Sermons

“Blessed”

Matthew 5:1-12

February 2, 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

  • “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
  • “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
  • “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
  • “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
  • “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
  • “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
  • “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

Prayer.

 

Many things motivate human behavior:

Safety,

Security,

Food and clothing,

These are essential because they are related to survival.

Power,

Money,

Sex

Might be considered the hard motivators.

Love,

Acceptance,

And forgiveness

Might be thought of as soft motivators.

Hard or soft, they are equal motivators of human behavior.

 

Today’s gospel

– The Beatitudes –

Are all about acceptance,

One of the soft motivators of human behavior;

In the larger context of the kingdom of God.

 

Who is accepted?

How are they accepted?

And what does acceptance mean

Especially when it relates to identity:

Who I am (as an individual),

Who we are (as members of a community),

And how we all fit in (to assimilate).

 

The Beatitudes describe what the new kingdom looks like;

Not defined by geography or boarders or length of reign,

Like old kingdoms.

Rather, the Beatitudes outline God’s plan

That his kingdom will be defined by people,

Children of God,

Accepted and blessed.

 

When you experience the Gospel of Matthew, think Moses.

The parallel of Jesus with Moses is intentional.

Through sign, symbol and story

Matthew makes great effort

Here and throughout his Gospel,

To identify Jesus as the Messiah for the new age.

 

Jesus is the new Moses, and more.

Grace becomes the new standard for judgment and punishment under the Law.

Salvation wins over death and damnation.

Jesus bring liberty to the poor, the meek, and the hungry.

 

Let’s look at the parallels.

Just as Moses’ birth was foretold by an angel in a dream;

So too is the birth of Jesus announced by an angel in a dream.

Just as Moses was threatened by a wicked king,

So too is Jesus.

 

Just as Moses is rejected by his own people,

Comes out of Egypt,

Passes through the water,

Is tested in the wilderness,

Ascends a great mountain,

And gives great commands;

So too does Jesus.

 

The mountain is a place of God’s revelation:

For Moses, the identify of a new people,

A new kingdom of Israel.

For Jesus, the Beatitudes proclaim

A new kingdom of God

With Christ as the center.

Today we make the developmental transition

From Moses on Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments

To Jesus on the Mount proclaiming Blessings.

 

Matthew reported in the fourth chapter that

Jesus had been drawing a crowd.

Not just one crowd,

Many crowds throughout Galilee,

Where he had been teaching in synagogues,

Proclaiming the good news of the kingdom,

Healing every person with disease or illness,

Inspiring loved ones of everyone he healed;

Family members and friends.

 

Jesus was the original traveling salvation show,

Complete with miraculous, dramatic, healing.

Nothing draws a crowd quite like a healing preacher!

 

Miracles drew them in.

Proclaiming the good news of the kingdom

was winning them over.

Teaching them his will and his ways

was preparing the crowds for the future.

Disease, deformity, or chronic illness meant exclusion

From family, neighbors, community, and faith.

It was associated with sin and punishment.

“You or your mother or father must have sinned

To result in your punished, unclean state.”

 

Unclean meant being

Socially isolated from family and friends,

Sent to beg outside of the protection of the city or village walls,

Left to twist in the wind.

 

Healing was the solution.

Healing allows the unclean to go before the priest

And be made clean once again.

Healing would bring reunification with family.

Healing would bring acceptance by the larger community.

This is what motivated the crowds …

… crowds composed of the excluded, the unclean, and their family members.

This is what motivated the crowds

To follow and enthusiastically gather wherever Jesus visited.

 

Today, Jesus leaves the crowds behind.

Jesus takes the first four chosen disciples up the mountain

Andrew and Peter, James and John.

He takes them up the mountain

For a time of instruction.

Don’t worry about the other 8 disciples who would soon follow.

Like every good preacher,

We believe Jesus recycled this most important sermon material.

Those who followed would have their opportunity for freshman orientation.

 

They climb a mountain,

Quite possibly Mt. Tabor,

Where they would have had an expansive view of the plane of Armageddon,

The place of final judgement,

Where battles had been fought for millennia

Resulting in winners or losers,

The quick and the dead.

Jesus stood below his disciples, as a teacher would in a lecture hall.

The backdrop behind Jesus was all about judgment.

Judgment was symbolically laid out before the disciples’ feet,

Lying on the valley floor down below.

 

On the mountain

The Beatitudes are a lesson taught in context

Of the crowds that Jesus had just been engaged with across Galilee.

When Jesus is speaking about the poor in spirit,

Those who mourn

The meek,

And those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

He is speaking about the last, the least, the lost, the left behind.

He is speaking about the most vulnerable, the unclean,

Those broken by life and

Those who had been left for dead.

 

What was expected was a pronouncement of judgment,

As Moses might have done;

As the valley behind Jesus certainly suggested.

The disciples expected judgment.

The wretched, unclean people in the crowds must have sinned,

Must have violated Moses and the Law.

 

What Jesus did was something altogether different:

Instead of condemning the poor, meek, mourning, and hungry,

Jesus names them as blessed.

 

Blessed.

Can you hear the gasps?

Can you hear the word “blessed” ring,

As rightly it should?

 

What does blessed mean?

A few thoughts:

 

Blessed does not mean holy.

Flawed people are people.

By the way

All people are flawed.

By the way

None of us are holy.

 

Blessed does not mean happy.

There is no joy in being segregated.

There is no joy in begging.

There is no joy in being isolated.

Being blessed doesn’t make one happy.

Neither does blessed mean being successful.

 

Blessed means being favored by God.

 

The kingdom of God going forward will be filled with those God favors.

God favors those who are need of a hand;

A hand out and a hand up.

God favors those who cannot care for themselves,

Who are dependent upon others.

Today, think of the elderly.

Think of children.

Think of those who, through no fault of their own, are disabled.

Think of those who are ill or dying.

Think of that single mom trying to raise her son or daughter

While taking care of elderly parent who may need to go in the nursing home.

 

These are whom God favors.

 

But what about the rest of us? You may ask?

Are we being left out or left behind?

Are we condemned to live by Moses and the Law

Simply because we aren’t dependent,

We aren’t in need,

We aren’t poor?

Are we accepted, too?

 

Ah, yes, Jesus has room for the rest of us

If we so choose.

God also favors those who lend a hand;

Those who share generously from their hands,

And those who are committed to walking hand in hand

As neighbors and friends of the kingdom.

 

Blessed are the merciful.

You have God’s favor when you act with mercy,

When you react with empathy,

When you behave with kindness,

And when you open your heart

To the suffering of the world.

Great suffering surrounds us.

Respond with mercy

And live in God’s favor.

 

Blessed are the pure in heart.

You have God’s favor when you act with pure and transparent motives.

God favors those who promote others, not themselves.

God favors those who serve others, not those who serve themselves.

God favors those who act simply as an agent of God’s love.

Service is the hallmark of Christian leadership.

As reminded by the prophet Micah

Serve humbly,

But decisively,

In the name of Jesus

And live in God’s favor.

 

Blessed are the peacemakers.

God favors those who make peace, not those who provoke war.

God favors those who strive to live in peace, not those who incite violence.

God favors those who live in peace, because they are committed to justice

For all God’s children.

 

So you who are merciful, and pure, and peacemakers,

You’re favored by God, too!

Woot!

Woot!

 

The Beatitudes are about being

Accepted,

Favored,

Included,

In the kingdom of God.

 

I know it sounds very utopian.

Yet, it is the perfection to which Jesus is calling each of his disciples;

Every member of his fellowship.

God’s kingdom may be now,

But it is still yet to be.

The kingdom of God may sound like it’s filled with love and buttercups,

And it may very well be.

Yet, it comes with a warning.

 

The bookend Beatitude warns those who strive to find God’s favor,

Who strive for acceptance,

Who long to be included,

Will also face persecution.

People who love the darkness

Will revile you.

People who hate the light

Will utter all kinds of evil against you.

People who oppose God and

The plan that God has for his children

Will lie, and will do so falsely using the name of Jesus.

 

I have found this to be true.

Heed his warning and weigh the risks.

For me, I choose to be a part of Christ’s fellowship

And to weather the slings and arrows.

In spite of persecution

I will be one who will reach out my hand

To those who need a hand.

This is what it means to be blessed

And to be surrounded with those favored by God.

Won’t you join me?

 

Amen.

……………………

“Come and See”

John 1:29-42, 19 January 2020

the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

John 1:29-42

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

 

The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

 

Prayer.

 

 

John’s witness is powerful.

His power comes from his contacts,

his network,

his disciples.

When John speaks

people listen.

 

For years

John had been a phenom;

preaching in the wilderness,

educating his followers to

watch and wait for the Messiah yet to be revealed,

and baptizing those who repent of their sins.

 

 

Thousands were drawn down from Jerusalem to the Jordan River

outside of Jericho

in the wilderness

to see,

to witness,

John’s mission

and listen to his testimony.

 

Of the thousands drawn by John,

hundreds stayed and become his disciples.

These followers will become key

in the hand-off from John to Jesus.

 

When one became a disciple of a Rabbi back in the day,

they agreed to become yoked to him,

literally, yoked by a symbolic stole given out by the Rabbi.

 

To be yoked meant that the disciple was committed

to learn everything possible from that master,

to become exactly like him.

 

To be yoked meant they had to be literate.

Only the smartest of the smart were able to read and write.

Values and beliefs were taught by reading, writing, question and answers.

 

It takes years of apprenticeship to become a Rabbi.

The goal is to learn how to interpret Holy scripture

exactly like your master.

The student was required to share the same

values, beliefs, and world view as the Rabbi they followed.

This is, indeed, the nature of rabbinical education.

 

Education began with rote memorization and transcribing sacred texts.

The yoked student would be asked questions by the Rabbi.

The ensuing discussion would

Report what the student learned and

Testify what he had experienced.

 

In time

The disciple becomes a Rabbi in their own right,

when, after years of learning and experience,

their life becomes a mirror image of their master.

 

 

Disciples are known,

find their identity,

by their master. 

 

Let us ask ourselves …

Am I known as a disciple of Jesus?

Have I learned everything I can about him?

Have I spoken and conducted myself

to the best of my ability

as a mirror image of Jesus Christ?

 

……

 

John is teaching his rabbinical students today

and in walks Jesus.

John proclaims Jesus is his greater successor.

He witnessed about the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ baptism

and testified to hearing the voice of God.

 

John concludes with his informed, professional opinion:

Jesus is the Messiah,

The Son of God.

 

  1. The first step in a life of Christ centered discipleship

is responding to proclamation and witness.

This is Jesus,

the Son of God.

Follow him.

 

This is where it gets dicey.

To follow Christ means we take off the yoke

we’ve previously been wearing.

We must walk away

from the one who has given us our values,

identity,

beliefs,

and experience.

 

Just as John’s disciples

would have to leave John to follow Jesus,

so, too, must today’s Christ followers

walk away from everything that has given meaning in the past.

 

 

John proclaims “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

The sin of which John references

is not only transgression of Law.

It is the ignorance of God’s grace, redemption, and salvation

made manifest through Jesus Christ.

When that sin is removed,

there is only light;

the light of living in the presence of the new Rabbi,

the Son of God.

 

Today, taking off the yoke of John,

Removing the yoke of past masters,

might be like

leaving behind uncertainty, doubt, or unbelief.

 

Taking off the yoke that binds one to the past

might be like giving up

a gospel of prosperity and wealth,

or

a belief that democracy, the free market, and the world’s greatest military

just might save the world.

 

Taking off the yoke that binds one to the past

Might be like giving up the fist, knife, or gun,

or

giving up the drink, the high, the deal, or the dice.

 

Removing the yoke of the past

Completely breaks us down,

turns us around, and

sets us on a new direction.

 

 

“Come to me, all who are heavy laden,” Jesus says,

“and I will give you rest”

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

(Matthew 11:28-30)

 

This begs us to question …

Are you ready to remove your former yoke and allegiances and

Accept the yoke of Jesus Christ?

 

  1. The second step in a life of Christ centered discipleship

Begins as soon as we accept the yoke of Jesus.

We become part of community,

Complete with history, traditions, and Holy Ghost experiences.

 

This community,

Called “Ecclesia” in the Greek,

Known as “Church” in English,

Is a community that builds healthy, wholesome relationships;

Modeling the values and beliefs of the Master.

Accepting the yoke of Jesus

Makes us a part of the living, breathing,

Body of Christ.

 

Simon and Andrew

take off their John yoke

and put on the yoke of Jesus.

Ten others would soon join them.

 

First thing Simon and Andrew did was follow where Jesus was headed.

 

 

To become like the master,

one must mimic the master’s behavior.

One must follow where the master leads.

 

The Rabbi’s question,

“What are you looking for?”

certainly works on many levels.

They ask Jesus where he is staying.

“Come and see,” Jesus responds,

“And they remained with him.”

They abide in Jesus.

 

Abide; menō in the Greek.

They abide with him;

Take up residence,

Move in,

Make their home with the master Rabbi.

 

The spiritual journey towards Jesus

Is both individual and communal.

 

We make our individual way to Jesus the Christ,

By accepting his yoke,

Learning everything he had to teach,

And employing his values in our personal lives.

 

We also progress in our spiritual journey towards Jesus

When we join with other yoked disciples

To becoming the living, breathing Body of Christ,

Empowered by the Holy Spirit,

At work in the world.

 

 

We gather to worship,

But we depart to serve.

 

Worship without service becomes dull.

Service without worship is absent of meaning.

Truly thriving communities of disciples yoked to Jesus

Worship with excellence and

Serve with love in his name.

 

 

This begs us to question …

When it comes to worship, is this the best we can do?

Can we do better?

When it comes to service, is everyone on board and fully engaged?

Are we loving our neighbor and making certain their needs are being met?

 

 

  1. “Come and see” is an invitation to abide with Jesus.

Answering the invitation is humble acknowledgement

That you and I haven’t seen it all.

We haven’t done it all.

God has more in store for us.

 

There is more to learn.

There is more to do.

We don’t have to travel too far from our little cocooned life

To discover the deep, pervasive needs of the world,

Where we are called to serve,

Individually and corporally as the Body of Christ,

Doing his work in his name.

 

There are injustices to be righted.

There are wells to be drilled.

There are mouths to feed.

Clothing needs sorted and provided to those who need to be clothed.

There are orphans to be loved and cared for.

There are refugees and aliens to be welcomed.

There are houses to be built.

There are jobs to be made.

 

 

For those of us yoked by Christ

“Come and see” must always be followed with

“Time to roll up the sleeves and get to work.”

 

………..

 

Dearly beloved,

let our hearts be warmed.

John’s testimony and witness

Began the transfer of discipleship from John to Jesus and

Led to Peter and Andrew answering the call.

Upon Peter, the Rock, did God build his Church.

Indeed, God had greater plans for Peter.

 

 

God has greater plans for you and me, too.

“Come and see” what God has in store.

 

May we be so moved

That when our worship is ended

We may depart to serve the world

In the name of Jesus.

Amen.

…………………….

“Renewal”

Matthew 3:13-17

12 January 2010

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Isaiah 42:1-9

 

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

 

Matthew 3:13-17
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

 

Prayer.

 

Numerous times in scripture that pre-dates Jesus

There are references to renewal.

Renewal happens throughout salvation history;

Renewal between God and our Hebrew ancestors;

Renewal between God and God’s chosen people, Israel.

 

Renewal took place after the Tower of Babel,

With Noah and the flood,

With Abraham

and with Moses.

Renewal is like a bookmark

To a new chapter in our relationship with God.

 

With renewal

We find our identity

When we do

What God is doing.

Let this be a lesson to us today.

 

In our Isaiah passage, in the forty-second chapter,

Israel found itself in need of renewal.

Israel is defeated, enslaved, exiled, and without a leader.

You can’t get any lower

then starving to death in a prisoner of war camp,

knowing that it was your own unrighteous actions

that brought God’s judgment upon you and your people.

There was no food, no means, no leader, no hope.

 

When Isaiah speaks the Word of the Lord

It is like a soaking rain coming to a desert,

Like Spring after a long and harsh Winter,

Like a doctor telling you that,

Once and for all, you beat cancer and

Go over and ring the bell.

 

My goodness, renewal is good news!

 

This is what renewal looks like:

“Here is my servant,” the Lord proclaims,

“whom I uphold,”

“my chosen,”

“in whom my soul delights.”

The Lord’s promised servant is to assume the role of leader.

This is good news, because

As I mentioned,

The exiled Hebrews had no leader.

 

The leader, a servant, the prophet Isaiah reports,

will tirelessly work to establish justice.

He will never grow faint.

He might be bent,

But he will never break.

God’s servant is coming

To take the hand of his covenant people,

and lead them home from prison and exile,

returning every child of Israel to their God.

This is more than just going home to Jerusalem and rebuilding the Temple.

This is about returning home to God.

This is what renewal looks like;

 

Returning home to God.

 

The servant will guide every captive to righteousness.

Exile and slavery,

All former things,

Have come to pass.

Behold,

God now declares the beginning of a new era;

All things moving forward

Are new.

 

Of course, God keeps his promise.

His promised servant does come …

… after keeping Israel in waiting for 550 years!

 

That’s a lot of time

Watching and waiting for

The Messiah to come,

The Davidic King to emerge.

For more than five centuries,

Our ancestors obsessed with the question

“Is he the one whom God has promised?”

“Is it this guy?” Or

“Should we wait for another?”

 

God’s promised servant does eventually come …

 

And today we find him wading in the Jordan River with John.

When Jesus emerges from the water

The heavens open

And the Spirit of God descends upon him like a dove,

We hear the voice of God publicly affirming

the fulfillment of His promise.

“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

It is as if God is saying,

“This is sooo awesome!”

 

God keeps his promises.

 

Yes, God remaining faithful is awesome,

But, from the Lord’s point of view,

By submitting to baptism by John,

Jesus is submitting himself

To the intentions of his Heavenly Father.

 

Jesus affirms his role in God’s greater plan

to bring redemption and salvation into the world.

 

“I’m on board!” Jesus proclaims

Even as he is plunged to victory!

Baptism, here, is a symbol of

Anointing a new King of Israel.

Fulfilling the promise of God as prophesized by Isaiah,

Jesus submits to become God’s anointed,

Fully accepting the identity, role, and responsibility of Messiah.

 

If you’re asking the question,

“Why would a sinless Jesus come to John

to be baptized into repentance and the absolution of sins?”

You’ve completely missed the point

our Gospel authors are making

with the baptism of the Lord narrative.

7

The baptism of the Lord is more about Jesus

Then it is about baptism.

This is not a reference story

For future sacramental or doctrinal debates.

This is a reminder of God’s faithfulness,

God’s trustworthiness, and

Our Lord’s willingness to do what he has promised.

 

The baptism of Jesus is God’s enduring commitment

To his creation and his people.

It reflects his desire for renewal;

To love always,

Forgive always,

And to always save.

 

Consistent with Matthew’s unique tenor and character

The baptism of the Lord is the first of many passages in the Gospel of Matthew

That challenge us to

Open our eyes!

Be ready for the unexpected!

How does one expect the unexpected?

Look to Jesus, people.

Look to Jesus.

 

So how are we to respond to the baptism of the Lord today?

Here are a few insights I’ve been chewing on all week:

 

1. First, we find our identity

When we do

What God is doing.

Consider what we do, as a church,

And consider what you and I do as individuals.

 

Do we justify our actions and our words

By claiming some greater moral or religious high ground?

Do we decorate it in beautiful church language

and call it mission and ministry?

 

We better be certain

that our actions and behaviors

are the result of submitting to

God’s will and God’s intentions,

just as Jesus submitted to John and his baptism of repentance.

 

Is it possible to discern God’s future plans

That we might faithfully respond?

How do we know what God is doing?

 

Watch for signs of God’s presence and action.

Listen and pray.

Ask.

Seek.

Study and learn.

Dive into the Gospels with the same commitment

Jesus had when he waded into the Jordan River.

 

Discovering God’s will

And doing God’s will

Wraps us into the identity God desires

And results in faithful discipleship.

 

2. God keeps his promise.

So, too, should we.

 

We live in an age where promises are broken,

reality is distorted, and

truth is elusive.

 

Take this to the bank:

God keeps his promises.

God is light in the middle of darkness.

God is truth engaged in a cosmic battle against lies and those who tell lies.

 

God keeping his promise,

… God’s faithfulness,

Should give us confidence,

Should give us assurance,

Should become an anchor to our faith

In an ever-faithless world.

 

We know politicians fail us.

We know sports teams don’t follow through on their promises.

We know that even family members and friends

will, on occasion, fail to follow through

with what they promised to do.

Yes, there are times that we even fail to keep our word

and end up breaking the commandment about bearing false witness.

 

Yet, God is always faithful.

God will keep his promise.

It’s also important to note that

God works in God’s time, not our time.

 

I’m sure we had many anguished ancestors

during that 550 years of waiting

who died disappointed that

the promised Messiah did not come during their lifespan.

From our after-the-fact point of view, however,

We can see that God was working a greater plan

according to God’s own time.

 

Therefore, be patient.

Keep your eyes open.

Be ready.

Watch.

Wait.

Be patient.

 

3. Jesus is affirming his role in God’s plan

To bring redemption and salvation to the world.

 

As the final authority and judge, yes, Jesus comes to establish justice, as promised in Isaiah.

His justice levels the playing field and

separates the wheat from the chaff,

burning the chaff in unquenchable fire.

 

As our Divine teacher, yes, Jesus comes to

Teach us the ways of love,

To teach us the ways of peace,

To teach us the ways of healing a broken and sin, sick world.

Yet, God’s mission statement for Jesus,

was to die to take away the sins of the world and to raise from the dead,

that all who believe in him might also be given eternal life.

 

As our redeemer, Jesus saves us from our past sins.

Your slate has been washed clean

By his blood,

Shed for you on the cross.

You’ve been transformed,

Renewed, from sinner into saint,

And given the charge to

Share this Good News with the world

That all might share in the gift of God’s redemption.

 

Being freed from our past

Sets us loose to witness;

Which is the most important activity

Of every disciple of Jesus.

 

We are freed to not only witness to the redemption of the world,

But also to God’s gift of eternal life.

Just as Jesus won victory over the grave,

So, too, have we been given the gift of eternal life.

 

The old body may be broken down, dead and buried,

But the soul is transformed,

Renewed, if you will,

From dead to living once again,

Resurrected and invited to live in God’s heavenly kingdom.

 

 

Dearly beloved,

Align yourself with God.

Like Jesus, do as God does.

In doing so,

We affirm who we are and were God wants us to go.

 

Take heart,

We can count on God to keep his promise:

The Lord is our God

And we will forever be his people.

The Lord will keep us always.

 

Be the faithful disciples of Jesus.

Witness to the fact that,

By his baptismal waters,

Jesus is anointed

To fulfill God’s plan

To bring redemption and salvation to our world.

 

Spread the word.

It’s a new day dawning.

Amen.

…………………………….

“When Time Stands Still”

John 1:1-18

5 January 2020 – The 12th Day of Christmas

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

John 1:1-18

 

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

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

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

 

Prayer.

 

Happy Twelfth day of Christmas;

The twelfth of twelve days of Christmas,

Which we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Tomorrow is the Epiphany of the Lord;

Also known as the manifestation

Of the baby Jesus as the Son of God

To the three visiting wise men / kings / astrologers / magi, from the East.

Hence, Epiphany is also known as “Three Kings Day”

Throughout much of the Christian world.

 

To remember and honor their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh

Our Eastern Orthodox sisters and brothers will

Reserve the exchange of gifts until “Three Kings Day.”

Our Catholic cousins in Central America will dance in the streets

In oversized costumes celebrating the manifestation of Christ.

Great is the diversity around the Christian world that celebrates

“God with us”!

 

12 days of Christmas,

Followed by the Epiphany of the Lord,

The baptism of Jesus,

Leading to his transfiguration,

Immediately preceding Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent.

That, right there, my friends

Is a passing grade in Introduction to Worship.

 

I love to manage time;

Be it keeping track of the liturgical calendar

Or my Google calendar,

 

When I’m able to thumbtack down a date and time and location

I feel like I’ve accomplished something.

I feel like I’m in control.

 

 

The Gospel of Luke nails down a time and place for Jesus’ birth:

“This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.” (Luke 2:2-4)

The Gospel of Matthew likewise stakes down a time and place for Jesus’ birth:

“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:1-2a)

The Gospel of Mark skips right over the birth of Jesus,

As if the life and manifestation of Jesus began at his baptism:

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” (Mark 1:9)

For Mark, “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1) starts with the Spirit descending like a dove on him when he emerges from the water,

“and a voice came from heaven, You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

 

Place and time.

Nailed it.

 

In Matthew and Luke,

The Incarnation,

Of God becoming fully human and fully divine

Takes place at the birth of Jesus.

For Mark, Incarnation began at his baptism.

 

Date. Time. Location.

Grab the Gospel by the tail, bulldog it to the ground, and hog tie it;

All in the first few minutes of the sermon.

 

Jesus: lung breathing, heart beating, appetite rearing … fully skin-over-muscle-organs-and-bone human.

Jesus: Son of God, the manifestation of the Divine Creator, God in Jesus, none other than the Lord God, Almighty!

Woo-E!

 

 

Quietly absent in this discussion is the Gospel of John.

Many have noted that chronological time, persons, places, and events

Doesn’t begin in John until after the prelude,

The opening 18 verses of the first chapter.

 

John’s prologue,

Or pro – logue / pre – logos / before – word,

Is before the Word sets out in linear time.

A prologue is a literary technique used in Greek dramas,

And employed here by the Gospel author of John,

To set the stage for events to unfold.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (1:1)

Before God began in our linear world of time and space,

 

There was God.

Simply God.

The stage is set:

There was God.

There was no time, no space, no forward progress.

There was simply the presence and existence of God.

 

“God created the heavens and the earth.”

(Genesis 1:1)

 

For the Gospel of John

The birth story of Jesus is a cosmic birth story;

Taking place outside of time,

Beyond our means to record or calculate time or space.

 

God steps from the cosmic prologue

Into our linear, chronos world

When “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” (1:14)

The divide between heaven and earth is Divinely breached,

Between God’s cosmic realm and our time- constrained word.

 

In a similar but reverse action,

Jesus exits our chronos world with his ascension into heaven;

When he returns to the right hand of the Father,

When he reenters the cosmic.

 

Jesus, a person, the Son of God, the Word

Exists and remains present as Holy Spirit;

A cosmic, omniscient presence,

Unfazed by the fact that

Linear, mortal time marches on for the rest of creation.

 

 

This is not some theological rabbit hole I’m leading you down.

The prologue of the Gospel of John

Has real world implications.

 

Have you ever experienced time slowing down?

Have you ever felt time stand still?

 

The prologue of John

Begs us to ask the question,

How do we mark time?

Kicking off a new year, a new decade, 2020;

This is a poignant question.

How do you mark time?

 

The prologue of the Gospel of John,

When held in dynamic tension with the epiphany narratives

from Matthew, Mark, and Luke,

Leads us to examine this intersection of time, place, and presence of God.

 

Where has time slowed or seemed to come to a stop in your life?

 

I’ve thought about this a lot this past week.

Time has slowed in my life on numerous occasions.

 

Time slowed and nearly stood still

When a dear friend and future colleague,

Personally sought me out and

Broke the news to me that my father had suddenly, unexpectantly died.

The cosmic presence of God

Flooded into my awareness when my clock nearly stopped ticking

At 11:30 am, September 30, 1985.

 

We might be in control of our calendar, time, and space,

But, God commands the cosmic space of our lives.

 

Have you ever experienced time slowing down?

Have you ever felt time stand still?

Pay attention.

 

When time slows or seems to stop

Extend your spiritual antenna into God’s atmosphere and fine tune your reception.

“Emmanuel,” the Gospel of John assures us.

God is with us.

God is there.

 

Time slowed in my life on many occasions

When I was a volunteer medic on the Palmyra FD ambulance;

When bullets flew,

When a man lay with a steak knife in his chest,

When I started an IV in an arm with no skin,

When providing respiration for an accident victim on Mercy Flight.

 

The eternal, cosmic, heavenly presence of God fills the space

When time slows or nearly stops.

 

In my life, time slowed

When the neurologist conducted an assessment,

When a psychiatrist suggested an alternative course of treatment,

When the anesthesia began to flow and the scalpel was unsheathed,

When a social worker from the county met me on my front porch and said,

“I understand you just received some really bad news.”

 

Have you ever experienced time slowing down?

Have you ever felt time stand still?

 

When time stands still

There is the Word.

The Word is with God.

The Word is God.

 

Your homework for this New Year is to be hyper-attentive

To the intersection of life events, the passage of time, and the presence of God.

Mark time, plant the flag with the mundane, the routine, the everyday efforts of family, work, and faith.

That is your reference point.

 

Then watch, listen, and wait for the perception that time is changing speeds;

Quickening time might come with pleasant or happy occasions

(“that birthday / wedding / anniversary was over before I knew it”), or

Slowing time might come with struggles, difficulty, or death.

Time slows when we walk that lonesome valley

Or the valley of the shadow of death.

 

It is in these moments that

We can recognize God’s presence and

Make ourselves vulnerable, accessible

to God’s amazing grace and support.  

 

When time slows

Or even appears to stand still

Place your complete trust and confidence

In Emmanuel,

God with you.

Lean on, and lean into,

God.

 

 

This masterful, beautifully written prologue to the Gospel of John

Is cited in worship numerous times throughout the year

Because of it tremendous implications,

Revelation of God’s incarnation through Jesus Christ, and

Very real promise and assurance that

God is with you,

God will always be with you, and

When time comes to an end,

From his fullness,

Jesus will lead you from grace upon grace;

Forgiveness,

Salvation,

Eternally abiding with God in his cosmic, heavenly kingdom.

 

Mark it.

Bank it.

To God be the glory!

Amen.

 

………..

Christmas Eve Homily

24 December 2019

Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:1-20

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Prayer: Breathe life into your Gospel this evening, O Lord, that it might speak to each of us, and, touch us like a newborn baby. Amen.

 

Grace.

Calm.

Glory.

These are three of many characteristics of the Christmas story.

That have been speaking to me this year.

 

……….

 

The Gospel of Matthew begins with a glimmer of grace

That culminates with God’s greatest gift of grace;

God’s great love.

God so loves the world

God gives us his Son, Jesus.

Through Jesus,

We are not condemned,

We are forgiven.

We are saved.

 

The glimmer of grace is found in Joseph.

Matthew begins with a list of the lineage of Jesus;

Directly connecting his ancestral heritage with that of King David.

The Messiah everyone expected had to come from King David’s descendants.

Matthew states the case:

Joseph is a bonified grandson.

 

Despite his royal lineage

Joseph was in a pickle.

He knew his fiancé was pregnant.

He also knew he wasn’t the father.

Furthermore, according to the Law of Moses,

as found in Deuteronomy 22:13-21,

The penalty for an adulterous fiancé

was stoning to death.

 

Joseph was devout, meaning he righteously followed the letter of the Law.

 

His dilemma:

Live by the Law, as was his practice, and have Mary stoned to death,

Or, live by grace, completely contrary to his righteous lifestyle?

Lead with grace and save her from public disgrace by quietly ending their nuptials?

 

The first action in the first Gospel

Is an act of Grace;

Joseph’s heart of rigid, legalistic stone

is transformed

Into a heart of love, compassion, life-saving mercy.

 

This is a sign that God is tacking in a new direction.

Behold, with Jesus, all things are made new.

Love has always been God’s motive.

Grace becomes God’s signature.

 

Live by the Law, and die by the Law.

Live by Christ, and taste and see God’s abundant grace and love.

 

This act of grace by Joseph

Begs me to ask,

Where is God’s grace at work in our lives?

 

Where have you experienced

God’s amazing grace?

Undoing or discarding old and tradition-bound, stubborn ways?

 

Where in your life has God’s grace

Resulted in the transformation of your heart

From cold and uncaring

Into a melted heart

filled with love, compassion, and mercy?

 

Where have you personally experienced God’s grace working through you, like Joseph,

To become for the world

The amazing, abundant grace of God?

 

Have you experienced God’s grace

Such that you firmly believe

God is calling you to take a new direction,

To boldly make a life-altering change,

To fish other seas?

 

………

 

Grace.

Calm.

Glory.

 

An angel, a messenger from God, visits Joseph in a dream.

The angel leads with “Do not be afraid.”

Do not be afraid for God is doing something brand new.

 

This is the angelic message:

Mary conceived her child by the Holy Spirit,

Not by an act of adultery.

 

This is God’s command to Joseph:

Take Mary as your wife.

When she gives birth, name the boy “Jesus.”

 

Do not be afraid.

In the Jewish world

Naming was done by the Father.

The act of Joseph naming Jesus,

Means that adoption is made legal and

The royal, paternal, messianic connection is made.

Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled.

God’s been at work all along.

To speak Jesus is to recognize Emmanuel;

“God with us.”

 

Do not be afraid, the angel said.

The Messianic promise is complete.

Jesus, adopted by Joseph, grandson of David.

Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit with Mary, Son of God.

God has sent the world His Son.

 

Do not be afraid, Joseph.

God is with you.

Jesus will save his people from their sins.

Behold, Messiah has come!

 

The angelic message begs the question,

Beloved, where have you faced fear in your life

With the calming presence and power of God through Jesus Christ?

 

When that termination letter arrives,

Be not afraid.

Be calm.

The Lord provides.

 

When your loved one is sick, suffering, or dies,

Do not be afraid.

Be calm.

Jesus heals, forgives, and saves.

 

When marriage is on the rocks,

When a relationship doesn’t work out,

Or when children don’t live up to expectations,

Do not be afraid.

Be calm.

God’s got this.

God is with you.

 

When the will is worn and tired,

Emotions are raw, and

Doubt assails your faith,

Do not be afraid.

Be calm.

You’ve been given the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Do not be afraid.

Be calm.

God actually does love you!

 

………..

 

Grace.

Calm.

Glory.

 

As the angelic opening begins with an assurance of calm,

“Do not be afraid” is followed with

Angelic glory!

 

Suddenly, the lone messenger angel

Is joined in Bethlehem’s sky by

“a multitude of the heavenly host,

Praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,

And on earth peace among those whom he favors!’” (Luke 2:13-14)

Glory to God!

 

What does glory mean?

 

Glory is used to describe the manifestation of God,

God’s presence,

Right here,

In our midst.

 

For Joseph,

Glory comes with his recognition

That Jesus is God’s divine Son

As well as his adopted son.

Glory to God!

By the birth of Jesus, God is with us.

 

Glory comes with Joseph’s recognition that

Jesus is the prophetic promise

That God is with us.

Glory to God!

 

Glory comes to the angelic host flying over shepherd’s fields

When good news is proclaimed!

Good news is Gospel.

Gospel truth: Jesus is born this day.

Gospel truth: Jesus is the Messiah.

Gospel truth: Jesus is the Lord.

Glory to God!

Jesus is born; God is with us.

 

Glory comes to shepherds who did as they were told,

Who went and beheld the newborn Jesus.

They experienced the presence of God laying in a manger

And returned their glory to God;

Praising God for all they had seen and heard.

 

Where have we experienced the presence,

The manifestation,

Of God?

 

Where has God snuck into your life and surprised you?

Unexpected? Unannounced? Completely out of the blue?

Where and when has God’s presence been revealed?

How have you responded?

 

Respond with glory!

Let us join Joseph, shepherds, and angels choirs:

Give glory to God in the highest heaven!

 

Give glory to God by

Proclaiming Good News!

Join the celebration at the Table,

With song, dance, and prayer.

Give glory to God by loving God

With all our heart, mind, soul, and strength,

And by loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Give glory to God and revel in His presence!

 

Beloved, when God is near,

Give glory!

 

…………..

 

The Gospel of Matthew, like Joseph, leads with grace.

Try to lead with grace in your life, too.

 

Do not be afraid.

This calms Joseph and shepherds alike.

Be calm in the face of what ever live throws your way.

Discover the calm at the center of Jesus’ birth.

 

Give glory to God.

The birth of Jesus places God front-and-center in our life.

God is with us.

Give God the glory!

Amen.

 

………….

“What Did You Expect?”

Matthew 11:2-11

15 December 2019 – Advent 3

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Matthew 11:2-11

 

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

 

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

 

Prayer: Unlock our minds and open our hearts, O Lord, that your word may satisfy every spiritual need. Amen.

 

……………

 

John the Baptist is sitting in prison.

In prison, a person has a lot of time to think.

His followers still looked to him for direction, now more than ever.

John faced mortal danger at every turn and in every direction.

 

John asks the question

That is THE Advent question

Many of us share:

“Is Jesus the one?”

 

Our Jewish ancestors had been promised a Messiah,

An anointed one,

For centuries.

Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel all prophesized,

All spoke on behalf of the Lord who sent them,

That God was sending to the world a Messiah.

 

What is a Messiah?

 

Messiah was understood to be a person,

Selected by God,

Sent on a mission to liberate and redeem the Jewish people.

 

God would send a Messiah who would

  • Be a human descendant of King David
  • Redeem Jews in exile (forgive them of the sins that sent them to exile) and return them to Jerusalem
  • Rebuild the Temple
  • Restore the Kingdom of Israel as it was during the time of King David
  • Replace the current flawed age with a world of justice and peace

 

Sounds pretty good to me!

 

“Is Jesus the one?” John asked.

He needed to know because his life hung by a thread.

Had his life been in vain?

Or, had he faithfully fulfilled God’s call and will for his life

To prepare the world for Jesus the Messiah?

 

John sounds like a man who has doubts and questions about faith,

Just like you and me.

 

The liberation people expected

wasn’t exactly the liberation that God had in mind.

The Messiah God was sending was far more

Then any could conceive, imagine, or dream.

 

  1. God planned to send His Son, Jesus.

In some mysterious ‘immaculate conception’ sort of way.

Jesus would be both a descendant of King David and God in the flesh.

 

  1. God planned to liberate us from our slavery to sin,

Redeeming us by the blood of the cross,

Just as Israel had been redeemed of their sin and allowed to return from exile to Jerusalem, rebuild the Temple, and re-establish the kingdom of David.

 

  1. God was planning to liberate us from the constraints of mortality,

With all its associated trials, disease, frailty, and tribulations.

With the resurrection of Jesus

Our mortality would be replaced with immortality,

A never-ending kingdom of justice and peace.

 

God had in mind saving the entire world,

Not just the Jewish people.

Why?

Because God so loved the world …

 

Our imagination is far too small for what God had in mind.

 

…………..

 

“Is Jesus the one? Or, should I wait for another?” John the Baptist wondered.

 

Doubts and questions of faith

are often understood as signs of weakness.

I disagree.

 

In fact, I encourage each of us to

  • Question everything – Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience
  • Explore faith with youthful curiosity and energy
  • Prepare spiritually for doubts that will inevitably come

 

……………….

 

Is Jesus the one?

 

Jesus responds,

Go.

Tell what you hear and see.

Report the observable evidence.

 

Return and report miracles that can only be explained as super-natural,

Beyond the natural order of the physical universe.

Miracles are more than what is unexplainable.

Miracles are possible by means of God’s personal intervention, and, therefore,

Will always remain mysterious.

 

Is Jesus the one?

Report the collected evidence.

 

Blind people receive the miracle of sight.

Not just one, but many!

Hearing is restored to the deaf.

Not just once, but confirmed by numerous eyewitnesses on several occasions.

The lame walk.

Not just one!

One was let down through a hole cut in the roof,

Another was rolled into the pool of Bethesda.

There were dozens, if not hundreds, of eyewitnesses!

 

The prophet Isaiah promised:

“Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.”

(Isaiah 35:4-6)

 

Is Jesus the one?

Report the evidence!

 

People are healed of chronic, communicable diseases.

Not just one, but a crowd of ten people with leprosy were healed on one occasion!

The poor are given good news.

Not just one homeless person, but everyone at the soup kitchen and in the unemployment line was on the receiving end of good news.

 

Here’s the clincher,

The most impressive piece of observable evidence:

The dead are raised back to life,

Reanimated to a living, breathing human being

Who will live to die another day.

Yes.

Not just once,

Jesus raised the dead multiple times

In front of hundreds of witnesses.

 

What did you expect when you went searching for the Messiah?

A beautiful church led by a charismatic pastor who pleases everyone?

A flawless denomination where everyone is unified in belief?

Christianity united in dogma and doctrine?

A perfect world where diseases are cured and life is easy-peasy?

 

God’s reality far exceeds human expectations or imagination.

 

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Ephesus, writes

“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.”

(Ephesians 3:20-21)

 

God is able to accomplish

Abundantly,

Far more

Than all we can ask,

Far more

Than all we can imagine.

 

Watch and listen this season of Advent,

Dearly beloved.

Watch and listen for

All that exceeds our expectations,

All that is super-natural,

All that is divine.

 

Let us release ourselves from the constraints of our imagination;

To envision Jesus as more than a historical figure,

Whose birthday we celebrate on the twenty-fifth.

 

What might God have in store for us?

We can hardly imagine, but let us try:

  • Jesus promised to return, not just once, but many times to many disciples and early Christians.
  • Jesus tells us to love God and neighbor, and to bring the entire world to discipleship.
  • Jesus instructed us to actively watch and wait for his return and the completion of his kingdom.

 

What did you expect?

A prophet?

A messenger to prepare the way?

Another year of carols, cantatas, and pageant plays?

 

Don’t limit your imagination of what God is doing.

God is bigger than that!

 

This year, ask of yourself, “What do I expect?”

Know that

 

What God has in mind

Is more,

Even greater,

Then my highest expectation.

Amen.

……….

“Preparing a Way”

Romans 15:4-13 and Matthew 3:1-12

8 December 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Matthew 3:1-12

 

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

 

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

 

Prayer.

 

Advent’s Gospel passages,

Both last Sunday and today,

Has led me to think deeply,

To ponder this question:

With Christ’s promised return

What needs to be done to prepare a way forward?

 

 

In other words,

What do I need to do as an individual,

And what do we need to do collectively as a Church,

To prepare a way forward

In our life

And in our world?

How do we prepare the way for the Lord?

 

John the Baptist had a vision for a way forward.

How do you draw a crowd in the middle of nowhere?

– If you’re looking for hunters, put out a deer lick.

– If you’re looking for protesters, put in a pipeline.

– If you’re looking for people to build God’s kingdom,

Call the world to confession and repentance.

Then warn them of the judgment that is to come.

 

Confession, repentance, and judgment.

Yeah, good times.

 

That might preach in the Bible belt,

But not so much in suburban Rochester.

 

Who doesn’t want to confess our personal failures, faults, and sins?

For those who don’t want to see or listen,

Who want to go through life in denial,

Confession may be equated with

Scrapping an open wound with a rusty razor blade.

 

But for the rest of us,

Take a look around.

The world is on fire

And many delight

In its incineration.

 

Look and see what is being done to the land and to our neighbors.

Listen to cries of those wrongly persecuted,

Violently accused,

Or simply, those unable to defend or care for themselves.

Is this a world we’re happy with?

 

I’m not happy with myself when I

Make generalized assumptions for the many

Based on the sinful behavior of a few.

 

I’m not happy with myself standing silently by,

Watching land being stolen, swindled,  or misused for profit or gain.

 

I’m tired of seeing justice purchased by those who can afford it,

Not by those who deserve it.

 

We have neighbors around the world fleeing war.

Others are fleeing narco-terrorism and cartels.

While we relax at home bingeing on Disney Plus and Netflix.

 

Hasn’t our individual and collective sin,

Both intentional and unintentional,

Commission and omission,

Caused enough pain and suffering?

 

It may not be easy or simple,

It may not be painless or without effort,

 

 

But the only path forward,

To prepare the way for the Lord’s coming,

Is the pathway that leads us through the valley of confession.

 

Confession is a dark valley

Where few willingly enter.

The pain is real, but the rewards are great.

 

Repentance clears the path through this valley.

Repentance clears all the rubble and destruction blocking our forward progress.

Repentance brings low the mighty

And lifts up the lowly.

Repentance crosses previously unpassable ravines,

Broken relationships, and festering wounds.

Repentance paves a highway for our God.

 

The rewards of confession and repentance

Is a life lived with Christ and in Christ,

Spirit filled,

Driving with power and authority the completion of the kingdom of God.

 

John the Baptist plunged the newly confessed

Under Jordan’s icy waters,

With a baptism of repentance,

Lifting them up,

Sending forth each newly baptized individual in a new direction,

Giving each a new vision

For preparing the way

And building God’s kingdom.

 

Confession identifies the way forward.

Repentance clears the way forward.

But what keeps us making forward progress?

 

A quick read of our Gospel

Might lead us to belief that fear of judgment is the answer.

If you and I fear the Lord’s judgment enough,

Then that fear will keep us from straying, erring, and sinning.

To which I ask:

How’s that working for you?

 

Fear is a terrible motivator.

Empty cathedrals in Europe stand

In silent witness to the truth that

Fear is a terrible motivator.

 

It hasn’t worked for the Church.

Fear doesn’t work for nations or states, either.

We should be on guard

To never wield the threat of fear

On behalf of the moral high ground,

Divine righteousness,

Or in the name of God.

 

The thorough read of the Gospel

Identifies the nature and purpose of fear.

Pharisees and Sadducees had come from Jerusalem

To be baptized by John.

 

They were undercover spies for the religious establishment;

Decision makers of the Temple.

Their role and purpose was to protect organized Judaism at all costs.

Their role was not serving the Lord or His people.

Their role was self-perseveration.

 

If organized religion has become poisoned, pathological,

And is engaged in pacifying the populous

Wielding the bully club of fear,

It is time for those responsible in Church leadership

To be separated from the wheat

And burned in unquenchable fire.

 

Yes. You heard me right.

 

Christ is coming to bring judgment

Upon those who use fear as a motivator for self-preservation,

For building up personal wealth,

For enlarging their kingdom of power.

That judgment is devastating

And it is permanent.

 

Instead

Work for Christ.

Live for Christ.

That’s how to avoid fear of the threshing floor.

 

The Gospel of Matthew

And the actions of John the Baptist

Point us in the direction of a way forward.

 

But what does it actually mean

To make progress

In preparing the world

For Christ to come?

 

The Apostle Paul provides some amazing insight

In the fifteenth chapter of his letter to the Church in Rome.

 

Paul’s landscape of faith was as divided in his day

As today’s American political landscape.

Paul’s religious reality was as divided in his day

As the Church is divided in our world today.

Paul was facing an uphill battle against those

Who had been Jews

But were now converted, baptized disciples of Jesus.

They claimed an exclusive inside-track to Christian perfection

Simply because they were children of Abraham,

Chosen by God.

 

Yet, God had called Paul to fish other seas,

To cast his net of discipleship to the Gentiles of the world,

Who lived beyond the horizon,

Especially to those who had no Jewish background.

It was, and is, God’s desire to be inclusive of all people,

To welcome everyone to Jesus’ feet

And everyone to feast at His table.

 

“God so loved the world …”

(John 3:16)

 

Preparing the way for the Lord to come

Means that

 

every disciple of Christ has an obligation

To live a life of radical, inclusive, authentic hospitality

For the complete transformation of the world.

 

Welcome the stranger,

even if they are immigrating from a foreign land.

Extend hospitality to the sojourner who is just passing through.

Give abundant encouragement,

A hand out and a hand up,

To those who are following behind in their journey of faith,

Just as others had done for us.

Welcome every person,

Regardless of history, record, or reputation.

Welcome everyone as a child of God and

As a person of worth.

Welcome all for the glory of God.

 

Welcoming everyone is harder than it sounds.

We naturally like to surround ourselves with those

Who think like us, act like us, look like us, and share the same values as we do.

 

Welcoming all requires us to expand our world view,

To expand our cultural boundaries,

To learn and listen to the needs of others.

Just as the Apostle Paul set out across the known world

So too should we.

 

Welcoming is an attitude that can begin anywhere.

One does not need to travel far to be a welcoming friend.

Welcoming is an intentional effort to expand our experience and world view;

To serve a meal at the soup kitchen,

To attend a Christmas party

at a local day program or supervised apartment complex,

To deliver meals on wheels

Or ring a bell.

 

Include everyone God sends our way

Into a circle of fellowship and friends

With the warmth of God’s love.

 

Welcoming often leads one further afield,

To cast off from the lakeshore,

To search other seas.

Like the Apostle Paul,

Welcoming one in the name of Jesus Christ

Prepares the way for Christ to return,

Not only here in Rush,

But also in Rome, New York and

Tecpan, Guatemala.

 

Traveling to Israel next month

Is not only a pilgrimage to the land of our faith,

But also an opportunity to extend welcome and friendship

In the name of Jesus Christ

With everyone we meet,

With everyone God sends our way.

 

Authentic, welcoming hospitality,

Making friends in the name of Jesus,

Leads to harmony.

If ever our divided world needed harmony,

It is today.

 

Our God of steadfastness and encouragement

Wants us to live in harmony with one another,

“in accordance with Christ Jesus,

so that together

you may with one voice

glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

– Romans 15:5-6

 

Harmony is the means to a Divine purpose …

To glorify God.

Regardless of your depth of faith or mine,

Living in harmony, glorifying God,

Is a whole lot better than

Living as adversaries,

Divided and at each other’s throats.

 

In an environment of hospitality and harmony,

Hope is possible.

Hope is probable.

Hope is certain to take root and grow

Until Christmas morning

When the hope of the world blossoms and blooms;

Becomes man,

One of us,

God in Christ

Born a child

Given to us as a gift

To save you and me

And to save our world.

12

Prepare the way,

O people of Israel!

Prepare the way,

Disciples of Christ.

Make your confessions.

Turn back from your former sinful ways.

 

Welcome with Christian love the stranger, the sojourner, the visitor.

Extend radical hospitality to acquaintances

And welcome them as friends.

This is how hope is created.

This is how harmony leads to peace and

justice spreads across the land.

 

This is how the preparation of Advent

Leads to the return of Christ,

All for the glory of God.

Prepare the way!

Prepare the way for the Lord!

Amen.

………………..

“History, Mystery, Majesty”

Matthew 24:36-44

December 1, 2019 – Advent 1, Year A

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Matthew 24:36-44

 

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.

 

Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

 

 

Prayer.

 

Welcome to Advent;

A four-week season preceding Christmas;

A sacred time

Meant for our spiritual preparation.

 

During these cold and overcast days,

We remember God’s remarkable action in salvation history,

When Jesus,

Was born a baby in Bethlehem.

Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, and wise men all play a role in history’s greatest activity.

 

During Advent

We focus our thoughts on the mystery of incarnation.

We interpret Gospel and discern God’s revelation.

We experience sacrament,

Christ’s body and blood,

His presence among us and in us

To plumb the depths of God’s mystery.

 

Over these next four weeks

We anticipate the majesty of Christ’s promise

To return,

With justice and judgment,

To complete God’s kingdom.

 

History: a newborn baby, wrapped in swaddling cloths, laying in a manger.

Mystery: Christ with us and in us. What does this mean?

Majesty: Christ’s promise to return at any moment. What should we do?

 

What should we do?

 

Stop the music.

Cut the Christmas carols.

Suspend the shopping.

Postpone raising a tree and stringing the lights.

Jesus has other plans.

 

Nothing says “Welcome to Advent”

Quite like an apocalyptic Gospel passage of Jesus teaching

About the coming of the Son of Man, impending judgment, and possible death!

 

 

Insight to the future

often results in a change in current behavior.

 

There was once a time and era

when it wasn’t unusual for a relative to call

to inform the family that they were coming to town

… they couldn’t say exactly when …

and that they hoped to stop in to say “hi”

and maybe join the family for dinner.

(I know; in an era of cell phones and economy motels it is hard for some to imagine.)

 

“Certainly!” would be the hospitable response.

“Drop in any time.”

As soon as the phone was returned to its hook

(remember when phones had hooks?),

a flurry of housecleaning would ensue.

Sheets would be replaced on the bed,

the vacuum would roar to life,

the dust mop would be shook out the back door, sprayed with Pledge, and run across the floor.

 

All clutter would be swept away,

leaving the house with the smell of Lysol, Murphy’s Oil Soap, and a whole host of assorted household cleaning fluids.

Protesting to your mother would only result in a stern look

and a point to your offending domain with the implied command,

“clean up your room!”

Each ensuing day would be lived in expectation;

“will today be the day?”

Will the cousins, the aunt, or the uncle show up today? or maybe tomorrow?

We haven’t seen them in a while, I wonder what’s new?

 

Behavior changed until the time of their arrival.

Order was rigidly enforced.

Messes were immediately cleaned up.

Clutter wasn’t allowed to accumulate.

Nothing could disturb the carefully preserved order.

Life would be lived with spotless anticipation that at any moment,

the familiar station wagon would wheel into the driveway

and cousins would spill forth.

 

 

Insight to the future

often results in a change in current behavior.

 

I know I’m talking to the choir,

but our Gospel for this morning is the perfect opportunity

to recognize that life is defined by a limited span,

between birth and death.

 

Diseases aren’t terminal; life is.

Each of us will one day die.

This doesn’t change with a doctor’s diagnosis.

Every one of us are given a span of time

in which we can change the world with the

words we chose and

the choices we make.

 

Though we intellectually know that one day we will die,

it usually takes a long life to come to terms with this fact.

Our thoughts and faith require a long time to simmer in the pot of human development.

As we age and mature,

and as our bodies ache and begin to fail,

we begin to see the end of our earthly life more clearly.

Clarity comes to faith,

Allowing us to make preparation for the life that is to come.

 

Too bad most of us don’t do this at a younger age.

People wouldn’t take up smoking,

drive recklessly or

try street drugs

if they considered the mortal and eternal consequences of their actions.

It is a good thing to prepare,

and as your pastor,

I’d encourage you to start sooner rather than later.

 

 

With age and maturity comes insight to the future.

That often results in a change in current behavior.

 

If we were entirely self-absorbed and ego centric,

we would stop with our Gospel lesson for this morning

with the belief that it is entirely about death, dying and eternity.

But that is only half of the story.

 

In the time of Noah, we are reminded,

the people who faced judgment and death were those who didn’t get into the boat.

Noah and his family did.

Their lives were spared.

 

Jesus tells us this morning,

two will be in the field;

one will be taken and one left.

Similar to Noah,

the one taken will face judgment and death.

The one left behind is spared.

 

(It always makes me laugh when I think about false teaching about rapture.

Fact is, fear mongering end times nut job preachers and believers get it backwards.

Jesus clearly makes the case that you don’t want to be chosen for judgment and death.

You want to be judged, saved, and left behind to live another day!)

 

Yes, our Gospel is about judgment and death,

salted with a little bit of fear.

Jesus teaches about judgment and death

with the hope of changing our behavior.

 

But listen to the other side of the message.

 

Jesus is teaching that

A new day is dawning,

something great is coming,

and like Noah who faithfully built the ark and was saved,

and like the faithful worker laboring in the field who was left behind and was saved,

so, too, are we to prepare ourselves

for what the Lord has imminently in store for us,

his imminent return, judgment, and salvation.

 

It’s time to build an ark

And get in it,

For a storm is coming.

 

 

How are we to prepare?

 

Hear these words from the prophet Isaiah:

 

“The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

(Isaiah 2:1-5)

 

How are we to prepare ourselves?

 

The prophet Isaiah gives us a hint today.

The day is coming, Isaiah correctly observes,

when the nations of the world will stream to the mountain of the Lord.

Out of that mountain will come instruction.

The Lord will teach us his ways;

how to walk in his paths.

 

Those who follow the Lord’s way and walk in his path

will be passed over from death into life,

will receive the promise of a world

where there are no more weapons and war.

Swords will be recast into plows, and

Spears will be beaten into pruning hooks.

 

Weapons of death will be destroyed;

Recycled into agricultural implements and tools, and

All will be fed in peace.

 

Those who follow his ways and walk in his path

are given the promise that something new and wonderful is coming.

Live at war, in constant confrontation, fighting, and violence

and face judgment and death, or,

Live in eternal peace

by planting, pruning, feeding, and growing God’s kingdom.

 

 

What exactly does the Lord have in store for us?

we ask on this first Sunday of Advent.

What is so urgent that we should

run right home and get prepared?

 

Quite honestly,

Jesus is coming.

 

Advent is the annual metaphor

for the imminent return of Christ.

Christ is coming:

to those who rode out the flood with Noah and his family,

to those who haven’t be taken from the field to face judgment and death,

to those who have faithfully planted, pruned, and harvested,

to those who have listened to the Lord’s will and followed in the Lord’s ways.

 

“Therefore you also must be ready,”

Jesus teaches, “for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

(24:44)

 

Salvation is at hand.

 

Personally, it seems silly to set an arbitrary date for a birthday

when the baby Jesus comes and we throw a big party.

That was the first time around

With annual celebrations ever since.

Who doesn’t like a good party?

 

We don’t know, and have no way of knowing

how, or when, or even why Christ will come the next time around.

But he is coming;

so be prepared.

 

 

Insight to the future

often results in a change in current behavior.

 

If you see a light at the end of the tunnel,

You might want to get off the tracks.

 

If you knew a thief was coming,

you’d bolt the door,

get out the baseball bat, and

put on a cup of coffee to keep yourself awake.

 

Now that you know Christ is coming,

what are you going to do?

How will you change your behavior

knowing that Jesus might be waiting for you in the next minute, hour, or day?

 

I can’t answer this for you.

Neither does it help

for me to tell you what you have to do.

 

As for me and my life,

my preparations don’t focus on death and dying.

I’m focused on living and life;

eternal life with my Lord and Savior

starting new each moment

with my commitment to Him,

faithfully following his will, and

awaiting His triumphant return.

 

Like the Apostle Paul,

I live my life prepared to die,

(some days better than others)

prepared to welcome Christ when he returns,

by faithfully

listening to God’s will and

walking in His path.

 

 

The way of the Lord may be the road less traveled.

Yet, I invite you to join me.

Beloved house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Prepare for the day when the Lord returns and

judgment will be at hand.

 

Embrace life!

Taste and see the richness of salvation.

The majesty of Advent welcomes the day we are passed over,

the divide between earth and heaven disappears.

Eternal peace is coming.

All will be filled.

Amen.

….

“This is My King!”

Luke 23:33-43

24 November 2019

the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 23:33-43

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.

And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”

The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Prayer.

 

 

Today is Christ the King Sunday,

The final Sunday of the Liturgical Year.

(from The Christian Year, JCJ Metford)

 

Starting next Sunday,

The First Sunday of Advent,

Our primary Gospel will change

From Luke to Matthew,

With the Gospel of John providing support

Throughout the year.

 

Christ the King,

Also known as the Reign of Christ, was

Formally declared by the

1st General Council of Constantinople, in 381 AD.

 

 

This is the official proclamation from our Church Fathers:

 

“… one like the Son of man was given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”

 

Cyril, the Patriarch of Alexandria,

 

 

wrote about 60 years later,

 

“Christ has dominion over all creatures, …by essence and by nature.” His kingship is founded upon the hypostatic union. “…[T]he Word of God, as consubstantial with the Father, has all things in common with him, and therefore has necessarily supreme and absolute dominion over all things created.”

 

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feast_of_Christ_the_King)

 

In other words,

Because Jesus and the Father are One God, and

Because our heavenly Father is our King,

 

 

Christ is our King

With total dominion over all things.

 

All on earth do dwell, we

Recognize the Sovereignty of Christ, our King,

Submit to the Will of Christ, our King,

Serve the Needs of Christ, our King, and we

Praise Christ, our King.

 

 

Today, we find

 

 

a broken, bloodied pulp

Crucified on a cross,

Looking less like a king,

Much more like a failed, broken man.

As we look up into his sorrowful eyes

We beg the question: What makes Christ our King?

 

What makes Christ our King?

 

 

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

(23:34)

 

Jesus was crucified at the place called The Skull

Along side two criminals,

and Jesus said,

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

 

People stood by, watching,

but did nothing.

Jesus said,

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

 

They cast lots to divide his clothing,

and Jesus said,

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

 

The leaders of the people scoffed at him,

and Jesus said,

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

 

The soldiers mocked him with sour wine,

and Jesus said,

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

 

One of the criminals mocked him,

and Jesus said,

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

Jesus is my King because He forgives my sins,

just as he forgave those who did him such an injustice.

And Jesus forgives your sins, too.

 

 

Jesus yielded not to temptation.

 

This wasn’t the first-time Jesus faced temptation.

At the beginning of His ministry,

He was in the wilderness 40 days with the devil,

was tempted 3 times,

but Jesus yielded not to temptation.

 

Today, Jesus was tempted to save himself,

just as the leaders of the people suggested,

but Jesus yielded not to temptation.

 

Jesus was tempted to save himself,

just as the soldiers suggested,

but Jesus yielded not to temptation.

 

Jesus was tempted to save himself and the criminals,

just as the one criminal insulted,

but Jesus yielded not to temptation.

 

Jesus is my King because

He gives me the strength to resist temptation.

Jesus walked in my shoes.

Jesus walks by my side.

He gives me the strength.

And he gives you the strength to resist temptation, too.

 

 

Jesus saves those who confess their sins and place their faith in Him:

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

(23:43)

 

The wasn’t the first-time Jesus brought salvation

to one who confessed his sins and placed their faith in him.

 

Earlier, we heard of Zacchaeus.

“Today salvation has come to this house.”

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

 

Confess your sins and place your faith in Jesus.

 

A few weeks ago,

we heard about one of 10 people healed of leprosy returned to Jesus to give thanks,

“Get up and go on your way;” Jesus told him,

“Your faith has made you well.”

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

 

Confess your sins and place your faith in Jesus.

 

And before that, we heard the story of a prodigal son who returned to his father.

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

 

Confess your sins and place your faith in Jesus.

 

Today, it is a convicted capital criminal,

who confesses his crime to Jesus,

as they were pierced and hung;

crucified side by side.

 

Imagine the faith of the condemned criminal.

He looks over at the nearly dead Jesus

And sees a crown,

Where I would have seen a grave.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he asked.

Jesus replied “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

 

Jesus is my King because He hears my confessions.

He hears my petitions and answers my prayers.

He saves me into Paradise.

And he can save you, too.

 

 

Kings are empowered by their people.

To what do you ascribe Christ as our King?

I am called to testify to Christ,

To point to Christ,

To proclaim Jesus Christ is my King.

 

 

He is

The one who forgives my sins.

Jesus is

The one who gives me the strength and the ability to resist temptations.

Jesus is

The one who hears my confessions, my petitions, and saves me into Paradise.

 

On this Christ the King Sunday,

I am called to give Jesus thanks;

thanks for these unlimited, unmerited gifts

of forgiveness, strength, and salvation.

Thank you, Jesus.

 

Claim your unlimited, unmerited gift of God’s grace for yourself.

Go forth and witness to what Christ has done for you.

Proclaim his sovereignty!

Give praise and thanks to Christ, our King!

Amen.

…………

“An Opportunity to Testify”

17 November, 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 21:5-19

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?”

And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify.

So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

 

Prayer.

Perspective changes with time and events.

I remember the view from the observation deck of the World Trade Center.

New York City, Central Park, the 5 boroughs, JFK, Ellis Island, the harbor were all so beautiful on that spring day in 1978.

After 9/11 and debriefing first responders, my perspective changed forever.

Perspective changes with time and events.

Nearly one-thousand years before Jesus

The Jerusalem Temple had been built and rebuilt numerous times.

The first Temple was built by Solomon in 966 BCE.

 

380 years later

Babylon reduced it to rubble in 586 BCE.

 

48 years later

Cyrus the Great used the same stones to rebuild it.

 

518 years later

Herod the Great completed a massive expansion and renovation in 20 BCE.

 

50 years later

Jesus taught his disciples

this Gospel lesson

at the front door

on the Temple steps.

 

There was no greater building in all the world,

So thought those under the age of 50 and who never traveled more than 90 miles from home.

 

The foundation itself towered 105 feet,

Built of enormous stones, some as large as 517 tons.

According to the Roman historian Josephus, 1,000 oxen were used to build the foundation. (https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/temple-at-jerusalem/the-stones-of-herods-temple-reveal-temple-mount-history/)

 

Surely, the Temple would last forever.

Jesus had a perspective his disciples did not share.

 

All seeing, all knowing, all encompassing;

 

Eternal is God’s cosmic view.

Fully human and fully divine

Jesus definitely proclaimed the Temple’s destruction.

His disciples couldn’t see like Jesus

40 years into the future

When Rome would reduce the Temple to rubble once again.

 

I didn’t think the twin towers would ever come down, either.

 

The disciples of Jesus,

being taught by him on the Temple steps,

were focused on destruction and end times.

 

St. Luke’s generation of Christians

Seventy years later

Had a different perspective.

 

Rome destroyed the Temple and the City of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

Years later,

Sometime between 80 and 110 AD, scholars believe,

Our Gospel author, Luke, is testifying to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

 

Luke is the one of many

Post-apostolic, first generation, first century, early Church fathers.

His testimony from 33 AD to 90 AD is preserved by storytelling, the oral tradition.

Later, the Gospel of Luke is first written,

Ink on parchment.

 

The audience of Luke’s witness were new Christians;

former Jews

Convinced and convicted by testimony of Christ’s death and resurrection.

 

First century Christians were in a mess!

 

They faced fire, destruction, defeat, and humiliation.

They suffered disease, famine, persecution, and martyrdom by the thousands.

They faced wars and insurrections;

Terrible portents at every turn.

 

They were not interested in the piles of rubble,

The building and grounds of the destroyed Temple.

What they needed was hope, assurance, … Good News

To lead them through the mess of their current crisis.

Luke delivers the Good News,

Using his keen memory, and

The memory of other Gospel authors.

 

Luke bears witness to Jesus

Who provides encouragement and teaches vigilance

In spades.

 

Jesus focus is on a new beginning,

Not on destruction or the end of time.

Yes, the world is a mess.

You’re facing terrible persecutions, famine, and plagues …

But …

The glass isn’t half-empty; it’s half-full.

 

These trials will provide you an opportunity to testify!

 

The word Testify is the key that unlocks the Gospel.

 

Be assured,

You don’t have to worry about what to say;

Jesus gives words for testimony.

Testimony convicts and converts;

Harvesting disciples by the bushel full.

 

Testify!

Tell the story.

Leave the rest up to God.

 

Be assured,

Jesus provides wisdom that is unmatched by any opponent.

Not everyone is going to like the fact that you’re living in the wisdom of Jesus.

Some will hate you, even members of your own family.

Some might even kill your mortal body.

 

Be assured,

Jesus promises,

No one can harm your immortal soul.

Not a hair on your head will perish.

Disciples of Jesus witnessing their faith get an iron dome of protection.

 

Endurance.

Faith.

This will gain your soul.

 

Can we connect the dots

And make the leap to our world today?

 

 

We’re in a mess!

If we are so smart why do we keep getting ourselves into wars?

Explain to me how Ivy League politicians put our sons and daughters into combat?

Can’t they negotiate away differences and avoid the violence?

Can’t we talk our way out of school yard fist fights?

 

If we are so smart why are we still plagued with the flu?

Thousands of researchers right here in Rochester

And millions around the world

are searching for cures to our most deadly diseases.

Progress comes in small increments.

Hope is measured in years.

 

If we are so smart why are there still famines?

Tell me why a change in global climate

can result in whole populations being flooded and going hungry.

Tell me why the families I meet in Guatemala cannot feed their children.

Malnutrition and starvation is a daily reality

Right here in our hemisphere,

Right next door.

 

California wildfires.

Caribbean hurricanes.

We can’t even predict, let alone stop, an earthquake.

 

We’re in a mess!

I haven’t mentioned school shootings or domestic terrorism.

Oh, yes; there is also the fact that every one of us

Comes from a dysfunctional family.

You can’t fool me.

We’ve all got skeletons in our closets.

“Parents and brothers, relatives, and friends;” Jesus explains

“And they will put some of you to death.” (21:16)

 

 

What are we to do?

 

Moving forward, Jesus tells us to testify;

Witness our faith to others.

Share what you’ve learned and what you have come to believe.

Make yourself a vessel through which the Holy Spirit can speak.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” the resurrected Jesus teaches,

“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.”

(Matthew 28:19-20)

 

What are we to do?

Jesus is telling us here to

Focus on the long game.

Testify with endurance.

 

Empires come and go.

Nations rise and fall.

God is eternal.

God’s plan for you and me is eternal, too.

 

What are we to do?

Here, and elsewhere, Jesus tells us to remain vigilant.

Watch.

Listen for signs of the times.

Be alert to God’s emerging kingdom.

 

The view from the observation deck

Pales in comparison to the Lord’s eternal history and promise.

 

Testify.

Endure.

Remain vigilant.

Be assured, our eternal interest is God’s greatest priority.

Amen.

….

“God of the Living”

Luke 20:27-40

10 November 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 20:27-40

 

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him another question.

 

Prayer.

 

What happens when you die?

 

As long as there is life and breath

This is a question that can not be dismissed.

At the same time,

It can not be answered by reason or experience alone.

What happens when you die?

 

Jesus says little about the subject,

Other than a parable about a rich man and Lazarus and

A word to a thief on the cross.

His brevity makes this Gospel passage from Luke all the more important.

This Gospel passage invites each of us

to explore more deeply the question:

What happens when you die?

 

A careful examination of the details of Jesus’ encounter with the Sadducees

Raises a lot of serious, even troubling, questions.

Adding historical and critical context

brings into focus the central question at hand,

What happens when you die?

 

Jesus is in Jerusalem,

in the Temple teaching,

As Rabbi’s often did.

Some would teach students on the stairs leading up into the Temple,

Others would hold class in the shade of the porticos that ringed the perimeter of the plaza.

 

The time is near for Jesus;

He would die soon.

 

Chief priests, scribes, and elders were in the crowd of students

surrounding Jesus,

soaking up his every word.

They challenged his authority.

He risked upsetting the tenuous peace

Between Rome and the occupied population.

 

He risked undermining the Roman sanctioned

Temple authority and economy.

Upset cash flow and you’re in deep trouble really quick.

 

The chief priests, scribes, and elders wanted to lay hands on Jesus,

But they feared the people. (20:19)

So, they bid their time.

They recruited spies and lawyers to ask controversial questions,

Collect evidence, and

Waited for Jesus to hang himself.

Timing was everything.

 

Jesus is on a powder keg;

Barely weeks before he is arrested, abused, suffers, is crucified,

And his body laid into the tomb.

 

What happens when you die?

 

We tend to think of ancient, Rabbinical Judaism as being monolithic,

Of one mind,

But it wasn’t.

It was as fractured and diverse,

Different sects and schools of thought,

Full of landmines and debates,

Just as Christianity is today.

 

Consider Pharisees, Priests, Scribes, Essenes, and Sadducees;

A mixture of lay and clergy

With greatly divergent beliefs about God,

God’s present relationship with us,

And God’s future plan.

 

Pharisees, we heard last week, were a religious sect

Of both religious leaders and the laity, whose

Fundamental value was rigid adherence to the the Laws of Moses.

Pharisees were moral and theological conservatives.

 

Priests, on the other hand,

Were male descendants from Aaron,

The elder brother of Moses.

One wasn’t called to become a priest.

One was born a priest, or not.

 

Priests were charged with running the Temple.

Specifically,

Selling Temple raised sacrificial birds and lambs.

Priests oversaw the operation of ritual baths.

Priests collecting tithes from pilgrims.

They presiding over and participated in animal sacrifice, and

They maintained overall order.

 

Scribes were composed of Jewish aristocracy,

Whose function was to copy sacred manuscripts,

Making them learned in the Law.

Think of scribes as being seminary professors,

Experts in scripture

Who often served in positions of power in society.

For example, many served on the Sanhedrin

Who tried and convicted Jesus.

 

Essenes, only mentioned outside of the Bible,

Clustered in monastic communities, and

Held all things in common.

Essenes observed the Law of Moses,

Practiced ritual washing and purity, and

Professed belief in immortality but not resurrection of the body.

 

When it came to the topic of resurrection,

The debate within Judaism at the time of Jesus was raging.

Powerful people had a stake in the argument.

The stability of civilization and

authority of the Empire and Rabbinical Judaism were at risk.

 

The theological pump was primed for Jesus to be resurrected from the grave;

Which fanned the flame for early Christianity.

Former Jews who believed in resurrection of the body,

Looked upon the resurrected Christ standing right in front of their eyes,

Were immediately were convinced and converted.

Christ is risen!

We were right!

 

Sadducees approached Jesus this morning and lit the powder keg.

They did not believe in the resurrection.

To prove their point

They asked Jesus a question about resurrection,

Using an absurd example of the application of the law of Levirate Marriage.

Their question is nearly identical as recorded in Matthew and Mark.

 

Why would they ask about resurrection if they didn’t believe in it?

Like the Essenes, Sadducees did not believe in resurrection,

But did believe in eternal life.

Eternal life, it was believed, was

“Living on in one’s descendants and in their memory,”

They believed.

(The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX, p.388)

 

Levirate Marriage made this possible.

As prescribed in Deuteronomy 25,

(and in at least 3 other ancient societies)

If a husband dies,

The widow is to marry the next oldest brother-in-law.

 

Ancient Jewish society treated women as property,

Repugnant today,

But the reality in the time of Moses.

 

Levirate Marriage, as prescribed in the Law of Moses,

Was an ethical step forward,

Ensuring security for the widow,

Perpetuation of property, and

The provision of children.

 

Ah, the provision of children;

Eternal life, as the Sadducees thought.

Not physical, bodily resurrection,

But immortality through children and descendents.

 

The response Jesus makes rocked their world,

Just as he is about to upset ours.

 

….

 

What happens when you die?

Does our spirit live for ever?

Do we float in clouds?

Do we soar?

Are we filled with all knowledge

Of past, present, and future?

 

What happens when you die?

Are we reunited with family members?

How about uncle Ale, who spent time in prison for unspeakable crimes?

How about my spouse, who made my life a living hell?

Um, no thank you.

 

What happens when you die?

Is there a physical resurrection of our corpse?

Because, what the pathologist or mortician does pretty much upsets that apple cart.

Will there be a resuscitation of all corpses when Jesus comes again?

 

…..

 

Jesus uses the example of Levirate Marriage to teach us

That women are not to be treated as property,

But as children of God.

Men, take notice.

Women, stand tall.

While scripture may not treat everyone equally and respectfully,

God does.

 

At the same time, Jesus doubles down with Levirate Marriage.

He uses it to reveal God’s plan for death, resurrection, and eternal life.

If you’re interested in what happens when you or a loved one dies,

Pay attention!

 

Jesus says,

“Those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed, they can not die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”

(20:35-36)

 

Let’s unpack this.

 

“Considered worthy”

Not all will be judged worthy,

Even though all will be forgiven of sins and judged with love.

 

“A place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead” …

Yes, Jesus teaches us,

There is eternal life and a future resurrection from the dead.

I’m pretty confident that the Creator of life

Is even able to knit muscles on old dry bones

And breathe life into a corpse.

 

“They are like angels and are children of God”

You’ve heard about angels, haven’t you?

Scripture is full of examples of God sending angels to carry out God’s plan.

Some angels bring good news,

Others bring words of warning.

Some come in dreams,

Others like to wrestle.

 

That angelic presence of a loved one?

Yeah.

That’s God’s gift to you.

Listen to what that angel has to day.

Give thanks to God for loving you so much

To think of you and to send you an angel.

Yes, angels are watching out over you and me

every moment of every day.

So, watch what you say and do!

 

“Those considered worthy … are children of the resurrection”;

That is … children of Jesus,

Who we quite famously know,

Rose from the dead.

 

Jesus cites the Patriarchs,

Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,

as examples of resurrection,

Which isn’t terribly convincing to me.

 

His most convincing argument for resurrection

Lay in his future:

An empty garden tomb,

In an Upper Room,

On a walk to Emmaus, and

Breakfast on a lake shore.

 

We may confidently recite the Apostles’ Creed,

“I believe in … the communion of saints,

The forgiveness of sins,

The resurrection of the body,

And the life everlasting.”

 

Forgiveness of sin, resurrection, eternal life is

What happens when you die, Jesus tells us.

How God’s plan for resurrection and eternal life is implemented at death, however,

Is as much of a mystery to me, as it is to you.

 

What happens when you die?

The line between heaven and earth is drawn so thin

One is able to see the activity of God with crystal clarity.

There is nothing to fear.

There is everything to gain.

The Lord of resurrection and eternal life

Does not allow death to remain as the final judgement.

Our God, who knew us before our conception,

Created us, and breathed life into our lungs,

Is the Lord of life.

 

Jesus reminds us,

“I am the resurrection and I am life.

Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live,

And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”

(John 11:25-26)

Amen.

…..

“Great is Your Reward”

Luke 6:20-31

November 3, 2019 – All Saints’ Sunday

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 6:20-31

 

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

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

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

 

Prayer.

 

Blessed All Saints’ Sunday.

 

For 1,646 years

Christianity has celebrated with great respect

The memory and legacy of faithful disciples of Jesus Christ

Whose mortal life is ended, and

Whose eternal life with God and all the saints

has been confirmed.

 

All Saints’ Day,

The First of November,

Was first recognized by St. Ephrem in 373 A.D.

Due to the fact that so many Christians were being persecuted and martyred,

It became impossible for each Saint

to be given a unique day in a calendar year.

In time, November 1st

became the day we collectively recognize all the saints.

 

(By the way)

Halloween, was named from the Old English combination of

Hallow, meaning saint, and

Een, or eve, meaning the day prior to the celebration of the saint.

Secular ghouls and ghosts of the imagination soon followed.

 

All Saints’ Day is a holy day John Wesley loved.

“All Saints Day revolves around,” Wesley said,

“giving God solemn thanks for the lives and deaths of his saints”, including those who are “famous or obscure”.”

(Iovino, Joe (28 October 2015). “All Saints Day: A holy day John Wesley loved”. The United Methodist Church. Retrieved 20 October 2016.)

 

A saint is anyone in heaven,

Who collectively forms a “great cloud of witnesses”

Surrounding us, here on earth.

reads,

 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

 

The line between heaven and earth is very thin.

 

Saints are not perfect people.

They were sinners who ran a mortal race,

striving for perfection,

looking to Jesus.

Saints were people

Just like you and me.

 

The words and actions of saints serve as a witness to each of us:

This is the Christ I follow!

These are the mistakes I made!

Learn from these mistakes!

Grow!

Grow closer to Jesus!

Grow more disciples following Jesus!

Expand! Expand! Expand!

 

I appreciate the distinction that

 

saints are perfected sinners,

once mortal,

now immortal.

This contrast gives emphasis to Luke’s unique narrative of Jesus’ Beatitudes.

Blessed are … and

Woe to you.

 

Woe to you, mere mortals,

Inhabitants of aging, aching bodies!

 

Woe, or “ouai” in the Greek

– pronounced oo-ah-ee –

Is an emotional word, such as Yikes! Or Look Out!

(http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4256)

 

Contrast woe with blessed,

As saints lifted into eternal glory!

Blessed, or “Makarios” in the Greek

– pronounced mak-ar-ee-os –

Means God’s benefits are extended to the one being blessed.

Salvation is God’s benefit extended to saints in heaven.

(Ibid.)

 

Jesus is teaching

God’s benefit of eternal life is gifted to

The poor, hungry, those who weep and mourn.

The Lord’s salvation is given to those

Who are hated, reviled, and defamed

Simply because the faith of their mortal life was defined by following Jesus.

 

Look out, you who are rich! Jesus is saying.

When your mortal life ends, you’re going to become poor.

You can’t take anything with you.

 

You who went back to the buffet for seconds and are so stuffed you need to loosen your belt?

Yikes! Jesus is saying. Death is going to bring a hunger that can’t be satisfied.

 

Look out! Those whose party never seems to end.

It’s coming to an end.

Time is running out.

 

Living on the path of discipleship leading to sainthood,

Means we love our enemies.

No exceptions.

Bless those who curse you, and

Pray for those who abuse you.

 

What will your obituary say?

How will your eulogy read?

What will be your legacy?

 

Will people say,

He was the most loving person?

Or, she was a blessing to all her neighbors, near and far?

Or, he was always praying; at the drop of a hat, he’d hold your hand and start praying?

 

Riding this mortal train to glory,

Means we don’t respond when insulted.

We just don’t.

We don’t retaliate when robbed.

We give to every beggar, knowing full well that

one or more don’t need our charity and will abuse our gift.

We lend

without the expectation that

what we lent

will ever be returned.

 

Making our way through life is a journey leading to Jesus.

Closing in on eternity and sainthood means

We live according to Christ’s Golden Rule:

 

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (6:26)

 

This is what Jesus taught;

This is how we are to behave.

This is the blessing,

The legacy,

Of All Saints’ Sunday.

Make it your legacy, too.

 

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

……………

“The Upside Down World of Jesus”

October 27, 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 18:9-14

 

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

 

Prayer.

 

Jesus tells a parable;

a parable that sets a trap.

The best traps are camouflaged in simplicity and in plain sight.

Do not be fooled by this simple parable!

 

Jesus sets this trap for any unsuspecting or uninformed disciple following him.

This parable is a trap set for you and me.

 

Wake up!

Pay attention!

Less the trap of this simple parable spring

and convict us of heresy and contempt.

 

Heresy and contempt.

You heard me right.

One wrong step and

you or I can step into the cow pie of heresy;

of violating two of the big ten commandments:

“I Am the Lord your God. Thou shall not have any gods before me.”

(Exodus 20:2-3)

 

One wrong step in a different direction will actuate the trap door;

dropping us into the dungeon of contempt;

unredeemed confinement,

exposing the disdain we harbor for others.

 

……

 

First, let’s deal with Heresy.

Heresy is a belief or opinion contrary to orthodox Christian doctrine.

Where is the heresy here?

and how can I learn to spot it, and

avoid stepping in it?

 

Pharisees in the time of Jesus often get a bad rap.

They aren’t villans, not hypocrites, nor necessarily adversaries of Jesus.

Scripture tells us that some are even sympathetic to Jesus.

The Pharisaic movement in ancient Israel sprung up in an effort to

emphasize obedience to the law of Moses.

It was a movement of both lay and rabbinical clergy.

 

Righteousness according to the law ensured

healthy spiritual disciplines,

healthy families and communities,

and for keeping the rites of kosher and cleanliness,

a way to encounter God’s holiness.

 

You or I could easily be Pharisees.

 

This Pharisee in today’s parable attends Temple.

Wonderful, we should attend worship, too.

The Pharisee prays a prayer of thanksgiving to God.

Great, we should offer to God prayers of thanksgiving, too.

So far, so good.

 

This is when the wheels come flying off.

He begins with the pronoun, “I”.

I give thanks

I’m not like that thief,

that rogue,

that adulterer,

THAT tax collector.

 

Three more times the Pharisee starts with “I”.

I exceed the minimum requirement to fast once a week.

I fast twice a week!

I exceed the minimum requirement to tithe 10% of my net income.

I tithe 10% of my gross income!

 

In fact,

the Pharisee is so full of himself;

He’s so full of his own righteousness

that he has lost the desire to place his whole trust in the Lord.

“I trust in myself and my own righteousness!” he’s thinking to himself.

 

He doesn’t need the Lord.

His trust is in his ability to follow the law of Moses without fail,

making his self-confidence greater than

his trust in the Lord.

 

This is the height of heresy.

 

The Lord reminds us, “I Am the Lord your God.”

You and I? We are not the Lord.

Living a good, clean life does not rocket us to the front of the line

Displacing God.

 

……….

 

Second, lets deal with the trap of contempt.

Because of the Pharisees self-imposed righteousness

He has developed a chronic disease known as spiritual superiority.

 

Spiritual superiority.

Oooh.

We all shift uncomfortably in our seats.

 

The Pharisee believed others were beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn;

Especially those who intentionally broke the law of Moses,

Like thieves, rogues, adulterers, and tax collectors.

His disdain is exposed for all to see.

 

Contempt is a delusional belief that we know better than God

who should or who should not receive God’s mercy.

 

We do not.

We do not know better than God.

 

The Lord knows better than anyone

Where his mercy and grace are to be spread.

Mercy is the Lord’s prerogative and

Ours is not to judge.

 

Jesus is criticizing those who distinguish

Ourselves and our values from

“one of them.”

 

In God’s worldview

All are sinners, loved anyways.

All are fallen, redeemed anyways.

Even the most righteous still come up short of perfection, are saved anyways.

 

When we think of ourselves as holier than thou,

Better than “one of them,”

Our exalted contempt is flipped upside down by Jesus

And we find ourselves humbled.

 

Who are the “one of them” people in your world?

 

Are they communists, socialists, or a member of the opposite party?

Are they drug addicts, street people, or crazy people released from the asylum?

Are they owners, administrators, managers, or workers in the trench?

Are they officers, enlisted, or civilians?

Are they people with HIV, members of the LGBTQ community, people getting welfare handouts, or people with developmental disabilities?

Are they convicts, inmates, or felons?

Are they pimps, prostitutes, or people caught with their hand in the cookie jar?

Are they people with different skin colors, different accents, different faiths, from different lands?

 

Who are your

“one of them”?

 

We do love to paint people with a broad brush,

Lump people into stereotypes, because

Then, it’s easier to build a wall between us and them.

 

Contempt for “them”

does violence to the individual.

 

Every “one of them” has a name,

A story,

A history.

Every “one of them” is a child of God,

A person of worth,

Who is equally loved and cared for by the One who created

“them.”

Jesus died for every “one of them,”

An equal sacrifice,

Just as he died for me.

 

…………..

 

The traps of this simple parable are harsey and contempt,

But God’s gift of absurdly generous grace

Turns the world upside down.

 

Grace comes to none other than the foil of this parable:

The tax collector!

 

No one saw that coming!

The twist of this parable would have taken the breath away

from Jesus’ audience.

It should take our breath away, too.

 

Let’s talk about tax collectors,

People like Zacheus,

In the time of Jesus.

 

Tax collectors were notoriously corrupt.

They were hired contractors who worked on behalf of the Roman Empire,

The enemy occupiers of Israel.

These scoundrels would collect taxes

In neighborhoods, on highways, in markets, and at the dock.

Their take was anything they could collect above and beyond the Empire’s regulation.

They were dishonest, greedy, opportunist, collaborators;

Willing to victimize their own neighbors, family members, and friends.

 

Jesus, a respected Rabbi, associating with tax collectors would be scandalous in the eyes of every observant Jew.

Why would Jesus spend time with the likes of this?

 

(Mobster video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nHNHIDduH4)

 

In the parable, the tax collector stands far off.

He was probably afraid the roof of the Temple would collapse on him if stepped through the door.

He beats his breast, begs God for mercy, and confesses his sin.

 

That’s it.

He doesn’t promise to repent or change.

He doesn’t offer to go get an honest job.

He doesn’t volunteer to join the underground and become a part of the resistance.

 

“This man went down to his home justified,” Jesus declared.

The Pharisee had written him off.

But God had not.

The tax collector could only speak of his own brokenness.

And he is exalted.

 

Unburdened.

Vindicated.

Fully restored by God.

Wow!

 

Such is the nature of God’s absurdly generous grace.

 

………..

 

Dearly beloved,

This parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector

Warns us of the dangers of righteousness.

Living according to the law has mostly an upside to it, but

Yet, it has dangers.

The danger is that our trust can turn away from God.

We can turn inward,

trusting in ourselves,

Not in God.

 

We are warned of contempt;

For it reveals spiritual superiority,

Unsightly disdain for children of God.

We’ve been warned.

Don’t fall into the trap.

 

Indeed, even the most righteous of us,

Myself included,

are in need of contrition, repentance, and forgiveness.

 

Dearly beloved,

This parable resolves itself,

Completes the square,

In God’s absurdly generous grace;

A core characteristic of God.

We are launched into the upside down world of Jesus,

Where those who exalt themselves will be humbled,

And those who humble themselves will be exalted.

 

So, be humbled.

Seek God’s mercy.

Confess sins; the big, the little, the intentional, even those unknown.

Abide in this upside down world of Jesus

known as the Kingdom of God.

Amen.

……………

“Lessons from People Who Wear You Out”

Luke 18:1-8

20 October 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 18:1-8

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’

 

For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”

 

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

 

 

Prayer.

 

Our Gospel for today

Begins with praying always and not losing heart.

It takes a pit stop into persistence and justice.

And it concludes with a question about where faith will be found.

 

Undoubtedly, across the land

exceptional sermons will be delivered on each of these three points.

 

I am reminded by the wisdom of one seminary professor

taught us that every parable

is meant to communicate Divine truth.

At the same time,

every parable has a limit,

a capacity of what can be revealed.

 

In other words,

search for what God desires us to know,

but, don’t push the parable beyond its capacity

such that you begin to read into the story

personal agenda

Jesus never meant to be included.

 

Across the centuries,

spanning the globe,

crossing multiple cultures,

enduring transitions from oral, to written, to printed communication techniques

as well as multiple translations from one language to another to another,

It’s obvious

well intentioned editors have had a field day with this Gospel before us.

 

It has become a diverse mess,

a spray of divergent topics

that could obscure the essential Divine truth hidden within.

The challenge is to clarify;

to fine tune what is presented

into a clear concise message

we can apply to our lives today.

 

 

“Pray always,” Jesus says.

Clear. Concise. To the point.

Number one

Take home application I can implement immediately:

Pray always,

Even in the supermarket.

 

Pray without interruption,

without ceasing.

Pray continuously.

Pray persistently,

like a persistent, stubborn widow who won’t give up and won’t give in.

Pray like there is no tomorrow.

Keep praying because the Son of Man is coming

and he is expecting to find us in prayer.

 

Prayer is not a new topic in Luke.

When viewed inside the larger Gospel

we know the story begins

with the whole assembly of people praying outside the temple.

Jesus prays at his baptism.

He withdraws to pray at key points throughout his ministry.

Jesus prays such that he sweats blood on the Mount of Olives.

He instructs his disciples to pray for those who abuse them.

Jesus teaches his disciples to pray when they ask for instruction.

And Jesus assures us that the Holy Spirit comes to those who ask.

 

As Jesus was persistently in prayer throughout his life and ministry,

as he illustrates in this parable a widow who is persistence in her petition for justice,

so, too, are we to claim

the same persistence

for our prayer life.

 

 

Time for some introspection.

Consider our life, our actions, our behaviors:

Is everything we think, say, and do

firmly anchored in persistent prayer?

 

Persistent means always;

never ceasing.

 

Are we praying when we are shopping;

that our choices will reflect our stewardship of God’s creation?

Are we praying when we are picking our kids up from day care, school, or practice;

that our attitudes and language will be tempered by God’s love and wisdom?

Are we praying when we face temptation to do something we know we shouldn’t;

that God would steal our heart

and divert our attention to more faithful endeavors?

Are we praying when we wonder if we should stand up and speak out;

for God to channel our passion, to give us His words, and help keep us faithful?

 

It’s easy to pray occasionally;

when facing a personal crisis,

when set in routine,

or when we step foot into the sanctuary.

Praying persistently is advancing the spiritual life one step forward;

filling the in-between time

with our intentional effort to listen and speak with our God.

 

 

Time for some Extrospection.

Consider the life of our community of faith,

our church:

Is everything we think, say, and do

also firmly anchored in persistent prayer?

 

Can we let go and let God;

Give up our agenda and listen for God’s agenda to be made known to us?

 

When we talk finance

is it in such a way that reflects our prayerful revelation of God’s grace?

 

When we talk missions and outreach

is it in such a way that recognizes the fact that God is telling us to be like Jesus

reaching out to the last, the least, and the lost?

 

When we are pouring coffee, waiting tables, selling brownies, or mopping the floor

are we asking God to work through us to bless and love

everyone who enjoyed our turkey dinner?

 

Persistent means always,

whether we are gathered,

or whether we are deployed throughout the community.

Are we prayerfully supporting one another,

and through each other,

our neighbors, community, state and world?

 

God already knows what’s going on.

God wants us to pray to him because

 

 

Prayer changes the heart of the one doing the praying.

 

…..

 

“Pray always,” Jesus commands,

“and not to lose heart.”

 

 

Do not lose heart.

Keep faith.

Don’t lose heart.

 

Keep faith that God is in control,

today, tomorrow, and forever.

Today, most of us have the faith to pray.

We’ve come to worship after all.

In the spur of the moment

just about every Christian is able to muster up an

“Our Father, who art in heaven,”

“Now I lay me down to sleep,”

or “God is good, God is great.”

 

When the petition becomes a little bit more personal

– like a plea –

and when the petition is made not just one day,

but for a succession of days,

it becomes an intimate, ongoing conversation,

placing ourselves in the hands and arms of the one who created and loves us.

 

Do not lose heart, Jesus injects his confidence directly into our souls.

In the short term,

the persistent widow’s prayers for justice were not answered,

yet, she came back day after day,

knocking at the door of stubbornness.

 

 

Keep faith that

God’s time is God’s time,

not our time.

 

We live in God’s time.

We think we live in our time,

but it isn’t true.

 

“With the Lord one day is like a thousand years,

and a thousand years are like one day.”

– Apostle Peter, 2nd Letter to the Church in Greece, Turkey, and Asia, 2 Peter 3:8

 

When one talks resurrection and salvation

all talk is eternal.

All talk is God’s time.

It is according to God’s schedule that God responds.

 

Be there no misunderstanding;

God responds to every prayer.

Our job is to pray without ceasing,

with mustard seed sized faith,

and to keep knocking on God’s door.

Be assured, Jesus tells us,

persistent prayers are answered

always according to God’s time.

 

Do not lose heart;

keep faith

that every answered prayer,

that comes from God,

comes to us

from the one characteristic of God

that remains eternal and unchanging:

God’s everlasting love.

 

When Jesus says,

“Ask anything and God will grant it,”

we conveniently leave off that part “according to his will.”

 

 

“And this is the boldness we have in him,

that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14

 

God’s will and motivation has always been for our personal and communal benefit.

Only a God who loved the world would send a son

to forgive us of the sins we’ve committed against Him and each other.

 

Only a God who loved the world would send His son

to win victory over death with a gift of eternal life.

 

When our persistent prayer

are according to God’s will to love us,

then, yes, every petition is granted.

When we believe our petitions haven’t been granted,

either it is because

what we’ve been asking for has been contrary to the will of God,

or,

what we’ve been asking for has yet to be revealed by God’s greater, long term plan.

 

Eventually, the persistent widow

was granted her petition.

She asked for justice and she got it.

Of course, justice is consistent with the love and will of God.

Why wouldn’t it be granted?

The point is

she was persistent in her petitions; and so should we.

She didn’t lose heart, she didn’t lose faith, and neither should we.

 

 

Jesus end our Gospel for today

with what I believe is the perfect question:

“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (18:8)

 

The beginning of an answer is found in the Gospel

where numerous people are commended for their faith:

 

  • the centurion who believes Jesus will heal his slave, even from a distance;
  • the sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet and loves much;
  • friends of the paralytic who are willing to cut a hole through a perfectly good roof;
  • the bleeding, unclean woman who touches Jesus’ clothes in the crowd and is healed;
  • the Samaritan with leprosy, whose gratitude turns him back to Jesus where he falls at his feet in thanksgiving;
  • and the blind beggar later in this chapter who sees Jesus for who he is and calls to him.

 

Yes, the Son of Man will find faith,

but Luke suggests that it may be in unexpected places,

not among the religious professionals

or the ones certain of their own righteousness.

 

 

Faith is found among

outsiders,

the unlovely,

the unclean,

the ones who are certain of their sinfulness.

Faith isn’t found within; it’s found outside, in the community, among those in greatest need.

(Thanks to: Meda Stamper, pastor, Anstey United Reformed Church, Leicestershire, England, as found at workingpreacher.org)

 

Signs of faith today

are people and communities persistently praying

in everything that is said and done.

Signs of faith today are evident

when culture is wrapped so tightly in persistent prayer

that peace replaces violence

God’s love drowns out hatred and prejudice,

and grace leads to life lived completely in the Spirit.

 

Signs of faith today

can be seen

in people and communities who persistently pray

and who do not lose heart,

who keep coming back

and coming back

and coming back

until the prayer is answered in God’s time,

or, until the Son of Man returns.

Whichever comes first.

It’s all good.

 

Don’t stretch the parable too far.

It was good advice.

Jesus gives his followers better advice:

 

 

Pray.

Pray always.

Pray and do not lose heart.

 

Be the Gospel.

Be the Good News of Jesus.

Amen.

 

……

“Unlikely Gratitude”

Luke 17:11-19

13 August 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 17:11-19

 

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.

And he was a Samaritan.

Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

 

Prayer.

 

A Story of Kings

 

There once was a commander of the Syrian army

By the name of Naaman.

He was loved by his men, for

He was strong and

The Lord, Yahweh, our God, brought him victory,

Though Naaman was a pagan and knew him not.

 

Naaman developed a disfiguring, communicable disease.

He suffered in isolation and shame.

How could he lead men if none would come near?

 

There was a great prophet of Yahweh

Who had developed the reputation as a healer.

The prophet lived in Israel,

South of the Syrian border,

His name was Elisha.

 

Naaman had to see Elisha

Even though Syria and Israel were adversaries,

As they are to this day.

The healer was behind enemy lines.

 

The intersection of Naaman and the Lord was heating up.

 

King Joram of Israel was suspicious of the king of Syria,

Who requested safe passage for his commander to visit Elisha.

Was this a pretext for starting a war?

What should he do?

Fear, anxiety, and uncertainty overwhelms King Joram.

He tears his shirt in frustration.

The crown’s concerns spread throughout the kingdom.

 

The prophet Elisha hears the news.

He sends for Naaman,

That he might come to know Yahweh;

The source of his victories,

The Lord of prophecy,

The God of healing.

 

Naaman comes.

Elisha tells him

“Go, wash in the Jordan seven time, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean,” (2 Kings 5:10)

 

You’ve got to be kidding.

 

Desperation overcomes skepticism.

Naaman washes himself just as he was told.

He is healed of his leprosy.

 

At the intersection of Naaman and the Lord,

There is healing.

He renounces his former pagan god and

Claims the God of Israel,

Giving praise:

“Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel!” (2 Kings 5:15)

 

Naaman comes to the Lord and

Finds himself

At the intersection of faith and praise.

 

……………..

 

800 years later

Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem

Through the land of Elisha.

 

Leprosy was a disease of legend,

So easily transmitted and feared,

It left its victims in forced isolation.

 

Ten people with leprosy like Naaman approach Jesus.

All the while, they keep their distance.

A touch means becoming unclean and a time-consuming trip to the ceremonial baths and coming before the local priests.

 

Jesus was Jewish.

They were Samaritans.

They shared a common belief in Yahweh,

As do we.

Jesus was widely known throughout the region as a healer.

He attracted large crowds.

Jesus had something

These ten people with leprosy wanted:

To be cleaned, healed, and restored to normal life.

In short, to be made well.

 

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” they cried. (17:13)

If Yahweh can heal Naaman,

So too, can the Lord use Jesus to heal us.

 

The region between Galilee in the north

And Judah and Jerusalem in the south

Had changed in the 800 years between Elisha and Jesus.

Samaria had been dominated by faithful Jews

From the 12 tribes of Israel,

Namely Ephraim and Manasseh.

 

About eighty years after Elisha

The region fell to the conquering Assyrians,

Who deported the best and brightest of the population to exile.

 

Assyrians settled in,

Intermarried with those who remained behind to tend the land.

To the Jews in Galilee and Jerusalem

The Samaritans became known as mixed raced collaborators with the enemy.

 

To talk about Samaritans

Is to bring up the topic of racism.

 

The divide deepened.

Most Samaritans remained faithful to Yahweh,

Yet were prohibited to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem.

They established their own local Temple first in Shechem,

Then to Shiloh.

Judaism schismed.

To the faithful Jews in the time of Jesus,

Samaritans were treated as pagans.

 

Samaritans.

Discriminated because of their mixed race;

Hated for their collaboration with the enemy;

Dismissed as pagans.

It is in this cultural context

Jesus enters when he stops in a village between Samaria and Galilee.

 

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” they cried. (17:13)

 

Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan,

Also unique to the Gospel of Luke? (10:29-37)

When held in contrast with this narrative of Jesus healing ten people with leprosy

It is as if this

Miracle of healing becomes secondary.

When held in context with the narrative of the healing of Naaman

It is as if the Gospel is painting a far greater trajectory

Of God’s intervention in salvation history.

 

Imagine that.

A miracle may be pointing us to something more profound.

 

This story of healing

Reveals a deeper message of unlikely gratitude.

 

…………..

 

Allow me to bring laser focus on the one Samaritan

Who returned to Jesus.

 

“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.”

(17:15-16)

 

The text appears relatively simple and straight forward.

But, consistent with Luke, let us pay attention to details.

 

The first detail is the healed man

Came to an immediate awareness of God;

A display of God’s presence, power, and mercy.

He saw that he was healed.

 

For us today,

Are we as self-aware of God’s presence, power, and mercy?

Or, have our spiritual senses been so dulled by the world

That we’ve lost most of our situational awareness of God?

 

Have our spiritual senses been dulled by our passive approach to discipleship

That we’ve grown distant from the only source of healing,

The only solution to the fractures of the world

And the brokenness in our life?

 

Beloved, let us adjust our sets and tune our spiritual antenna.

Let us be aware of God’s presence, power, and mercy.

 

The second detail

Is that the man healed of leprosy changes his orientation towards God.

He walked away, but then

He turned back.

He returned to Jesus.

 

Oh, it is so easy to be healed by the Lord

And to simply move on,

As did the nine others who were made clean

But who failed to return.

 

Experiencing the presence, power, mercy, and grace of God’s healing intervention in our lives

Is an opportunity to repent

And to engage in the hard work of discipleship.

 

To turn back requires the intentional desire to change and grow in spiritual depth

Even though every one of us naturally resist change.

Repentance and change always begins with the self;

It always begins with me.

 

The third detail has much to teach us.

As the cleansed and healed man made his way back to Jesus,

He praises God with a loud voice!

 

Praise is recognition:

The source of healing is the object of praise,

None other than the Lord, our God.

Praise is reassurance:

Instilling confidence of faith within

And bearing testimony to others of

God’s greatness, glory, and mercy.

Praise is admiration of

God’s power, grace, and love.

 

And he did it loudly!

Shouldn’t our praise be loud, too!

Perhaps the cry room in the back should be reserved

For those who want to praise God in silence,

Because this sanctuary should be rocking!

 

The fourth detail is instructive.

The healed man prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet.

 

Do we place ourselves in a position of submission before Jesus?

Do we listen to his teaching at his feet?

Do we make our selves vulnerable before the Lord,

Placing ourselves completely, whole, utterly in the mercy of God?

 

The final detail is all about gratitude.

The healed man,

Mixed race,

A former foe,

One who had been considered a pagan like Naaman,

Gave thanks for what the Lord had done.

 

None were more unlikely to extend gratitude to God

Than this Samaritan man.

Yet, he did.

So, too, can you and me.

 

Beloved members and friends, guests and visitors,

The Gospel invites us today

To fill our hearts with gratitude.

 

Thank the Lord,

For all that has been, and

For where our spiritual journey has led us

To this day and time and place.

 

Thank the Lord,

For his faithfulness.

God keeps his covenants.

The One who created us stays in love with us.

 

The Lord’s faithfulness gives us assurance,

That if we follow wherever God is leading,

We will remain in God’s presence,

Strengthened by God’s power,

Blessed by God’s mercy and grace.

 

In this season of thanksgiving,

Let us thank the Lord

That, yesterday I may have been at war with God,

Emotionally and spiritually scared as a man with leprosy,

But today, I’ve been given a second chance

To turn back, and

Return to the feet of Jesus,

Cleansed, cured, and restored,

With a heart at peace.

 

“Get up and go on your way;” Jesus tells us.

“Your faith has made you well.” (17:19)

 

Our Lord’s invitation to us today

Is to place ourselves at

The intersection of faith and praise and gratitude.

That’s where we meet the Lord.

Amen.

…………..

“The Size of a Mustard Seed”

Luke 17:5-10, Proper 22 C, 6 October 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 17:5-10

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

5

Prayer.

 

Our Gospel lesson is a continuation of the past couple of Sundays.

You may remember

We left Jesus first teaching the disciples,

Then teaching the Pharisees

(who were lovers of money),

And, last week

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

 

Today, Jesus again turns to his disciples

And begins to teach

Four seemingly unconnected sayings

That are found in the first ten verses of chapter 17.

The first two are not included in our reading this morning;

Yet it is important to mention them.

 

The first saying

Is a warning to anyone who would cause someone to stumble,

That is, to temp someone to sin.

Jesus warns

“It would be better for you

If a millstone were hung around your neck

And you were thrown into the sea.”

– Luke 17:2

This is familiar for most of us. It’s also self-explanatory.

 

The second saying

Is Jesus giving instructions about

How one disciple is to treat another disciple who sins.

“You must rebuke the offender,”

Jesus instructs them,

“and if there is repentance,

You must forgive.”

– Luke 17:4

Again, straight forward.

 

Allow me to leapfrog the third saying and go right to the fourth.

The fourth saying of Jesus

Was read this morning and is found in verses 7-10.

Jesus makes his point with an illustration that causes us to shutter today,

Yet, this was a common cultural reality in the time of Jesus.

 

I doubt if any of Jesus’ disciples owned slaves.

At the same time, it was a slave holding society.

Slaves came primarily from military expansion, victory, and settlements.

Only the wealthy, politicians, and members of the military would have owned slaves.

Everyone would have been exposed to slavery

And known the ins and outs of how it worked.

 

The slave’s time and labor belongs to the master,

Therefore, the slave has no claim on the master

Even after a period of obedient service.

The point being,

 

We cannot put God into our debt.

 

God never owes us.

What we receive from God is kindness,

God’s grace,

Not reward for what we should do in the first place.

This is an important point:

What we receive from God is grace, not reward.

 

It is God’s nature to love, forgive, and save.

There isn’t a thing we can do to earn it;

It is already ours to accept.

 

….

 

My primary focus for today is upon the third continuous saying of Jesus,

Found in Luke 17:5-6, which reads:

 

“The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

The Lord replied,

“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,

you could say to this mulberry tree,

‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’

and it would obey you.”

 

Note the fact that

It isn’t the disciples who ask,

Rather, it is the “apostles” who ask Jesus to

“increase our faith.”

 

The use of the word “apostles” indicates the fact

That this passage was most probably first written down

Almost two generations after Jesus.

Think about this dynamic for a moment;

The Gospel of Luke was written down nearly 50 to 70 years

After Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.

 

It goes to show that

For those who follow Jesus,

Be they the original disciples,

The faithful members of the early, first century church,

Or even for us today,

It is normal and natural to find the demands of life

Seemingly too great for the faith that has already been given us.

 

What they are asking is, “Lord, make us adequate for being your disciples.”

 

This reminds me of the old hymn

 

“When the storms of life are raging, stand by me. (x2)

When the world is tossing me, like a ship upon the sea,

Thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.”

(Words and music by Charles Albert Tindley, 1906)

 

Sometimes we feel like the weight of the world is crushing us,

The responsibilities thrust upon us are more than we can bear,

The expectations of family, work, and life exceed our capacity to endure,

And we, like the disciples of old cry out

“Lord, increase our faith!”

We cry out like the old hymn

“Lord, stand by me,

because I can’t stand alone any longer.”

 

Jesus reminds us

 

The faith we already have is more than adequate.

Our natural tendency is to think this is a parable about us.

We want to measure and quantify our faith.

We do so to correlate life’s events,

Suggesting that times of great faith is a sign of God’s favor

And times of weakened faith is a sign that we’ve fallen out of God’s favor

(which is patently untrue).

 

I’d suggest, however, Jesus teaches this parable

To reveal more about the characteristics about God, our Heavenly Father,

Than to teach his disciples about how to increase our faith.

 

Our faith taps us into the unlimited power of God.

God’s power is unlimited.

When our faith is connected with God’s infinite power

There is nothing God can’t do through us.

All things are possible by God

When working through willing disciples of His Son, Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus’ response to his disciples petition is quite familiar;

Familiar much more so to us from Matthew and Mark

Where “mountain” is substituted for “mulberry tree.”

“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,

You could move a mighty mountain.”

– Paraphrased from Matthew 17:20 and Mark 11:23

 

Mulberry tree or Mountain,

… Six and one-half dozen the other …

Both employ impossible tasks at the time of Jesus.

Yes, the top of a mountain could be leveled and a temple built on top of it;

But move a whole mountain?

Whoa! I don’t think so;

Not in an era before shovels, earth movers, dynamite and pan dump trucks.

 

Likewise, it would have been quite impossible

For a mulberry tree,

A middle-eastern blackberry tree with an extensive root system

Which thrives in the desert,

To be transplanted from its original growing place

And be replanted in, or near, the sea.

It would be quite the impossible task!

 

Another point.

From the original Greek,

Our Lord’s words,

“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,”

Implies or assumes an existing level of faith.

 

Specifically, Jesus isn’t questioning

Whether or not his disciples had any faith,

He was simply saying,

“If the faith you already have is equal to, or bigger than,

The size of a mustard seed …”

 

Friends, a mustard seed is the very smallest of seeds,

Nearly microscopic in size.

 

When looking at the tiny mustard seed

And comparing it to the decision to leave life and family behind,

To lay down their nets to come and follow Jesus,

Every one of his disciples would have thought,

“Well, yes. I do have at least THAT amount of faith!”

 

Today, when considering the tiny mustard seed

And comparing it to the decision to roll out of bed

And to come to worship on a Sunday morning,

Every one of us can also proclaim,

“Why, yes. I do have at least THAT amount of faith!”

 

If faith is even teeny-tiny in size,

It is sufficient to do the seemingly impossible for God.

 

You heard me right.

The faith you already have

Gives you the potential

To do the impossible.

 

Faith in Jesus Christ connects us to the power of God.

It taps us into the Almighty,

The Creator of the universe.

The faith you already have

Connects you directly into the power of God,

Enabling that power

To be put to use for God’s useful means.

 

Faith grows when we take God at his word.

God has been tugging at you all your life.

God has been whispering in your ear all your life.

God has been speaking to your conscience all your life.

 

It is God’s initiative,

God’s persistence,

God’s urging

That brought you forward to the baptismal font

And cleansed you with

Your baptismal waters.

Jesus has led you to the foot of his cross

To be washed clean of sin by his blood.

 

It is God’s prompting you,

Nagging you,

Urging you,

Longing for you to step forward again,

To partner with our Creator in this great endeavor,

To follow his lead and to expand his kingdom

On earth as it is in heaven.

 

….

 

So, what are the implications of this passage for our church family today?

Let’s call it “Mustard Seed Sized Faith”

 

Let’s take them one-by-one.

 

1. It is normal and natural to find the demands of life

Seemingly too great for the faith that has already been given us.

God’s vision is far greater than ours.

We get so focused on the here and now

And our personal challenges

That we are blinded to the possibilities of what God is creating.

 

We see our life and our church as broken, as limited, and vulnerable.

This is based upon the past and present.

But this is not the future reality to which God is calling us.

 

Take heart!

Be of good courage!

Wherever God is leading, let us follow,

Knowing in the depth of our bones

That God has given us all that is necessary for this journey.

The church of tomorrow

Will be what God wants it to be.

 

2. The faith we already have is more than adequate.

The particulars of doctrine don’t matter to God;

What matters to God is that

“we live by faith, not by sight.”

– 2 Corinthians 5:7

The fact that you are here right now,

In front of this altar and the cross of Jesus Christ,

Surrounded by this cloud of witnesses,

Tells me that though

None of us have seen Jesus,

Each of us live with Christ living in us

( – Galatians 2:20).

The breath of his Holy Spirit filling our lungs.

 

That’s sufficient.

That’s all you need.

Your faith is more than adequate.

Stop complaining and making excuses.

Move on.

Move this church forward

And bring it into the fullness of all that God wants us to be.

 

3. Our faith taps us into the unlimited power of God.

“With God all things are possible.”

– Matthew 19:26 and Mark 10:27

Jesus is claiming,

The God who created all there is,

All there ever has been,

And all there ever shall be,

Is a God of infinite power and ability.

Faith is like hooking in a power cable directly into God.

God’s will is the future’s reality for this congregation

 

Whether we like it, or not.

Whether we’re on board, or not.

Whether we cooperate, or not.

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”

– Luke 11:2

 

Grow this church two-fold in the next year?

Of course this is possible.

If this is God’s will, our faith can make this happen.

 

Though the opposite may be true,

It is important to recognize that

God is in the expansion business!

 

Faithfulness is the ability to pray,

“Use me, O Lord, …

Use this church, O Lord …

That Thy will may be done.”

 

4. If faith is even teeny-tiny in size,

It is sufficient to do the seemingly impossible.

Beloved friends, you’ve got this!

God’s future for us is not dependent

On how smart we are,

How creative we are,

Or how much money we have.

We’re tapped into the greatest power in the cosmos,

And through this power

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

– Philippians 4:13

We’ve got this, if we want this

And if we are willing to be faithful.

 

5. Lastly, Faith grows when we take God at his word.

Disciples of Jesus,

Stop complaining and stop obsessing about all that distract our attention from Jesus:

Size, status, past mistakes, promises unfulfilled.

 

Let it go.

Let it be.

With Christ by our side,

There is no reason to be anxious about the future.

Our future is God’s to give,

For us to confidently claim.

 

Stop trying to quantify faith.

Faith will take care of itself,

Just so long as we continually attempt to seek God’s will

And follow God’s ways.

 

Living the quest to discern and follow God’s will

Normally, naturally, grows faith.

Instead of petitioning Jesus to increase our faith,

Perhaps we should spend more time asking our Heavenly Father

What he would have us do

And spend more time getting it done!

 

….

 

Dearly beloved,

Because of God love

The reality of God’s tomorrow is more wonderful than you or I can imagine.

In the meantime,

Take heart in the faith that you have been given.

Know that your faith is sufficient,

Because it connects us,

It binds us together with God,

Tapping us into God’s unlimited power.

 

Together, we can complete God’s will.

Together, we can do anything.

Amen.

………….

 

“Jesus and Two Rascals”

Luke 16:1-13

22 September 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 16:1-13

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Prayer.

 

I don’t know about you,

But I like the older language

Found in the King James and Revised Standard versions that reads:

“Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.”

Mammon serves as a personification for the acquisition of wealth,

Or, as Martin Luther called it,

The “most common god on earth.”

 

Bob Dylan sings, everybody’s “gotta serve somebody.”

You cannot serve God and Mammon, Jesus concludes.

 

Our Gospel from Luke today is especially difficult to understand.

It is hard for us to know

HOW Jesus wants us

To judge any of the characters in his story.

It is almost as if understanding Jesus’ intent

Requires us to take a mini course in ancient Biblical economics.

 

(Much of today’s insight comes from the excellent work of Barbara Rossing, Professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Chicago, Ill. As found at workingpreacher.org)

 

Most people will look at this unusual passage

Only found in the Gospel of Luke,

Reel in bewilderment,

And toss up their hands, saying,

“Why should I even bother

To try to make heads or tails of this complex mess?”

“It’s too complicated!”

(Remember: Church is a “No Complaint Zone”)

 

Believe me.

It’s worth the effort.

It’s worth the effort to dig deeply

To uncover Jesus’ intended message and essential truth.

 

In Biblical Judaism,

It is forbidden to charge interest on a loan.

These prohibitions are listed exhaustively in

Exodus 22, Leviticus 25, and Deuteronomy 15.

(This, of course, makes it impossible today

For Bankers, or any lender, mortgage or bond holders,

To believe in a

Literal, word-for-word translation of the Bible).

 

The Bible forbids interest because it exploits the vulnerable and poor.

In the time of Jesus,

This prohibition was being ignored.

Surprise! Surprise!

God’s people fail to heed God’s Word.

 

There is nothing new under the sun.

 

The vulnerable poor were being exploited.

They were being gouged.

How bad were the poor being exploited? You ask …

 

Scholars suggest the real interest rate would have been

25 percent per year for borrowing money, and

50 percent per year for borrowing goods.

The manager? You ask, “How does he make his money?

By charging his fee on top of everything else.

 

So, after twelve months, a $1,000 loan of grain

Will now cost the borrower $1,500 to pay back,

Plus an additional $150 fee for the debt collector.

The sum total for a thousand dollar loan would be $1,650.

You can see why the poor were being crushed by debt.

 

The poor were attracted to Jesus

Like new college graduates heavily encumbered with student debt

Are attracted to a politician promising the sun, the moon, and the stars.

 

The shrewd manager

Quickly writes down everyone’s debt

So they will treat him well after he is fired.

Let me be clear:

He is only writing off the debt that was unjust interest and, possibly, his fee.

He was only writing the debt off

Back to the original principle amount of the loan.

 

Borrowers had been pounded for years

Under the exploitative debt of both

The rich man and his manager.

Both the rich man and his manager were rascals of the worst kind.

They exploited the poor.

 

Now the manager

Who had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar

Was simply doing what was right,

What was according to Law,

What he should have been doing in the first place.

 

Throughout the Gospel of Luke,

Jesus calls for another Biblical directive: Jubilee.

 

What is Jubilee? You ask …

 

Leviticus 25:8-15 states

  “You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.

  It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces. In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property.”

 

Every 49 years

Liberty is to be proclaimed throughout the land.

Slaves and prisoners would be freed.

Debts would be forgiven.

The mercies of God would be manifest.

(https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jubilee_(biblical))

 

You heard me right.

All debts shall be forgiven.

 

Jesus cracks the Jubilee whip throughout the Gospel of Luke.

In the Magnificat,

Luke reports (1:53) that God

“Has filled the hungry with good things,

And sent the rich away empty.”

When Jesus encounters Zacchaeus,

Zacchaeus restores to the borrowers

That which he had defrauded four-fold.

As a result

Jesus restores Zacchaeus to community and proclaims,

“Today salvation has come to this house.” (19:18).

 

Because of this generational reset

Of everyone’s accumulated assets to zero,

There would be no way to accumulate massive wealth,

Unless, of course,

You had the financial ability and the sinful disdain

To defy the law regarding lending and debt.

All massive wealth was the result of

Biblically prohibited financial exploitation.

 

Massive wealth was the result of

Biblically prohibited financial exploitation.

 

When Jesus begins his narrative about a rich man and a manager,

Everyone to whom he was speaking

… the disciples, sinners, and tax collectors – everyone…

Would have immediately known

That Jesus was

Speaking about not one, but two rascals

Who disobey the Bible and who exploit the poor.

 

Jesus is condemning both equally;

Both the rich man and his shrewd manager.

It is not okay to exploit the poor.

Financial exploitation of the poor

Is absolutely contrary to the Gospel

And contrary to the teaching of Jesus.

 

I find it refreshing to learn

That “the Lutheran World Federation

Calls oppressive debt terms

Imposed on Latin American countries

As “illegitimate debt”

And likens such debt itself to “violence,”

Because of its crushing effects on people’s future.”

Some even go so far to

Refer to the international debt system as “modern slavery.”

 

(Rev. Ángel Furlan, coordinator of the illegitimate debt program for LWF member churches in Latin America, referred to the debt system as “modern slavery.” See the 2013 report at https://www.lutheranworld.org/news/just-and-sustainable-future-without-illegitimate-foreign-debt)

 

By this Gospel story

Jesus is attempting to dismantle

Human systems of greed;

Greed that disobey God’s Word and God’s Law,

Greed that exploit the vulnerable poor,

And greed that perpetuates an endless cycle of poverty.

 

Jesus is reviving village life!

Jesus is reviving the call to Biblical behavior!

Jesus is reviving the call for all his followers

To be people in covenant with God and with our neighbors!

Jesus is reviving the call to forgive debts!

(“Forgive us this day our debts,

As we forgive our debtors” – Matthew 6:12)

 

Jesus is in the business of revival and resurrection baby,

Today he has hit pure gold!

 

In today’s world

Most people notice the widening gap between the rich and the poor.

The middle class is being squeezed

And most of the pulverized remains are flowing through the grinder

Forging people who are marginalized by

Poverty, unemployment, hunger, and homelessness.

 

Disciples of Christ

Are being asked to choose

In this important teaching lesson today:

Whom shall we serve?

God or mammon?

Disciples of Jesus are repeatedly warned

That we cannot be disciples while accumulating wealth

At the expense of the poor.

 

If we choose to serve mammon.

Go home.

Go ahead and turn your back on those in need.

Remain quiet when injustice is exposed.

Don’t lift a finger to prevent exploitation from taking place.

God bless you.

You’re going to need it.

 

But Jesus calls his followers to a higher standard.

Jesus calls us to become engaged in the world’s dysfunction.

God wants us to not only reach out to the poor,

But to also take control of the levers that create

An unfair playing field

That favor the rich

At the expense of the poor.

Take control and restore the system

That enslaves people in endless unemployment, homelessness, and hunger.

 

Jesus is calling us to join him in the business of restoration and resurrection,

Not only individually,

But across all systems, political ideologies, and economic realities.

 

Might I even go so far as to suggest

That impoverishing future generations

By our mammon imitating consumption

Might also have environmental implications?

Of course!

Let us not leave the world a toxic waste dump

For our children to inherit

To feed off the piles

Or drink from its runoff.

 

Lastly,

I’d suggest that when we choose God,

When we choose to intentionally follow Jesus,

We choose to submit ourselves to God’s will

And Biblical justice.

 

Being faithful to the Word

Is not opposed to working for justice.

The foundation for Divine justice is one of many common threads

That is woven throughout the Biblical text.

Anyone who suggests otherwise

Is presenting to the world a lie,

A false dichotomy.

 

If one is faithful to the Word,

One must live the Word

with Christ centered conviction and holiness.

 

Working for Biblical justice

Individually, and collectively as the Church,

Is what building the Kingdom of God is all about.

 

Signs of Kingdom progress

Come in the form of both

Building houses with Habitat for Humanity

Or in Nicaragua or Guatemala,

But also with legislation

That empowers and resources the poor

To build their own houses and homes.

 

Kingdom building is setting up and operating food cupboards,

As well as working with community leaders

To ensure free lunches for hungry children in school.

 

Kingdom building helps give a job

As well as working with the local employment office

To ensure everyone who needs a job can get a job.

 

The goal of the Kingdom of God

Is to bring healing to the broken,

Restoration to the poor,

And resurrection to the dead.

Nothing more,

Nothing less.

 

Today, we are given a choice:

Will we serve God

Or will we serve mammon?

Chose God.

Revive one life.

Resurrect the world.

Amen.

_____________________________

 

“Sheer Joy!”

Luke 15:1-10

15 September 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church 

 

Luke 15:1-10

 

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

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

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

1

Prayer.

 

Inclusive, tolerant, and non-judgmental are all qualities

We look for when we walk a candidate for ministry

From call, to ordination, and supervision down the road.

These are qualities I look for in the hearts of parishioners

For I am naturally drawn to such people

like moths drawn to a flame.

 

True confession, number one:

I am not as inclusive, tolerant, and non-judgmental

As I would like you to think that I am.

This Gospel narrative from Luke

Is forcing me to come clean,

To fess up.

 

The Gospel demands honesty and transparency.

 

I suspect the Gospel may call you too

To closer self-examination.

 

……….

 

Grumbling.

 

Fact is,

I don’t like hanging around people that grumble all the time.

People that grumble are more contagious than

A family of twelve with the measles

Making their way through a crowded water park.

 

Negative people attract negative people.

I don’t want to be a part of that scene.

 

My inclusive, non-judgmental tolerance ends at the front door of the church.

“Come on in! We welcome everyone!” I’m known to say,

All the while I’m quietly thinking to myself,

“… except for people that grumble, complain, criticize, and voice their unsolicited opinions about everyone and everything.

There’s a better church for you

down the road on the left.”

 

Church should be a grumble-free zone,

Don’t you think?

 

Jesus is holding down church;

Continuing the Gospel narrative from last Sunday.

As is often the case,

Tax collectors and sinners are attracted to him.

 

Finding the Way appeals to the Lost.

The One who forgives sins is appealing to the guilty.

The Savior of the world is appealing to those who wake up one day and recognize that they are hopelessly lost.

Not one of us can save ourselves,

Let alone anyone else.

 

Jesus naturally draws people in,

Especially the lost, sinners, and

Those considering their own mortality.

People like you and me.

 

Note the fact that

There isn’t any grumbling among sinners

Who come near to listen to Jesus.

The nice thing about confession and repentance:

It takes the grumbling and complaining right out of a person.

 

The grumbling comes from who?

The Pharisees and scribes!

They crash the party,

They disrupt the church of Jesus,

They criticize Jesus for welcoming and eating with sinners.

 

Jesus teaches with a true shepherd’s heart.

His parables reveal essential truths about God and God’s kingdom,

With a focus on love and grace.

He teaches the grumbling Pharisees and scribes three parables in a row:

The Parable of the Lost Sheep,

The Parable of the Lost Coin, and

The Parable of the Prodigal Son and His Brother.

 

Jesus weaves common threads among all three:

Someone or something is lost.

Someone or something is found.

Being found results in joy.

 

“There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents …” Jesus observes (15:7a)

“There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (15:10b)

 

Repentance makes God happy!

Repentance brings God joy!

Repentance comes from the tax collectors and sinners,

Not from righteous, law abiding Pharisees and scribes left behind.

Their grumbling doesn’t bring the Lord joy;

Only repentance … being found

Brings joy to heaven.

 

Repent of your sins, beloved!

And bring the Lord some JOY this morning!

 

Jesus, our Shepherd,

Has a commitment to the lost.

Like it or not, we, like sheep navigate through life with blinders,

With a subjective world view.

As a sheep will graze themselves lost,

So, too, will you and I find ourselves being drawn into the darkness of temptation.

Sin lures us in, and

Like a frog in a gradually warming kettle,

We eventually find ourselves cooked.

 

It’s delusional to think that we are not sinful.

Sin is as original as is Adam and Eve;

It shows no favorite and it spares no victim.

There’s no shame in our common state,

But there is great satisfaction in confessing it so.

 

The Pharisees and scribes were unable to see

their grumbling was a sign and symptom of a darker, deeper sin.

Self-righteousness may be more egregious

than collecting taxes on behalf of an occupying, oppressive enemy.

 

Fact is, at one point or another in life,

Each of us will come face-to-face with the fact

That we’re no longer one of the 99.

We’re the one who has strayed.

We are the one who has become lost.

We can’t find our way home.

We need to be rescued.

We need saved.

 

Jesus throws us a line

Just as we’re ready to slip beneath the waves.

Grab hold of that line, beloved peeps.

Allow Jesus to pull you in and return you home.

 

Wow! The rescue makes God rejoice!

 

….

 

Resentful.

 

True confession, number two:

I am not as inclusive, tolerant, and non-judgmental

As I would like you to think that I am.

I don’t like hanging around people who are resentful.

 

When I’m around resentful people,

I start to become resentful, too.

 

Just as the Parable of the Lost Sheep reveals essential truth about God

If we associate ourselves with the one sheep who is lost,

It also works if we think of ourselves as one of the 99 left behind.

 

“The Good Shepherd wouldn’t have to leave us unprotected,”

we angrily think to ourselves,

“If that fool hadn’t strayed away and gotten themselves lost.”

 

Resentful people look at what others got and

Wish they had more.

Resentful people look at what others have and

Wish others had less.

 

Resentful people live a life of comparison

And desire to one-up the neighbor.

“Those refugee families get a job and nice apartment at a discount.

No one ever did that for me.

I picked myself up by my own bootstraps.”

 

“The neighbor got herself a ‘she shed.’

Now I want one, too.

Only bigger.”

 

“The dude plays the Lottery one time and

Strikes it rich.

Not fair! Grrrr!”

 

I just don’t like resentment.

Resentment is ugly in others.

I don’t like it when it wells up in me.

Like indigestion, resentment leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

 

Resentful people are also delusional,

Believing grace is a zero-sum game.

“Your benefit comes at my expense,” or

“My loss results in your win.”

 

This is what it sounds like:

“The rich get richer, and I just keep getting poorer and poorer.”

 

These Gospel parables teach us just the opposite.

God’s grace is so abundant,

So lavish,

So over the top,

there is enough to go around for everyone.

 

God is ready, willing, and able to put the kingdom on hold

While he goes to save the one.

That’s how much God loves each of us.

That’s how bountiful is God’s grace.

 

Amazing grace, how sweet

… is that sound?

 

When it comes to grace, everyone wins.

Drop the comparisons, the envy, the resentment.

Lay down that burden

At the foot of the cross of Jesus.

 

Recognition of God’s grace

Takes the hot air of self-righteousness

right out of even the biggest blow hard.

 

This is my witness:

Grace opens my eyes.

I didn’t pick myself up by my own bootstraps.

God gave me life, knew me before I was born.

God gave me health and breath;

God gave me skills, talents, and education;

God sent to me parents, mentors, friends, teachers, pastors, and counselors.

 

It wasn’t me.

It’s always been God.

 

The tidal wave of God’s grace opens my eyes:

I simply showed up,

Surrendered to God,

And the rest takes care of itself.

It’s never been about Todd,

It’s always been about God.

 

Hallelujah! Praise God!

 

This is my witness;

What is your witness?

Have you shared it with others?

Make it a point to share your story of God’s grace in your life this coming week.

Witness your gratitude.

 

Indeed, the antidote for being poisoned by resentment is gratitude;

Being grateful to God

… for what God has done,

… for what God is doing,

… for God’s abundant grace and abiding love,

… for where God is leading us,

… for what God is revealing.

 

…..

 

Beloved members, friends, guests, and visitors

Let us be convicted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let us live as one who is lost, rescued by God,

Bringing God great joy!

Let us replace grumbling and resentment with gratitude,

Immersed completely in God’s grace and love.

 

To God be the glory!

Everything else is sheer joy!

Amen.

————–

 

“Counting the Costs”

Luke 14:25-33

8 September 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 14:25-33

 

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.

So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

 

Prayer.

 

The table talk has ended.

Farewells exchanged.

The host was glad to see him go.

 

As we heard last Sunday,

Jesus had schooled

The leader of the Pharisees and his invited friends

In a stinging lecture

Around his Sabbath day dinner table.

 

Their hubris had taken a hit.

Their selfish lack of charity

Revealed for all the world to see

Which master they truly served:

It wasn’t the Lord.

 

As Willie Nelson is known to sing,

Jesus was “On the Road Again.”

 

More than mere movement of geography,

Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem has symbolic meaning.

God’s redemptive plan had been set in motion.

Every step Jesus took

Was God’s plan for humankind being revealed.

 

Jesus moved south:

Teaching, preaching, preparing his disciples for his imminent absence.

Jesus moved south:

Healing, restoring, casting out demons, unbinding those bound by Satan.

 

Every step brings Jesus nearer to the cross,

Nearer to his suffering,

Nearer to redemption and forgiveness of sins,

Nearer to God’s surprising gift that lay three days beyond the grave.

 

Jesus moved south and the crowds grew larger:

Some curious to see the latest flavor of traveling evangelist,

Others hopeful their messianic expectations were being fulfilled with revolutionary uprising

and Rome would be kicked out by civil insurrection,

Still others gathering just to see what the fuss was all about.

 

Everyone loves a parade.

 

The intersection of the crowds expectation

and Jesus’ divine fulfillment of God’s greater plan

Is coming to a violent collision.

The masses who hope for an easy pass to heaven

are about to get a bucket of ice water thrown in the face.

 

The word “Hate” usually isn’t considered

one of the fruits of the Spirit.

“Hate” isn’t a word we usually associate with Jesus,

Yet, here it is, in all it’s Lukan glory.

“Hate” is the ice water no one saw coming.

Hate, or Miseó (μισέω), from the Greek,

Is about to separate the crowd

Like grain separated from the chaff.

 

“You want to follow me?” Jesus asks,

Transcending geography, culture, and time.

Wake up!

“You want to follow me?” Jesus asks us today,

Demanding our undivided attention.

 

Hate father and mother;

Hate spouse and children;

Hate brothers and sisters;

Hate your own life; and

While he was at it, he could have added

Hate flag and country, too.

 

The first of three conditions of discipleship is hate.

 

Don’t know about you,

But Jesus preaching hate

Doesn’t sit very well with me.

We’re talking family here.

We’re talking patriotism here.

Jesus, the God who creates life, hating life itself?

 

Take a deep breath.

There must be more to the story.

 

Miseó, as used here,

Is not the opposite of love.

Language scholars tell us

The word Luke uses here

Is a comparative,

Exposing contrasts to make a point,

To renounce one choice in favor of another.

(Strong’s Concordance, as found at: https://biblehub.com/greek/3404.htm)

 

Jesus is calling all would-be and experienced disciples

To make a moral choice,

Elevating commitment to him

Over and above commitment to everything which we hold dear;

Our families,

Even our own life.

 

Instead of country first,

Instead of family first,

Jesus’ first condition of discipleship is:

6

Jesus first.

 

Like the allies terms of surrender,

Jesus is uncompromising.

 

Can Washington or Albany

Forgive your sins or save your soul?

Family can and should be

the most loving, caring, social support one can have.

But I have yet to meet a parent, spouse, sibling, or child

That redeems us from judgment

or saves us into eternal life.

 

“Jesus First” is the Lord’s enlistment poster.

 

……..

 

So, Jesus just lost half the crowd.

He’s about to lose half of what’s left

When his second condition for discipleship is deeply considered.

 

“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me

cannot be my disciple.” (14:27)

Expecting death by crucifixion,

Jesus knew how the machinery of capital punishment

made mincemeat of all those sucked into its path.

Luke, writing from an after-the-fact, historical point of view,

Intentionally keeps the burner on high,

For his reality, and that of the first century Church,

Was martyrdom.

 

Jesus’ condition for all disciples

Was, and remains to this day,

Radical self-denial.

 

Follow Jesus.

Be prepared to give up your life.

Live prepared to die.

 

Deny my self-interest

To advance the Lord’s interest.

Deny my self-preservation

To pick up my cross, and

Be crucified right there

alongside with Jesus.

 

Martyrdom is what love looks like

In a Jesus first economy.

 

The Apostle Paul wrote

to the fledgling, persecuted church in Rome,

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

(Romans 8:35-39)

 

The Lord of resurrection

Does not allow death to win.

 

The temptation is to grow tired,

Lose faith, and

set down the cross of Jesus.

 

The temptation is to walk away,

Fearful of death,

Uncertain of eternal life.

“It’s just too hard,”

“Jesus demands too much,”

we’ve heard many complain.

“I’m not certain that even I have it in me,” I sometimes wonder

In a momentary crisis of faith.

 

Consider the cost.

Am I ready to die for the one who died for me?

Only a fool would fail to consider the cost of discipleship.

 

Consider the cost.

Think of the risks, consequences, and benefits.

Family will laugh and friends will pretend like they never knew us.

That’s okay by me;

I’d rather hang out with Jesus followers anyways.

When I love God and love neighbors,

Neighbors become my extended family.

 

Consider the cost.

Reflect on the power of God’s love

That binds us to Christ,

That is just as uncompromising,

That never lets us go.

 

Is it worth the risk?

It is for me.

 

…………

 

One half of the remaining quarter

Probably meant there weren’t many willing candidates for discipleship left in the crowd following Jesus.

Jesus is salting the crowd really good.

 

Oh, yeah.

One last thing, Jesus tells us.

It’s kind of like his third condition of discipleship is an afterthought.

He says:

“None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” 

(14:33)

 

Here we are headed into the season of

stewardship, pledge cards, and fund drives.

“Isn’t that convenient, Pastor Todd?” you may sarcastically ask.

 

Jesus isn’t asking for ten percent;

Jesus wants it all.

 

Yikes!

There goes the rest of the crowd,

Leaving the remaining few

standing alone before our Lord,

Hat in hand,

Weighing the cost of following Jesus.

 

This radical renunciation of money, possessions, and things

Caused the rich young ruler to walk away from Jesus.

At the same time,

Such a strict condition of discipleship isn’t made of Zacchaeus.

Jesus didn’t demand he give everything away.

 

Zacchaeus, exposed of his sin,

Was convicted to volunteer to Jesus

One half of his possessions to be given to the poor, and

To repay fourfold to anyone who he defrauded. (19:8)

 

Jesus wants it all,

But it isn’t all about money.

It’s about our heart;

Where our allegiance lies.

 

Soon to come in a future Gospel passage,

(Quite possibly next week!)

Jesus concludes his story about a dishonest manager by teaching,

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

(16:13)

 

Is Jesus worth the cost?

He is for me.

 

…………

 

Beloved members, friends, guests and visitors of our Rush United Methodist family

Do not fear the conditions of discipleship.

 

We can calculate the cost and make the sacrifice,

Not individually,

Because not one of us,

Myself included,

Has the sufficient strength of faith or purity of heart to be worthy of our King.

 

We can pay the price,

Because we are in this journey of faith together.

We are Christ’s Body;

The embodiment of God’s love.

We are strength and support for one another.

 

Have no fear.

Be confident!

Together, God can get every last one of Christ’s disciples

Through the eye of any old needle.

 

We can do this,

Because redemption and salvation

Have already been won.

Victory and life have been won

By Jesus Christ, our Lord.

 

……..

 

Count the cost.

Consider carefully.

Jesus first.

Jesus to die for.

Jesus without any reservations.

 

Is Jesus worth the cost?

He is for me.

Join me, will you?

Let’s travel this journey together.

Amen.

……….

“An Invitation to the Table”

Luke 14:1, 7-14

September 1, 2019

the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 14:1, 7-14

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

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

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

1

Prayer.

 

Today’s gospel lesson

is a continuation of St. Luke’s narrative

reporting from the heart of Jesus’ ministry

– healing, teaching, and preaching.

 

Jesus is preparing his disciples

for the near future when he would be

physically absent from their presence.

He is laying the groundwork for His Church,

and us today,

by giving us the elemental ideals and essential truth

for leading a Christian life.

 

Today’s lesson could be placed

into the category of “Table Talks”

about the kingdom of God.

Jesus is teaching while he is eating,

sharing his table with others,

breaking bread and sharing wine,

with both his disciples,

and, with his host, a leader of the Pharisees,

and the Pharisee’s colleagues.

 

St. Luke’s editors label this section as “a parable.” (Verse 7).

This is somewhat inaccurate.

I don’t believe Jesus

would have used the word “parable”

to describe his narrative in this location.

There isn’t any story or tale that imparts a larger truth.

Jesus is simply teaching by directive.

“When you do this, then you should do that.”

 

While these are not parables (strictly speaking),

Jesus is using allegory and symbolism

to describe what the kingdom of heaven is like.

In effect, he is saying,

 

“The kingdom of heaven is like ….

When you attend a wedding banquet …

take the lowest seat.

 

The kingdom of heaven is like ….

When you host a luncheon or a dinner ….

Invite those who can never repay you.”

 

Jesus is painting on a brand-new palate;

creating a landscape of what the kingdom of heaven is like.

At the same time,

Jesus is telling us the nature of the rules for the kingdom.

Much to our surprise,

the rules for the kingdom are

topsy-turvy,

upside down,

Revolutionary (some would say),

completely upending our expectations.

……….

 

Whether we were living

in the life and times of Jesus,

or today, 2,000 years later,

one of the most important social rules

is that we are born with a Darwinian sense of self-preservation, and raised to look out for “number one.”

 

Self-interest is the motivation of so much of what we do.

We are always thinking

in the back of our minds

when we give

what we can get back.

 

I give to United Way at the office …

so the boss will notice and think more highly of me.

I give at home …

so the kids will love me back,

or so I can get something from my spouse.

I give at the church …

so I can get good worship,

good Sunday school and youth fellowship, or

good mission and outreach options.

 

I give … so I can get.

 

In today’s lesson,

Jesus is challenging this basic assumption.

 

Instead of looking out for number one,

our fundamental concern should be to serve God’s interest.

 

This means giving away,

making a sacrifice;

making our self-interest secondary

to God’s primary interest.

This means subjecting my will

To Thy will (be done).

 

This is a recognition that we are God’s own

and that one day we will return to God;

making God’s interest the focus and motivation of our faith.

 

It means we substitute the question,

“what do I want to do?”

with “what does God want me to do?”

 

Consider for a moment

If all the world would discern deeply,

“What does God want me to do?”

 

There are many,

(some would say) way too many,

who use the name of God

to promote self-interest

– to obtain power, authority, control, or wealth.

Let us not be tempted to make the same mistake.

 

Don’t confuse my will with God’s interests.

 

In the inverted world of God’s greatest concerns,

we hear today Jesus teaching

that being humble,

and lifting up the most vulnerable members of society

– the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind –

– those least likely to be able to repay you –

this is God’s concern,

and therefore,

should be our greatest concern, too.

 

Being humble and

lifting up the most vulnerable

Is God’s intentional desire.

 

Two thoughts.

 

1. First of all, seek the humble and lowly way through life.

Humility means that the interest of others

comes before our own …

like at a wedding banquet.

Let others have more honorable seats.

Take your place at the lowest place.

 

Pastors and church leaders eat last.

 

Lowliness springs from gratitude.

Be thankful to be invited in the first place!

After all,

consider the fact that none of us have done anything to deserve God’s invitation to the banquet.

 

Consider our sinful nature …

can we presume to approach the majesty of God

Worthy of God’s amazing grace?

A lowly approach springs from the reverence

we should be offering to God.

 

Humility is the Disciples’ place in life.

It requires a discipline of reflection, meditation, and prayer.

Humility embraces silence

And recognizes the intrinsic value of becoming still,

Awareness of God’s presence, and

The ability to trust in God’s direction.

Humility lifts up our God above all other competitors,

Shielding us from the temptation of idolatry.

 

Jesus punctuates this narrative

with his topsy-turvy, upside down rule of the kingdom

by saying in the 11th verse,

“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled

and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

 

Seek the humble and lowly road.

 

2. The second point of the kingdom is made

when Jesus turns his attention

from the guest of the dinner party

to speak directly to the host.

He looks to the Pharisee and his friends.

Jesus directs them to not invite their friends when they host a party.

 

Instead, extend hospitality and generosity

to those who cannot repay it.

 

We are usually hospitable because of what it can gain us.

Be nice to visitors and guests at church,

we might be able to persuade them to return.

Be nice to our friends when they come to dinner,

for you never know when it will come time they can repay you.

Hospitality as a quid pro quo

has no merit with God;

Selfish hospitality is nothing more than self-interest.

 

God’s interest is elsewhere.

 

God is most interested in making sure

that those who are most in need

and least able to repay

are the ones being served.

 

Jesus just gives an example

of the kinds of people in his day and age

that would be God’s most suitable guests

– the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.

 

Today, updated language expands his sampling

to a much larger audience:

the widow, the shut-in, the elderly,

caregivers,

those with disabilities and differently abled,

the poor,

those suffering from chronic illness,

and new immigrants to our neighborhood.

 

Ronald Sider, a Christian social activist,

has made it his life purpose

to keep reminding us

that Christians are to have a special relationship with the poor.

 

He observes that global Christianity is wealthy.

We make up one-third of the world’s people,

but we receive two-thirds of the world’s income each year. Furthermore, he notes,

we spend 97% of our income on ourselves.

A mere 2% goes to Christian work or missions.

(Pulpit Resources, August 29, 2004)

 

All this takes place at the same time

when almost half of the world,

over three billion people,

live on less than $2.50 a day,

and 80% live on less than $10 a day.

According to UNICEF,

22,000 children die each day due to poverty.

Nearly a billion people are unable to read a book or sign their name.

Less than 1% of what is spent globally on weapons each year

Could put every child through school.

(http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats)

 

Poverty is grinding.

 

……..

 

Who are we inviting to our table?

We serve God’s interest when we invite

the least, the lowly, the most vulnerable.

We serve God’s interest when we serve

those who cannot ever repay it.

We serve God’s interest when we

lose our self-interest first.

 

The topsy-turvy, upside down rule of God’s heavenly kingdom

is punctuated by Jesus

for the second time in verse 14, when he says,

 

“And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you,

for you will be repaid,” Jesus promises,

“at the resurrection of the righteous.”

 

You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

Let that sink in for a moment.

 

Let’s face it;

Jesus would be a challenging person to invite to dinner.

He goes as an invited guest

and immediately criticizes

both his host and his fellow guests.

 

But social etiquette is not so much Jesus’ concern

as is preparing his disciples for the emerging kingdom of God.

Jesus has bigger fish to fry.

 

His concern is you and me

– what are we going to make our ultimate concern in life –

satisfying the self, or satisfying God?

 

There is no time to waist.

 

Indeed, God’s kingdom begins here and now,

not in some future time or after we die.

It starts with our response to the challenge of the Gospel.

It begins when we assume a posture of humility.

It begins when we extend hospitality and generosity

to those who are most in need.

 

Dearly beloved members, guests, visitors, and friends of Rush,

whose interest will you serve this day?

Amen.

———————————————————————–

“Set Free”

Luke 13:10-17

August 25, 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 13:10-17

 

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

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

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

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

 

Prayer.

 

This magnificent Gospel passage,

Only found in St. Luke,

Gives us a unique path directly to the heart of Jesus.

 

In the Gospel of St. Luke

Pay attention to who Jesus sees.

 

Jesus sees a woman who was invisible.

Literally, she was bent over;

Curvature of the spine, for one reason or another,

Placed her face outside the field of vision of nearly everyone.

 

Loss of eye contact leads to distance.

Social distance increases,

Revealing increased isolation.

Her name is forgotten.

Her identity assumes the name of the least common denominator: “woman.”

 

This woman’s withdrawal from family, friends and synagogue

Reveals another imperfection.

The community’s indifference is exposed.

 

It is as if

One day

She disappeared.

 

For 18 years

She got the cold shoulder.

Her name was not remembered,

Her story was forgotten, and

Nobody cared.

 

It’s kind of like dropping out of church and no one noticing.

 

Pay attention to who Jesus sees.

 

A spirit had crippled her, Luke reports.

The language and history are clear.

Luke uses the language at hand to report that

Her condition violates God’s will for her life.

This woman is not demon possessed,

As is often assumed.

Through no fault of her own, she is tragically broken.

 

She is broken,

Not only because of her physical impairment,

But because her physical limitation

Makes her invisible to the community

And makes it impossible for her to fulfill God’s will for her life.

 

This woman is bound

And imprisoned by her chronic inability to stand up and be seen.

Until Jesus sees her.

Until Jesus calls her over.

Until Jesus laid his hands on her.

 

She is healed.

She stands up straight.

She is seen and the community is made whole once again.

The imperfection has been repaired as if it never happened.

She is liberated to once again serve the Lord, and

Her immediate response is praise!

 

Jesus restores her identity:

She is a daughter of Abraham.

Jesus proclaims what healing has done:

This daughter of Abraham has been set free from bondage this sabbath day to love and serve the Lord!

 

Set free.

Liberated.

It’s as if it is God’s will to heal.

(Of course, it is!)

God desires the broken to be healed.

 

Pay attention to who Jesus sees.

Jesus sees

The tragically broken.

When seen

The bound are liberated and set free.

 

All of which

Begs us to ask the existential question:

Who are the tragically broken that Jesus sees, yet we do not?

Who are the people unable to fulfill God’s will for their lives

Because they are broken and unnoticed?

 

You’ll never see if you don’t go looking.

 

………….

 

This past week I went looking;

I was privileged to join the Outreach team from our church

That serves lunch downtown once a month

Volunteering with “A Meal and More Ministries.”

 

Healthy meals are served to members of our community who are not seen:

Sons and daughters of Abraham

Who struggle with addictions and homelessness,

Unemployment and mental health issues,

Tragically broken families and former lives.

 

This was Wednesday’s menu: salad, Cajun roast chicken, mashed potatoes, macaroni salad, mixed vegetables, buttered bread, and a cupcake for desert.

 

One woman came to the counter and asked for fruit.

The chef smiled warmly.

Without hesitation, he served up a heaping bowl of fruit from a refrigerated pan.

He cryptically said to me, “We don’t serve fruit because no one eats it.”

 

(Puzzled) I was looking, but I wasn’t seeing what Jesus was seeing.

 

The chef told me her story:

This woman is addicted to heroin.

Her boyfriend of over twenty years died three months ago of an overdose.

All her family has died, either of overdose or of other causes.

She is all alone.

She only eats fruit: one bowl every Wednesday and one bowl every Sunday.

That’s all she eats.

“That’s why I always have fruit in the fridge and I fill her bowl full.”

“Just as you did it to one of the least of these … you did it to me,” he explained. (Matthew 25:40)

 

Two bowls of fruit a week doesn’t cure her addiction

But it does liberate this woman from isolation.

For a time she is fed; her stomach and her soul.

She is filled by the grace and mercy of the ministry and

By the social unity of those seated at her table.

 

Alan the chef sees a daughter of Abraham as if he was looking through the eyes of Jesus,

Because he is.

 

…………….

 

Who does Jesus see that we don’t?

You’ll never see if you don’t go looking.

 

Sometimes broken vases are obvious;

They’re shattered.

Nothing is left but rubble.

A big mess.

It’s easy to look for the tragically broken and find rubble.

 

Once aware, a response can be immediate:

Think about a family left homeless after a house fire, or

Communities flooded after a natural disaster, like Hurricane Katrina.

 

The need is obvious.

Glasses aren’t needed.

Everyone can see what needs done.

Everyone pitches in and helps as each are able.

Some pray, some fundraise, some donate, some travel and muck out basements.

There’s something for everyone.

 

Sometimes a broken vase has a fatal crack;

Even though it looks intact.

The crack is turned to the backside,

Hidden from public view.

Looking requires searching,

Active seeking,

Intentionally engaging

The world as if we are the eyes and hands of Jesus.

Because we are.

 

When I think of hidden brokenness,

I think of caregivers;

People who give up life, jobs, freedom, everything …

To care for an aging loved one,

To care for a disabled spouse or child, or

To raise grandchildren, or great grandchildren.

Caregivers may look like they’re holding it all together,

But may be frantically struggling just to keep from being sucked under the flood and drowned.

 

Look for caregivers in the community.

When you see one,

Reach out to one.

A prayer. A gift. A visit. An embrace.

 

When I think of hidden brokenness,

I think of people who struggle with addictions, anxiety, or depression.

The stigma is too embarrassing to reveal to anyone

Other than one’s most trusted confidants.

The tragically broken are awash in a storm

Of guilt,

A sense of moral failure,

And a fear of being judged.

 

Look for people and families that struggle with addictions and mental health problems.

When you see one,

Reach out to one.

A prayer. A gift. A visit. An embrace.

 

………….

 

Actively looking as if looking through the eyes of Jesus

Requires intentional effort and willing sacrifice.

 

It is not sufficient to see the humanitarian crisis

Simply by watching network or cable news stories from our Southern border.

 

To see,

To bring healing to the broken,

To liberate those who are bound,

Requires me to go;

To intentionally travel to the source of bondage.

This is why I travel on short-term mission trips to Guatemala.

 

I’d never see the homelessness and malnutrition

If I wasn’t there

Building houses and passing out food.

I’d never see the violence done, especially to women and children,

If I didn’t distribute clothing and shoes.

I’d never know the isolation of bent over sons and daughters of Abraham

If I failed to take part in fitting people to wheelchairs.

 

My invitation to you:

Join me.

Come, look and see, and heal

Next August

When I hope to return to Guatemala.

 

……………….

 

It is God’s will to heal

The tragically broken,

The nameless,

The invisible.

 

It is God’s will to liberate the bound:

Caregivers,

Those living in slavery to addiction,

Those suffering from mental health issues,

Families hungry, homeless, victimized, neighbors near and far away.

 

Look and see,

beloved members and friends of Rush.

Look and see as if you are the eyes of Jesus,

Because you are.

 

Look and see as if you are the healing hands of Jesus,

beloved people of Rush, our friends and our guests,

Because you are.

 

Seek the tragically broken of the world,

Because healing mean liberation.

Liberation is life,

Even eternal life.

Amen.

…………..

“Bringing Division? Oh, My!”

Luke 12:49-56

18 August 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

(https://breakingyokes.org/2019/08/15/bringing-division-oh-my/)

Luke 12:49-56

1

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

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

Prayer.

Anyone a little unnerved?

Anyone uncomfortable with the Gospel?

Anyone upset by Jesus teaching his disciples and the crowds

That he brings division to families?

That he brings division to the earth?

If you’re not the least bit fazed by Jesus

And his confrontational characteristic

Most poignantly piqued in Luke,

Then I suggest someone in your row

Run out the back door,

Grab the defibrillator,

(Mounted on the wall by the conference room)

Hook you up,

And ZAP you back to life!

If you are unfazed by Jesus

You don’t have a pulse.

Bringing division? Oh, my …

When I was younger,

Starting my sixth year out of seminary,

I served the church in Palmyra,

One of four churches on four corners.

The United Methodist sign was prominent and easy to read by drivers waiting at the stop light.

I had posted on the sign a cute, catchy phrase:

“Bible and Family Values”.

After hearing these words of Jesus in Luke 12

I now see how ineffective this casual slogan was.

Conflicting promises don’t sell and can never be kept.

“I’ve come to bring fire!” Jesus pronounces,

And “How I wish it were already kindled!” (12:49)

It’s as if Jesus is eager to bring judgment,

Blame and shame to the world.

Jesus isn’t blaming and shaming you,

And neither am I.

My goodness,

I’ve only been on the job here in Rush for six weeks.

Were just getting to know one another!

A little context.

Jesus is in the same setting as last Sunday;

Teaching the crowds and his disciples on his way to Jerusalem.

Remember how he began last week:

“Do not be afraid, little flock,

For it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (12:32)

Today, Jesus is calling in fire!

How does one reconcile such neck snapping changes in his mood?

Let’s talk about fire.

Our Euro-centric, affluent, Protestant culture

Has brought to the Lord and his kingdom many wonderful advances;

At the same time it has limited and constrained our world view.

Our blinders make it difficult to recognize the unintended consequences of well meaning actions.

Fire is a great example.

We hear Jesus bringing fire and many of us

Immediately jump to the conclusion

That it is God intense desire to smote sinners.

Napalm ‘em.

Hell fire.

Brimstone.

Judgment.

Destruction.

Retribution.

Sinners go to hell.

The righteous go to heaven.

Tic, Toc.

Black, white.

Thumbs up. Thumbs down.

In referring to preachers who deliver this type shame, blame, and pain message week after week,

My father-in-law was fond of saying

“She/He suffers from a poor theological education.”

Others just call it bad theology.

I’d suggest a belief in a God of destruction, judgment, and retribution

Is simply undeveloped and uninformed;

Absent of the grace and love found in

A fully developed scriptural understanding

Of God’s role in salvation history.

Fire.

Remember these words from Exodus,

“At the morning watch the Lord

In the pillar of fire and cloud

Looked down upon the Egyptian army,

And threw the Egyptian army into panic.” (Exodus 14:24)

Also, from Exodus,

“Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently.” (Exodus 19:18)

Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“See, the name of the Lord comes from far away,

   burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke;

his lips are full of indignation,

   and his tongue is like a devouring fire”. (Isaiah 30:27)

Recall the prophet Jeremiah,

“Is not my word like fire, says the Lord,

and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29)

I’d suggest

When Jesus calls down fire upon the earth and

Wish it were already kindled

He is calling down

The presence of God, to a godless world;

The power of God, to effect change in the face of resistance;

The persistence of God, to ensure unrighteousness, idolatry, and injustice can not stand,

Will not be tolerated,

In God’s presence.

Calling down God is

Our Lord’s deepest desire for

The well being of the world.

Jesus is calling down God and

That’s going to break up some families.

For members of the family that actively resist the Lord,

Those who lust after power, possessions, and embrace the evil powers of this world,

This is really bad news.

There is no unity;

In fact, calls for unity at all costs should never be trusted.

There is no compromise.

There can be no harmony

With darkness.

Christ divides us from the Devil and his followers.

In this case, division is a good thing.

Choose carefully those with whom you associate and

Those who need to be kept at arms length.

Watch for those drawn to Christ.

Buddy up with them.

Christ’s divisive nature doesn’t mean Jesus is opposed to peace.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

I quickly count twelve citations in the Gospel of Luke

(There may be more)

Where Jesus brings the peace.

Being separated from all that is evil

Frees us from temptation,

Releases us from every sin that enslaves us, and

Brings about the transformation of the world,

The emergence of God’s kingdom.

Jesus is calling down God and

That’s going to divide households.

For members of the family that fail to actively prepare for our Master to return, this is a wake up call.

Repent.

Light your lamps.

Keep awake.

Watch.

Wait for the Lord.

God’s presence and fire

sheds light

On the division that is already among us.

The house is already divided.

Have we not seen?

Have we not heard?

A country divided.

A denomination divided.

A church divided.

This is the temptation:

That each of us think we are right about every divisive issue.

Anyone who thinks otherwise

Becomes a threat,

A source of fear,

The focus of contempt.

Human arrogance and pride draw us into the vortex of darkness.

Light your lamp and trim your wick.

The presence and light of God,

In the words and actions of Jesus,

Saves us from the darkness.

God’s ways and will is far more expansive than our limited world view.

God plan exceeds our life span,

Our generation,

Always arcing upward.

God’s salvation history that has yet to be written

Is transforming the world one heartbeat at a time

Into the kingdom of God.

Jesus is calling down God and

That’s going to bring division.

For members of the family that follow Jesus, and actively strive to follow his word, will, and way,

Have no fear.

Do not be afraid, little flock.

Jesus knew that

Following him

Would divide people from those

Who wanted to remain waiting for their Messiah.

Following Jesus would split people from their synagogue, and

Require them to join up and create new communities of faith.

And so it did.

And so it does, to this day.

In an ironic kind of way,

The Church multiplies by division.

Division is now and will be until the time

When our Master returns and we hear:

“Time is up.

Put down your pencil.”

Preparation is everything.

Take nothing for granted.

The clock will one day run out.

Do not be afraid, little flock.

It’s not like none of us have ever dealt with dysfunction in our families.

Everyone has a closet full of skeletons.

Secrets love the darkness and

Secrets are always a sign and symptom of dysfunction.

By the power and presence of God we can overcome!

We can shed light on darkness,

And bring healing to the broken.

But how?

The broken don’t heal themselves.

Allow me to be crystal clear.

I can’t fix broken relationships.

Neither am I anyone’s Savior.

Like John the Baptist,

I can only point to the Way.

The only pathway to healing

Is unity with Jesus Christ,

Our Lord, and our Savior.

By his blood, we are healed.

Because of his resurrection, we are saved.

Jesus is the only place in the cosmic order

Where unity can be found.

Do not be afraid.

Be prepared.

Walk in the presence of God’s fire.

The pathway of God’s kingdom

May be difficult.

At least we follow the One who knows the way!

Amen.

—————————————

“Our Father’s Good Pleasure”

Luke 12:32-40

11 August 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 12:32-40

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

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

Prayer.

Fear is a powerful motivator.

Fear has been a tool of many:

Nations, dictators, and their military,

Law enforcement and criminal justice,

Schools, nuns and principals, even

Organized religion.

Fear of going to hell

Has been effectively defining what is

and what isn’t

acceptable behavior

For Catholic and Christian Conservative cousins

For centuries.

Hell and damnation

Drove the Church to the

Altar of indulgences, and to the

Golden calf of wealth.

Two early Church Fathers,

St. Athanasius and St. John Chrysostom,

Are credited with the observation that

“The pathway to hell is paved with the skulls of priests.”

Clergy who fail to take notice of these words are either ignorant or dead.

This is the humble fear I experience

Every time I place the yoke of the ordination stole

On my shoulders and around my neck.

Many long for the benefits of ordination;

Few recognize the deadly risks and dangers.

Crucifixion is for keeps.

Fear is a two-sided actor performing on the stage of life.

The positive results of fear include

A fight or flight neurochemical response that serves self-preservation.

Healthy fear contributes to

Discipline and conformity.

Healthy fear leads to faithful diligence.

There are some negative, unintended consequences of fear.

Chronic fear can lead to normalization;

Eventually, the adrenalin rush just wears off.

We let our guard down and in rush the wolves.

Fear can drive people over the edge.

People can be pushed an inch too far,

Throw in the towel and just walk away.

Fear can lead to decline and failure.

Empty are the cathedrals of Europe and

Many mainline churches in America.

Jesus,

In the Gospel of Luke

Begs us to ask the deeply existential question,

“What is it that we fear?”

What do you fear?

Aging, disease, suffering, death?

The safety of loved ones? Yourself?

Running out of money?

The humiliation of getting fired, caught, or dropping down the socio-economic ladder?

What do we fear as the Rush United Methodist Church?

Decline in membership or attendance?

Not able to pay our bills? Raise enough money? Keep the property in repair?

Disengagement from missions and ministries that are central to our culture, identity, and faith?

Division in the denomination that demands a divided and contentious response?

What is it that we fear?

When we peel back the lid containing our deepest fears

And honestly examine what we find,

The Gospel sings the tender assurance of Jesus saying,

“Do not be afraid, little flock.” (12:32)

Do not be afraid,

Jesus echoes the familiar reframe of Old Testament / Hebrew prophets;

Casting the tapestry for his audience

(including all of us here today)

Of our Heavenly Father’s greatest characteristics.

Be assured

It is God’s desire to give us God’s greatest gift;

His kingdom.

So, here’s the deal:

God good pleasure is to give us his kingdom.

The King wants to give his servants everything!

Have you ever heard of that?!!!

Therefore, we need of nothing.

Baptism claims our status as citizens of God’s kingdom.

We need nothing of this world

Other than a connection with God,

A personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Kingdom living isn’t about obtaining more;

God is already giving us everything.

Kingdom living is all about being good managers,

Good stewards,

Of what God has already given.

Kingdom living is abundant living.

The grace and love of God,

Demonstrated through the words and deeds of Jesus,

Meets our needs and

Exceeds our needs!

God’s grace and love floods into our life,

Spilling over into our neighbor’s lives;

Floating us from this life

To the life that is to come.

Christian discipleship is living in a seller’s market.

Sell possessions, Jesus tells us. (12:33)

They’re distracting.

We don’t need them, anyways.

Give alms, Jesus tells us. (12:33)

Alms are gifts of charity to the poor.

When giving to the poor,

There is no expectation of reciprocity.

The poor can’t pay you back.

Nor should they.

Sell, and it’s gone.

Give. No strings attached.

Give it away and don’t expect anything to be returned.

Kingdom living radically separates us

From the wealth and possessions of this world

And ropes us into relationship with our neighbors,

Specifically, our poorest neighbors,

In God’s kingdom world.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” Jesus correctly observes. (12:34)

I never knew how many Subaru Outbacks there were on the road

Until I bought one of my own.

Now, that’s all I see.

It seems like everyone is driving an Outback!

In a similar way,

Jesus recognizes that when we

Use the proceeds from our garage sales and

Give the proceeds to the poor,

Our heart follows.

The heart follows the gift.

We begin to notice the poor more.

We begin to see the poverty that was always present,

But it was the (Jesus directed) gift of charity

That removed the scales from our eyes.

Invest in charity,

Time, talent, money, and

God’s kingdom comes into laser focus.

The kingdom reveals itself.

Our heart follows and is forever the Lord’s.

When Luke knits this all together with

This simple parable about the unexpected return of the master

There is revealed in today’s Gospel one additional essential truth about God:

Faithful discipleship demands diligence.

Waiting is not idling.

Waiting is firing on all cylinders,

Revving the engine,

Kicking in the turbocharger,

Popping the clutch, and

Squealing the tires.

Waiting is working with diligence,

Taking the best care of the Kingdom we’ve already been given.

Waiting means leading by serving,

Serving those who would otherwise be expected to serve and

Serving those who could never repay you.

Faithful diligence in kingdom living

Removes the fear of the unexpected return of Jesus

And the outcome of our forthcoming judgment.

Fear of judgment is gone!

“Do not be afraid, little flock,” Jesus said.

God is happy to give you everything.

God is giving us his kingdom.

It’s up to us to take care of it.

Amen.

“Foolish Abundance”

1

Luke 12:13-21

4 August 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 12:13-21

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

Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’

But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’

So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Prayer.

I like my financial advisor.

We’ve been going to him for years.

He’s got a nice office in an upscale building.

The coffee is free and the bathrooms are immaculate.

When I saw him a few weeks ago

I didn’t ask him what he thought about

this narrative and parable from Luke,

But I wish I had.

My guess is that he would appeal to my conservative financial sensibilities:

What has the rich farmer done wrong?

One could argue that he is wise and responsible,

Investing for the long-term.

He operates a thriving business.

Production is efficient and has led to an excess of supply.

What’s wrong with setting aside savings for future golden years?

….

“Guard against all kinds of greed,” Jesus tells us. (12:15)

The problem of greed,

Jesus correctly observes,

is that it steals the focus away from God,

away from neighbors and one another,

– where life is lived –

and inappropriately places our focus on the abundance of possessions.

When we chose possessions over people

we surrender our lives

and find ourselves increasingly isolated.

When we chose possessions over God

we surrender our souls

and find ourselves increasingly without meaning.

The issue does not appear to be one of quantity.

In other words, I find little evidence in the Gospels

that wealth, per se, is evil.

God and wealth both have claim on us.

Face it, we need stuff to live.

We have to carry a balance to avoid bouncing checks.

We have to make plans for our future finances

when we no longer earn a paycheck.

The issue continually addressed by Jesus

Is about where our priorities lie.

Where is life focused?

Do you think about things?

Have you given the Amazon app a good work out this past week?

Do you daily check the stock market or fluctuations in net worth?

Do you obsess about money or things?

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

We’re not listening to the whisper of the Spirit

about God’s will for our lives.

We’re not paying attention to God’s plan for our riches and things.

This is the Gospel’s promise:

If we keep our eye on Jesus,

Listen to and prioritize every word he speaks,

and live according to the will of the Holy Spirit,

God will get each of us through the eye

of any old needle.

Life doesn’t consist in the abundance of possessions.

Life only has meaning when it’s lived

faithfully according to the will of God.

Not for nothing,

but when one person has abundance

it often means

it has come at the expense of another.

When we see huge differences in wealth,

where people with much

live next to people with little

– poverty, hunger, powerlessness –

a culture of greed is nurtured and fertilized.

Is this the world Jesus wanted to preserve?

Absolutely not!

Christians cannot be in the business of nurturing and growing greed.

Loving our neighbor means

reaching out from our abundance,

– be it two pennies or two million –

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

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

This is not political.

This is all about the kingdom of heaven that Jesus is creating

Right here on earth,

Right here in Rush.

….

Today’s parable from Jesus is correctly titled

“The Parable of the Rich Fool”.

Fools are not unique to wealthy people.

In my humble opinion

fools are evenly distributed across the clergy and the socioeconomic spectrum.

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

His foolishness operates at many levels.

First, this rich farmer is a lone ranger.

He lives life in isolation.

He thinks to himself.

He questions himself.

He draws conclusions by himself.

Where is his family?

Perhaps they are engaged in an inheritance dispute

Like the one that led to this parable.

Where are his farm workers?

Wouldn’t a wise manager consult their staff? Their workers?

Where are his neighbors?

We hear nothing about living in relationship within a larger community,

Seeking wisdom, experience, or guidance.

How is God supposed to speak

If not through the words and actions of neighbors?

Faith in isolation, in the absence of community, is folly.

What a fool.

Secondly, the argument can be made that the rich man is a poor planner.

Granted, farming success or failure

ebbs and flows with the seasons and the weather.

Most farmers I’ve known are modest, conservative members of the Grange.

This rich man planted way too much for his established capacity to harvest, store, market, and transport his crop.

Lets just say

He was in way over his head,

Rolling the dice at the high stakes table.

What a fool.

Thirdly, before you tear down the storage capacity you have

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

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

What happens if the contractor walked off the job?

or weather struck and building was delayed weeks on end,

Leaving crops to over ripen and rot in the fields?

Even I can see that this would be foolish.

What a fool.

Fourth, you’d rather place your faith

in storage capacity

than in God?

Seriously?

So, what happens when funnel clouds appear over the hill?

We’ve all seen the video of barns, silos, and flying cows.

Or what happens next year when drought hits and the oversized barns are empty?

Eventually food runs out.

Markets go up and markets go down.

But the everlasting love and sustenance of God never waivers.

It’s foolish to trust in anything but God!

Fifth, eat, drink, and be merry?

What about the farm workers

who made the abundant harvest possible?

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

by whose sweat and hard work

pulled you away from the brink of failure?

That’s mighty selfish of you.

How about throwing a party for those who earned it

and not for yourself

and your foolish failure to plan?

What a fool.

Lastly, the rich fool failed to plan for the most important thing:

His day of reckoning with God.

We all know a fool when we see one.

So does God.

“You fool!” God says to him.

What God gives, God can take away.

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

Abundance, given by God, will be redistributed

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

And what will it have gained you?

Is this the legacy you want to leave behind?

….

Meaning in life comes

when we make Jesus our life’s focus.

This is when we are rich towards God.

Meaning comes

when we slice out greed from our heart

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

Meaning comes

when we are so focused on Jesus

that the background noise of this world is drowned out

and we can only hear his Spirit’s whisper.

Greed is such an easy temptation;

this is why is must be greatly opposed.

No one is more greatly tempted than me.

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

a beautiful house,

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

Who wouldn’t want to attend a church

with a million-dollar endowment,

an excess of money in current expenses,

and carpeting without coffee stains?

Yet, these things take our eyes off the prize.

The prize is Jesus.

God has given us all that we need,

the question is

how are we distributing it?

My eyes are on Jesus

when I share generously out of my abundance.

My eyes are on Jesus

when I encourage others to listen to the Gospel

and apply the stewardship of Jesus to their lives, too.

Dearly beloved,

join me in storing up treasures towards God.

Let us stop building bigger barns

and let us build bigger the kingdom of God.

Amen.

………….

“Praying with Persistence”

Luke 11:1-13

July 28, 2019 – Proper 12, Year C

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 11:1-13

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

He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

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

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Prayer.

“Prayer catapults us,” Richard Foster writes

In his book Celebration of Discipline.

“Prayer catapults us

Onto the frontier of the spiritual life.”

(Celebration of Discipline The Path to Spiritual Growth, Foster, Richard J., Chapter 3, pg. 33)

The word catapult

Ignites my creative imagination.

In my mind’s eye I can begin to search for the connection between

A catapult and prayer:

October pumpkins being chucked by modern catapults to the delight of children, and

Jets in full afterburner being flung into flight off an aircraft carrier,

Come to mind.

Prayer, therefore, is about instant acceleration

From stationary to speed,

From potential energy to kinetic energy,

From passive inattention to full-court engagement

With our God.

Prayer.

Instant.

Maximum.

Fold your hands,

Close your eyes,

And expect to be shot out of a catapult

Directly into the heart of God.

Beloved,

Pray.

Pray often.

Pray on your own.

Pray with another.

Pray in silence.

Pray out loud.

Use prayer to ask for what is needed.

The temptation is to end the sermon here,

With this summary string of moralizations.

No, you’re not getting a 5 minute sermon,

Much to everyone’s disappointment!

The other temptation is to undress the Lord’s Prayer line by line.

We’d be here to 5 o’clock.

That’s not going to happen either,

Much to everyone’s relief!

………….

Where is the intersection of life and prayer? And

How can this impact our lives?

I’d suggest the Gospel of Luke begs us to be catapulted further –

Instantly accelerated

Into the frontier

Of Spiritual life.

Jesus creates for us a vision of what that spiritual frontier looks like

When he teaches disciples how to pray.

These are a few of the many gems I’ve discovered this week

I’m called to share with you:

  1. Jesus prepares himself for every significant life event by starting with prayer.

Jesus prayed at his Baptism,

Before starting his ministry in Galilee,

Before choosing his 12 disciples,

Before feeding 5,000,

Before miracles, healings, and exorcisms,

Before raising Lazarus from the dead,

Before turning towards Jerusalem and the start of his passion.

Jesus prayed in the garden and on the cross.

In each instance,

Jesus sought God’s thoughts,

Desired the things God desired,

Loved the things God loves,

Willed the things God willed.

Progressively, Jesus became the will of God

In the unfolding of God’s salvation history.

Prayer is God’s invitation

For you and me to become active participants

In God’s unfolding plans,

In God’s developing kingdom.

  1. Pray like this, “Our Father …”

Addressing God as Father is a desire

To obtain the same intimate relationship Jesus had

With his Heavenly Father.

In this day and age,

It is understandable to be gender sensitive

When it comes to speaking about our God

Who clearly displays both masculine and feminine loving parental characteristics.

Let us chase from our minds

Those hurtful images or experiences some of us have of an abusive parent.

Jesus wants more for you and me.

Jesus wants us to dwell with God,

To live with the Lord,

And to receive every benefit of his Father’s perfect, loving, generous, grace.

Likewise, Jesus desires to dwell in you and me,

To have a pathway of vulnerability opened to God

Where God can wholly enter and make a home in our lives.

  1. Praying the Lord’s Prayer is a statement about the God of our experience.

To do so is to stake the claim that

God is trustworthy.

God listens.

God’s nature is to be accessible and approachable.

Fear not!

Come to the table as the Lord’s guest.

Eat and drink and fellowship,

In the presence of God, almighty.

If ever you or I have felt all alone in this world

It isn’t because God has left us.

It’s because we’ve closed the conduit of prayer,

We’ve cut the umbilical cord

Between God and us.

To pray is to trust.

We boldly build faith through the work of prayer.

To pray is to be confident.

We know beyond all shadow of a doubt,

That God hears our prayers,

Desires our prayers, and

Acts on our prayers.

Prayer brings us into a spiritual intimacy with God

Unlike any other spiritual discipline.

  1. To pray is to change.

In my experience,

Prayer changes me much more than my prayers have changed God.

I’m more likely to change

Because I’m more likely to be wrong!

I’m more likely to not be listening to God, or

Deaf to God speak through others.

I’m more likely to change

Because my will is bent to sin,

And the Evil One makes every effort to lead me astray,

To tempt me to wrong,

To sink my battleship.

Prayer changes me,

Makes me strong,

Draws me close,

Keeps me connected with God’s will and unfolding plan.

Prayer can do the same for you, too.

To pray is to change.

Does God change?

Scripture is full of examples of God changing his attitude towards us

As a result of our change in behavior.

When we sin,

And turn away from Jesus,

The Lord is grieved and disappointed.

We have a history of God’s corrective actions:

Floods, slavery, and exile,

– there’s even the belly of a whale in there somewhere –

Just to name a few.

When we repent of our sins

And turn in faith to Christ,

God responds with peace, hope, and salvation.

Scripture is full of God’s blessings

For those who abide in his word

And live according to his will.

Behavior matters; both good and bad.

Prayer is an example of good, faithful behaviors;

Behaviors that disciplined disciples of Jesus are encouraged to engage in,

That change God’s attitudes towards us,

That draws us closer to the Lord.

  1. I don’t know about you, but

I’m cranky when I’m roused from sleep in the middle of the night.

In this brief, uniquely Lukan parable,

God is the kind of listener who is willing and able

To be roused out of bed.

We bang on God’s door with

anaideia: (ἀναίδεια), pronounced (anna-ee-die-ah),

Which translated from ancient Biblical Greek into modern, Western English means:

Shameless persistence.

(https://biblehub.com/greek/335.htm).

The gem of understanding here is the word “shameless;”

To pray and petition without regard to what others think,

To pray and petition without shame, but with persistence.

In today’s words,

When we pray,

Just put it out there.

Lay it out there before God and let God take it from there.

Shameless persistence on the one hand,

Is met with hospitality on the part of the homeowner, on the other.

Of course no one likes to be roused in the middle of the night,

But the fact that the homeowner,

None other than the Lord himself,

Does get up.

The homeowner give his neighbor everything he needs.

God’s application of ancient, oriental hospitality brings honor to both,

To both the one doing the praying and to God,

The recipient of our prayers,

Fulfilling every petitioner’s needs.

To pray is to honor God.

In doing so shamelessly,

Our needs are met.

  1. Lastly, prayer leads to the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The heavenly Father gives his Holy Spirit to all who ask him.

There’s no need to wait for Pentecost.

Prayer immediately brings the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Need forgiveness?

Pray! Ask!

BOOM! The Holy Spirit is here, granting forgiveness.

Need strength to get through a tough patch?

Pray! Seek!

BOOM! The Holy Spirit is here, giving strength in spades.

Need direction? Discernment? What God’s will is for life?

Pray! Knock!

BOOM! The Holy Spirit opens the door unto you!

Need healing? Body? Mind? Spirit?

Pray!

BOOM! The Holy Spirit lets lose the balm of Gilead,

Bringing healing to every soul.

……

Beloved friends,

Prayer isn’t hard.

Prayer improves with experience.

Strap yourself in and get ready for the ride.

Fold hands,

Close eyes,

Quite the self.

“Prayer catapults us

Onto the frontier of the spiritual life.”

Amen.

“Only One Thing”

Luke 10:38-42

21 July 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

The Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 10:38-42 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=430381840)

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Prayer.

You’re all invited over to our cottage next Saturday.

Bring hiking shoes, a swimsuit, and a dish-to-share.

I’ll make the hot dogs and hamburgers.

All 400 members of the parish.

It will be swell.

One of the things I love about my wife, Cynthia,

Is that she loves to shower guests with hospitality.

If four are coming, she’ll prepare for eight.

If eight are coming, Cynthia will make enough food for sixteen.

There’s always someone who come who can benefit

From a take home Tupperware container of food, … or two, or ten.

Almost certainly, she will make her very finest summer dishes:

Fruit salad, potato salad, Santa Fe salad, and fresh peas from Moser’s roadside vegetable stand.

Yum!

What a blessing to be married to a wonderful host.

….

Every preacher commenting this week on this Mary and Martha passage

From the Gospel of Luke has their hands full.

It is a narrative of contrast between

Martha the perfect hostess and

Mary the perfect disciple.

There are many dangers that can steal our attention away from the intent of Jesus.

Don’t get derailed by these common mistakes:

Consider gender stereotyping.

Gender stereotyping is a terrible mistake

And does violence to this story of Mary and Martha.

How would this passage be different if Jesus was visiting the home of two brothers, say Philip and Nathanial?

I dare anyone to pull the “Women’s Work” card;

Your chair has been wired and

You’re about to meet your maker!

Another danger of this passage of Jesus visiting the home of Mary and Martha is to make an unintended connection with the previous passage.

Last Sunday’s passage, Jesus taught the inquiring Jewish lawyer what he must do to inherit eternal life,

Using a story about a good Samaritan to make his point.

Neighbors love God, love others, and engage in compassionate works of mercy for those in need.

Even though both Gospel narratives can only be found in Luke

And one follows the other,

I see no evidence that the intent of the Mary and Martha story

Is meant to shed light on the question of eternal life.

Jesus is frying other fish.

The third danger of the Mary and Martha story

Is to come to the mistaken assumption that Mary and Martha

Are engaged in a zero-sum game welcoming Jesus into their home.

There isn’t a winner at the expense of a loser here.

Consider the possibility that perhaps both Mary and Martha

Were engaged in exceptional acts of discipleship,

Giving Jesus an opportunity to teach

An even more important essential truth

About life, faith, and following him.

Don’t make these common mistakes.

Let’s make some new Gospel discoveries!

….

First.

Let’s talk gender.

It’s the elephant in the room everyone is afraid to talk about,

Especially in today’s world.

Take note.
Luke reports this is a story of two women and Jesus.

Unlike other Gospel narratives that may include Lazarus,

a brother who Jesus would eventually raise from the dead,

Luke writes Lazarus out from the story and

Keeps the location of their home vague,

All-the-while making the point

That it is women

Who were supporting the mission and ministry of Jesus.

This is not the first revelation that Luke makes

To highlight women disciples.

In the eighth chapter of Luke,

It is reported that Mary, called the Magdalene,

Joanna, Susanna, and many others

Were called disciples

Who provided for Jesus out of their resources. (8:1-3)

Of course, in Luke’s version of the resurrection,

It is women

Who followed and supported Jesus from the beginning,

Who went to the tomb to prepare his corpse with spices.

It was women who first observed the resurrected Jesus, and

It was women who first witnessed their resurrection encounter to others.

“Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them,”

Became the first to witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (24:1-12)

Women disciples!

Stand tall! Stand proud!

When it comes to following Jesus,

Don’t ever stand in the shadow of men.

Stand as equal partners with male disciples.

Stand with all disciples only in the shadow of Jesus.

What does this mean for us today? And how can I apply this to my life?

We have a horrible history of holding women back in the Church,

Both locally and globally.

We have a terrible history

Of objectifying women,

Of making women the subject and focus of violence.

If you don’t believe me

You haven’t been listening.

Yeah, sexual harassment prevention policy and training for all employees?

It’s mandated by New York State law to be completed by October 9th.

The Church should be leading cultural change,

Not the State leading the Church.

Each of us, male and female alike,

Can begin with repentance,

Followed with our sincere vow to never treat a member of the opposite sex as anyone other than an equally beloved child of God,

as anyone other than an equal sister or brother disciple of Jesus.

Listen to the voice of women,

Who have been demeaned, hit upon, cursed, held back.

Listen to the stories of intimidation, abuse, violence, and rape.

Do not dismiss their voice.

Do not dismiss their stories as unbelievable.

Listen.

Listen for the stirring of God in those painful stories

To create in each of us a new heart and

A better way forward for the Church and for the world.

Men need to be strong,

To lead by example,

To stand up and stand by our sister disciples and Church leaders.

Men need to be in the front row of the balcony,

Cheering the success women are making today

In the pulpit and in the pew,

In Church and in society,

Bringing home God’s kingdom.

….

Second.

Do not be overly critical of Martha.

Remember when Jesus sent 70 disciples on a mission

To teach, heal, and cast out demons?

Jesus told them not to be burdened with food or clothing;

That they would be received and supported by gracious hosts.

Martha is precisely that kind of host.

She was serving.

She was extending hospitality.

Remember Jesus is recorded in all four Gospels teaching that

The first shall be last and the last shall be first and the servant of all.

Being servant of all should be celebrated!

Shouldn’t it?

Yes, service should be celebrated.

Here, Jesus adds more pigment to the palate called service.

Our Lord’s rebuke of Martha is gentle and tender.

Of course, she was frustrated that she was doing all the physical work

While her sister, Mary, was listening idly at his feet.

What may have been a bigger burr in Jesus’ saddle

Is the fact that Martha asks Jesus to do her bidding.

Modern psychologist would call this “triangulation.”

“Tell her then to help me,” she commands Jesus. (10:40d)

Jesus doesn’t allow himself to be brought into the dispute of others,

To be triangulated,

And neither should we.

Note to self: Jesus doesn’t play fetch.

Don’t even try to tell the Lord what to do.

The original Greek word that is used here is

διακονία, (pronounced) de-awk-o-nee-a, (transliterated) Diakonia,

Which means in modern English:

  • Service, ministering, especially of those who execute the commands of others;
  • The ministration of those who help meet need by the collection or distributing of charities;
  • The service of those who prepare and present food.

Diakonia is the root word for Deacon,

Leaders of the Church,

Commissioned to service.

(Strong’s Lexicon, G1248, as found at https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g1248)

The second part of our Lord’s reply is

“Mary has chosen the better part,” (10:42b)

Revealing to us that, yes, service is vitally important to Christian discipleship,

But service is on a continuum of value and importance.

Something is even better.

There is a higher priority.

If following Jesus was only about service,

We could all turn out the lights, go home, and join the local Rotary Club, Lion’s Club, or League of Women Voters.

We’d be good and

We wouldn’t have to fret over faith, theology, or dogma.

Service in isolation is good works devoid of faith.

Service without Jesus will never have lasting character;

Will ebb and flow with cultural popularity and volunteerism; and

If often becomes unable to support itself in the long term.

Which brings us to:

Three.

Jesus calls disciples

To hear the Word and to be doers of the Word.

Hear first,

Then do.

Mary and Martha are additive,

Both espousing essential characteristics of discipleship,

With one characteristic being of higher priority.

Mary,

Listens first to the Word of Jesus.

And you thought all scripture was equal,

That the Bible is flat?

Not a chance.

“There is need of only one thing,” Jesus teaches.

That is, we need only one thing: his teachings.

As a result of the Good News of Jesus,

Every disciple is convicted.

The Word convicts.

Every hearer of the Word is convicted out of necessity to act,

To do good works,

Service and hospitality,

All in Jesus name.

Service without first listening and learning from Jesus

Results in distractions.

Like Martha,

We become distracted,

If our service isn’t first grounded in the Word of God.

This has much to teach us today,

Especially struggling families,

Juggling priorities,

Raising children,

Caring for aging parents or grandparents,

Finding our way through life’s crisis,

Trying to cover all the bases.

Sunday morning sports and activities?

Parents, take responsibility for your decisions.

The choices you make today will have everything to do with the faith your children develop tomorrow.

Children’s sports and activities are a good thing,

only if their foundation is built first on the Word of God.

A parent’s top priority

Who is a disciple of Jesus,

Is to have their children learn the stories of Jesus.

Visiting and caring for my failing mother tires me out!

I’d rather sleep in Sunday morning.

Sister’s and brothers,

Caring for an aging loved one

Only works for disciples of Jesus

Who are first planted and deeply rooted in the Word of God.

Disciples of Jesus

Who praise God

Celebrating Word and Sacrament in worship,

Become the best care partners God can provide.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the best possible preparation to serve as a loving caregiver.

The Word softens the touch,

Nourishes the soul,

Delivers mercy,

Personifies God’s love,

Becomes the healing hands and touch of Jesus.

It is a joy to simplify,

To cast aside all competing distractions

To focus on only one thing:

The Word of God.

This is what gives me such joy in the Gospel.

This is what makes me a better disciple of Jesus and

Servant of God and neighbor.

….

Dearly beloved,

Jesus today gives to us Mary and Martha,

Two great disciples,

Who serve as rock stars,

bright and shinning mentors,

For our discipleship today.

We have much to learn from Mary and Martha.

Listen, first, to the Word of Jesus.

Remove competing distractions that steal our attention from Jesus.

Heed his commands.

Follow his directions.

Pattern life according to his ways.

The outcome

For those who hang on every word of Jesus?

We treat all others as equals,

Sisters and brothers in the Lord,

Co-laborers in God’s vineyard,

Each of us called and equipped by God to

Set people free for God’s kingdom.

The Word of Jesus teaches us that

Words matter.

Behavior matters.

Respect matters.

Hospitality matters.

Service matters.

The journey of faith is long and it takes many turns.

Each of us are at different places on the river of faith at any one time.

It’s good we’re all making the journey together.

Make the Word of Jesus your highest priority.

Everything else will fall into place.

Amen.

“Love God, Love Neighbor”

Luke 10:25-37 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=429940873)

July 14, 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Prayer. 

“If you see a mess, clean it up,” 

my mother used to say.

If you see it, you’re responsible.

Mothers have the best wisdom. 

Kids; always listen to your mother! 

Today’s contemporary version goes like this:

“If you see something, say something.” 

Jesus’s story about a Samaritan suggests 

This marketing jingle for homeland security 

falls short of Divine expectations. 

A Gospel rewrite might go something like this:

“If you see something, do something!”

Who do you see?

Seeing is one of many 

Over arching 

Narrative themes of the Gospel of Luke. 

Who Jesus sees, 

Who Jesus focuses his attention upon,

Gives us a sense of identity and trajectory:

Who Jesus is, and

Where Jesus is going. 

Pay close attention to who Jesus sees.

Who does Jesus see in the world today?

Who is Jesus looking at through your eyes?

When it comes to Biblical interpretation, 

Context is everything.

  1. The Jewish lawyer knows his law. 

He asks Jesus what he must DO to inherit eternal life. 

Rabbi Jesus, 

a teacher of the law, 

Asks the Jewish lawyer, 

a practitioner of the law, 

What is written in the law. 

Go back to the source, my Greek and Hebrew professors would tell me.

The Jewish lawyer correctly summarizes the beloved Shema

From Deuteronomy 6:4-9

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Being the bright and shinning star student he believes himself to be,

The Jewish lawyer applies for extra credit, 

Citing Leviticus 19:18

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

There isn’t any evidence (yet)

That at the time of Jesus

It was fashionable for scholars and practitioners of the law

To bring together the Shema and Levitical Code in such a masterful way.

It wasn’t the trend.

New ground was being plowed and cultivated. 

This tells me,

This Jewish lawyer 

Was more of a trend setter

Than a trend follower. 

The Jewish lawyer’s conclusion?

Loving God is incomplete without loving neighbors. 

In other words, our acts of worship on Sunday ring hollow

Unless we’re loving our neighbors the rest of the week.

Who are the neighbors of the Rush United Methodist Church?

Who are your neighbors?

Are you loving 

All of them?

Context is everything.

  1. Let’s talk plainly about Samaritans.

Jewish v Samaritan relations at the time of Jesus

Were about the same as Israeli v Palestinian relations today. 

The hatred and enmity between two highly religious cultures

Tragically separated people from their core religious faith and values. 

Think 

Hatred, instead of love;

Racism, instead of equality;

Violence, in place of peace;

Oppression, instead of mutual respect; 

Injustice, instead of fairness; 

Vengeance, instead of forgiveness. 

Jews viewed Samaritans 

As mixed race, traitors, and pagan, religious schismatics.

The Jewish lawyer hated Samaritans so passionately

He couldn’t even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan” —

“Which of the three, do you think was a neighbor …? (Jesus asks)

“The one who showed him mercy …” (10:36-37)

Shut the front door!

What’s up with that? inquiring disciples want to know.

600 years before Jesus,

People of Judah, Samaria, and Israel 

Were conquered by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. 

Wealth was plundered and hauled back to Babylon. 

The captured were exiled to concentration camps.

The only ones remaining were those who worked the farm. 

Oh, yeah, there are reports that the Babylonians salted some of their fields, too.

Three waves of Babylonian exile and captivity 

were traumatic to our Jewish ancestors. 

Two generations suffered punishment by the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

Cyrus the Great allowed the exiled Jews to return to their lands 

70 years later.

Back home,

Mid-landers, between Judah in the South and Galilee in the North,

Had been left behind and were prohibited to travel to Jerusalem 

To take part in their Jewish Temple cult or rites. 

The Temple in Jerusalem had been completely destroyed, anyway. 

So their made their own local Temple on Mount Gerizim,

Where they worshiped Yahweh,

With their own local, evolving traditions and rites.

When the exiles returned 70 years later,

They discovered those who had been left behind had collaborated with captors.

They had inter-bred with the enemy.

And, they had evolved a separate, schismatic branch of Judaism called Samaritianism.

Never mind the fact that Samaritianism was created out of necessity. 

Collaborators with the enemy. 

Mixed race, half breed, back country farmers.

Religious fanatics who have gone astray. 

That’s what the Jewish lawyer thought of Samaritans.

Conversely,

You can imagine what Samaritans thought of Jews

Who returned and rebuilt the Jerusalem Temple in lofty grandeur.

When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well

The Gospel of John reports

“Jews do not share thing in common with Samaritans.” (John 4:9)

Such was the hatred.

Whom do we hold in contempt because of their faith, values, or history? 

Whom do we exclude?

With whom do we raise barriers 

– or refuse to remove them –

Between them us,

Between them and Jesus? 

Context is everything. 

  1. It is well to remember 

Jesus had just been given the dust off

By the inhabitants of a Samaritan village. 

Luke reports in the ninth chapter that

The Samaritans didn’t receive him because

His face was set towards Jerusalem, 

Not their own local Temple on Mount Gerizim.

Interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus would tell a story 

To teach essential truth 

To a Jewish lawyer

Using a Samaritan as a literary foil,

Who’s words and deeds would answer the question,

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (10:25)

Let that sink in for a moment:

A hated, despised, pagan Samaritan 

Was Jesus’s example of how one could inherit eternal life.

Jesus loves to rock our world and turn it upside down. 

The one we fail to love 

May be the one 

Who God has given the keys to unlock our tomb. 

What title is given a parable often influences the way we interpret it,

Sometimes deviating our thoughts towards the intent of Jesus,

Sometimes, sadly, not. 

No place in Biblical text, 

In this unique passage to Luke,

Is this wonderful, fictional story of Jesus titled 

“The Parable of the Good Samaritan,”

Despite the fact that is 

This is the title you and I probably learned in Sunday School!

What if we title this story by Jesus

“The Parable of a Heartless Priest and Levite”? Or

“The Parable of an Unfortunate Victim”? Or 

“A Parable of Mercy”? Or

“A Parable of Conservatives and Liberals”? 

Oooo! Now I’ve caught your attention!

Likewise, who we identify ourselves within a parable

Will influence the way we interpret Christ’s truth and will. 

We all want to think of ourselves as the Good Samaritan. 

This works at one level;

But allow me to reveal another.

Allow Jesus to upset our world for a moment by saying,

“Get yourself off the road, and get into the ditch.” 

Have you ever been beat up before?

On the losing end of punches, blood, spit, broken teeth, and bruises?

I haven’t, thank God.

But I’ve had many beat up people in the back of my ambulance.

Whether the circumstance is a bar fight or domestic violence,

Getting beat unconscious can leave wounds that last a lifetime,

That scar much deeper than skin deep. 

Join Jesus and me in the ditch. 

Have you ever been robbed before? 

Had your pocket picked?

Your purse grabbed?

Your home ransacked? 

Your identity stolen and your account drained?

I haven’t, thank God,

But from my pastoral experience

I know how unsettling it can be. 

It’s a violation of personal space and safety.

Get down with this nameless traveler, Jesus, and me in the ditch.

Jesus tells the story saying the victim was stripped naked. 

I’m too modest to go there. 

I can’t imagine the humiliation,

Knocked out cold,

Left for dead,

Naked,

By the side of the road.

The violence done to this nameless traveler is nearly unspeakable. 

Being the victim of such violence and abuse is the foundation for 

A lifetime struggle with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. 

I suspect many of us can identify at a deeply personable level with Jesus’s nameless traveler. 

That feeling in your heart …

That empathy and mercy you feel for another …

Tap into it. 

What you’re feeling is God’s gift of grace given to you. 

Get off the road and get into the ditch. 

You’re not the only one disappointed by organized religion. 

Having two leaders of the Temple see your need

And indifferently pass by the other side

Hurts to the core. 

I’ve heard it before

“The pastor doesn’t understand.”

“The Lay Leader doesn’t care about me.”

“How can The United Methodist Church open doors for some but not for me?”

“Christians are such hypocrites.”

Ouch. 

Then there is one. 

There is always one neighbor;

Called by God Almighty, the Great Physician, 

Who hears your cry,

Comes to you,

With mercy,

Bringing the healing touch of God into your life. 

That’s what neighbors do.

By God’s grace we heal and 

We become healed. 

Be the neighbor. 

Heal, and be healed.

Amen.

“The Harvest is Plentiful, but the Laborers are Few”

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

7 July 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

The Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20  (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=429328360)

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.

Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’

“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Prayer.

Peace to this house!

Well, that was easy.

My work here is done.

Well, not quite yet.

Peace to this house.

My peace I give to you.

When I give to you my peace

I do so without assessment or judgment.

Your past?

It’s over.

We’re good.

I mean it: we are good!

This is a day of new beginnings!

Your present?

Christ sends his disciples to cure the sick.

No need to travel this road alone.

There’s strength in numbers.

Let’s travel this journey together towards healing.

Your future?

The harvest is plentiful and

It’s up to us to get the job done.

It’s up to you and me to

Get the job done right, on time, and under budget.

This tells me

Jesus is looking for perfectionists, passionate leaders, and exceptional stewards!

Jesus gives us a laundry list of things that just has to get done.

Men, stop your whining and step up.

Women, follow the example of Mary from Magdala, the first to witness to the fact of Christ’s resurrection.

Young and old: It’s time to roll up the sleeves and get to work!

In case you hadn’t noticed,

People aren’t passively coming to Jesus.

Walk in traffic isn’t going to cut it in tomorrow’s Church.

Prevent defense leads to failure.

Jesus is looking for a full court press.

I may be naive,

Being the new kid in town, and all,

But I’m pretty certain that there are more than a couple hundred people in Rush, Henrietta, and the surrounding communities

That need healing,

That are seeking peace in their lives,

Who long for evil to be defeated and

For the world to be transformed.

Am I right?

Peace to this house!

Peace is an absolute confidence in God’s abiding presence to be shared with others.

The sick are healed when God is present!

Satan, demons, and all the evil powers of this world are cast out Like a flash of lightning, (10:18)

By the presence and power of God!

When you and I bring peace to another

We are offering them the healing, loving, redeeming, saving presence of God.

We are called to extend peace

Knowing full well

That our peace first comes from God,

That our peace isn’t diminished when we share peace with others.

The Lord supplies peace faster than we can give it away.

The absence of peace in our church, in our land, and in our world tells me

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

There is much work to do.

Challenge number one:

In everything you think, say, and do the days ahead

Make an intentional effort

To be the peace,

To bring the peace,

To breath the peace

That allows our relationships in the world to be healed.

If you’re not first bringing peace,

You’re not doing it right.

By this, the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke,

Business is booming!

Jesus’ first wave of disciples sent into the countryside

Resulted in outstanding success.

In chapter nine,

Jesus called twelve together,

Gave them power and authority

Over all demons,

To cure all diseases, and

To proclaim the kingdom of God. (9:1-2)

The results would have led

The sales and marketing team to throw a party.

The press would have taken notice.

It may not have made the front page

In The New York Times

But the reports would have made page one of the B section:

“They departed and went through the villages,

bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.” (9:6)

Jesus’ traveling salvation show was multiplying in spades.

Boom!

Now that’s what I’m talking about!

‘Go big, or go home,’ I’ve often heard say.

It worked for twelve,

Jesus probably thought.

Lets scale this ministry, for

The harvest is plentiful.

Let’s try 35 pairs of two.

Do the math;

Yes, that’s 70.

No, we are not going to ask for volunteers.

No need for resumes,

Because, quite frankly,

Education, certification, qualifications, and compensation history don’t even interest Jesus.

The Gospel is full of such examples

Where Jesus calls the least expected and

Appoints them to complete his greatest tasks.

The key word here?

Appoint.

Jesus is going to call you, convict you, and appoint you!

“The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them,” the Gospel reports. (10:1)

You know the 80/20 rule of local churches?

20 percent of the people show up and step up to mission, ministry, and discipleship.

The fact that you’re here this morning tells me

You’re all probably twenty percenters.

Don’t fret over the 80 percenters who decide to sleep in on Sundays;

Rest assured

God has a plan for them, too.

You and me; we’re the ones called, convicted, and appointed.

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

Let’s pause for a moment to bask in the sunshine

Of God’s grace and love,

Taking pride that Jesus has specifically chosen

You and me,

Yes, you and me,

To proclaim peace,

Heal and cast out demons,

To gather in the harvest, and

Bring near the kingdom of God.

Okay.

Time’s up.

Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.

Jesus knows the job at hand for his appointed disciples

Is going to be rough and tumble.

“I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves,” (10:3)

Jesus instructs with transparent honesty.

Jesus himself knew how difficult ministry would be;

A Samaritan village refused to receive him, (9:51-56)

Simply because his final destination was Jerusalem

And not their village.

Rejected, Jesus and his disciples simply moved on.

No, he wasn’t going to rain down fire and smote them,

As his disciples eagerly suggested.

The days of Sodom and Gomorrah long since had passed.

They simply shook the dust off their feet and moved on towards Jerusalem.

We all know what happened to Jesus in Jerusalem.

The cross of Calvary confirms the fact that

Jesus knows the pain and suffering of rejection.

The going is going to get rough.

Are we prepared to climb onto the cross with Jesus and to die with him?

Wolves eat lambs all the time.

The work of discipleship is life or death.

Such is the struggle to bring people to Jesus

And to overcome the evil that enslaves the people, systems, and communities of our world.

Politics, hubris, and power is life or death.

Poverty, injustice, homelessness, and malnutrition is a struggle between life or death.

Refugees, immigrants, and people who long to be free

Risk it all.

The mission, ministry, and the call of discipleship

Is life or death.

Such is the struggle

to bring peace and the presence of God to the world

for the transformation of the world.

Do not underestimate the power of the enemy, Jesus warns.

You’ll be rejected;

Move on.

Rejection may be the least of your worries.

You and I are being sent to dangerous places; so

Place your trust in God and in the hospitality of the host God provides.

We’ve been given power and authority over the enemy;

“Nothing will hurt you,” Jesus promises. (10:20)

Nothing will hurt you.

Not even death will hurt you,

Such is the witness of an empty tomb.

Be confident our labors,

Difficult as they may be,

Are bringing near the Kingdom of God.

Dearly beloved members and friends of Rush

Peace to this house!

I am so excited to begin this journey with you.

We’re the nuevo seventy,

The present age, new seventy,

Appointed to

First, proclaim peace, to

Bring healing to a broken world, to

Wield authority over all the power of the enemy, to

Bring near the Kingdom of God.

Let’s get to work!

Amen.