloved.

Do not fear the consequences of following Jesus.

Do not fear the conflict that is certain to follow.

Know this: the Lord is Light,

in him there is no darkness at all,

he exposes all that lives in the dark.

…..

The Lord is almighty,

having power and dominion over both the heavens and the earth.

The Lord is compassionate in His love for you.

Be an advocate for Christ,

and He will be an advocate for you.

Be willing to take up your cross,

… Be willing to die for Jesus …

and you will be given life;

life everlasting.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

“The Harvest is Plentiful – Volunteers are Few”

Matthew 9:35-10:23

June 14, 2020 – Second Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 9:35-10:23

(Text: http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=458795397) (Video: https://youtu.be/FzHKpODSaP0)

Prayer.

From now until Thanksgiving,

Sundays are nearly always

All Matthew, all the time.

So, let’s get comfortable.

This Gospel was authored by the generation that followed the disciple’s generation.

Matthew was most probably developed in a small house church

of former Jews turned Christians

living in modern day Syria.

It was taught to generations of Christians by rote memorization,

Called the oral tradition,

Until it was written down approximately 50 to 70 years

After the Passion, death, resurrection, and ascension, of Jesus and

Approximately ten to thirty years

After the Romans destroyed Jerusalem,

Slaughtered the Jewish population,

And scattered the few surviving Jews throughout the world.

The earliest manuscript archeologist have found

Dates to between 200 and 300 AD, and

It is written in Greek.

My challenge to you: get comfortable with the Gospel of Matthew.

Make it your summer challenge to read it from start to finish.

Up through the tenth chapter of Matthew,

Jesus had only called four disciples.

Today he calls the remaining eight,

Making a total of twelve,

Reminiscent of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

Remember, Matthew probably came from a small group of former Jews

Who carried forward their Jewish values into their Christian discipleship.

Twelve is a comfortable number.

Jewish values are deeply embedded in our Christian faith.

This is a key characteristic of St. Matthew.

Think in your mind’s eye …

of the parallels of Moses and Jesus;

Law and Grace;

Success / Failure and Forgiveness;

Slavery / Freedom and Salvation.

Moses commissions Joshua and Jesus commissions the twelve,

Naming them Apostles.

Matthew has the 20,000 feet perspective of Jesus,

Both during his life and in the ten to thirty years afterwards.

Therefore, the Gospel of Matthew enjoys the ability

To place two commissioning sequences:

The first, here this morning in chapters 9 and 10, and

Secondly, at the conclusion of the gospel in chapter 28.

Today’s first commissioning is important.

Jesus passes his authority and power from himself to his disciples.

How does this translate to you and me today?

Confidence, my friends. Confidence.

Let me build up your confidence.

You and I,

Brother and sister disciples of Jesus Christ,

We are given the power and authority of Jesus to do the works of God.

The power of Jesus equals the change of our effort over time.

So, if the kingdom of God is incomplete,

It’s on us.

Name a sin.

Any sin.

Jesus has given you and me the authority to address it and

The power to overcome it.

Racism.

Sexism.

Privilege.

Entitlement.

Lust for power.

Wealth.

Jesus gives his disciples the authority and power to overcome them all.

So, why are we still being swept away with evil and injustice in our world today?

Disciples of Jesus are commissioned to finish God’s kingdom.

Time is passed due

to get to work.

“But work is hard,” I whine.

It means I have to do something.

It means I have to take responsibility for my relationship with Jesus and

Be willing to be held accountable.

Which is exactly why the harvest is plentiful, but the volunteer laborers are few.

Jesus uses harvest as a common metaphor for judgment.

When Jesus says harvest, think accountability.

We are held accountable for our Christian action, or lack thereof.

When it comes to Jesus holding his disciples accountable for our words and actions

Think the 80/20 rule of churches my father taught me:

20% of a church family do the work, pay the bills, engage in mission, and lead people to Jesus.

The other 80% try to fade into the shadows and hope no one notices.

The harvest of potential new followers of Jesus is rich and abundant.

So, where is everyone?

The pool of potential new disciples is harassed, helpless, and wondering,

Looking for a leader.

Introduce them to Jesus.

Christianity on a half-shell will always be held accountable.

Jerry rigged Christianity on the cheap,

Isn’t Christianity at all.

Serve the Lord.

Serve with nothing short of excellence.

Don’t wait to be asked.

Look for the need; meet the need; exceed the need with abundance.

Serve in the name of Jesus.

Leave the rest up to God.

Jesus starts small, but

He’s building the foundation to go global.

And so, too, should we.

In this first commissioning of his beloved Twelve

Jesus gives them all the power and authority,

But he limits their scope to only the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

That is, go only to Jews whose religious authorities have misled them.

That is pretty much every Jew and family who had been

exploited by the Temple theology of the corrupt Priesthood, or

robbed by the Temple economy by the crooked Pharisees and Scribes.

They were leaderless;

Fresh for the harvest.

This commission is narrow,

Exclusive of Gentiles and Samaritans.

It is in the second, post-resurrection and ascension, concluding words in the Gospel of Matthew where

Jesus opens the floodgates and

Lets the whole world in.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations …”

Jesus re-commissions.

– (28:19)

Jesus wants an integrated, inclusive, global Church

Making disciples and serving in his name

Building God’s kingdom.

He doesn’t want a privileged, exclusive, group of former Jewish converts for disciples.

The Samaritan world was filled with people being falsely led.

What about them?

The Gentile world was filled with people chasing false idols and Greek and Roman Gods.

Go after them!

Our world is filled with people chasing wealth and power, lust and gluttony, evil and sin … searching for a leader.

Hunt them down like a hound dog and introduce them to Jesus Christ.

The harvest was plentiful in the time of Jesus, and

The harvest is plentiful today.

Already following Jesus?

Good, roll up your sleeves and join me

harvesting disciples,

teaching disciples, and

developing disciples.

Reality check!

Jesus tells us in full disclosure mode.

Leading people to Christ can be bloody.

Some will slam the door in your face or friendship.

Others will treat you badly.

Sometimes even your family will disown you, or worse.

Don’t take it personally.

Wipe the dirt off your shoes.

Turn around and leave town.

There’s lots of other fish in the sea.

There is no more room for Christianity on the cheep

Then there is for timid Christianity.

Don’t be timid!

I wouldn’t dare call anyone timid;

Though I know I can be at times.

Jesus calls and commission disciples to be bold!

Be bold in faith, because nothing grows confidence better than confidence.

Discipleship and disciple making is like learning to ride a bicycle;

The first couple of attempts might be dicey.

But, by the time you free wheel the first time, you’re on a lifelong journey.

Looking for a leader?

Allow me to introduce you to Jesus.

That first person who accepts the invitation comes as quite a surprise.

Know this, God has been long at work before you or I came calling.

Others may have planted the seed years ago.

God is patient.

God nurtures, waters and feeds that which is planted.

In time, God’s time, comes acceptance.

Here is another dose of confidence for you:

Invite people to meet Jesus and follow as a disciple.

Even though you and I might be initially rejected,

God may be using us to plant seeds for a future disciple to harvest.

Okay, now what?

Don’t worry.

God’s got this.

God will give you the words to speak.

God has given your heart to listen.

The heart of Christ disciples, and

I’m talking about you and me,

Is the same heart of Jesus who looked out on the crowds with compassion.

In place of fake, corrupted, bad news,

Jesus witnessed to them good news.

In place of viral disease, injury, or death, Jesus cured, healed, and resurrected every last one.

In place of wondering aimlessly, being misled by false gods, Jesus invites the world into a loving, vibrant relationship with each other and with himself.

Come with me.

Let’s follow Jesus together.

Beloved, the world is ripe for harvest.

There’s more than enough searching people

Ready and waiting for your call,

Your personal invitation

To become a disciple of Jesus.

God has set the stage,

The rest is up to us.

Amen.

“C, E, and G”

Matthew 28:16-20

June 7, 2020 – Trinity Sunday

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 28:16-20

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Prayer.

Fire off the confetti cannons!

It’s Trinity Sunday!

Seriously, it would be a rookie mistake to

Lecture at length during the sermon

The theological significance of the Trinity.

In place of a lecture

Think about a C note on the piano / guitar.

Allow the C note to capture your imagination.

Now, add to the C note an E note.

Now, add to the C and E notes a G note.

What do you have?

You have the opening chord to “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty”,

A hymn that expresses Trinity more thoroughly than an academic lecture:

Holy, holy, holy!

Lord God Almighty

Early in the morning

Our song shall rise to Thee

Holy, holy, holy!

Merciful and mighty

God in three persons

Blessed Trinity!

(UMH #64. Words: Reginald Heber, 1826 (Revelation 4:8-11). Music: John B. Dykes, 1861 (Nicaea))

This hymn preserves the mystery of God;

At the same time invoking

The awe-inspiring nature of God and

The power, mercy, love, and purity of God in three persons,

A blessed Trinity.

In adoration

The worshiper is called to unite in praise with

Saints of biblical times.

“Holy, Holy, Holy!” was written specifically for use

On Trinity Sunday by Reginald Heber,

A poet, vicar, and bishop of Calcutta.

C. E. G.

The Gospel lesson this Trinity Sunday includes

The Great Commission –

The resurrected Jesus commissions his remaining 11 disciples,

To make disciples, baptize, and teach all the world.

The commissioning takes place

On a mountain top in Galilee

Where he had previously taught.

Think: Mount of the Beatitudes

Overlooking the majestic Sea of Galilee.

Similar to resurrection accounts in the Gospel of John,

Jesus appears out of the ether, out of nowhere.

When they saw him, they worshiped him,

But some doubted, the Gospel of Matthew reports.

Those who worshiped him may have fallen

As did Mary Magdalene and the other Mary

When they encountered the resurrected Jesus at the tomb.

He told the women

“Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

– Matthew 28:10

The disciples who worshiped Jesus

May have worshiped with words and music similar to “Holy, Holy, Holy!”

C. E. G.

A few gems catch my eye.

First, the disciples followed directions.

They did as they were told.

They returned 90 miles north to Galilee.

Galilee is a region slightly larger than Monroe County,

About 2,000 square miles.

(https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/dictionaries/dict_meaning.php?source=3&wid=S8143)

So, where in Galilee did they go?

They returned to the mountain where Jesus directed them.

They returned to the familiar, the safe, the known.

You may have noticed the past few Sundays

I have been recording the Gospel lesson

From different locations around the Town of Rush.

Today’s Gospel reading came from the grounds of Industry, near the chapel.

Why?

In these pandemic days of lock down and isolation

It is my goal to bring to you, the viewing audience,

The same sense of the familiar, safe, and known.

My intention is to associate the Gospel with

Our Christian values

Of faith, worship, and relationship with God.

Setting, location, environment … frees us to connect with God in our holy places.

For the disciples, their familiar, safe, holy place

Where they could experience the essence of Jesus

Was the Mount of Beatitudes.

Which begs the question,

Where is your holy place?

The place where Jesus is known and familiar to you?

For me,

It’s the shoreline at Casowasco;

The church camp where I attended and worked during college.

Another holy place for me has been with the poor and disabled in Tecpan and Puruha, Guatemala.

Jesus and I came together with the homeless and hungry in Telica, Nicaragua.

The safe, familiar feet of Jesus have been around the picnic table at our cottage,

Where we are blessed to entertain church members, family, and friends with disabilities.

My holy place is quietly floating in a boat on the Sea of Galilee.

Where is your holy place?

It can be anywhere you serve in the name of Jesus,

With anyone who is on a similar journey of faith,

Engaging in an activity that brings laser focus

And undivided attention

To Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Many of us may associate the church sanctuary as

The safe, holy, familiar place where we encounter Jesus.

I certainly, do.

We are mourning, as in death, over the fact that we can’t safely gather for in-person worship until a vaccine or cure is found.

Anger is a stage of grief.

We are angry because what we had

Has been taken from us and

We’ve been largely powerless to resist.

Know this to be true.

Anger is a stage that will soon pass.

It’s normal to be angry.

Beyond anger and acceptance will come healing.

This time of mourning will pass;

It will take time,

But it will pass.

Anticipate like Advent

The time when we will gather in person once again

To encounter Jesus,

To worship the Holy.

Low, it will be a great and holy day

When Christ appears right before our eyes!

C. E. G.

Secondly, Matthew reported that

When Jesus appeared,

Some of the eleven disciples doubted.

They doubted it was Jesus,

Risen from the dead,

Materializing right before their very eyes.

It puzzles me that

Given all that Jesus and his disciples had been through together

That some would doubt him.

It doesn’t say they didn’t recognize him;

They doubted.

What did they doubt?

This was their first time in the Gospel of Matthew seeing the resurrected Jesus;

So, did they doubt his death? His resurrection?

Did they doubt his teaching?

Did they doubt their own decision to follow Jesus?

Did they doubt that Jesus was both human and Devine?

Jesus commissions the doubters anyway.

An honest confession with full, spiritual transparency,

I’ve had periods of doubt in my life:

Heaven and hell,

Evil and suffering,

God, Jesus, Holy Ghost,

Forgiveness, atonement,

Healing and salvation,

Covenant, Law, and Grace,

Justice, peace, and love.

Jesus commissioned me anyway.

I suspect most everyone on a journey of faith

Has periods of doubt in their life.

In the privacy of the confessional,

I’ve heard doubts shared with me  throughout 35 years of ordained ministry.

It’s okay to doubt, to question, to inquire further, and dig deeper.

In fact, I’d suggest it is a healthy thing to do.

Giving each other permission to doubt,

While supporting one another with love, encouragement, and assurance,

Is a means of God’s grace to work wonders and miracles.

To doubt is to be normal.

Jesus commissioned you anyway.

The commission is God’s holy work,

Something only God can do.

C. E. G.

The commission itself is so baked into the Christian psyche

That there isn’t much I can add to the conversation.

Jesus commissions us to three things:

Make disciples of all nations,

Baptize disciples in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and

Teach disciples everything Jesus commanded.

Short.

Simple.

To the point.

It makes for a good three-point sermon

(I’ve preached that sermon many times!).

It makes for a good three-point mission statement.

The third and final detail that catches my attention

Is the concluding promise Jesus makes

That ends the Gospel of Matthew.

“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

– Matthew 28:20

Remember.

Numerous parishioners over the years

Who have received a devastating diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, or related, disease

Have expressed to me their fear

Of how their progressive loss of memory will affect their faith.

What happens when I can no longer remember?

What happens if I forget Jesus?

Jesus promises to be our eternal care giver,

Always at our side,

Even, to the end of the age.

As one progressively loses independence,

We can be confident is placing greater dependence on Jesus.

You may forget Jesus.

But Jesus will never forget you.

“I am with you always”

Is the promise of Emmanuel.

The first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew

Opens with an angel of the Lord appearing to Joseph in a dream.

“Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. … All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, ‘God is with us.’” – Matthew 1:20, 23

Emmanuel.

God is with us.

God is with us in our safe, familiar, holy places,

Just as God is with us in our valleys filled with shadows and death.

Though it feels as if the world is out of our control

And we’re angry because of a forced dependence beyond our control,

Remember, God is with us, and

Will remain with us, beyond these trying times,

To the end of the age.

Emmanuel.

God with us.

God is with us when our faith is strong, and

God is with us when we doubt.

We are commissioned anyways.

When we know that God is with us always,

Tomorrow is filled with hope.

We will overcome.

We will overcome this pandemic.

We will overcome racial injustice.

We will overcome partisan vitriol.

We will overcome our failures and sins.

We will overcome the mortal constraints of life itself.

With God by our side,

We will overcome.

God, in three persons, blessed Trinity.

C. E. G.

Amen.