“We Want Signs and Direction!”

5 August 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

John 6:24-35 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=400125113)

 

Prayer.

 

“Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.” (Exodus 16:9)

 

The Gospel draws deep from our ancestral roots.

To understand Jesus,

To see Jesus as he is revealed,

Is to return to the Passover narrative of our Hebrew ancestors,

Released from Egyptian slavery,

Miraculously saved with the parting of the Red Sea,

Liberated and forever free.

 

Their future lay in the land promised,

A land flowing milk and honey;

If only they could make their way across the Sinai desert.

The journey would take 40 years,

A full generation,

The completeness of the life of Moses.

 

 

It is important to recognize in the Exodus story

That it is God doing the acting.

Moses is God’s proxy,

God’s mouthpiece,

God’s servant.

 

In the first of ten plagues

To soften Pharaoh’s heart

God tells Moses to stretch his hand over the waters of Egypt.

When he does, God turns the water into blood

Throughout the whole land. (Exodus 7:19)

After ten plagues, Pharaoh nearly had enough.

God’s action reveals his tenacious, unrelenting desire for his children to be free.

 

 

God directs,

Moses complies,

God acts.

 

God directed Moses how to celebrate Passover

As a perpetual ordinance,

To avoid the destroyer,

Striking down the Egyptians but sparing our own. (Exodus 12:27)

Moses complies,

God acts,

The ensuing grief caused Pharaoh to cry out pain

For not a house in Egypt could be found without someone dead.

 

Pharaoh reached the end of his rope.

He gave in and set our ancestors free.

God’s action reveals the depth and breath of his faithfulness

To the eternal covenant with Abraham:

God is our God, and we will be his children.

The Lord’s blessing upon us will continue

From generation to generation.

 

God directs,

Moses complies,

God acts.

Each time in the Exodus narrative,

Revealing something new about our Heavenly Father.

 

Likewise, for the festival of unleavened bread.

Likewise, for crossing the Red Sea.

Likewise, for Mana from Heaven (Exodus 16)

 

 

Twelve days in the desert with no food or water would make anyone complain.

“Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.” (Exodus 16:9)

 

The Lord directed Moses to speak

“At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread;

Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” (Exodus 16:12)

 

Moses did as he was told.

In the evening God acted: sent quails up and covered the camp.

Quail for dinner, every night, staving off the hunger.

In the morning God acted: the dew lifted to reveal bread,

That all might be fed.

Bread for breakfast, every day, sustenance for every living day.

God’s action reveals the fact that

 

 

God intends

That all God’s children be abundantly nourished.

 

…………

 

Jesus is not the second coming of Moses.

Intermediaries are gone; the age of prophets is over.

The Prophetic Age has ended;

With Jesus,

The Messianic Age began.

 

Jesus is the Son of God.

God decides direct intervention,

Becoming human and stepping into humanity,

Is necessary.

 

 

Divine intervention is the only way forward

To forgive and save the world.

It is critically important to understand that

Jesus and our Heavenly Father are one and the same God.

 

Pay attention to the actions of Jesus in the Gospel of John.

When Jesus acts,

Similar to the actions of God in the Exodus narrative,

Something new is revealed about our God,

In context of the new, unfolding incarnation of Jesus Christ.

 

 

After miraculously feeding 5,000 would be followers

With 5 loaves and 2 fish,

Jesus and his disciples give them the slip,

Probably during their after-dinner siesta.

 

The disciples,

As we heard last Sunday,

Sail away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee,

Only to be caught up in a storm.

Jesus walks on water,

Identifies himself,

And tells them “do not be afraid.” (6:20)

The boat safely reached the land toward which they were going.

Two miracles, or, two signs, in one day.

Not bad, for the God of creation.

 

 

Funny thing about hunger:

It keeps coming around,

Reoccurring every few hours.

Food perishes, hunger returns, everyone needs to eat.

 

5,000 people come searching for Jesus

Because their hunger returned.

5,000 people find him.

Jesus observes,

They came searching for him because their hunger returned,

Not because they were witnesses to the sign Jesus performed

Of multiplying bread and fish.

Their bellies were empty.

 

Pay attention to what Jesus does:

 

10.JPG

 

He commands them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (6:27)

 

In other words,

I gave you …

… Past tense …

Bread and fish,

And now you’re hungry again.

I, the Son of Man, will give you …

… Future tense …

Food that endures for eternal life.

 

Boom!

God pulls back the veil and reveals something new about himself,

Through the context, words, and actions of Jesus:

 

 

That which Jesus provides is sufficient for eternal life.

That’s it.

There is no need for anything else.

There is no need for anything other than Jesus.

 

No need for a fountain of youth,

So, stop searching for it.

Tax cuts might put a little more money into your account,

But, as they say, ‘you can’t take it with you.’

Border walls won’t save you any more than universal health care will.

Democrats won’t save you; and, neither will Republicans.

Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, first responders may save you in the moment, but, you’ll live to die another day.

That gun you’re carrying won’t save you; and neither will going whole-hog vegan, organic, or South Beach.

 

Stop with the idol worship!

 

Simply put, there is nothing that offers salvation other than

Belief in Jesus Christ.

Everything else are mere idols;

Temptations that threaten to steal our attention,

To divert our eyes from Jesus.

Money, healthcare, patriotism, policy, politics …

All offer false promises of salvation.

Nothing of this earth can add one day, or one breath, to life.

In 80 years each of our bodies will be dead;

Yet, for those who believe in Christ?

We will be sustained,

We will endure for eternal life.

 

 

It is God who reveals to the children of Abraham

That salvation only comes through belief in Jesus Christ.

 

Whining must be in our DNA.

Our ancestors whined to Moses about their hunger.

The crowd of 5,000 whined to Jesus that they needed a sign,

A miracle,

Anything, that would confirm their belief in him.

 

“We want a sign.”

“Moses gave us a sign,” they complained: “bread from heaven.”

That was a pretty good miracle.

What can you do for us to make us believe?

 

Like Simon Cowell on America’s Got Talent,

“Show us your act.”

 

Well, it really wasn’t Moses who acted,

Who performed the miracle;

It was God.

Moses was simply the faithful go-between prophet.

 

 

It is God who provided mana from heaven.

It is God who multiplied 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed 5,000.

It is God who provides for our daily nourishment today.

 

“What about this multiplication didn’t you see?”

“Were you blind,” Jesus was probably thinking to himself,

“Were you too busy eating to notice?”

 

The sign is the miracle of multiplication.

 

 

What God reveals through this sign

Is God’s deepest desire for us to believe in Jesus,

To abide in Christ,

To take up residence wholly and solely in his life.

 

Eat bread, fish, or quail,

Fill your stomachs;

and you’ll be satisfied for about 6 hours, max.

Believe in Jesus,

Abide in him;

and you’ll be satisfied for eternity.

Those who come to Christ will never hunger or thirst.

Those who come to Jesus, and abide in him, will have eternal life.

 

…….

 

 

The Gospel of John is difficult to understand.

I get that.

Some have likened it to getting stuck in a briar patch,

Entangled in multiple, deeply woven messages of essential, divine truth.

Scholars find it nearly impossible to map out a helpful outline.

Many wade into the Gospel of John quickly,

Only to find the waters too deep to navigate, never to return.  

 

With the blessing of hindsight,

It is easy to laugh at the disciples of Jesus for their failure to understand.

Yet, it is a common characteristic of the Gospel of John

That just as Jesus reveals something about himself

There is a misunderstanding.

Think of the woman at the well

“But you have no bucket.”

Think about Nicodemus

making the mistaken conclusion that Jesus was talking about entering the womb a second time.

Think about Jesus speaking about the destruction of the Temple

And about him turning water into wine.

 

Understanding John is hard for everyone.

Our careful attention to the Gospel is not just about intellectual understanding.

 

 

For understanding, imperfect as we may be,

Searching for God’s message, leads to abiding.

Understanding always leads to abiding.

Abide in Christ.

Take up residence in him.

 

This is why I so passionately love the Gospel.

The quest always leads us back to Jesus.

 

Our search for understanding today

Has revealed much about our God

And our relationship with him:

God wants us to be free.

God is faithful to the covenants made between us.

God wants all God’s children to be nourished, both physically and spiritually.

God wants all to believe in Jesus;

For Christ alone endures, satisfies, and gives life, eternal life, to the world.

Amen.

“Seeking Calm in the Midst of a Storm”

Mark 4:35-41

June 24, 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Mark 4:35-41 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=396498093)

Prayer.

 

The easy way out for any preacher of this text

Is to state the obvious:

Jesus stilling the storm proves

 

Jesus is master over all things;

Even master over the forces of nature and creation.

This establishes the Divine identity of Jesus Christ

For every recipient of the Gospel, forever more.

 

Simple.

Straight forward.

I think it’s easy enough for everyone to get it.

Throw in a nice illustration,

Give it three points,

And wrap it up in under 20 minutes.

I may have delivered that sermon once or twice before.

 

The identity and divinity of Jesus

Are stated and restated with such frequency in the Gospel

It causes every serious student engaged in intentional discipleship

 

To explore further,

To dig deeper.

The Gospel invites us to ask,

To seek,

To discern the will of God,

To listen,

And to pray.

 

When it comes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,

Never be satisfied with the easy or the obvious.

 

Of course,

Jesus stilling the storm reveals

A metaphor exposing deeper truth.

A sudden, great windstorm that threatens life and limb is the metaphor.

The deeper truth about God,

God’s kingdom and our place in it,

Serves as a hidden gem;

God’s gift for us to find.

 

Storms come in all shapes and sizes,

Differ in context and location, and

Range from the predictable to the unpredictable.

Storms can maim.

Storms can kill.

 

Storms on the Sea of Galilee

In the time of Jesus

… and absent the benefits of modern day weather forecasting …

were quick and unexpected.

Storms would sweep in from the Mediterranean,

Flow over the towering ridges that surround the Sea of Galilee

And accelerate across its surface.

Crossing the expansive lake at night, in a storm, must have been terrifying.

 

Terrifying, like a woman I spoke with in North Carolina two weeks ago.

She’s on the staff of a large United Methodist Church in a suburb of Houston, TX.

 

She was telling me about Hurricane Harvey

The devastation it wrought,

And the pain it continues to bring,

To the local population.

 

Houston is the fourth largest metropolitan region in the United States.

Hurricane warnings went out days before landfall.

“Why didn’t people evacuate?” I asked.

“Too many people and not enough roads,” she replied.

“By the time the magnitude of the impending devastation sunk in

It was too late.

The water rose so fast

The safest place was your roof.”

 

40 inches of water in four days.

One hundred twenty-five billion in damages.

Harvey is tied with Katrina as the costliest tropical hurricane in US history.

 

Terrifying.

Riding out a hurricane perched on your roof.

Truly terrifying.

 

Where, then, is Christ and His Church?

 

The Body of Christ is stilling the storm of Hurricane Harvey

By the thousands of local churches that have been sending work teams

To muck out houses,

Rebuild and restore families and neighborhoods,

Especially among those least able

To right their own sinking ship;

The poor, the homeless, the last and least, the dependent, the ill.

 

“Peace! Be still!” Christ commanded.

Shovels shoveled.

Hammers hammered.

Saws sawed.

Work continues to this day,

And will for years to come.

The wind and the seas are being calmed

One person,

One family,

One neighborhood

At a time.

 

The storm as a metaphor invites us to push it further.

 

An expansive reading of all four Gospels of Jesus Christ

Reveals the people of Galilee, Samaria, and Judah in the time of Jesus

Faced many of the same storms that you and I face today:

Marriage and divorce, raising children, caring for aging parents.

Illness; both chronic illness and mortal diseases.

Death in the family.

Disability, such as blindness, seizures, a withered hand, an inability to walk.

A society of injustice and inequality: clean and unclean, status, power, authority, and wealth.

People then are not very different than you and me.

 

“Peace! Be still!” Christ commanded.

The lame man stood, picked up his mat, and followed him.

The eyes of the blind man were opened.

Leprosy was healed.

The woman’s hemorrhaging ceased.

Demons were cast out.

A half-breed, immigrant Samaritan

crossed the road to bind up a victim of a robbery,

The dead were raised back to life.

The wind and seas were calmed.

 

The essential truth that Christ reveals

Is that God sides with victims of injustice,

The poor and marginalized,

The sick and mourning,

The immigrant and foreigner in our land.

 

God is offended by greed and the misuse of power,

By selfish and self-serving behavior.

God is offended by sin and the unrepentant,

In spite of the fact that

Forgiveness and salvation are

His gift of love to all the world.

 

Being the pastoral shepherd of two congregations

Exposes me to the storms of life that many of you are also facing:

 

Death and disability,

Mourning and grief,

Sin, regret, and temptation,

Denial and betrayal,

Isolation and loneliness.

 

Storms of life are

Raising children, caring for aging parents, all-the-while staying employed.

Storms of life are

Seeing adult children move away, a beloved dog or cat being put down, the death of a mom or a dad.

Storms of life are

Repeated hospitalizations, repeated cycles of rehab, endless visits to doctor offices, increase frailty, increased dependence, social isolation.

 

“Peace! Be still!” Christ commanded.

Prayers go out and are offered up.

Our church family gathers with

Acceptance and support,

Presence and love.

We reach out with hugs and casseroles,

With cards and meat platters.

We meet over coffee or on a quiet backyard deck.

Pain is noticed, wounds are bound and cared for.

Tears are dried.

The Body of Christ abides with us

And in us for others

To still the storms of life.

 

Church is about belonging.

We belong.

We belong with God

And we belong with one another.

 

Are you daring?

Are you courageous?

Come with me.

The Gospel today calls us to

Push the storm as a metaphor

One last step.

 

Disciples of Christ

Were part of a larger Jewish society

That was caught in the whirlwind of a social hurricane.

Rome occupied the nation,

Held captive sacred institutions,

Taxed, dominated, and brutally suppressed dissent.

Jews would soon revolt and be put down,

Slaughtered, chased down like dogs,

Diaspora-ed to the far corners of the planet.

Christians would be driven underground,

Spreading in secret throughout the empire,

Living in fear of persecution and martyrdom.

 

Jesus and his followers lived their lives in the middle of a storm.

 

“Peace! Be still!” Christ commanded

Even as Peter struck out with his sword and cut off the slave’s ear.

“Peace! Be still!” Christ commanded

Even as he submitted to the humiliation of the cross.

“Peace! Be still!” Christ commanded

In his triumph over death and the grave.

“Peace! Be still!” Christ commanded

Even as he was whisked away and ascended into heaven.

 

In case you haven’t noticed

We are living in the middle of a social hurricane today.

 

Love of God and love of neighbor are at an all-time low.

Empathy for others is replaced with partisan stubbornness.

Rage is fanned by social media, 24-hour news channels,

Fake facts, fake news, and outright lies.

Listening is out of vogue.

Shouting is the new style.

Love is replaced by hatred, intolerance, and oppression.

 

The political storm is fracturing families and friends.

The raging storm is the fertile ground for evil to take root and spread.

The social hurricane threatens to fracture the very foundation of our society.

 

Is this what we want?

 

No?

Then stop it!

Stop feeding the beast.

Stop posting and boasting.

Stop arguing, fighting, blathering, and drawing a line in the sand.

Take your flag of honor out of the sand and don’t ever use it to make a stand again.

 

God is calling us to be better.

God is calling Christians and His Church to be better,

To rise above the sin of the world, to

Obey the command of Jesus:

“Peace! Be still!”

 

“Peace! Be still!”

Let peace begin with me.

Be the peace that spreads to our world;

Quenching its evil, poisonous, deadly firestorm;

Bringing stillness;

Placing us at the feet of Jesus.

 

Wouldn’t we rather want peace and stillness at the feet of Jesus?

I would.

 

Peace does not come at the expense of justice.

The Apostle Paul writes to the Church in Rome:

 

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

(Romans 12:2)

Just because we live in the world

Doesn’t mean we have to be conformed to it.

Chose differently.

Instead,

Live in the world and allow the Gospel of Jesus Christ to renew our minds.

This is the path towards what is good, acceptable, and perfect.

 

I watch politics closely;

Yet, I fight with all my might to not be drawn into it.

I’d like to think that I’m more successful than not.

My politics are not Democrat or Republican,

Liberal or conservative,

Libertarian, Socialism, Communism,

Or any other brand of broad-brush -isms.

 

15.JPG

 

My politic is the Gospel of Jesus Christ,

And I invite all Christ’s disciples to believe and behave likewise.

 

The Gospel tells us not to judge others, less we be judged.

Don’t hate the man or the woman;

If you must hate,

Hate behavior that is evil.

Despise behavior that is unbecoming of Jesus.

Rail and resist behavior that is unjust and oppressive,

Just as was agreed by us, or on our behalf,

At our baptismal waters.

 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ tells us to love God and love our neighbors,

To love our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us.

A pragmatic defense doesn’t cut the mustard.

Contrary to popular believe, the Gospel isn’t naiveté and neither am I.

The Gospel is so revolutionary,

It seeks to turn the world upside down.

 

Jesus knows better.

Jesus was, is, and will forever remain relational,

Connected to us and invested in this world.

We are the Body of Jesus, the Body of Christ,

 

And it is only when we assert the politics of the Gospel

That the kingdom of God might be established on earth as it is in heaven.

 

Can you and I hear Jesus calling out in the midst of today’s storm?

“Peace! Be still!”

Is it possible to allow the peace that Christ brings

To calm the wind and the waves,

To bring peace and healing

To ourselves and our broken world?

 

Yes, Christ is Lord

Over heaven and earth,

Over all of creation.

Jesus is with us, always, able to bring peace and healing

To every storm we face in life.

As disciples of Jesus, we are his body, called to bring peace and healing

To others as they traverse the storms of life.

 

We’re all in this together.

 

Let us treat each other with respect and love,

As Christ’s own chosen and named.

We are called to be the peace,

To live the Gospel,

To transform the world.

 

You can do it;

I can do it;

If together, we so chose.

Amen.

“Deep Thoughts”

Reflections on Worship

Heritage Christian Services - Pieter’s Family Life Center

Friday, June 22, 2018, 10:30am – 11:30am

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Luke 9:47-48

But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.”

 

Prayer.

 

Have you ever thought deeply?

About God,

About others,

And your place in the universe?

 

It’s good to think deeply.

 

The disciples were thinking deep thoughts.

They had just witnessed Jesus being transfigured,

His face changed and also his clothes,

right before their very eyes.

Wow.

The transfiguration was followed by the voice of God speaking from a cloud

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

Luke continues,

“And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.” (9:36)

Stunned to silence.

Wouldn’t you be?

 

It’s good to think deeply.

 

The disciples were thinking deep thoughts.

The disciples witnessed Jesus healing a boy with a demon.

The spirit of the child was seized, the Gospel author reports.

He shrieks;

Foams at the mouth.

The demon mauled him and refused to leave him.

That’s some scary stuff, right there.

“Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit,

Healed the boy, and gave him back to his father, (good as new).

And all were astounded at the greatness of God.” (9:42-43)

Astounded. Speechless.

 

It’s good to think deeply.

 

The disciples were thinking deep thoughts.

As if seeing Jesus transfigured,

Hearing the voice of God, and

Experiencing the healing touch of Jesus

Wasn’t enough to make the disciples wonder,

Jesus now tells them that he will be betrayed into human hands.

Wait! What?

They didn’t understand, Luke reports,

“its meaning was concealed from them,

So that they could not perceive it.

And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.” (9:45)

 

The disciples of Jesus had much to think about.

 

Instead of thinking of heavenly things,

Their thoughts were entirely earthly.

Who was the greatest? They wondered.

Who was the top dog, the first among equals, the one closest to the master?

They didn’t have to say it;

Like a child covered in white sugar caught eating forbidden donuts,

Jesus could see their question written all over their faces.

Jesus took a child and put it by his side.

“Whomever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me,

And whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me;

For the least among all of you is the greatest.” (9:48)

 

Indeed, the disciples of Jesus had much to think about,

And he just gave them a whole lot more.

 

1. First, welcome a child and welcome Jesus.

What does it mean to welcome a child, let alone, to welcome Jesus?

The original Greek word is de-chet-ai,

Which means,

To take,

To accept,

To receive,

To receive kindly.

 

Traveling to Guatemala with the Heritage Christian Team of short term missionaries each August,

My job isn’t to do the most work,

Pour the most cement,

Distribute the most bags of food, or

Fit the most people to wheelchairs.

Though, these are very important jobs.

 

But, my job,

Being the old man of the team,

Is to play with children.

Actually, it’s the most important job of every team member.

Receive God’s love,

Share it kindly with families and children,

And receive it back ten-fold, a hundred-fold, and more.

 

“Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me,” Jesus taught.

Perhaps we can hear these words of Jesus and likewise begin to wonder,

To think deep thoughts.

With whom can I share God’s love?

What might it look like to share God’s love?

Where, and in what circumstances, can I share the love of God?

Who is in the greatest need to receive God’s love

This. Very. Day?

This. Very. Moment?

 

Life is short, and time is not to be waisted away.

Take the time,

Sooner, rather than later,

To let someone know,

By your words and your actions,

That God loves them,

And you love them, too.

 

2. Secondly, welcome Jesus and welcome our Heavenly Father.

Accepting Jesus into your life is a great and monumental occasion!

But it’s only a first step

On a lifetime spiritual journey

That leads the disciple of Jesus

Straight to the heart of God.

 

God loves you so much

He wants to walk with you throughout your life,

Sharing your joys and your struggles,

Your ups and your downs,

Simply because God loves you

And wants the best for you throughout your life.

 

What a privilege it is to walk with Christ,

To abide in Him and to allow Christ to abide in you.

I remember the day I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

Ever since that day I have lived a privileged life,

Surrounded by fellow disciples of Jesus,

Upheld, supported, and loved

In local churches I have attended and served.

 

God’s acceptance for who you are,

Made in God’s own image,

Loved unconditionally,

Is life’s greatest victory.

I pray that it be your victory, too!

 

3. Lastly, Jesus teaches his disciples that

The least is the greatest.

 

Let us think deeply what this means.

 

To be a true leader,

Molded and shaped into the man or woman Christ calls us to become,

Means that we must become a servant to all.

Humble service means we place the needs of others first.

It means we think deeply about the needs of others

Before we discern or meet our own needs.

Anticipate needs, meet them, and exceed the needs of others.

 

Yes, it’s a tall order.

But we can do it.

We can, if we so choose, to become a servant to all.

 

The best way to start is through friendship; authentic friendship.

Make friends.

Be a friend.

Get to know your friends.

Be daring enough to dig beneath the surface

Of just talking about the weather.

Allow your God given curiosity

To get to know others and learn their deepest, most heartfelt needs.

Only then, leaning on your deeper understanding,

Can you or I become the servants Christ is calling us to be.

 

Our greatest role model is Jesus himself.

When we make ourselves vulnerable enough to become a true friend of Jesus,

He can begin to meet our deepest needs;

To be forgiven of our sins,

To be guided to make good, healthy choices,

To journey with us through life’s most challenging circumstances,

And by his resurrection,

Save us into eternal life.

That’s what friends do for each other.

 

Dearly beloved,

Think deeply,

Just as the disciples did,

About accepting the child that exists in others,

Accepting Jesus,

Being received by our Heavenly Father,

And becoming Christ’s servant to all.

 

God loves you,

And so do I.

Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.

Amen.

“Jesus: Lord of Sabbath”

Mark 2:23-3:6

3 June 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

Mark 2:23-3:6 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=394599217)

Prayer.

 

The interpretation of scripture

Is a time honored tradition.

I do it nearly every day

And proclaim my results nearly every Sunday.

 

Every occasion when the Word of God is proclaimed

The preacher is charged with the revered responsibility

Of interpretation.

It’s a sacred responsibility I take seriously.

 

If only scripture was simple, straight forward, and required no interpretation.

 

 

Interpretation implies an objective Truth served up in the Gospel,

Coupled with a subjective experience and influence of the Holy Spirit.

This is why two different preachers will have

Two different interpretations of the same scripture lesson.

Each has an unique point of view, background experience, culture, gender, economic status, Biblical and theological education.

Each is subjectively, personally moved by the Holy Spirit of God.

 

My father,

A tenured ordained elder in the United Methodist Church,

And I had a difference of interpretation of the third commandment

 

 

As found in Exodus 20:8

“Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.”

and Deuteronomy 5:12

“Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.”

 

For my father,

That meant no work on Sundays:

You don’t mow the lawn.

No house cleaning.

You don’t catch up on odd jobs around the house.

You don’t even go golfing.

Sundays were reserved for going to church,

Having a large family meal after church,

And lounging around the house for the rest of the day.

 

What a waste of the afternoon, I’d often thought as a child.

 

His Sabbath world view

Was about the prohibition of work

And keeping the day holy by attending worship.

These values are deeply instilled within me,

For which, I am eternally grateful.

 

Yet, I have come to discover,

Or, it has been revealed to me,

There is much more here,

Highlighted in the Gospel

For us to interpret and apply.

The Spirit moves.

The Lord gives

Essential truths that even challenge and change

The way I had always understand Sabbath.  

 

In the same tradition as my father and I drawing different conclusions,

The Pharisees and Jesus came to completely different

Interpretations of the third commandment,

As recorded in two different locations:

In Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.

 

The worldview of Pharisees in context of ancient Israel

Is very different from ours today.

 

 

Pharisees saw the world

In the context of Roman occupation,

A complex Temple economy,

With an upstart, potentially destabilizing, self-proclaimed Messiah

From the rural north country of Galilee coming to Jerusalem.

 

The Pharisees viewed the world in crisis and political turmoil.

On the one hand,

The world was a place of opportunity;

Privilege, wealth, and status.

On the other hand,

The world was in great jeopardy during a dangerous time.

 

Thank goodness the Pharisee didn’t have Facebook!

 

Pharisees saw the Ten Commandments,

The Law,

As a list of prohibitions

Given by God to God’s chosen people,

To keep community stability.

For the most part, I agree with their interpretation,

Just as my father did.

 

The Ten Commandments were finite, literally set in stone,

And needed another 613 commandments,

Called “mitzvoth”,

To fully interpret and expound upon these ten.

 

 

Jesus had a more expansive worldview.

Jesus was frying other fish.

He saw things differently.

His interpretation was so potentially destabilizing

The Pharisees and Herodians conspired against him,

“How to destroy him,” Mark recorded. (3:6)

 

Jesus didn’t see the third commandment

About observing the Sabbath day and keeping it holy

As a prohibition.

Unlike many of the other prohibitive commandments,

(Think “Thou shall not …”)

Jesus understands the Sabbath law as permissive.

Jesus sees Sabbath law as liberation,

A means of God’s mercy and grace,

Towards God’s chosen, adapted, and loved people.

Jesus interprets it differently

By reading the third commandment

In the context of God’s larger recorded words.

 

Let me explain.

 

 

Here is the whole third commandment in Deuteronomy 5:12-15:

“Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”

 

Here is same commandment as recorded in Exodus 20:8-11.

The difference is important.

“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.”

 

Here’s the context:

The Lord’s Sabbath commandment

Was delivered to newly freed slaves.

 

God hates slavery,

Always has, always will.

God hates everything about slavery,

Where one oppresses another with intimidation and violence,

Where one works another person hard,

Every daylight hour,

Seven days a week.

Think about it:

Our Hebrew ancestors

Held in Egyptian slavery

Worked seven days a week

Under the hot African sun.

Now, God is giving the newly freed Hebrews

A day off.

 

 

God created the weekend!

 

This was the first labor law in God’s kingdom.

This was a law every freed Hebrew would enthusiastically keep!

This wasn’t prohibition;

This was permission!

 

Some have observed that western culture

Has improved the Sabbath law with the creation of the two-day weekend.

I’m not certain we can improve upon the Lord’s work, but …

I believe God must be pleased with two days of rest.

 

From Exodus and Deuteronomy

It is important to recognize

The Sabbath’s permission to rest

Extends to sons and daughters,

To slaves (why weren’t they freed, too?) and livestock, and

To resident aliens (AKA … immigrants, green card holders, migrant workers, undocumented foreigners, illegal aliens).

(Exodus 20:10b, Deuteronomy 5:14)

 

Rest!

 

Rest! The Lord commands.

Everyone needs to rest,

Because rest is liberation;

Salvation from slavery and captivity.

A characteristic signature of God’s kingdom from the Gospel of Mark

Is liberation, freedom, and salvation.

 

 

The command to rest for Jesus

Is first, and foremost,

A line in the sand advocating for justice.

 

Everyone deserves rest.

 

Jesus observes before the Pharisees

“The Sabbath was made for humankind,

And not humankind for the Sabbath.” (2:27)

 

Let’s look at Exodus,

As if we are looking from Jesus’ point of view.

 

 

Exodus expands the context:

The Lord’s Sabbath commandment

Was delivered to newly freed slaves

Who were children of Abraham,

Living in covenant with the God of creation.

 

Rest!

For in resting

We are mirroring the creative behavior

Of our God that created the heavens and the earth in six days

And rested on the seventh.

(Exodus 20:11)

 

Furthermore,

The command to rest for Jesus

Is about connecting God’s people

With the God who created us,

Our Heavenly Father.

The relationship we have with God

Defines the deep roots of our faith

That anchors us throughout life.

 

 

Sabbath.

Rest.

Freedom.

Creation.

Life.

Living in relationship with God.

 

Keeping the Sabbath day holy

Is permission to reflect upon the sacredness of life:

What it means to live

As God’s child,

Chosen,

Called,

Sent,

Redeemed, and

Saved.

 

The Sabbath was made for life!

 

 

“The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (2:27-28)

 

“The Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (2:28)

Game on, Pharisees.

Good news for the world.

Not so much good news for the Pharisees.

The stage is set for the remainder of the Gospel of Mark.

 

Jesus has never been afraid to lean into privilege,

To speak truth to power,

To bring liberation and freedom,

To draw a line in the sand for social justice.

Jesus always invites his chosen to embrace creation,

Celebrate life, live in righteousness,

With the same faithfulness God has shown towards us.

 

Dearly beloved,

Sabbath.

Jesus, lord of the Sabbath,

Invites us to

 

12.JPG

 

imagine what the world would look like

If it were transformed into the Kingdom that God is planning.

Let us dream of a world that is just and fair,

Where all may find rest,

Where all may fall into love and relationship

With the God who created them.

 

Let us learn from Jesus.

Let us boldly follow his example.

Let us be the hands of Jesus to bring Sabbath to the world.

Amen.

“Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”

John 3:1-17 

Trinity Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church

 

John 3:1-17

 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=394079812)

 

 

Prayer.

 

Have you ever been in a conversation with another person,

Such that both hear the same words,

But each derives a different meaning?

 

I once heard this story by a keynote speaker a few years ago:

 

 

People in a hot air balloon were swept up in a storm

Coming out the other side of the wind, rain, and pitched darkness

Into completely unfamiliar territory.

The pilot reduce altitude

And spot a farmer standing in the middle of a wheat field below:

“Where are we?” yelled the pilot.

“You’re in a balloon!” the farmer shouted back.

Thinking of a better way to rephrase it

The pilot shouted back again, “Where are you?”

To which the farmer replied, “I’m in a wheat field!”

 

Such is the case of Jesus and Nicodemus.

 

A leader of the Jews,

Schooled in the law of Moses,

Clandestinely approaches Jesus under the concealment of darkness.

Nicodemus is seeking understanding about signs;

The signs that Jesus performs.

Clearly in the mind of Nicodemus,

Signs which show the presence and favor of God.

 

The word misunderstood

Is spoken by Jesus:

You must be born anõthen.

 

 

This is one Greek adverb with multiple meanings.

Nicodemus clearly hears it as “again,”

As demonstrated by his follow-up question

“How can anyone be born after having grown old?

Can one enter a second time

into the mother’s womb and be born?” (3:4)

 

Jesus’ continuing commentary clearly shows

He meant it to be heard as “from above.”

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (3:3)

(Considerable insight has been provided by: Sharon H. Ringe, Professor of New Testament, Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, DC, as found at: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=6/7/2009#)

 

 

“No one can enter the kingdom of God

Without being born of water and Spirit,” Jesus teaches. (3:5)

In other words,

The only way into our Heavenly Father’s kingdom

Is to have one foot in this world

And the other foot firmly planted in heaven.

Being born of water = think “this world,”

“Think - the great flood with Noah and his ark,”

“Think - the Red Sea parting for Moses and the Hebrews,”

“Think - the baptisms of John the Baptist for repentance of sins.”

 

Being born of water

Should cause one to consider

how the God of creation

has a long history of rescuing God’s people;

saving us from

our unrighteousness,

warring intent,

and sins of the flesh.

 

But the world is not enough.

Baptism by water is not enough.

Perfect attendance in church isn’t enough.

Attending seminary and being ordained isn’t enough.

There is nothing humanly possible,

No human effort, no righteous deed, no feat so worthy

That will, on its own, open the doors to the kingdom of heaven.

 

In Christ, heaven and earth kiss.

 

 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith,

and this is not your own doing;

it is the gift of God— not the result of works,

so that no one may boast.”

(Ephesians 2:8-9)

 

We are not saved by our works,

the apostle Paul correctly interprets the Gospel,

We are saved solely by the grace of God.”

In the post Ascension, post Messianic era,

that grace

 

 

is God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.

6.JPG

 

Being born of the Spirit = think the presence of Christ in the absence of his body.

Think wind, Jesus tells us,

“It blows where it chooses,”

(which is to say Christ’s mind is not our mind)

“you hear the sound of it,”

(our senses are aware of its presence)

“but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”

(In other words,

don’t spent wasted time

attempting to understand what the Spirit’s next move may be.

Just let it go.

Let it be.)

 

Simply be aware;

Watch for the signs,

Listen for its rustling,

Follow where it leads.

Let the Spirit guide you in the here and now.

 

“Very truly, I tell you,

no one can see the kingdom of God

without being born from above.” (3:3)

Not “again.”

“From above!”

Baptized in this world,

Adopted by the Spirit of Christ from above!

 

One foot planted squarely in both heaven and earth.

 

Though we struggle in a world filled with sickness, sin, and death,

The apostle Paul writes in his epistle to the church in Rome,

We have not been abandoned.

In Christ, God has adopted us

As God’s very own children and heirs.

 

 

“You have received a spirit of adoption,”

Paul teaches.

“We are children of God,

And if children, then heirs,

Heirs of God and … with Christ.”

(Romans 8:14, 16b-17a)

(With thanks to Elisabeth Johnson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, Watertown, MN)

 

We have not been left behind simply with a historical book about Jesus.

We have been claimed and named,

Bought and paid for,

Accepted and included,

into God’s heavenly family.

 

 

The power of adoption,

Or huiothesia in the Greek,

Cannot be over stated.

Parents who have adopted children may understand somewhat.

Adopted children may understand to a point.

It is one thing to give birth,

It is something altogether different to intentional lay claim to a child,

To gather them in and make them your own.

 

That intentional will

Is but a taste,

Just an inkling of,

The enormous gift of love the Spirit represents.

 

 

Grace is an order of magnitude beyond our comprehension.

We don’t have to understand it,

Simply claim it,

Live in it,

Bathe in it,

Drink it in.

 

On this Sunday when we celebrate the Holy Trinity

 

 

Our scriptural lessons

Helps to paint a picture of our adaptive, relational, loving God;

Of a Father’s love that created us,

Made covenant with us,

Taught us how to live,

And hoped for our obedience.

 

We experience

A Father’s love who sent us his own Son

As a gift to humankind,

To forgive our sins

And to save us into eternal life.

 

We are filled with

A Son’s love

That refused to abandon us,

But is willing to abide with us, and in us,

By the presence and guidance of the Son’s Spirit.

The Holy Spirit has adopted us as God’s own,

Linking us with Christ

As fellow children and heirs of God.

We are enabled to call upon God

With the same intimacy Christ used:

“Abba! Father!”

even as he was lifted up upon a cross.

 

Dearly beloved,

This is a God that will not let us go.

We are His children,

Siblings with Christ,

Heirs to the divine inheritance.

 

Come,

Take this bread.

Drink this cup.

Cry “Abba! Father!”

And lay claim to God’s grace

Given to you.

Amen.

A Sermon for East Rochester: "The Spirit of Truth"

John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Pentecost – May 20, 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester and West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

(On the occasion of the baptism of Louis Christopher Andreacchi, Aubrey DeRycke, and Paige T. O’Lena and the reception into membership of the East Rochester United Methodist church of Nicholas A. Andreacchi, Sarah J. Andreacchi, Kannan Velchamy, Shanthi Thangavelsami, and Jeerthi Mary Kannan.)

John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=393394883)

Prayer.

 

Louis, Aubrey, and Paige welcome.

I welcome you into

The community of God

Known as Christianity.

 

God chose you;

Intentionally chose you to be a Christian.

Forevermore, your identity is

your name

and

your tribe:

Christianity.

 

On this day we celebrate

the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples of Jesus.

The same Holy Spirit warmed the hearts

of your parents and family members, and

Brought into their consciousness

the need to bring you forward

to these baptismal waters.

 

You’ve been baptized by water and the same Spirit,

That unites us one with Christ

and one with each other

For all eternity.

Nothing can, or will,

Break or destroy our baptismal union.

 

The Holy Spirit acted,

Using my hands as the hands of God.

What God has done,

No one can undo,

Nor does God need to repeat the call or initiation.

What God has done

Is done.

 

Church; now I’m looking at you.

 

The Holy Spirit has done its part.

Now, it’s time to take responsibility and live up to

the promise we’ve just made.

 

 

We’ve promised to proclaim the good news

And live according to the example of Jesus,

Teaching Louis, Aubrey, and Paige

Everything about Jesus that you’ve been taught.

Don’t you dare leave anything out.

I’m too old for excuses.

Teach them everything!

 

Louis, Aubrey, and Paige need to be introduced to Jesus,

To develop a personal faith and relationship in Jesus,

And to learn to abide in the grace and love of Jesus

All their days.

This is their time of preparation,

To prepare themselves for the day they will confirm

Their baptismal vows.

So, prepare them!

 

What are you going to do, and how are you going to do it?

 

 

Teach and practice love and forgiveness.

By our baptismal vows,

We are a NO HATE zone,

We are a NO CONFLICT zone.

Hatred and fighting is not tolerated in this house!

As the Father has loved the Son,

And the Son loves his disciples,

So, too, are we to love one another.

 

Christ didn’t die for our redemption

So that you and I might be curmudgeons,

Stubbornly refusing to grant and receive forgiveness!

Confess, repent, forgive! Repeat!

Teach it.

Practice it.

Repeat so often that Louis, Aubrey, and Paige

Become the forgiveness of Christ,

That the world might be redeemed.

 

By word and example show them how to serve others;

How to love God, and love neighbors.

The Holy Spirit of Truth will guide you to all truth,

Will guide you to selfless service and righteousness,

Will guide you into a lifestyle of justice, mercy, and peace.

 

This probably feels more like a lecture than a sermon.

I understand.

I’m being so forceful and direct

Because I know the immense responsibility

We have all just taken on behalf of Louis, Aubrey, and Paige.

 

Heaven is on the line.

 

There is too much at stake

For there to be any risk of failure.

All hands are needed

For the power and authority of the Spirit

To be transferred from Christ to his Church.

 

Nick, Sarah, Kannan, Shanthi, and Jeerthi

Welcome into the membership of the local chapter.

Sadly, there is no secret handshake,

Or, if there is one,

No one has taught me!

 

Welcome into the membership of the

East Rochester United Methodist Church.

It is humbling,

It is good,

It is a privilege to journey together as friends,

The path that leads to Jesus Christ,

Abiding in his eternal grace and love.

 

6.JPG

 

You are a part of the leading edge

of the awesome transformation God is doing in this congregation.

Ride the wave!

 

As your spiritual, ordained, appointed leader,

It is my vow to support your spiritual life to the best of my ability

By proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ,

By celebrating the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion,

To guide in the organization and administration of the parish,

And by word and example,

To work with you to serve others.

 

My words. My vow. My honor.

 

In turn,

You join with every other member

of the East Rochester United Methodist church,

Making this four-point vow:

 

 

1. Members pray for one another, and for the world.

 

Pray.

Pray boldly.

Pray continuously.

Pray, because Jesus tells us to pray

And he teaches us how to pray.

 

Pray.

Not to change God,

But that the Holy Spirit might change you.

 

Join me in prayer daily.

 

2. Members show up.

 

Show up for worship.

No excuses.

I’m too old, and I’ve heard them all before.

 

If you can’t attend Sabbath worship here,

Make it a priority to join with others to worship together.

Visit a parish when traveling or when schedules conflict.

 

Corporate worship matters.

Being together, giving God thanks and praise matters.

It’s important.

Visit our growing online efforts to

Get us together, and keep us together, in sacred worship.

 

Without you, we are not complete.

 

This is your worship home.

We are your worshipping brothers and sisters.

Show up and return often.

 

3. Members give.

 

Time. Talent. Money.

Time and talent, I think we all get.

Make it a priority to share your time and the gifts God gives you

For the benefit of the Church and God’s kingdom.

 

Allow me to be straight forward about giving money.

Every member is responsible for a share of the overall

Income and expenses of our Christian community.

Money doesn’t grow on trees,

Nor do we find it under cabbage leaves.

Every penny comes from us;

Each according to ability.

 

God’s already given us all we need to fulfill God’s will and purpose.

If we run short,

It means there are one or more members

Who need to increase financial support,

To come to parity,

With the rest of us.

 

The guide is the Biblical tithe;

Ten percent of income.

It was a struggle for Cynthia and I to get to a ten percent tithe,

Especially with raising a family.

But, we did it. We do it. Tithing makes us happy.

I invite you to join us.

 

4. Members serve.

 

We love and serve the Lord.

We love and serve our neighbors.

We place the needs of others before our own needs.

 

Members serve, then eat last.

Members sacrifice our own comfort and well being for friends,

For others,

Especially for the last, least, and lost.

 

Members serve as advocates.

Members serve as peacemakers.

Members serve to right the wrongs of the world.

Members serve as the hands of Jesus.

 

 

I have every expectation

And every confidence in the five of you,

And in the entire membership of the East Rochester United Methodist Church

That you will faithfully keep your vows and covenant.

 

I believe you and take you at your word.

By the power and the authority of the Holy Spirit

You will support the ministry of this parish and our Church

By your prayers,

Your presence,

Your gifts,

And your service.

 

May the Holy Spirit of Truth

Bless, preserve, and keep you.

May the Holy Spirit of Truth

Strengthen your belief,

lead you to righteousness,

and save you from self-condemnation.

May the Holy Spirit of Truth,

Who was present and active

At your baptismal waters,

Grant you all power and authority

To bring about His kingdom

To God’s eternal glory.

Amen.

A Sermon for Zion: "The Spirit of Truth"

Acts 2:1-4, 14, 16-21 and John 15:26-27 & John 16:4b-15

Pentecost, 20 May 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion and East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Acts 2:1-4, 14, 16-21 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=393565860)

John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=393562159)

 

Prayer.

 

Exactly as Jesus taught

The Messianic Age ended!

He flew up into the air, hallelujah!

Jesus was the last, final messiah.

No need to wait for another.

 

Turn the page.

 

Exactly as Jesus promised

A new chapter in God’s unfolding salvation history began.

With Pentecostal fire

The Holy Spirit came upon and overwhelmed the obedient disciples,

Waiting in the Upper Room.

 

Thus began the age in which we continue to live to this day:

Welcome to the Holy Spirit Age.

 

The author of Acts reported what happened:

The Holy Spirit came with sound and heat,

Filling the entire house.

 

Sound filled the house:

“like the rush of a violent wind.” (Acts 2:2)

People who live in tornado alley would describe this

“like the sound of a freight train bearing down on them.”

Shelter in place, auntie Em! 

 

Heat filled the house:

“Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” (Acts 2:3)

Talk about running around with your hair on fire!

It’s like the house got blown down and set on fire.

 

As a result,

All “were filled with the Holy Spirit

And began to speak in other languages,

As the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:4)

 

No, they had not been drinking, as some speculated.

Peter set the record straight.

They were witnessing,

Just as Joel prophesized hundreds of years earlier.

Their multi-lingual witness

Revealed the coming of the Lord,

The presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

It was the dawn of a brand new age.

 

As God came to earth as Son of God and Son of Man,

In the form of Jesus Christ,

God returned to the world as the Spirit,

The Advocate, the Paraclete, the Spirit of Truth.

The world had to know that God had returned to live among us;

Therefore, the message needed delivered in the languages of the world.

 

This explained what happened, on the day of Pentecost.

The question that begs to be asked is “why?”

Why did Jesus leave his disciples and humanity behind?

Why did God return to humanity on Pentecost in the form of a Spirit?

 

Answering the “why?” question gives us insight

Into God’s motives;

God’s deep, longing desire

To love and save the world.

 

Scripture reveals three items that are essential for our understanding.

(It makes for a good three-point sermon, too!)

 

1. First, the Holy Spirit replaced Jesus

To transfer his power and authority to his Church.

“The Advocate will take what is mine and declare it to you,”

Jesus promises. (John 16:14)

 

The problem facing Jesus was

He was one man

Who could only be in one place

At one time.

His singularity

Limited his reach

And restricted his ability

To teach, heal, forgive and save

To only the individual directly before him.

 

God’s unfolding plan

Reveals the need for

The power and authority of Jesus Christ to scale

From the individual

To the global needs of humanity.

 

The transition from the Messianic Age to the Holy Spirit Age reveals

God’s deepest desire to spread his kingdom worldwide.

The power and authority of Jesus is available to all Spirit filled disciples.

When the Spirit fills us,

Starting with our baptism by water and Spirit,

We become the Body of Christ.

We assume the authority of Jesus.

And we are given the power of Jesus by the Holy Spirit,

With the responsibility to use it

According to God’s will.

 

2. Secondly, God’s work wasn’t completed in Jesus.

More needed done.

More needed taught.

Disciples need direction, guidance towards truth.

 

To this day

God’s will continues to be revealed,

Continues to adapt to the ground game,

Continues to adjust to the evolving needs of humanity.

 

As the world evolved, so too would God.

 

For scripture to be understood,

The Holy Spirit needs to flood the thoughts of the reader.

For the Gospel to be proclaimed,

The Holy Spirit needs to reveal it’s will to the preacher.

For the kingdom of God to be spread,

The Holy Spirit needs to empower advocates for

Justice,

Peacemaking,

And Social Holiness.

 

Jesus recognized the fact

That post-ascension apostles could not manage alone.

 

3. Lastly, in the final moments of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples,

He tells them that the Spirit must replace him,

To “prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:8)

It would take the Spirit to do

That which Jesus was unable to do

In three key areas:

sin and belief,

righteousness in physical absence,

and judgment and condemnation.

 

For those who would be unmoved in believing or following Jesus,

Only the Holy Spirit would be able to bridge the gap,

And bring the unbeliever from the land of the lost

Into the kingdom of God.

 

For those who needed Christ’s physical presence

To prod their righteous behavior,

Only the Holy Spirit would be able to wheel them back into community.

Somehow, God still had to go after lost sheep.

 

For those whose self-judgment has opened the flood gates of self-condemnation,

Only the power of the Holy Spirit can save the condemned from drowning,

By extending forgiveness and the redemption of sins to the world.

 

Our Holy Spirit Age was a necessary transition

In our relationship with God,

And no one knew it,

Or could articulate it more accurately,

Than Jesus, himself.

The power and authority of Jesus

Had to be transferred to the Church

If Christianity was going to propagate the world.  

Disciples then, and every generation moving forward,

Depend upon the guidance and support of the Holy Spirit.

You and I; we couldn’t survive, let alone thrive, without the presence of the Spirit.

And the gift of the Holy Spirit of Truth,

Enlightens and brings to life the gifts of Jesus:

Forgiveness of sins,

Repentance,

And salvation.

 

Today we celebrate God’s gift of the Spirit,

A sign of his grace and overwhelming love

For you and me.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

“Sent to Witness”

Luke 24:44-53

May 13, 2018 – Ascension of the Lord Sunday

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion and East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Luke 24:44-53 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=392965534)

 

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

 

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

 

 

Prayer.

 

The Messianic Age is ended!

Hallelujah!

It’s done. Over. Long since gone.

Hallelujah!

 

With Christ’s ascension into heaven

The chapter of Jewish messianic expectation has been closed.

It was done.

All his disciples are told to stay in Jerusalem and wait

For the dawning of God’s next age to begin.

Sit tight.

Wait.

The new age is going to be awesome!

 

Our Jewish ancestors had plenty of reasons to watch and wait

For the messiah, the savior of the world, to come.

The promise of prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah

Echo back to Moses (see Deuteronomy 18:15-22);

That God was sending a savior to the world,

To redeem the world,

To fix the world of its original sin.

 

 

From scriptural authority,

Our ancestors anticipated

A human leader,

A blood line descendent from King David,

Sent by God with a plan

To reunify and gather together the tribes of Israel,

To remove foreign occupation,

To forgive sins and save the redeemed,

And to usher in an age of universal peace and God’s dominion.

 

The annunciation of Jesus in the Jerusalem Temple

Revealed Jesus as the much anticipated messiah,

Son of God, and descendent of David.

Of course, not everyone bought it,

Many still don’t.

But those of us who were his disciples,

And by our baptismal heritage his disciples today,

We know differently.

 

Jesus was the long-anticipated messiah;

That’s why we call him “the Christ,”

Literally meaning, Jesus the messiah.

Now, he had flown away,

Right out of their sight.

 

The wait must have been interminable,

Filled with anxiety and uncertainty.

Yet, Jesus had just opened their minds to the scriptures,

 

3.JPG

 

“that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (24:46b-47)

 

They knew the mission.

They knew the will of Jesus:

Begin with proclamations

Of repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus

Starting right there in Jerusalem.

But, what’s next?

 

“Stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high,” Jesus commanded. (24:49b)

Stay and wait.

 

 

Close one chapter.

Wait for the next chapter to begin.

Luke reports they passed the time

Worshipping Jesus and blessing God in the Temple.

He also tells us they chose a replacement disciple: Matthias. (Acts 1:12-14)

 

Finally, Christ’s disciples understood.

No more secrets.

No more bumbling misunderstandings.

They knew what they had to do.

They just had to wait

To be clothed with God’s power.  

 

Our Lord’s band of brothers only had to sweat it out

Until Pentecost, for the coming of the Holy Spirit

(which we will celebrate next Sunday)

For the next chapter to begin.

 

 

The age of the Holy Spirit was about to begin.

 

Some might speculate that Jesus ascended to the Father

As some kind of reward for a job well done.

I see it differently.

I see the transition from one era to another

As a part of God’s unfolding, elegant plan

To love the world;

To set the table

For the Church to take root,

Experience explosive growth,

And spread throughout all nations.

 

When Christ dwelt among us,

He, and his small band of disciples, was the Church.

When Jesus became physically absent,

His body became the people who faithfully fulfilled his will

To witness to his death and resurrection.

 

His suffering and death had meaning;

Dying powerless,

At the same time, he took upon himself the sins of the world.

His resurrection had meaning;

Rising from the dead,

Eternal life given to all who believe.

 

 

Resurrection reveals cosmic power,

Divine power,

Power beyond human comprehension.

And now, in this new Holy Spirit age,

This divine power comes to all disciples.

We’ve become his body;

The Body of Christ,

Wielding God’s power and authority.

 

One of the first crisis to hit the early Church

Was the failure of Jesus to return as they believed he promised.

The problem was their assumption

Was that he would return in bodily form.

Many still believe this today.

Many a street preacher

And many tall steeple pastors

Will preach this very narrow assumption

Of our Lord’s physical return.

 

 

What could be wrong with Jesus flying back to earth

In an Elijah-like fiery chariot,

Leading the faithful in a victorious final battle of Armageddon;

Armies of righteousness bringing defeat to the devil and his minions,

Of good winning out over evil?

 

Second coming apocryphal images

Keep the mojo flowing,

Sells a lot of books,

And, in my humble opinion, instill an unnecessary fear

To keep people alert and faithful.

 

Allow me to challenge all of us.

The ascension of Jesus may be asking us

To broaden our field of vision,

Challenge our narrow and deeply engrained assumptions.

Let us consider a new way to contemplate the second coming of Jesus

In light of his ascension.

 

Let me to ask,

 

 

Hasn’t Christ already returned?

Isn’t Christ present in his Body,

The communion of Saints and

In the members of the faithful today

Who live Holy Spirit filled and sustained lives?

 

Isn’t the Holy Spirit in this house?

 

Fear is a lousy motivator.

After a while, fear drains out

Leaving behind

Tears of disappointment and

A feeling of unfulfilled expectations.

Many have died in the Lord disappointed

Believing that Jesus didn’t physically return during their lifetime.

 

Christ has come, we correctly proclaim!

And Christ will come again!

 

Scripture and the Christian journey lead me to believe

Christ has returned in the form of the Holy Spirit

That is present, powerful, and sustaining.

We are still children of the Heavenly Father,

But now, we are God’s children living in the Holy Spirit age.

 

 

We have been given the mission to witness,

To proclaim in the name of Jesus

The repentance and forgiveness of sins.

We’ve been given the Pentecostal power and the authority

To witness to the world.

For we now, are the Body of Christ,

Redeemed by his blood.

 

Yes, Christ will come again.

He will come to greet each and everyone of us

With an outstretched hand

Welcoming each of us home into eternal life.

Christ coming again is our Lord’s most elegant fulfillment

Of his promise of eternal life.

 

In many ways,

The message and meaning of Christ’s ascension into heaven

Is more about us than it is about Jesus.

 

 

The ascension means

The messianic age has ended.

Jesus is gone.

The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost

Ushering in a new age.

 

It’s now all on us

It’s up to us.

Where we are now the Body of Christ.

God gives us the power and authority,

But with it comes the responsibility to use it according to God’s will.

 

Dearly beloved,

Accept the responsibility.

Receive it with joy and thanksgiving!

Live faithfully according to Jesus’s commands and God’s will.

For we are now his body,

The Body of Christ.

Christ has come,

And Christ will come again.

Amen.

“Chosen Friend”

John 15:9-17

6 May 2018 – Sixth Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

John 15:9-17  (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=392359719)

 

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

 

 

Prayer.

 

“If I could only have one food

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

 

 

Vern replies,

“That’s easy. Pez.

Cherry flavor Pez.

No question about it.”

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

 

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

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

The move is about a writer who recounts a boyhood journey

With his closest friends

To find the body of a missing boy.

 

I believe this movie appeals to me so much

Because it captures my childhood in a nutshell

(except for the missing body part).

“Stand by Me” describes my growing up,

Especially between the ages of 8 and 11.

My family lived in Sinclairville, New York

Midway between Jamestown and Fredonia.

 

My closest friends were Tommy Jordan and Kevin Kochersberger.

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

Though we used Brian as comic relief,

He had an intimidating older brother.

Tommy was the son of the undertaker.

Kevin was the son of a college professor.

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

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

 

 

We roamed the neighborhood,

Built tree houses,

Raided neighbor’s gardens,

Slept outdoors under the stars.

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

We caught crawdads in the creek,

Went sledding down the hill at the town park,

And spied through the bushes when ever Tommy’s father

Brought a stiff to the back door of the funeral home.

 

The 1960s were very good to me.

 

Friends.

 

Like the writer in “Stand by Me”

We’ve all gone our separate ways,

Fallen off each other’s radar.

My friends of yesterday

Might still be only 3 degrees of separation by modern day Facebook,

But nothing can recreate that sense of friendship

That I experienced growing up.

 

Friends.

 

 

We were palls, companions, playmates.

We kept each other’s secrets.

We got into trouble together.

We explored the world together.

We stood up for one another.

We were loyal to one another …

And your word was your virtue.

 

We wouldn’t have used this word at the time,

But we loved one another.

Indeed, friend comes from the Dutch vriend,

An Indo-European root meaning “to love.”

(Google search)

 

In John’s Gospel passage,

It should be noted that

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

 

 

Agape, from the Greek,

Describes an unconditional love of God for his children,

A love that advocates, that acts, that wills

The good of another.

 

“As the Father has loved me,

so I have loved you;

abide in my love,” (15:9)

Jesus teaches his friends;

Disciples from whom he will soon depart.

 

The relationship between the Father and Jesus, the Son,

Is that of agápē love,

A relationship that Jesus has attempted to replicate

Between himself and his disciples,

A relationship that Jesus instructs all disciples to replicate

Amongst ourselves and those who join our community.

 

Agápē love.

Let’s get to it!

 

The context of this passage is vitally important

When it comes to describing Agápē  love.

 

 

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

He loved Judas,

As he demonstrated by washing his feet,

Immediately before Jesus foretells his betrayal. (John 13)

 

Jesus loved Peter,

Who’s feet he also washed,

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

 

Jesus also loved his closest friends:

John, called the beloved.

Jesus loved his friend Lazarus

So much so he wept for him

Before raising him from the dead. (John 11)

 

Jesus loved each of his disciples.

He prays for them immediately following this passage,

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

 

Jesus loved his disciples selflessly when he speaks of his future

“No one has greater love than this,

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

The cross is the symbol for the supreme act of love

Between Jesus and his friends, his disciples.

The cross remains for us today that same symbol

Of Christ’s love for the world.

 

 

Jesus makes an important connection in his farewell discourse

When he speaks of his disciples as friends.

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

Friend means “tenderly loving, kindly affectionate.”

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

 

Jesus ties his message together with philía love;

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

“I have called you friends,”

Jesus teaches,

“because I have made known to you everything

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

Jesus admits as much:

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

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

 

If there is a common strand of

Gospel DNA that weaves its way through John

It would be love.

 

 

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

Of John’s message to the early Church.

You are loved,

Jew and Gentile alike.

You are loved,

Just as you are,

Saints, sinners, even the dead and resurrected.

 

You are loved.

You are loved as the Father loved Jesus.

God loves you so much that he sent us Jesus

Who willingly gave his life

That we might inherit eternal life.

 

Granted, commanding a friend to do something

Isn’t a very friendly thing to do.

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

Full of Jesus’ commandments,

Or references to Jesus teaching

To uphold Moses’ Ten Commandments.

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

 

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

Jesus commands his disciples to love one another,

To be friends.

Love one another,

Just as Jesus taught and lived,

Just as the Father loved Jesus, his Son.

 

9.JPG

 

Loving others fulfills all other commandments.

One loves God when one maintains fidelity to God,

Mimics God’s work and rest habits,

And treats God with respect.

 

When you love your neighbor

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

When you love your neighbor

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

 

Love is the fulfillment of all commandments.

Loving others is our Lord’s greatest desire.

Love.

Abide in that love.

Dwell in that love.

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

 

Just as God chose to send us Jesus,

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

 

 

You were led,

Or are being led,

By Jesus to baptismal waters.

Baptism seals each of us eternally with Christ,

Uniting us as friends.

 

You’ve been chosen.

You’ve been chosen by Jesus.

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

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

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

 

 

Abide in his love,

And your joy will be complete!

 

Amen.

“Connected”

John 15:1-8

April 29, 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

John 15:1-8

 

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

 

 

Prayer.

 

In preparation for his near term departure

Jesus teaches his disciples,

“I am the true vine.”

 

 

This is one of seven “I am” statements in the Gospel of John:

1.    I am the bread of life,

2.    The light of the world,

3.    The door of the sheep,

4.    The good shepherd,

5.    The resurrection and the life,

6.    The way, the truth, and the life, and today,

7.    I am the true vine.

 

Whenever Jesus begins with “I am”

It certainly causes those of his disciples who were born and raised Jewish

To think back,

To remember

The story of God calling Moses on Mount Horeb,

To lead his enslaved people from Egyptian captivity.

“God heard their groaning,” it says in Exodus,

“and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Exodus 2:24)

 

God speaks directly to Moses from a burning bush.

God calls Moses to lead his people to freedom.

 

 

“But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.”

(Exodus: 3:13-15)

 

Jesus begins, “I am …”

This is no mere accident or coincidence.

I am, is the name of God.

“This is my name forever,” says the God of creation.

 

It is important for us

As we attempt to make sense of our Gospel passage

To make the connection between Jesus’ words “I am”

And the defining story of our Jewish ancestors

Being freed from Egyptian captivity.

 

Identity comes from God’s call,

God’s claim,

God’s promise

God’s faithfulness, fulfilling God’s promises.

Identity comes from shared experience,

Harrowing and miraculous escape,

Communal, social, individual, and personal salvation.

Freedom becomes salvation.

 

Story binds and affirms identity;

Telling, and retelling the story connects

One with God,

One with each other,

One with prior generations,

One with future generations.

Storytelling is essential to the health and vitality of the human condition.

 

Storytelling builds and supports a sense of identity

Identity is about connections,

Relationships, shared values, respect, intimacy, belonging;

A sense of purpose, to contribute, and to be supported,

To be loved, and to love.

 

Over the past couple of weeks I have been reading

“Disability and Spirituality Recovering Wholeness”

By my friend, William C. Gaventa,

(a book dedicated, in part, to his lifelong friend, and my friend, Ray).

In it, Bill shares his own functioning definition of spirituality,

Based on his lifetime work

In the field of research, chaplaincy, and

Relationship with people in the disability community.

 

 

Bill observes that spirituality has three dimensions:

1. Core values, meaning, and identity, including what is sacred to someone

2. Connections and relationships, to self, others, the Sacred, time, and place

3. A sense of purpose, call, vocation or obligation, being able to contribute

(“Disability and Spirituality Recovering Wholeness,” William C. Gaventa,  Baylor University Press, 2018, p.52.)

 

Connected.

“I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus teaches (15:5).

 

In Christ we are connected,

We belong,

Our identity is forged,

First at our common experience of baptism,

Then throughout our spiritual development;

Growing in Christ,

Connected to Christ,

Together, bearing fruit for Christ and his kingdom.

 

Connected means

 

5.JPG

 

You belong.

This is your space.

This is your time.

This is your time to connect with God and with each other.

Together, we are connected,

We find a common identity,

Deeply defined by freedom and salvation.

We are Christ’s Body.

 

Let’s all gather and sing “Kumbaya”.

 

Well, not quite so fast.

 

 

Jesus tells us “I am the true vine,”

Then he follows up with the equally important,

“and my Father is the vinegrower,” (15:1) or vinedresser.

 

Starting out my pastoral ministry in the Finger Lakes,

I’ve observed that vinedressers (mostly women) work hard

All four seasons of the year

In every imaginable weather condition.

Many carry two knives

When working in the vineyard

And they intend to cut, to prune.

 

 

Pruning is an essential task that removes

Dead, diseased, or stunted grapes.

Pruning reduces the risk of insect infestation.

Pruning makes room for new growth,

Leading to a healthier and more productive vine.

 

No branch is immune to the pruning knife.

 

It would be easy to jump to the conclusion

That Jesus is speaking about judgment here;

That if we are branches,

We should be forewarned.

Bear fruit or face the fire.

But that assumption doesn’t square itself with Jesus’ intent.

 

 

The roll of the vinedresser is to care for the vine,

To enable the vine to bear as much fruit as possible, year in, year out.

Pruning is caring.

At the same time, pruning is painful.

Short term pain results in long term gains.

 

Failure to abide in Christ,

To be connected to the Vine,

Leads to a total and complete failure.

“Apart from me you can do nothing,” Jesus warns. (15:5)

 

Pruning isn’t about judgment;

It’s reward is growth.

The Greek word for “prune” is the same word that is used for “cleansed.”

Jesus reminds his disciples,

you have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.” (15:3)

Pruning to bear more fruit isn’t by a vinegrower’s knife,

It is by learning, teaching, and proclaiming the word of God.

 

Therefore, let us allow ourselves to be pruned by God’s word,

Adhere to the commands of Jesus,

To abide, to take up residence, in Jesus Christ

That we might bear much fruit for his kingdom,

For this glorifies our heavenly Father.

 

 

Abiding with Christ

Connects us with the true Vine,

Connects us with our Heavenly Father, our Creator, and

Connects us with each other.

 

Our core Christian experience,

Our sense of spirituality and spiritual development,

Is dependent up our common connection with the true Vine.

Be pruned by the word of God.

Abide in Christ and you will bear great fruit.

 

Be connected.

Grow connections.

Bear fruit for the kingdom.

Bear fruit for the world.

This is our spiritual destiny.

Amen.

“Annoyed”

Acts 4:1-12 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=391064001)

John 10:11-18 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=391064062)

Sunday, April 22, 2018 – The Fourth Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

John 10:11-18

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

 

 

Prayer.

 

Many of you might remember the journalist from 60 Minutes

Who, for decades, had reserved the final 5 minutes of the show

For his curmudgeoned, cantankerous opinions on

Anything that caught his attention.

 

Andy Rooney didn’t suffer fools.

He was easily annoyed by

Inefficiencies, ineffectiveness, and illogical

People, processes, and institutions -

Especially government.

 

Nothing, and no one, was off limits to his skewing sarcasm.

It was as if Andy Rooney longed to return to an America

Where everyone was white and middle class,

Drove a Ford, Chrysler, or Chevy,

Everyone attended church on Sundays,

Girls skipped rope and took Home Economics,

Boys played Little League and took Wood and Metal Shop,

And children had free run of the neighborhood.

 

Personal confession time:

The older I get, the more like Andy Rooney

I fear I’m becoming.

 

 

Ironically, I’m annoyed that I get annoyed

Seemingly more and more frequently,

Often times but the smallest irritant.

I should know better.

It doesn’t help if I have negative and annoying people around me.

Too much caffeine doesn’t help, either.

 

I’m guessing I’m not alone.

 

I find myself annoyed by lousy, aggressive drivers.

I find myself annoyed by news stories that should be self-evident, like

“What should I do with my tax refund?

Pay down debt or spend it on a new flat screen T.V.?”

Shake my head.

 

I find myself annoyed by people who refuse the think critically,

Asking themselves Who? What? Where? When? How? Why?

I find myself annoyed by people who are spoon fed information

Are too lazy to form their own opinion, so

They blindly echo what they’ve been told.

 

News.

Politics.

Religion.

Finance.

Law and order.

Higher education.

Health care.

Technology.

Filling the dishwasher in the kitchen and

Putting down the seat on the toilet in the bathroom.

You name it, I can find something on just about any topic

That annoys me to death.

 

My guess is, there is much about the world that annoys you, too.

 

 

I don’t like being annoyed.

I want to live differently.

I hope you do, too.

 

Living a life of being chronically annoyed

 

 

Makes me think of an office, school, job site, or factory

Filled with discontented cubical dwellers, teachers, or employees

Complaining about everything and everyone,

Gossiping around the water cooler,

Loafing-off while on the job.

 

Hired hands rarely care about a company, institution, or reputation

As much as the owner, operators, or administrators.

“So what if we snooze at our desk?

So what if I flunk the test?

So what if we fail to make our goals?

So what if the machine blows up or the place burns down?”

“That’s what insurance is for,” the hired hand may indifferently state.

“The company will just buy another one.”

 

 

Annoyed hired hands

Avoid suffering,

Won’t take the initiative,

Refuse to go the extra mile.

They will grumble about mandatory overtime or weekend attendance.

Annoyed workers

Try to bend the rules,

Wiggle around the rules,

And are the first to call Cellino & Barnes at the drop of a hat

(a local law firm noted for suing everyone for just about everything).

 

Many will seek to enter another way,

So as not to be seen by the dean, foreman, or supervisor.

Like climbing secretly over the back wall

Instead of entering through the front gate.

They might conspire to have an accomplice clock in or clock out.

Annoyed and discontented sub-contractors will look for the first excuse

To walk off the job and flee,

Leaving a mess behind.

 

 

I don’t like being annoyed.

I’m tired of hearing my own complaints.

I pray you are, too.

 

Our Gospel is a call to choose:

Choose to change!

 

I don’t want to be a complainer

Like the Pharisees who were investigating Jesus healing the blind man,

In the narrative from John

Immediately preceding our Gospel lesson of the Good Shepherd.

 

Lord, don’t let me become like the group of gutless Pharisees who,

Forty years after Jesus, cut and ran,

Fled the Roman legions

Who were leveling the Temple and burning Jerusalem.

Pharisees ran for their lives

To the village of Jamnia on the southern coastal plain,

Abandoning their own people.

 

I don’t want to be an annoying whiner or wimp like a hired shepherd.

The contrast between the Good Shepherd and the Hired Hand

Couldn’t be more clear.

 

Make a choice

Will you lead by complaining?

By avoidance?

Will you lead by apathy?

Will you flee at the first hint of adversity?

 

Or, Jesus asks us,

Will your leadership be modeled after the example of the Good Shepherd?

 

 

Will we

Lead like the Good Shepherd, or

Live like the Hired Hands?

 

Yes, Lord.

Mold me and make me

Into the image of the Good Shepherd.

Yes, Lord, I pray sweating blood,

That each of us are so inspired,

To be molded and shaped into the image of Jesus Christ,

Our Good Shepherd.

 

 

Good Shepherds care about their sheep;

They care so much they are willing to lay down their life for their flock,

Like Jesus freely laying down his life for our benefit.

The hired hand? not so much.

 

Faced with this contrast and requirement to choose -

Yes, Lord. Teach us to be good shepherds.

 

The Good Shepherd knows his sheep.

They know the voice.

They know they belong.

They know each and every sheep is essential.

Every sheep has an authentic, intimate relationship with the shepherd.

As the heavenly Father is intimately related to Jesus, his Son,

So, too, is the Good Shepherd related to his sheep,

So, too, are the relationships in our Christian community,

So, to is the relationship between a pastor, parish leaders, and parishioners.

 

Jesus elevates the model for church leadership,

Of those called to lay or clergy shepherding,

To that of service above self,

To the extent of caring for others

To the point of willingly surrendering our own lives.

Give it away!

Wisdom, riches, talents, time, even our life itself.

Invest in others until we don’t matter anymore.

 

Life has never been about me or us,

Career, success, or status;

Our life together is always about Jesus,

Loving God and loving neighbors;

Loving such that the self disappears

And perfection, as John Wesley describes it,

Becomes complete selflessness.

 

10.JPG

 

Perfection is complete

When the self becomes completely selfless and all are loved and served.

 

It tickled my imagination

When I read the narrative from the Acts of the Apostles (4:1-12).

 

 

The Jewish leadership –

The high priest, chief priest, temple guards, elders, scribes, Pharisees who were members of the council –

The Jewish leadership, not the people,

Were annoyed with Peter and John

Who were teaching the people and proclaiming that

In Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. (4:3)

 

Imagine that!

Resurrection is an annoyance

To those who would kill Jesus,

The living presence of God.

How could the good news of Christ’s resurrection be so annoying?

 

 

Resurrection isn’t believing that

God resuscitated a corpse two thousand years ago.

Resurrection isn’t believing

The miracles Jesus enacted,

Bringing sight

To a man born blind.

Belief in resurrection is to say that

God is greater than death.

God is greater than crushed lives and limbs.

 

 

Resurrection people are disciples of Jesus

Who embrace life,

Who choose to live loving and generous lives.

Resurrection people reject a culture of death and defeat,

And embrace tolerance, understanding, and the welcoming inclusion of every neighbor.

 

Living as resurrection people

Destroys annoyance, complaining, self-centeredness.

Living as the Body of the resurrected Christ

Is to live selflessly - serving others above self,

Willing to sacrifice the self, even unto death,

Is to chose to live the life of the Good Shepherd.

 

 

Lord, lead me to a life of resurrection.

Lord, lead us all to live as your resurrection people. Amen.

“Peace in the Midst of Fear”

Luke 24:36b-48

April 15, 2018 – Third Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

Prayer.

 

Whenever a scripture passage begins with

“While they were talking about this, …”

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

 

This is what the disciples were talking about:

 

 

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

When the resurrected Jesus appeared and joined them.

They did not recognize Jesus,

Telling the apparent stranger of all the events they had just experienced:

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

The women’s report that the tomb was empty,

And the woman’s report that two angels told them that Jesus was alive.

The still unrecognized Jesus calls Cleopas and the other disciple fools,

Chides them on how slow to believe the teaching of prophets,

Then begins to teach them about himself and the scriptures.

 

As they approach the village of Emmaus

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

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

At dinner, on the occasion of breaking and blessing the bread,

 

 

Their eyes were opened.

They saw the Lord.

They recognized Jesus.

Then Jesus vanished from their sight.

They immediately became so excited that

They dropped everything, returned to Jerusalem,

And told the other disciples all that had happened.

This is the it, our passage begins with today.

 

 

“Peace be with you,” Jesus begins.

 

Like every ghost we have ever heard about,

Just as Jesus dematerialized

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

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

They are startled and terrified.

Already, they were locked away in the Upper Room

For fear of the Jewish authorities.

They came for Jesus.

They bagged their man.

They’re next coming for us.

Already, their collective anxiety was through the roof.

When Jesus appears out of thin air,

They are startled and terrified.

 

Which begs me to asks,

 

 

What startles and terrifies you?

 

“Peace be with you,” Jesus says.

 

Jesus appears to correlate fear with doubt.

“Why are you frightened, and

Why do doubts arise in your hearts?” he asks.

Perhaps, if we address our fears,

We might be able to better able to get a grasp

On our faith and our doubts.

Perhaps, we might be able to

Keep our doubts constrained,

At the same time, we might be able to

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

 

What startles and terrifies us?

 

It is impossible for me to speak for you

Or from your experience.

I can only speak from my personal experience of fear.

 

What do I fear? What terrifies me?

First, and foremost,

My greatest fear is harm coming to my family,

Cynthia, Nicholas, or Christian.

 

 

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

 

Intellectually, I can think through the theological jungle gym;

God is watching over each of us in the family.

We should just trust in the Lord.

And leave the rest up to God.

Emotionally, I’m far more at peace

With my own passion, suffering, and death,

Than I am with the passion, suffering, and death of those I love.

 

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

I experience faithful, God-fearing Christians

Being put through the wringer

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

Frankly, I shake my head in awe

At the amazing capacity for faith

That you, and others, show me

All

The

Time.

I can only pray that

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

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

 

“Peace be with you,” the Body of Christ addresses my greatest fear.

 

 

What startles or brings you fear?

 

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

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

 

I’m asking you to join me in a deeper self-analysis.

What about other fears?

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

Some fear an economic crisis.

Some fear their 401(k) and pension running out of money.

Some fear not being able to pay bills.

Some fear unemployment.

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

 

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

 

Some fear the government.

Some fear our government taking away liberties.

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

Some fear our local, state, and national leadership.

Some fear war with North Korea, Syria, Russia, or some other adversary.

 

 

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

 

Some fear technology, social media, big data.

Some fear the loss of privacy.

Some fear being spied upon.

Some fear losing control of everything.

Some fear science and research.

 

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

 

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

Some fear pain and suffering.

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

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

Some fear just going to the doctor.

 

 

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

 

Some fear our church running out of money, attendance dwindling, doors being closed.

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

Some fear handing over the reigns to the next generation.

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

 

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

 

Some fear prayer, opening a direct line with God.

Some fear punishment, wrath, going to hell.

Some fear making peace, ending old grudges and offenses.

Some fear the prospect of forgiving or being forgiven.

Some fear eternal life.

 

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

 

 

We are the Body of Christ;

It is our responsibility to extend the peace of Jesus,

Even as we become recipients of his peace.

Being vessels of Christ’s peace,

Stills our fears,

Lessens our doubt,

And strengthens our faith.

 

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

He brings assurance to his disciples that

They aren’t seeing a ghostly apparition

By eating a piece of broiled fish.

 

Peace be with you.

 

Jesus brings assurance to his disciples

By opening their minds to understand scripture,

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

The prophets,

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

Diving deep into scripture;

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

Diving deep into scripture and drinking it in completely

Brings peace.

 

Peace be with you.

 

 

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

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

 

Oh, I forgot to add …

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

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

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

 

13.JPG

 

“Peace be with you,” Jesus tells us.

 

Take a deep breath.

Start small.

Make a friend.

Be a friend.

Build a network of friendships.

They will know we are Christians by our love.

 

Start local, beginning right here.

Only when you gain traction, take it to the next level.

Responsibility isn’t completely on the shoulders

Of any one disciple to witness to the world.

The responsibility to take the witness and peace of Jesus Christ global

Is upon the network of friends,

Called the Body of Christ.

 

“Peace be with you.”

Have no fear.

Simply be

Peace.

Simply believe.

Amen.

“Gifts from Jesus”

John 20:19-31

8 April, 2018 – The 2nd Sunday of Easter

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist churches

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

 

John 20:19-31 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=389938149)

 

 

Prayer.

 

I’ve heard about Jesus and I need more.

 

Think back with me.

 

 

John 1:45 - Philip to Nathaniel “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

“Come and see.”

Nathaniel will have to encounter Jesus and draw his own conclusion.

 

Think back with me.

 

 

John 4:42 – Woman at the well goes to town after meeting with Jesus

“Come and see,” she invites,

Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!”

Many believed based on her report.

Many more believed because their experienced Jesus themselves.

“It is no longer because of what you said that we believe,

for we have heard for ourselves,

and we know

that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

 

Think back to last Sunday with me.

 

 

John 20:18 – Mary to the disciples “I have seen the Lord!”

No evidence of their belief or attempt to verify Mary’s claim.

 

Today, Jesus comes to them in the secured room

 

 

and says,

“Peace be with you.”

Then, he shows them evidence of his crucifixion,

His hands and his side.

Disciples to Thomas

“We have seen the Lord.” (20:25)

 

Thomas needs to see and experience Jesus just like Nathaniel,

Just like the people in the village the woman at the well went and told,

Just like Mary, waiting and weeping outside the tomb.

 

 

“Unless I see

The mark of the nail in his hands,

And put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side,

I will not believe.” (20:25)

 

I can’t fault Thomas.

He’s gotten a bad rap.

It isn’t as if he doubted.

His skepticism is a reflection of

The same need to see and experience the risen Christ,

Similar to Nathanial and the people from the woman’s village,

Just like the ten disciples locked away in the upper room after the resurrection,

Just like you and me today.

 

I’ve heard about Jesus, but I need something more.

Show me Jesus.

 

Show me Jesus.

 

I’ve learned over the years that Jesus doesn’t play fetch.

Jesus doesn’t respond to our every request, petition, or plead

Like a dog fetching a stick.

Jesus moves and acts on his terms.

Not on our terms.

Jesus is our God.

We are his disciples.

It’s good not to confuse this basic principle value

Of the relationship between our God and his people.

 

We don’t tempt the Lord.

We don’t command the Lord.

We don’t tell the Lord how to run his kingdom.

We don’t tell the Lord to show up.

If the Lord shows up, wonderful.

If the Lord doesn’t, the Lord has his reasons,

And it may, or may not be, our place to know.

 

7.JPG

 

Trust.

Trust in the Lord.

Trust in the Lord that he knows what’s he’s doing.

Then let it go.

Trust and release.

 

Show me Jesus, that I, too, might believe!

 

“What does it mean?” the gospel of John is asking

In his account of Jesus appearing

First to the disciples,

Then, secondly, to Thomas.

What does it mean?

Jesus’ appearance is first by sight,

But is not dependent upon sight alone.

 

It is possible to come and see Jesus without his physical presence,

Without acuity of vision and direct observation.

It is possible to come and see Jesus,

To come to believe in his resurrection and salvation,

Simply with an open mind and heart.

 

Allow me to help us to connect the dots.

Jesus’ visit to the disciples in the upper room wasn’t a courtesy call.

He had an agenda.

The gospel of John reveals two action items that were his greatest priority.

 

 

1. First, Jesus breaths upon his disciples

And gives to them the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Contrary to Luke / Acts account of the Holy Spirit descending

Forty days after the resurrection of Jesus,

“with tongues as of fire”

As reported in Acts, chapter two,

John reports

Jesus gives to his disciples

The gift of the Holy Spirit on the evening of his resurrection.

 

The breath of Jesus,

The gift of the Holy Spirit,

The power of God Almighty taking up residence (abiding)

Reveals the resurrected Jesus much more powerfully

Than simple direct, visual, eye witness observation.

 

Christ is alive!

We are free to witness,

Because he has filled our lives with his Holy Spirit!

 

By filling us with the Holy Spirit

Jesus gives us the power of the Spirit,

That will sustain us when we run out of power.

Jesus breaths upon us the will of the Spirit,

That guides us when we become disoriented or lost.

Jesus fills us with the love of the Spirit,

Love that forgives,

Love that saves,

Love that will, one day, welcome us home.

 

 

The Holy Spirit

Is the gift of Jesus Christ

To his disciples

Authenticating his resurrection.

 

2. The second high priority item

Jesus sought to address

With his disciples locked away in the upper room for fear of their lives,

 

 

Was the command to forgive,

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.

If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (20:23)

 

The power to forgive is an awesome responsibility.

 

“If” means yes or no.

 

If means yes, as a disciple of Jesus,

Given the gift of forgiveness

And the ability to grant forgiveness,

Then, if forgiveness is given, they are forgiven.

This power comes to us directly

From the sacrificial atonement of the cross,

Washing us clean of our sins by the blood of Jesus.

 

This makes us stewards of God’s grace,

The keepers and caretakers of God’s gift of redemption

To a world sinking in sin.

With a world in such desperate need of salvation,

Withholding the forgiveness of Jesus Christ

Appears to me to be poor stewardship of the gifts Jesus

Gives to us for safekeeping and responsible use.

 

What does it mean if

“If” means no?

What if the sins of another are retained?

Jesus says, “if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (20:23)

 

 

It doesn’t make sense

That Jesus,

The Son God sends to forgive and save the world,

Would commission his disciples to perpetuate sin

By the refusal of forgiveness.

 

What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s happening!

Indeed, the answer lays deeper in the translation.

 

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.

If you retain the sins of any, they are retained,”

Our gospel of John reads. (20:23)

Yet, in the translated Greek from the original Arabic,

There is no word for “sins” in the second conditional clause.

“If you retain …, they are retained.”

Scholars suggest a more accurate reading would be

“whomever you hold fast (or embrace), they are held fast.”

 

 

In other words,

Embrace those who have sinned against you.

Hold fast to those who’s sin has caused you harm.

Hold them tight.

Do not let go!

Offer forgiveness until they accept it.

Drown them with your love.

 

Let this sink in for a moment.

Forgive others.

Embrace and hold fast to those hard to forgive.

The implications are immense.

 

 

“Peace be with you,” Jesus introduction begins

Like it has so many times before.

“Peace be with you”

Becomes the common denominator that brings

Our post-resurrection appearances of Jesus together as one.

 

To see,

To experience,

The risen Christ

Is a gift of peace,

To be welcomed into the community of eye-witnesses

Who are transformed into evangelist-witnesses.

“We have seen the Lord!” (20:25)

“My Lord and my God!” (20:28)

Christ is risen!

The love of God,

As expressed through the gift of Jesus Christ,

Brings peace to the world.

 

To receive the gift of the Holy Spirit

Is a gift of peace,

Knowing that individually, and collectively,

The Holy Spirit will guide us,

Will support us,

Will sustain us,

And is leading us home

To abide with God for eternity.

 

To forgive, and be forgiven,

Just as Jesus directs,

Is to become the usher and stewards of peace in the world.

Forgive boldly.

For those who you can’t forgive today,

Embrace.

Hold tight to them

So that your faith might deepen such that

You can forgive them tomorrow.

 

Peace, I give to you, dearly beloved.

My peace I give to you.

The peace of Christ is what I give to you.

Let not your hearts be troubled.

Be filled with the Spirit and

Be at peace.

Amen.

 

(I’m grateful for creative inspiration that I’ve drawn from Mary Hinkle Shore’s commentary, as found at: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3619)

“From Sorrow to Joy!”

1st Sunday of Easter, B

1 April 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

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

 

Prayer.

 

Last Sunday our worship started with a bang!

Joyous “Hosanna” and waving of palm branches

Was followed by the reading of the Palm Sunday

Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey.

 

 

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

 

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

 

The Messiah had come! We proclaimed.

We were giddy with revolutionary zeal.

We knew God was on our side

And our occupation and oppression was soon to be ended.

Our taste for freedom had been wet,

And the future never appeared so promising.

 

But, faster than a whiplash

The wind left our sails;

Our bellows collapsed like a deflated whoopie cushion.

 

 

Jesus was arrested, imprisoned,

Tried on trumped up charges,

Sentenced to death, flogged, humiliated,

Crucified, died, pierced,

and his bloodied corpse was buried in a borrowed tomb;

All within the span of three nights and three days.

 

Hope had been replaced by despair.

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

Light had been replaced by darkness.

 

My sermon last Sunday was likewise titled “From Joy to Sorrow.”

 

It doesn’t get much darker than defeat,

Especially when it appears that

Our God blew the lead in game seven.

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

Night fell on Friday.

We left our service in darkness and silence.

 

 

Today, Good News!

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Bust out the lilies.

Brush open the blinds.

Break out the Alleluias!

The embargo is over.

Light triumphs over darkness!

Life is victorious over death!

 

My sermon title today is just the opposite from last Sunday’s.

Today it is “From Sorrow to Joy!”

 

From our Jewish ancestry

We follow a similar path from Lent to Easter;

Remembering the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Our path resembles our Jewish sisters and brothers

Remembering Passover from a first-person point of view;

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

To remember is to experience the journey.

 

We tell the story.

We live the story.

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

Of freedom, redemption, and salvation.

 

When we become so intimately woven into the story

Of passion, death, and resurrection,

We become like the disciple,

 

 

“the one whom Jesus loved,” (20:2)

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

We don’t need anything more

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

Our relationship with Jesus is so close

That we don’t have to witness his resuscitation.

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

We don’t even have to hear his voice.

 

We are just filled with joy!

We know that Christ is alive!

Christ is risen!

The most important divine interaction with creation has just taken place

And we’ve been privileged to have been a player on the stage.

Forgiveness and salvation become the capstone.

Christ’s historical ministry has been transfigured into one that

Glorifies God and brings to creation the gift of the Spirit.

 

Yes.

I took attendance at Holy Week services.

We had 7, counting myself, at the noontime Maundy Thursday service.

It was better at the 7:00 o’clock service; we had 17

Who experienced the story of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet

And sharing with them the bread and cup.

Low and behold, we had 33 attend our Good Friday service

Where the entire Passion narrative was read by a succession of volunteers

(Shamelessly recruited by myself to ensure a good attendance,

But, hey, if that’s what it takes to help us all remember,

I have no regrets).

 

 

At our Good Friday service light faded to darkness.

White faded to black.

Night fell.

 

By reason of work or responsibility,

Of illness or health,

Of Spring break, family, or travel,

Of faith, or lack thereof,

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

That we’ve become one with that beloved disciple

Who just knows,

And are ready to witness to,

The resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

Yes, life sometimes gets in the way of faith.

I get that.

It is sometimes true for me, too.

But, for the majority of us,

We need something more.

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

 

 

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

Mary Magdalene finds faith another way.

 

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

Resulted, first, in her anger -

An assumption that Jesus’ corpse had been stolen,

To, secondly, sadness and weeping –

Over her apparent failure

To care for, and respect, the dead:

“They have taken away my Lord,

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

 

Mary came and saw.

She saw the stone had rolled away.

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

Angels! Mind you! She saw angels!

 

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

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

Mary turns and she saw.

She saw Jesus, face to face.

Jesus! Mind you! Mary saw Jesus!

 

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

Was standing right in front of her

Fully breathing, alive, and engaged in a conversation.

Holy, Zombieland!

 

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

 

 

Mary hears the voice of Jesus,

Asking the same angelic question, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (20:15)

One would think his voice would be familiar to her.

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

For the past 3 years.

 

She thought she was talking to the gardener.

Resurrection was so outside her realm of understanding

It wasn’t even considered.

In her mind

She was talking to the gardener.

 

Mary only comes to recognition and belief

When Jesus speaks her name,

 

 

“Mary!” (20:16)

 

“Very truly, I tell you,

The one who enters by the gate

is the shepherd of the sheep. 

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him,

and the sheep hear his voice.

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

When he has brought out all his own,

he goes ahead of them,

and the sheep follow him

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

 

The Good Shepherd calls his own by name

And they know his voice.

 

 

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

Through the Word of Christ,

And by his Word,

We are sustained.

 

“The Word was made flesh … and dwelt among us,”

The Gospel of John begins. (1:14)

The Word,

Christ’s spoken word and his broken body,

Together with his willingness to claim us by our name

over our baptismal waters,

Is what keeps our ever ebbing and flowing faith

Confined within acceptable limits.

 

The Word speaking our name

Brings recognition to us.

Now we know who we’re talking to!

Now we know we are seeing the resurrected Jesus!

 

Christ is made known and present,

Inviting each of us to engage deeply in relationship with him

And with one another.

 

 

14.JPG

 

To experience the story,

Many will join the movement from sorrow to joy

With the proclamation, “Christ is risen!”

Others will come from sorrow to joy by another route.

We half to have our creaky scaffolding of faith

Sustained and supported by the Word of Christ.

Regardless of how we make progress on the journey

Together we can join the movement from sorrow to joy

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

Christ is risen, indeed!

Alleluia!

Amen.

 

 

 

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

“Five Good Friday Meditations”

John 18:1 – John 19: 42

30 March 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

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

 

Meditation #1: “Resistance”

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

 

In John,

Jesus does not resist.

Jesus does not resist the detachment of soldiers,

Uniquely described in this Gospel,

Totaling about 600 men.

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

Totaling another 400 well armed men.

 

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

That have joined in opposition to the Word of God.

“In the beginning was the Word …

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

 

Jesus does not resist,

But he remains in charge.

His hour had come.

He knew it.

He accepted it.

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

 

Meditation #2: “Jesus in Charge”

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

 

Jesus was arrested and forcibly held.

One would think the authorities had the upper hand.

They held the keys.

They had the weapons.

They had the power.

Yet, Jesus remained in charge.

His hour had come.

 

Since Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead,

The outcome of his trial had been settled.

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

The trials of Apostles and Martyrs would continue.

Our trials today continue,

Even as the trial of Jesus has been

Signed, sealed,

And with premeditation,

And a predetermined verdict,

Jesus was delivered.

 

Meditation #3: Irony

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

 

Oh, the irony of Jesus before Pilate!

Christ, the one in chains, is in charge!

Pilate the governor, shuffles back and forth with indecision

Like a school child trying to please everyone.

 

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

The Jewish crowd preached

Righteousness according to the Law, on the one hand,

Yet, they were calling for the murder of Jesus,

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

 

Oh, the irony of Jesus before his accusers!

How quickly they would confess their true faith:

“We have no king but the emperor.”

On Passover,

The anniversary of freedom from Pharaoh,

Pharaoh is embraced.

 

Oh, the irony.

 

Meditation #4: Our Good Shepherd and King

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

 

“I am the Good Shepherd,” Jesus had taught.

Indeed, Christ was the Good Shepherd until the end.

As he hung there dying

Jesus made arrangements for the care of his mother,

Mary the wife of Clopas,

and Mary Magdalene.

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

 

Even Pilate knew what the crowd did not:

That Jesus was the King of the Jews.

He had it printed up there in three different languages

So that everyone would know where he stood.

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

To those who just confessed that the emperor was their king.

 

What would only become apparent in hindsight

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

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

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

 

These aren’t empty promises from a wise Rabbi

Who had a large following,

Who’s own followers turned on him.

These promises would be fulfilled

By the One who keeps his word,

Is faithful to his covenants,

Who has the power and the love

To be our King.

 

These are the promises of our King!

 

Meditation #5: The New Exodus

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

 

The dirty work was left up to the soldiers.

 

The very ones who had flogged Jesus,

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

Pounded stakes through his hands and feet,

And raised up wine on a stick right before Jesus died

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

 

It was the soldiers who hand divided his cloths,

Had scorned him with their taunts,

Who had cast lots for his seamless tunic,

To fulfill scripture.

 

Sometimes the movement of God

Is nearly imperceptible,

Like a 3.2 earthquake three states away.

 

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

Instead pierced it in the side

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

 

The soldiers found more courage in scripture and in life

Than Joseph and Nicodemus could only find in death.

 

Christ dies as the Passover lamb,

Exactly according to scripture,

And thus his caretakers treat his corpse.

This Passover proclaims a new exodus,

Not from Egyptian slavery,

But from bondage to sin and death.

 

A new exodus has begun;

The water and blood of Christ co-mingled

Becomes a new cosmic reality.

Through baptism and eucharist

We now venture out into an unexplored spiritual landscape.

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

We now make a new exodus:

We are now the Body of Christ.