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.”





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.






Law and order.

Higher education.

Health care.


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.




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.





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




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.




“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


Simply believe.


“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)





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.





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,


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.



(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)




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.



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.





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!






(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.

“From Joy to Sorrow”

Mark 15:1-47

Palm / Passion Sunday – March 25, 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion and East Rochester United Methodist Churches


Mark 15:1-47





Oh, how wonderfully filled with promise did this day begin!

The sun rose in glorious splendor.

Warmth is returning to the earth.

Creeks and streams are filled to the brim with Spring runoff.

The soil is waking.


Anticipation, like the crowd, was electric!

We were waiting for Jesus to enter the city

And parade right before us.

Then, there he was!

We were all swept away

Dancing and waving our palm branches

Like young children at a dance recital.


We were laying down our cloaks before him,

Pledging our loyalty to him,

Even unto death,

If that’s what it would take to give our cruel overlords the boot.


To an outsider on this Palm Sunday,

Our worship must be mystifying.


But then, everything has gone to hell.


Clouds rolled in.

Towering, deep purple thunderheads turned the sky to black.

The earth quaked, and the curtain of the Temple was torn in two.

What was done to Jesus deserves a cuss word from the pulpit.

The truth must be told.

Innocence was being punished.

Evil in the heart of the Chief Priest, the Romans and the crowd

Stole his life.

The last breath, the final heartbeat of Jesus,

Was taken from him with premeditation.

If this isn’t hell on earth,

I don’t know what is.


In a New York minute,

Every faithful disciple of Jesus has been whiplashed

From joy to sorrow.


“Eie-yie-yie,” my father used to wash his face with his hand and complain.


From joy to sorrow.

Where and when did everything go wrong?

How did it all run off the rails?


Left out from this abridged reading of the Passion,

Jesus had been anointed by a woman with costly ointment at Bethany.

Judas agreed to abandon and betray Jesus.

Jesus broke bread and shared a common cup of wine with his disciples.


Walking after dinner to the Mount of Olives

To overlook the City of Jerusalem,

Jesus foretold Peter’s denial,

Prayed fervently in Gethsemane,

Was betrayed, arrested, and taken before the High Priest and the Jewish Council.

What Jesus foretold became true:

Peter denied knowing Jesus three times,

And he broke down and wept.


From joy to sorrow.

Jesus ends up dead;

A corpse on a slab.


Where and when did everything go wrong?


Jesus is suffering here.

Yet, feeling bad for Jesus is not as substitute for faith.

Searching for deeper meaning feels risk adverse and overly academic

When Jesus is whipped, and stripped, and nailed to a cross, taking his final breaths.

The Gospel Passion draws us into the experience

And adds meaning to the suffering Apostles,

The suffering Early Church,

And the endless suffering of the human condition.

From Christ’s suffering

We can deeply draw

And drink from the well

Giving meaning and support

To our suffering today.


Christ’s suffering does have meaning.


Does everything go wrong?

I’m not so sure.


Holy Week does not glamorize crucifixion or death.

Holy Week doesn’t point the faithful to

God’s action that went horribly wrong.


The Passion of Jesus Christ direct us to

What God perfectly accomplished:

Jesus identifies with the common human experience

Of not being in control.

Incarnation followed by crucifixion sends a powerful message:

Jesus wasn’t in control,

Yet, his confidence,

His trust, remained firm,

Residing in his Heavenly Father.


Likewise, our human experience

Of life, death, and resurrection is out of our control.

We like to think we are in control;

But, these thoughts are merely delusional.

Each of us are one heart beat or one breath away from catastrophe.


So, let us place our trust in our Heavenly Father.

Replace anxiety with belief.

Exchange fear with confidence

In our God;

The one who created us,

Cares for us,

Loves us,

And saves us.


Does everything go wrong?

Of course not.

Everything goes according to God’s plan to redeem the world,

That the world might be saved through Jesus.


Everything doesn’t go wrong,

However, there is one detail that does.

Jesus is repeatedly abandoned by those

Who could give support and strength to him.

Peter denies.

Judas betrays.

They slumber in the garden,

And afterward,

They’d hide away behind locked doors in fear for their lives.

At Thursday’s table

All drank from the cup.

All pledged loyalty unto death.

All would end up scattering like cockroaches fleeing the light.


With this Passion insight

We are begged to ask:


Are we among the twelve?

Do we run and hide when faced with an opportunity to witness

What we’ve seen, know, and believe?

Do we deny Christ with our words or with our deeds?

Do we make promises to God we have no intention of keeping?


If it is hard to see ourselves as one of the twelve,

Perhaps the Passion is prodding us to ask:


Can we identify with Christ the forsaken?

Liken Christ to those times in life that you’ve felt



Kicked to the curb,


So, too, was Jesus.


From Palm branches to Passion and death on the cross

We are whipped this Sabbath

And propelled into Holy Week.

Though there is much darkness and deathly trials ahead,

Let us journey together,



That light will shine from next Sunday’s empty tomb.


“Love One Another”

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Maundy Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches


John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”






Today’s message comes in three meditations.




1. Knowing

That the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas to betray him,

Jesus loved his own who were in the world,

He loved them to the end;

Yes, even Judas Iscariot.



That the Father had given all things into his hands,

And that he had come from God

And was going to God,

Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and wiped them with a towel,

An act that would have usually been relegated to

The servant of the lowest stature.


It must have been an interesting dynamic

When Jesus stoops to wash the feet of Judas.

What was Judas thinking?

Were his eyes filling with tears?

Or were his teeth clenched in rage?


John leaves little to the imagination what Jesus was thinking:

Love and service.  

Love, then serve.

Start with love.

Always start with love.




“Have you loved them first?”

I gently asked a fellow Christian recently,

Who was filled with frustration

Over the apparent apathy of other Christians.


Granted, apathy isn’t in the same league as betrayal;

But both are to be turned back to

Our Lord’s ultimate concern …

Love one another.

How does the fact that Jesus loved Judas

Enough to wash his feet,

Enough to love him to the end,

Impact your life

And your relationships today?

(Silent reflection)




2. Resistance.

While we don’t know how others responded,

Peter responds with resistance.

He resists Jesus’ effort to love him

Every step of the way.



That his hour had come to depart from this world

And go to the Father,

Jesus comes to Simon Peter with a bowl and towel in hand.

Unlike Judas,

Who had conspired with the devil

And had already put his plan of betrayal into motion,

Simon Peter probably hadn’t even thought of denying Jesus.

I hadn’t even crossed his mind.

Denial had no premeditation.


Bold, brash, and full of himself;

Peter’s self confidence

And personal belief that

He was taking part in some grand, history making political insurrection

Probably keep him blind to his greatest vulnerability:




Denying Jesus when cornered and threatened.


To one degree, or another,

Isn’t our Christian bravado similar to Simon Peter’s?

Of course, we’d never deny Jesus,

Even if put in a pinch,

We say to ourselves.

Of course, we’d never allow Jesus to wash our feet,

Even though we are soiled and covered in filth.

Of course, we’d never allow Jesus to love us,

In such a way that would crack our most stubborn defenses.


But then, we find ourselves

Whistling while walking past the graveyard at night,


If it could happen to Simon Peter,

Maybe it could happen to me, too.

Would we deny Jesus if cornered or threatened?

(Silent reflection)




3. Christian bravado has a wonderful antidote,

Jesus teaches us;


Humble service.

Loving service.


Practically speaking,

Should we be in the business of foot washing for cleanliness sake?

Or, should we be in the business of serving others

To remove all that makes one and the world unclean?


Christ’s love is leading us to clean up the world,

Starting right here,

Right now,

With you and me

Before this Table.


There is no greater symbol of humility,

Of service and love,

Than our Lord, Jesus

Sharing his body and blood

For the forgiveness and salvation of creation.

His body and blood makes us clean.  




The loving sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood

Is cosmic in reach, while

Personal in experience.

Bread and wine fill us

And remind us,

Of God’s great love for us.


Love tenderizes the heart

And leads one to roll up the sleeves.

Love spreads faster than the flu

And is more powerful than the most dangerous contagion.


Love teaches by example

Causing all the world to take notice.

Love one another,

That all the world will


That you and I

Are disciples of Jesus Christ.


Does the world see Jesus in your love?

(Silent reflection)



“For This Reason I Have Come”

John 12:20-33

18 March 2018 – Fifth Sunday of Lent

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches


John 12:20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.





On my drive into the office Wednesday morning

I heard one podcast commentator say,

“We’re all going to die; and it’s going to be hilarious!”


I nearly drove off the road.


The conversation was about technology.

One spoke about his son watching

YouTube failure videos.

Failure videos are short clips of

People making poor decisions,

Doing really dumb things,

and often getting badly hurt …

Why would anyone create a failure video?

It’s all about producing the “failure,”

Posting the video online,

Becoming immensely popular,

And hoping that popularity results in a paycheck.

Yes, people get paid for such nonsense.

“We’re all going to die; and it’s going to be hilarious!”


Another was speaking about artificial intelligence;

Where computers are programmed to learn on their own initiative.

A video from a University of Michigan robotics lab was cited





Showing a robot learning how to walk.

The implications of a self learning robot

Evoke images of sci-fi movies like “The Terminator”

Or robot uprisings that take over the world.

“Be afraid,” one commentator said. “Be very afraid.”

To which the other repeated,



“We’re all going to die; and it’s going to be hilarious!”


Jesus is about to die

and it is anything but hilarious.


Thank goodness our Lord’s suffering, passion, and death

Didn’t take place in today’s world,

Because it would go viral on social media …

For about 10 minutes.

It would be found and pulled down as inappropriate content.

It would become an obscure piece in the Huffington Post

Or a lost soundbite on the evening news.



Jesus is deadly serious.

And so should we.




Early Christian Apostles

Set aside 40 days for all Christians to prepare ourselves

For the passion, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.



Lent was, and remains to this day, a time of preparation.


Early Christian practice

Used the first three weeks of Lent

As a time for inward preparation.



Personal confession.







The final two weeks of Lent

(starting this Sunday)

The focus of the faithful is to pivot

To the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross.

We have two weeks to contemplate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.


Some Greeks from out of town attempt to drop in and cold call Jesus.

The best way to get past the door keeper is to know someone,

Or know someone who knows someone.

Any kind of connection will do.

Philip, with his Greek name,

From Bethsaida, a mixed population of Jews and Gentiles in the north,

Was the perfect go between.



“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (12:21)


As I’ve often said, the Gospel of John is most deeply concerned

With answering the question, “What does it mean?”

What does it mean to see Jesus?

To perceive this Jesus who is about to die?


A good place to start over these next two weeks

Is to create a devotional visual of the passion and crucifixion of Jesus.

This is where the internet is so valuable.



Consider doing an image search.

Start with fine art: The masters. Renaissance art.

Do an image search of crucifixion



Using the key words stained glass: Cathedrals. Artists. Guilds.

Don’t forget to do an image search



Of crucifixion icons;

You’ll discover some of the most moving visual images of the crucifixion

Mostly coming from our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters.


Save your favorite pictures.

Print them out.

Surround yourself with visual masterpieces of the crucifixion of Jesus

Even as you contemplate this faith changing event in your daily devotions and prayers.



We wish to see Jesus.

Perception is more than visual.

Consider diving into the music of the passion and death of Jesus Christ

Over these next two weeks.


Every year I make two tried and true visits:

The first is Handel’s Messiah.

I listen to it over and over again.

During the conclusion of Lent and Holy Week

The second part of Messiah takes on added weight,

For it covers Christ’s passion and death,

His resurrection and ascension.

The second stop I make is the 1970’s rock opera

Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

I play it loud in the car and I sing along with every word.

I play it quietly in the office, filling my environment with Jesus

(I’m playing it as I write this sermon).

I’ve loved Jesus Christ Superstar from the beginning.


Perceiving Jesus as he makes his way to the cross

Can become life changing.

Singing, in the choir, or just allowing hymns to speak,

Is a graceful compliment to the words of Passion and crucifixion.



Allow sacred music to help you see Jesus.

Listen for the whisper of God to help answer the question,

“What does the crucifixion mean?”






“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” (12:23)

Jesus responded to the unnamed Greek travelers who came to see him.


Most of us have a deeply developed Gospel world view

That is rooted in the synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

In each of these Gospels

We have shaped in our imaginations

Of a Jesus who was reluctant to die,

Negotiating with the Heavenly Father in the Garden of Gethsemane,

“… if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” (Matthew 26:39)

Even on the cross, Matthew reports Jesus crying out

“My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

The narrative from Matthew and Mark are nearly word-for-word identical matches.


Yet, here in John, we hear in Jesus’ final discourse

With these unnamed Greeks and his disciples serving as his audience

A complete willingness to accept, even embrace, his crucifixion.

“And what should I say- ‘Father, save me from this hour’?

No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” (12:27)


John’s Gospel requires us to ask,



Who would embrace their own death?

Why would Jesus welcome his own death?


Faithful followers of Christ

Have heard the promise

And believe his word.

O death, where art thou sting?

There is no sting when we have the courage

To face our own mortality

Believing that

Just as Christ faced his mortality,

Was resurrected and ascended to heaven,

So too, can we look forward to the same gift of grace.

Death becomes no more of a sting

Than stepping from this world and entering the next.


John faithfully allows Jesus to answer the “Why Question.”



“Father, glorify your name.”

Jesus dies to glorify God.

The humiliation of public shame, suffering, and death,

Is completely erased

By the glory of God’s gift of resurrection.

The selfless act of crucifixion propels the message of God’s grace

Far beyond a single, isolated act,

In a foreign culture,

In a faraway land,

Separated by thousands of years

Into a cosmic, ongoing truth.




The glory of God

Through death and resurrection

Becomes a compassionate act of inclusion.

The Greeks who came to see Jesus were included in God’s plan for salvation.

The early Church exploded,

Caught fire,

And spread to every corner of the world

Because God was glorified.

We are here today

Because Jesus brings glory to God.


This gift of God’s grace

Only scratches the surface of the enormous love

God has for you and me.

Imperfect as we all are,

God still loves every last one of us.

Indeed, “God so loves the world

That He gave His only Son,

so that everyone who believes in him

may not perish

but may have eternal life.” (3:16)


Crucifixion and resurrection brings glory to God



“And I,” Jesus continues,

“when I am lifted up from the earth,

Will draw all people to myself.” (12:32)

All people

Is God’s radical hospitality,

God’s extravagant grace,

God’s enormous love.


“For this reason I have come,” Jesus tells us.




Dearly beloved,

Over the course of this coming week and Holy week to follow,

Try not to be distracted by the complexities of life.

Let us put our cell phones away.

Sit on the anxiety of fragile health and uncertain outcomes.

Be still and avoid the temptation to be swept into disputes and conflicts.

Temper the tongue and keep a lid on family strife.

Put away temptations and bring an end to sinful behavior.


Dearly beloved,

Keep your undivided attention upon Jesus.

See and hear Jesus.

Perceive our Savior as you’ve never experienced Him before.

Wear his suffering, and may your suffering be eased.

Witness his death, and may the sting of death in your life be removed.


Dearly beloved,

Journey forward.

Lean into the crucifixion

Knowing full well,

The glory that comes beyond the grave,

The glory of our Lord, our Heavenly Father.

May this glory keep us close to Christ

And draw all people to Him.


“An End of Condemnation”

John 3:14-21 and Numbers 21:4-9

Lent 4B, March 11, 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches


John 3:14-21


And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”





We are a nation of complainers, aren’t we?


Teachers complain they aren’t getting enough pay;

Taxpayers complaining their taxes are too high.

One administration blames their predecessor or opponent;

The opposition does everything possible to obstruct.

Albany complains about Washington and

Washington complains about Albany.


We complain about potholes, police, polls, and pop quizzes.

We complain about rights, responsibility, and reason.

We complain about referees, officials, and umpires.

We complain about ex-boyfriends and girlfriends, ex-husbands and wives.

We complain about service, prices, and whether or not our steak is done just right.

We would even complain about the weather, if we ….

Oh, wait.

We complain about the weather all the time!



We complain because we can.

Free choice.

Freedom of speech.

More than just constitutional rights;

Free choice is a gift from God.

It is our responsibility

To chose wisely,

To behave wisely,

and to speak wisely.


It’s almost as if complaining about our lot in life is rooted in our DNA.

Our Hebrew ancestors were known to complain about everything.

Today, the Lord grew tired of their complaining

About no food, no water, and fear of death.


Fair warning to all those on the verge of complaining;

The Lord response to his own complaining, chosen people?

Was judgment,

Was condemnation,

Was to send them boat loads of poisonous serpents!



Talk to the hand!

Shut your pie hole!

Enough complaining!

Complainers will be bit, will be poisoned,

And will die a miserable, painful death, “ya filthy animals!”


Our ancestors got the message.

They stopped complaining,

Confessed their sin,

And begged for God’s mercy.

(Right there is sufficient material for a good three-point sermon!)


This, then is God’s mercy:



As per the Lord’s instruction,

Moses made a serpent of bronze,

Put it on a pole, and raised it up;

That anyone bitten by a poisonous snake

Might lift up their eyes,

Gaze upon it,

And be saved.



“So must the Son of Man be lifted up,” (3:14)

We hear proclaimed in the Gospel of John,

“That whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (3:15)


When we think of Christ being lifted up during this season of Lent,

Too often we limit our thoughts to his crucifixion.

Of course, the crucified Christ is lifted high upon a cross.

But, let us expand our imagination.

Christ is lifted from the grave.

Christ is lifted up into heaven,

Ascending to the right hand of the Heavenly Father.


To this day, the Gospel of John encourages us to lift up Jesus Christ,

That he might be glorified and praised.

When we lift up Jesus Christ, the Light of the World,

Darkness is chased away.

Shadows of sin and evil are washed away in God’s radiant light.

The light of Christ

Reveals his will for our lives,

Sets a moral compass in our for ourselves and our community,

And celebrates God’s values of justice, mercy, and love.




There was a day and time in our not-too-distant past



That John 3:16 had such popularity

That nearly everyone in a crowd, atheist included,  

Could perfectly recite it:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,

so that everyone who believes in him may not perish

but may have eternal life.” (3:16)

Sadly, I’m not certain this is true any longer.


There isn’t any one verse in the Bible that says that God loves everyone,

But John 3:16 is pretty close.

God so loves the world …

God loves the people of this world,

And God loves the world He created

and in which we live and find happiness.


Just as God loves you and me,

So too does God love others.

We are to love others just as God loves others.

Just as God loves creation,

So too are we to love creation

Loving creating requires us,

Individually and corporately,

To practice good stewardship of creation.

Love and care for the world,

Because God loves and cares for the world.


The balancing statement that Jesus makes

Is even more obscure than the once well-known John 3:16.

It shouldn’t be.



“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world,

but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (3:17)


Free choice,

Free speech,

As we have seen,

Can get one into trouble,

Can lead to the darkness.

Once in the darkness, it’s hard to break out or break free.

It’s hard, and it gets harder return to the light the longer one lingers.


Quite clearly,

Jesus plants the stake in the ground by stating that




Condemnation is not God’s will.

This is so important, it bears repeating:

Condemnation is not God’s will.


It wasn’t God’s will that those bitten by one of his poisonous snakes

Should be condemned to die.

Neither is it God’s will that those who live in the darkness

Should be eternally condemned to live in sin.

God may be in the justice business,

But, condemnation?

Not so much.



We condemn ourselves by choosing to live in darkness;

By making wrong choices when we know better,

By blaming and complaining,

By failing to take responsibility for our words.

By failing to discipline our actions.


Rather, God is in the salvation business.

God had Moses mount a bronze snake on a stick

That all who looked upon it might be saved.

God is in the salvation business,

That all who look upon Jesus and believe in him might be saved.




I recall an old theological saw from my seminary days that states



“Grace may be free, but it isn’t cheap.”

What does this mean?


God’s grace,

The gift of salvation,

Is freely, lavishly, abundantly given.

You will not perish, Jesus promises.

You may have eternal life.

This is God’s gift.

This is what we call “grace.”

There is no price.

There is no expectation of reciprocity.

God just gives it away.


Grace is free, but it isn’t cheap.


But there is



one qualifying demand,

That we believe in Jesus Christ,

The Son of Man,

The Son of God.




I’ve been a Christian all my life;

Since my infant baptism.

I’ve tried to follow Jesus every moment of every day,

Some days more successfully than others.

And, yet, I know




That belief ebbs and flows like an ocean tide.


I’ve been around ordained ministry for the past 32 years.

I’ve been privileged to be surrounded by beacons of spirituality;

Mentors, guides, and fellow disciples traveling this river of faith.

Some towers of faith were ordained, many others, not.


At the same time

I’ve seen some of the most faithful stumble and fall,

Some spectacularly on the front page of the newspaper,

Others quietly fading away,

Others becoming utterly defeated

By sanity, addiction, end of life, money, power, or organized religion.


I can see no rhyme or reason;

No discernible patterns upon which conclusions can be drawn.

I refuse to stand in judgment of others.

I can only observe that which I intuitively feel in my own soul;



That belief isn’t a one-and-done proposition.

Belief is a life time, ongoing effort.


There but by the grace of God goes I,

I think to myself,

Because I know this to be true.


Whoever believes in Jesus

Will not perish

But may have eternal life.


Every day we are called to believe in Jesus.


Like maintaining a house or treating a patient,

Belief begins with assessment:

Where does my belief stand today?

Where was it yesterday?

What’s my trajectory of belief for tomorrow?


What assets do I have to shore up my faith?

To turn around negative trends?

What assets do I have internally,

And what assets must I obtain from the outside?

For example, I can pray and study scripture privately.

But I have to hold myself accountable

By taking part in communal, corporate worship each Sabbath.



What are the deficits in my life that impact negatively on my faith?

What can I do to reduce or eliminate

People, situations, or behaviors

That undermines my belief? 


Believe in Jesus.

Lord, help my unbelief!

Do not let me fall into the abyss!


Maintaining belief requires action.

We have to do something,

Discipline our behavior,

To even out

The ebbs and flows between faith and doubt.

Treatment doesn’t work if you don’t follow your doctor’s orders.

Your house doesn’t get repaired if your plans sit on the drawing board.



Belief in Jesus demands action.


Set yourself up for success.

Surround yourself with all the right people

And stop hanging around with the wrong crowd

That sabotage faith.
Learn from those who are more seasoned in the spiritual life.

Share with those who are traveling the journey with you.

Offer a hand up to those who are coming along behind.

Listen for the movement of the Spirit in your midst

And don’t be afraid to tap into its power.


Take action to strengthen belief in Jesus Christ!


Love God.

Love neighbors.

Love enemies.

Follow God’s rules.

Forgive, and be forgiven.

Use the power of the Holy Spirit to

Witness to the world

The Good News of Jesus Christ,

That all be made his disciples.

Teach newer disciples all that you’ve been taught.

Be God’s prophets today

To spread peace and justice throughout God’s kingdom.


Belief is an ongoing effort.

Go, and act accordingly.





Lift up Christ.

Glorify and praise him

That his light might shine upon the world.

God brings justice to the world,

But the only condemnation is that which we bring.

May the light of Christ bring an end to our self-imposed sentence.

May the light of Christ save us.

Believe in Christ.

When doubt inevitably returns,

Oppose it with every effort.



Believe today.

Believe in Christ tomorrow.

Believe in Christ and receive eternity.


“Taking Up Residence”

John 2:13-22

4 March 2018 – Third Sunday of Lent

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches


John 2:13-22

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.





Sunday afternoon was always



“Moving in Day.”

“Nippers” as we affectionately called them,

Would come walking down the trail to the lodge

Loaded down with every conceivable personal item,

Over stuffed duffle bags,

Flashlights, bug spray, and sun tan lotion, often

With Mom and Dad trailing behind. 


Veteran nippers were excited to return to summer church camp.

Rookie first-timers were more iffy.

Some couldn’t wait to break free from home life

And looked forward to an experience as described in the marketing mailers:

Swimming, campfires, sleeping out, hiking, and playing lots of new games.

Other first time nippers showed up at Casowasco

With the look of terror in their eyes.

They were leaving the safety and security of the family home behind

For a week of living among strangers,

Boot camp like forced marches through bug infested woods,

And eating in a dining room with government surplus supplied food.




It’s hard to leave a safe place

And take up residence someplace else.


We heard in our Lenten Bible study this past week,

As we focused on the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost,

That the whirlwind of the Holy Spirit blows us to unexpected places,

To engage in unexpected and marvelous ministries,

And supports us with unexpected and unlimited grace.


Try and explain that to a first year nipper

Being left off at Mount Tabor lodge

Whose eyes are filling with tears hearing

Dad punching the accelerator of the car speeding out of camp!


It’s hard to leave a safe place

And take up residence someplace else.



The Gospel of John is the only one of the four Gospel authors

To locate the narrative of Jesus cleansing the Temple

Near the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke report on this narrative

At the very end of our Lord’s ministry;

After Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem,

But before Maundy Thursday and the events in the Upper Room.


It’s hard to believe that Jesus could have survived

The angry backlash of Temple authorities

For the next three years.

From a chronological, historical, factual accuracy point of view,

Matthew, Mark, and Luke most probably got it right.


So, what’s up with the Gospel of John?

I’m glad you asked!


John is frying other fish.

As is often the case in the Gospel of John,

The Gospel author is making a theological statement,

Not a historical statement.

John is far more interested in sharing a message of Good News

That describes God’s relationship with humankind,

With creation, and with our place in it.

John is far more interest in answering the question,



“What does it mean?”

Than answering the question, “What happened when?”


What does it mean when Jesus enters the Temple

And uses a whip of cords to drive out

People selling cattle, sheep, and doves,

And money changes at work at their tables?


What does it mean when Jesus tells the Temple authorities

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”?


For the common Jewish individual at the time of Jesus,



Jerusalem was the spiritual capital of the universe,

And the Temple was where the Lord chose to reside

When He wasn’t holding down court up in heaven …

… High above the visual dome that covered the earth.

It was believed that this was God’s house.



The Lord made an appearance once a year in the Holy of Holies,

The inner most room only visited by the High Priest once a year.


As such, the Temple was worthy of grandeur.

Though it had been destroyed periodically over the previous two centuries,

The most current rebuild in the time of Jesus had exceeded its maturity.

It was being turned into a palace of opulence, wealth, and excess,

Being built out at the expense of the middle class.

The social and economic gap between the rich and the poor had never been wider.

The Temple exuded power and authority over a people

Who believe they were chosen children of Abraham,

While being subjected to increasing submission and helplessness.


John’s Gospel puts Jesus in the center of the tornado

In this violent confrontation.

With a whip of cords,

Jesus is communicating a message that

God no longer resided in the Jerusalem Temple.

The Temple was no more than stone, sculpture, and art.

God had vacated the wealth, the excesses, the opulence

And had taken up residence elsewhere.



Our God of justice and mercy

Doesn’t put up with unfairness and coercion.

Never has, never will.


“Look at me!” Jesus speaks with zealous fervor.

“The Lord has taken up residence in me!”


Jesus is the new temple,

The new residence of God.

Destroy this temple,

Murder Jesus Christ,

And in three days God will raise him up.


Like early Church Christians

We also respond with hindsight

To the theological reality of God taking up residence in Jesus

As reported in the Gospel of John.



This new reality is called incarnation.


God vacates the prior age

By becoming God the Son,

Taking on a human body and human nature,

Was made flesh, and dwelt among us.

Jesus is fully God and fully human.

Jesus is the new Temple moving forward,

Jesus is the residence of God.


God had left a safe place,

As creator, covenant maker, as law giver,

As judge, jury, and exile warden.

God boldly took up a new residence

In one who heals the sick,

Raises the dead,

Casts out demons,

And is willing and able to go head to head with Satan himself,

All on our behalf.


God’s new residence

Becomes a kingdom and palace where love abides,

Where grace has replaced judgment,

Where neighbors matter,

Where sins are redeemed,

And where anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord is saved.


This was just not even conceivable to the first century Jewish mind.

For one to proclaim that the Lord had taken up residence in himself

Is tantamount to blasphemy,

A direct violation of the second commandment.


Let’s take this one additional step.


Take a look at Acts 2.

After Jesus is resurrected and ascends into heaven,

And the Holy Spirit of God comes on the day of Pentecost,

Empowering all disciples of Jesus to become prophets

To witness the Good News of the Gospel to all the world,



God takes up a new residence!


Jesus the Son had taken his place in heaven at the right hand of the Father.

Now, the Holy Spirit of God has taken up residence in a new body,

The Church,

Who the Apostle Paul identifies as

The Body of Christ.


Holy gobsmack!

Blasphemy! Violation!

The mere idea of God taking up residence in the body of Christ’s followers

Would be so outside the realm of possibility,

No one would have even dare

To ask the question,

“What does it mean?”


Yet, it happened.

The Holy Spirit of God takes up a new residence

Following the ascension of Jesus,

In the Upper Room,

At the Pentecost.


God has moved from Temple to Jesus

And from Jesus to each of his followers.

We are the Spirit filled Temple

In whom dwells the Lord, our God.


The Jewish community who could wrap their minds around

This theological reality

Were baptized and became part of the Christian roll tide

That swept across the known world.


The Jews who couldn’t get past the implication

That Jesus was blasphemous,

In violation of the Law, …

They refused to convert

And, sadly a wedge of schism

Was driven even more deeply

Between Jews and Christian in the early centuries.


In the spirit of the Gospel of John,



All Lenten pilgrims are encouraged to ask the question,

“What does it mean”

That the Holy Spirit of God

Has taken up residence in me?


First, I have to ask myself



Am I living as a good steward of God’s Temple?

Am I keeping myself healthy?

My mind focused?

My behavior reflective of the God within?



Second, can I trust in the Holy Spirit within,

That blows me like a hurricane to unexpected locations,

To engage in unexpected missions and ministries,

Supported by unexpected and unlimited grace and mercy?


Lastly, like a whip smacking Temple turnover

And a Pentecostal cosmic cataclysm,

When the Holy Spirit of God dwells within,

One is likely to draw a crowd,

And that crowd might,

Or might not,

Be friendly or receptive of the Good News.



Are ye able to weather the storm of persecution

On behalf of our Christian faith? …

Believing that God is present and strong,

Endowing each of us with gifts and grace that will ensure success,

Knowing that God Advocates advancing His kingdom

And promoting our place in it?

Can you and I take it on the chin

And still pick up his cross and daily follow Christ?


Dearly beloved,

The God in you loves you,

And so do I.


“Cross Talk”

Mark 8:31-38

25 February 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches


Mark 8:31-38

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”


He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”





Lent opens many doorways.


Through open doors streams light;


Of illumination

Of introspection

Of revelation

Of obligation.



Attempts at faithful living

During this season of

Living the Passion

Is as much about opening the doors God presents

As it is about

NOT closing doors that have already been opened.


Most, if not all, of us have opened the door of conversion.

We have felt the movement of God in our life.

We’ve been touched by Jesus.

We’ve been claimed and named.

And we’ve made sacred vows to follow him.


The door of conversion is only one door, however.

It is the first of many doorways that God provides

Over the course of our earthly life.

Each doorway is a gift of grace

That reveals what God wants us to see,

Inviting us to think and pray more deeply;

To reveal what we are to do and where we are to go.


Of course we are tempted to close doors behind us;

To forget about our conversion,

To allow our call and pilgrim’s progress to weaken,

To passively allow our witness to fade from memory,

To turn away from what God asks us to do.


Do not close those doors from your experience of Divine connection.

Do not extinguish the light that has filled your soul.

Do not deny the gifts of grace that have flooded into your life.

Be the faithful;

Be the follower of Jesus Christ.


Held in the context of Jesus’ first forewarning of his suffering, passion, death and resurrection,

(And his disciple’s disbelief),

Comes this teachable moment:

When Jesus draws his chastised disciples and the crowd close and says



“If any want to become my followers,

let them deny themselves,

and take up their cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)


The moment of proclamation;

Stating beyond all shadow of a doubt

That Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior,

Begins the journey of obligation.

This commanding obligation of Jesus is simply outlined:

Deny yourself

Take up your Cross

And Follow me.


The light of obligation

Streaming through Lent’s door



Begins with self-denial.

We are to lose our life for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel.

That is,

We place Jesus first;

Ourselves second.


We denial ourselves so that

We promote Jesus and his Good News

To the top of our priorities;

Before my own gratification,

Before my own self promotion,

Before my own selfish behavior,

Before family, job, or fun.

Jesus comes first.

His message comes becomes the pinnacle of my experience.


The price we pay to be his disciple

Is self-denial.

We surrender ourselves …

… Sacrifice ourselves …

Give up ourselves for Lent

For Jesus,

Who gave himself up for us on the cross.


If there is no self-sacrifice

We close the door

And deny the sacrifice that was made on our behalf.



What have you done to deny yourself?

What have you turned away from

To elevate Jesus to the single highest authority and priority in your life?

Giving up chocolate or meat for Lent are the easy cards to play.

But, let’s get serious:



What has control of your thoughts?

Your obsessions?

Your desires?

Are you ready to let it go?

This is the heart of self-denial.


The light of obligation

Illuminates our Lord’s command



To take up your cross.


At the center of Christian belief

Is the observation that

Your and my sins were atoned,

Were substituted,

By the willing sacrifice

Jesus made with his crucifixion.

Just as in ancient times

Animals were sacrificed in place of individual sins,

So, too, is the concept that Jesus became the sacrifice for our sins.


Take up your cross

Is the invitation

To take up your sins

Lift them up to God

And allow the blood of Christ and his cross to wash them clean.

Let Jesus take them away.

The burden of the cross is sin and forgiveness.


What sins have you intentionally committed?

What sins have you unintentionally committed?

What sins have been committed against you?


This Lent

Each of us are invited take a good hard look at ourselves.

It isn’t acceptable to allow sin to become

Perpetual unfinished business;

Never ending cycle of brokenness.

End the sin.


Forgive the sinner;

Even as we must beg for forgiveness


Just as you’ve been forgiven.



Forgive often.

Forgive freely.

Forgive lavishly.

Forgive repeatedly.

Forgive without expectation of being forgiven.


When that sinner is you,

Stop the sin.

Repent of the sin.

Vow not to sin again.

Repair the damage that your sin has caused.

And humbly ask to be forgiven.


You may, or you may not be forgiven, by the one who you offended.

But you will always be forgiven by Jesus Christ.

Approach Jesus with a completely humble and contrite heart.



Forgiveness isn’t natural;

Forgiveness is supernatural.

Forgiveness is simply Divine.


Light shines



Through the doorway

With the Jesus invitation:

“Follow me.”

Our Lenten obligation of his call

Is behavior change.

Following Jesus means we have to do something.

We have to do things differently.



Jesus’ command is simply stated:

Learn his ways,

Follow his example,

Do what he asks us to do.


Jesus may be our celestial stalker,

Our determined Divine bloodhound,

But unless each of us get off the stick

And learn his ways

By reading, listening, and reflecting on his Word

Sunday’s worship will become Monday’s faded memory.

Efforts to follow Jesus without first learning his ways

Will end in religious frustration and resentment.


Get in the Word!

Lent invites us to live in the Word!

Jesus wants us to become his living Word proclaimed to the world!


Learning what Jesus did

Is followed by the question

“How do I apply the example of Jesus to my life today?”

“How do I see the world as if looking through the eyes of Jesus?”

“How do I respond to the needs of a broken world the same way as Jesus?”


Like looking at a hurricane’s residual flotsam and jetsam

We begin the cleanup with that outstretched, helping hand;

With that first turn of the shovel or hammer of a nail.

We follow Jesus

When we take the first step to reach out to the same people Jesus did:

The last, the least, the lost, the left behind.



Reach out.

Touch people with a smile.

Pay forward the love of Jesus Christ.

Invite people to become friends and join in the journey.

Draw friends to wholeness, wellness, completeness with God.


Three simple steps.

Three simple doorways

Lead us this day

To consider the blessings of Lent’s obligation;

The Light of God’s gracious journey

That takes us to the Cross, through the grave, and to the empty tomb.


Follow me, Jesus asks.

There is no “EASY” button.

The work of discipleship takes sustained, honest, authentic effort.


Being a disciple of Jesus

Requires self-sacrifice and self-denial.

Responding to the call of Jesus

Responding to the call means

We have to do something.




Become someone new,

And leave the old you



Walk with me

Beloved East Rochester sisters and brothers:

Deny yourself.

Take up your cross.

Follow Jesus.


“With Wild Beasts”

1st Sunday of Lent, February 18, 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches


Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”




Welcome to Lent;

Our 40-day period of preparation by

Prayer, confession, repentance, charity and self-denial.

This is what we do.

Prayer, confession, repentance, charity and self-denial.

These are the disciplines we practice, especially during Lent.


What are we preparing for? You ask.

These traditional disciplines prepare us annually

To receive the message,

To be spiritually strengthened by the message,

That we might join with Jesus in proclaiming the message.


This is the message:

That by dying, Jesus Christ removes our sins and the sins of the world, and

That by rising from the dead, Jesus Christ saves us and the world into eternal life.

This is the Good News of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


Hear the message.

Proclaim the message.


As powerful as this message may be,

We are preparing ourselves for even more:

Our annual journey through Lent is an opportunity to be transformed.

By reliving and retelling the story

We make space in our existence for the Spirit to enter,

To warm our soul, open our mind, and reveal God’s will.

With the Spirit’s entry,

We are drawn closer together and closer to God.

With the Spirit’s strength, daring, and direction

We are transformed into God’s people

Called to transform the world.


Be transformed

That God might transform the world.


The first Sunday of Lent

Always begins with the Gospel account

Of the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

Matthew and Luke give elaborate, detailed accounts

Of the confrontation between Jesus and Satan.


You’ve heard the story of Satan’s temptations before:

‘Throw yourself down from this mountain and call up angels to save you.’

‘Turn those stones into bread to satisfy your hunger.’

‘All these kingdoms can be yours, if you but fall down and worship me.’

You know the details.

I can still recall as a child in Sunday School

Wondering if Jesus was alone with Satan those 40 days,

Who was writing down the details?!!!


Our Gospel of Mark is quite a study in contrast.

There are no details in Mark.

Mark is the shortest of all the Gospel books,

And is believed to be the source document

Upon which other apostolic traditions authored their own Gospel accounts.

Over the course of time and by means of great effort and councils,

The Church concluded Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

Best reflected the core of Christian faith,

And included them into the collection of sacred texts

That today we call the Bible.


The brevity of Mark

Gives us a little bit more room for interpretation.

We can allow the Spirit to influence our imagination,

To lead us where it is too difficult to go

If mired down in endless details.


Today, we follow Jesus

First, at his baptism, receiving the Spirit, and the affirmation of God’s words, to, Secondly, being immediately being driven by the same Spirit

Out into the wilderness, where he was “tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beast; and the angels waited on him.”

Thirdly, Jesus emerges from his harrowing ordeal,

Goes north to Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God.


A few thoughts.


1. The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness

To be tempted by the strongest source of personified evil, Satan himself.

It has always made me wonder about this,

I mean, on whose team is the Holy Spirit playing?

What possibly could be the motive for the Spirit of God

To drive Jesus into a confrontation with Satan?

The two greatest opposed sources of power in the world

Are destined to clash in a cataclysmic confrontation.


Why? is a question I cannot answer.

What we can learn by observation, however, is

Living faithfully,

With the Holy Spirit present and active

Sometimes means blessings,

Sometimes confrontation,

Nearly always, mystery.


2. The site of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River is

In the Southern Jordan valley, near Jericho.

The wilderness land to the West leads straight uphill 18 miles to Jerusalem,

A difference of 3,320 feet in elevation.  

That’s a linear slope of 3.5% … quite a steep hike.


This is the wilderness where Jesus was tempted.

Think rocks, cliffs, white compacted gravel, and steep mountains paths.

Think dry, sediment filled stream beds at the bottom of impassable chasms,

(That only see water once or twice a year,

When the rare Mediterranean storm clouds

Make it over the central mountains).

Think hot in the day and near freezing at night.

Think danger behind every scrub bush,

Bandits and Bedouins, around every turn,

Lurking in every canyon and cave,

Ready to beat you up, rob you blind, and leave you for dead.


Simply being in the wilderness places Jesus in mortal danger.


3. Forty days.

Forty days, or five weeks and five days,

Is a long time to roast in the day

And freeze at night.

Forty days is a long time to go without eating,

As reported in the other Gospels, but absent in Mark.

Forty days is a long time to be in search of water,

And when found, to stay close to water.

Forty days is a long time to think.

Forty days is a lot of time for the mind to wander.


Forty days in the wilderness makes Jesus very vulnerable.


4. Temptations.

No details are given.

By definition, however,

A temptation is a desire to do something,

Especially something wrong or unwise.

Something wrong would indicate

Satan was attempting to get Jesus

To break righteous adherence to Jewish Law.

Something unwise would indicate

Satan was attempting to elevate the humanist nature of Jesus

To the detriment of his Divine nature.


Tempted by Satan.

It is impossible to know

If this was one temptation drawn out over a full forty days,

Or, if this is multiple temptations over the course of forty days.

What can be observed, however,

Is the fact that temptation was for forty days,

And that’s enough to break any man down.


Being tempted for 40 days would make even the strongest person weak.


5. Wild beasts.

Therion in the Greek,

Meaning a dangerous, life-threatening carnivore.

Imagine being

In the wilderness for forty days surrounded by animals that want to eat you.

Think jackals, wolves, hyaenas, leopards,

And, yes, even lions and cheetahs before they were hunted to extinction.



It is interesting to me that this little detail

About wild beasts is left out of Matthew and Luke’s accounts.

Is this intentional? Or an oversight?

Does it make a difference? Or not?

Regardless, I can imagine the last light of the day fading away

And the night coming to life with the sounds of circling, hungry, wild beasts.


Forty days in the wilderness is forty days living in anxiety and fear.


6. Angels waiting on him.

Waiting, or Diekonomn in the Greek,

Which, of course, contains the same root as deacon,

Meaning to minister, to serve.

This is what deacons do; they serve.

Much the same way as the restored to health mother-in-law of Simon Peter

(Yes, the same word is used).

Angels ministered to Jesus,

Replacing his weakness with God’s strength.

It is important to recognize,

God’s angels are capable of serving, too.


Though shrouded in mystery,

Exposed to mortal danger, vulnerable, weak, anxious and living in fear,

God takes care of God’s own.


God takes care of God’s own Son, Jesus.

And, in my experience, God can and will

Take care of you and me, too.


Certainly, on this first Sunday of Lent

There are many unanswerable questions from the Gospel of Mark.

Where I believe we are called to place our attention,

Is on those pinch points where we can align ourselves with the life of Jesus.


Consider times and places in life that are shrouded in mystery,

(Like when the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness).

Are we capable of trusting in God to send us His angels

Even though we don’t know Why? How? When?

Even though we don’t know God’s will or motives?


Beloved, it is a sign of faithful maturity

To be at peace with the mystery of God,

Especially when apparent contradictions cause the stomach to churn.


Consider times and circumstances in life

When we are anxious, frightened, vulnerable, weak, or in mortal danger.

Are we capable of trusting in God to carry us through

Every crisis, every temptation, every disaster?

Even when drawing up face-to-face with death

And our personal faith is in danger of failing,

Can we place our entire dependence upon God,

And come to peace

Even in the presence of remaining uncertainty?


The tragic events of this past week

Certainly have left every parent asking,

Would our life end

If the unthinkable happened to our son, or daughter, wife, or husband?

I can not fathom such pain, fear, or vulnerability.

The temptation to flee would be so powerful.



Know this to be true,

Drawn from our account from St. Mark this day

Of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by none other than Satan himself,

If we depend on God,

God can take the strain.

God can bear the burden.

The Lord takes responsibility for His creation,

Especially for His children.

The Lord strengthens the weak.

God protects the vulnerable.

God calms our every fear.

And God is willing, able, and eager

To strengthen us back to health

After the crisis has passed.


After all, our God is a God of healing and restoration.


At the end of the day,

Let us discipline ourselves.

Find rest.

Find peace.

Just as the Heavenly Father took care of Jesus,

God takes care of God’s own.

At the end of this 40-day journey,

Let us join with Jesus in proclaiming the Good News of God.



“Listen to Him”

Mark 9:2-9

11 February 2018

Transfiguration of the Lord

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches


Mark 9:2-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.




Transfiguration of the Lord

Serves as the right-hand bookend

To the liturgical season sandwiched between

The Epiphany, or manifestation, of the Lord, on the left,

And Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of Lent,

Some five to nine Sundays later, on the right.


To know where one is headed,

It is important to know where one has been.


From the birth of Jesus and the angelic proclamation,

“To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,

who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

(Luke 2:11)

To the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River,

Complete with the inbreaking and descent of the Holy Spirit

Complimented by the voice of God,

“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

Our Gospel authors

(all four of them) make it crystal clear

That Jesus is the

Beloved Son of God,

A Savior,

A Messiah.


At the Transfiguration of the Lord

The Lord’s words of confirmation are surprisingly similar,

“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

(Mark 9:7)

Beloved Son.




Listen to him!



Ah, if ever there is a time to pay attention to Jesus

It’s when God tells us to listen!


Pay attention!

Watch and listen.

Take in all that God is revealing today.

Take it all in.


The time of Jesus’ Galilean ministry was coming to an end.

He had been itinerating from town to town,

Preaching with authority,

Casting out demons,

Healing the sick,

And attracting huge numbers of followers.

Galilee had been saturated with Jesus.

Jesus didn’t have ten or twenty percent market penetration.

Jesus was nearing one hundred.

Everyone was amazed at his teaching.

Everyone was absolutely convinced by his miracles. 

No one questioned his identity or his authority.


It was time to pivot.

It was time to wheel South, and head for Jerusalem.


Jesus ascended a Galilean mountain,

Bringing with him Peter, James, and John.

They weren’t brought there for the spectacular view

(Although the Sea of Galilee probably never looked better).

Look who showed up:

Elijah and Moses.

They do not symbolize prophecy and law

As some well-meaning but uninformed have proposed.

Their presence is the apocalyptic that every Jew anticipated,

The sign that this age was coming to conclusion.


The race had been run

And Jesus was on the final lap.

It was time for Jesus to fulfill our Father’s will.

It was time to bring the old world to an apocalyptic conclusion,

And to usher in a new world filled with hope and promise.


It is not as if Jesus didn’t give his disciples warning.

Immediately prior to the Transfiguration,

Peter declared publicly who Jesus was,

“You are the Messiah.”

(Mark 8:29)

Jesus harshly rebukes him,

And immediately turns right around

And teaches his disciples with Divine authority

That he will suffer, die, and rise again.

After today,

Jesus will repeat this important lesson,

As recorded in Mark, two more times.


Do not be naive!


Listen to him!

Believe in what Jesus has to say.


The journey to the cross will be dark and dangerous.

The journey to the cross starts with suffering.

The journey to the cross ends with death,

A cruel, public, humiliating execution.


Messiah was the apocalyptic conclusion hoped for by many faithful Jews of the day.

The coming of Messiah, it was believed,

Was the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy.

The title Messiah communicated optimism.

It was the tipping point

When the Roman and it’s legions of soldiers

Would be beaten like a junkyard dog.

The Roman era would be replaced

By a political savior,

Ushering in a Messianic era,

Where suffering would be ended and death would be no more.

The new era,

This post-apocalyptical era would be called

The Kingdom of God.


You can’t get to resurrection without first being sealed in a tomb.


Beloved Son.



Listen to him!

Take it all in!


The spotlight is on Jesus today

And he is lit up like the Los Vegas strip.

The light that transfigures his appearance

Is given to us as a gift of grace.

God’s gift is meant to sustain us for the journey throughout Lent,

As we descend from illumination on the mountain in the North,

Traveling with Jesus into the land of passion and shadows,

Which come to an end in darkness

On that Southern hill named Calvary.


When there is no light

Let the light of God sustain you!


The spotlight on Jesus

Might be the only memory,

Might be the only hope remaining,

At the end of our forthcoming 40-day journey.


Let transfiguration light guide you!


When they tear his lifeless body from the cross

And slide his corpse to the stone slab

For washing, preparation, and burial

All other light in the cosmos will be extinguished.

The wisp of a memory,

The near extinguished light of transfiguration,

Makes it possible to endure

His journey to death and burial.


Drink in his light!

Drink in God’s grace until you can fill no more!



This is transfiguration’s promise:

God’s light that completely transformed Jesus’ countenance

On that Galilean mountainside

Is the same Divine light that

Will release the resurrected Jesus from his garden tomb.


Allow the light of God

To bring you through suffering and death.

Allow the light of God

To lead you to resurrection and eternal life.


“Listen to him,”

(Mark 9:7)

Our heavenly Father commands us.

Listen to him for he speaks with authority.



Be still.

Allow Jesus to speak in your life.

Take it all in;

All that he says, and

All that he does.

Take it all in.


Though the future path is painful,

We can, and will, endure.

Jesus is the way and the truth and the light

That leads to resurrection.


“This is What I Came to Do”

Mark 1:29-39

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 4, 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches


Mark 1:29-39

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.






It must be difficult to be a VIP (Very Important Person).

I have bumped into celebrities on rare occasions.

It has felt awkward.

Beyond a smile of recognition,

Do you say hello? Shake their hand?

One doesn’t want to offend or bring undue attention,

Yet, there is always someone who breaks in and asks for an autograph.


The intrusions into privacy as the result of fame,

Must make it increasingly difficult to get work done.

It must get old.

Strong is the celebrity who does not become jaded,

Who responds with grace,

And appropriately acknowledges even the most disruptive fans.


In the Gospel of Mark

Our author does a marvelous job of

Recording this increasingly difficult tango.



Jesus goes from a private place to a public place,

Back and forth,

Alternating between concealment and secrecy,

And, publicity and proclamation.

The pendulum swings between messianic secrets

To our post-Epiphany theme of manifestation and revelation.

Jesus makes his public coming out,

Wading into three years of Galilean ministry,

At the same time,

He swears his followers to secrecy and

He is prone to go to a quiet place to pray.


Christ is able to remain engaged in ministry

Because throughout Mark

He follows up ministering to the crowds

With retreats into privacy

For spiritual recovery,

For time to pray.

(Preaching the New Common Lectionary, Year B, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany. Craddock, Hayes, Holladay. Pg. 149-151)


This rhythm is healthy;

A good discipline for all followers to emulate.


In every community he visits

The more popular he becomes,

The more difficult it gets

For Jesus to achieve success proclaiming the message.

He is forced to itinerate.

He is forced to move on.



Last Sunday,

Jesus was in the public Synagogue

Where he preached Good News with authority

And cast out an unclean spirit (with that same authority).

He cast out this unclean spirit from a man

Who publicly identified him and challenged him.

Today we continue the narrative.

Jesus leaves the public venue of the Synagogue

And goes to the private home of Simon’s mother-in-law.



Use your mind’s eye to think about the scene this way:

Housing density is so high in Capernaum,

We can just imagine the whole city gathered around her door.

Think of people peeping through the windows,

Hanging from the gutters,

Looking down through cracks in the roof.

Her private residence had become a public spectacle.


He goes because he had been summoned.

They (we assume Simon, Andrew, James, and John because they are mentioned)

Told Jesus about Simon’s mother-in-law.

She was sick in bed with a fever.


What we don’t know is:

Was she a widow?

Men often die before women and she was of the senior generation.

Was her fever an illness that would have made her unclean?

Some diseases like leprosy rendered a person unclean, others did not.

What we do know is that her fever was serious because

“They told him about her at once.” (Mark 1:30)

There was an urgency here;

She was experiencing a health crisis that demanded immediate attention.


The newly called disciples turn to Jesus because

They had just experienced his preaching with authority.

They had just seen Jesus using the same authority to cast out an unclean spirit.

If Jesus had that kind of power and authority

It was clear that they believed Jesus could

Heal and bring back this woman from near death, too.



The Gospel of Mark lays the ground work for the Good News:

Trust in the power of Jesus and his resurrection.


Trust in the power of Jesus and his resurrection.


What is immensely helpful to me,

And I hope is insightful to you, too,

Is that this implies the message that Jesus brings

Is more than mere words.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is more than talk,

It’s action;

Casting out demons and healing people,

Bringing them back into the land of the living.

Jesus makes an incursion into the shadow land

of sin and evil, of

and with mercy,

brings healing and deliverance.


The Gospel of Jesus Christ is more than a pastoral sermon on the mount,

It’s answering the summons

To come to the aid and assistance of a neighbor in need.



For the Gospel to speak,

One has to act.


The moment the fever left Simon’s mother-in-law,

She began to serve.

The verb “to serve” is a key term in Mark’s Gospel.



“Kiakonein” is interpreted as a response of faith.

It is used to serve in ministry:

The angels in the wilderness serve Jesus after he was tempted by the Devil for 40 days and 40 nights (Mark 1:14).

The women who followed Jesus served him (Mark 15:41)

Serving epitomizes Christ’s own ministry,

“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45).

She is an

icon of resurrection and a paradigm of Christian ministry.

(Thanks to Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, Dean, President, Professor of New Testament, Seminary of the Southwest, Austin TX, as found at https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3547)


The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law

Tells us what Christian discipleship looks like.

Yes, there is a message to be proclaimed,

But there is also ministry that needs done.


If you’re a lover of the prophet Isaiah,

You might call it social justice.

Others from a more Christ-centered, or

Christo-centric, point of view

Might call it kingdom building.

Yet others, using the latest hip language employed by church experts,

Might consider it relational evangelism with a missional response.



I call it living like Jesus.


When we live like Jesus

We reveal to the world

Christ manifest within us.

We demonstrate to the world

True incarnation.

This is truly Epiphany!

Living like Jesus means living an authentic, transparent life.


Christ’s message is proclaimed by

Both our words and our deeds.


How does this make a difference?



What does this mean for you and me and our journey of faith?


Go into the world,

Step into the crowds,

And start to make some friends.


Make friends, because you truly want to have friends.

The only motive for making friends is to be a friend.

Never let ulterior motives poison the relationship.

Suppress motives and temptations of money, power, size, and status.

Don’t judge, lest ye be judged!

Temper public service and balance it with times of privacy,

Praying in a deserted place,

Or in a quiet closet,

Just like Jesus did.


Be humble.

It’s a privilege be a friend

Serving in Jesus’ name.



Serve simply because of the joy of serving.

Intentionally reach out to those who have no friends.

Reach out to those who have been cast aside by society

And left for dead.

Make it your purpose to love the difficult to love,

To serve those who are difficult to serve.

Cast out their demons and resurrect every last one of them from the dead.

Our compassionate behavior,

Our ministry with the authority of Jesus,

Completes the message

That he came to proclaim.


Like Simon’s mother-in-law,

Serve simply as a response to the faith

That is developing and deepening in your life.


Jesus recognizes the necessary next steps that he had to take.

His message is God’s message to the world,

Not to just one demon possessed person, here,

Or one needing healing, there.



God so loved the world.

The Passion of Jesus Christ

Takes redemption, restoration, and healing beyond the personal

To the universal.

God so loved the world.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Takes salvation and eternal life from the personal

To the global;

… That the world might be saved through him.


Trust in the power and authority of Jesus.

Trust in his capacity to take one back from the edge and margins of life.

Trust in his ability to heal and in the power of his resurrection.



The message of Jesus is spoken in the language

Of both words and actions.

This is what Christ came to do.

Go, and do likewise.


“With Authority”

Mark 1:21-28

28 January 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches


Mark 1:21-28

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.





When ever I’ve pilgrimaged to the Holy Lands,

The buzz amongst fellow spiritual pilgrims is,

“Oh, how I want to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.”

In many locations,

History and tradition become so blurred

The archeological evidence often disappoints.



The synagogue in Capernaum is an exception.

We know exactly where it is at.

It has been extensively excavated.

The archeology confirms the fact that

This is indeed the location of the Jewish synagogue

That was in active use during the time of Jesus

In the village of Capernaum.



Stand at the North end,

Between the central columns facing South,

And you are standing exactly in the footsteps of Jesus.

This is where he taught with authority,

As related in our Gospel lesson for this morning.

This is where he exorcised an unclean spirit from a man who confronts him.

This is the exact spot where all were astounded at his teaching

And all were amazed at the loud, demonstrative departure

Of the unclean spirit.


Jesus left the crowded synagogue astounded and amazed.



Location, location, location, it is said

Are the three most important aspects of real estate sales.

I would suggest location is an essential aspect of this Gospel narrative.

To make sense of this Gospel lesson,

And to find useful applications for our lives,

Let us consider location.


A spiritual battle is taking place

With cosmic, cataclysmic implications.


The location of this battlefield,

First and foremost,

Is within a human person

Who had been kidnapped,

Taken hostage, and was being held

By a foreign power.

A demon had entered a man;

An individual was a near perfect image of a loving, creating God.



Through no fault of his own,

A demon entered this man

And began to wage war

With one of Abraham’s own covenant bound descendants.


The first shot was fired by Satan himself.


Regardless of your or my belief about demons,

It is quite obvious that there hasn’t been an eradication of evil in the world.

Before we are quick to explain away Biblical demonic possessions

And make a diagnosis from a distance that

Demon possession can be dismissed as mere mental illness or epilepsy,

Let us move with caution.


Let us recognize some cold, hard facts:



Evil exists.

Evil is dangerous.

Evil is opportunistic, and

Evil isn’t afraid to cross boundaries.

Regardless of evil being personified, or not,

It would be a calamitous error to under-appreciate or under-estimate

The power of Satan or evil in our world.


Jesus didn’t, and neither should we.


I do not like using military metaphors

When it comes to interpreting or proclaiming the Gospel.

Yet, today, it is entirely appropriate.

Spiritual warfare was initiated by Satan

And the battleground is this man infested with an unclean spirit.


Had Jesus been a wet-behind-the-ears young seminary graduate,

He probably would have turned tail and headed for the hills.

This is not the case.



The Gospel of Mark plants the flag in the sand

And claims the cosmic prerogative

The universe’s high ground:

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

(Mark 1:1)


Jesus was no lightweight;

Jesus was the Son of God.

Jesus, Son of God, taught with authority!


It is with this Divine authority that

Jesus confronts the unclean spirit on the battlefield,

At the location of Satan’s own choosing,

In this formerly clean man.


Jesus takes off the gloves.

If you think Satan wasn’t afraid of crossing boundaries,

You haven’t been paying attention to Jesus

(and you didn’t pay attention to last Sunday’s sermon

About the call of Simon and Andrew,

James and John).


Jesus has no fear.

He confronts evil

Eyeball to eyeball.

This tells us the extent God is willing to fight the battle,

Even when the battlefield is your life or mine.

Jesus is prepared to cross the clean vs. unclean boundary,

He is willing to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty,

Simply to save the life and the soul of this man

Taken over and held hostage by a foreign power.


Consider the implications.




God values every human life.

God is willing to go to the mat for everyone.

This is an exceptionally powerful message

For those of us whose body betrays us.


Think about it this way:

Have you ever felt spiritually dirty?

Spiritually unclean through no fault of your own?


When the brain becomes diseased and betrays you,

And you must eat with a bib or start wearing Depends?

When the legs give out, the spine is in pain,

And you are forced to use a walker or a wheelchair?

Consider the shame that is felt by one

Impaired by tics, spasms, drool, or speech imperfections.


The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is this:




Jesus only sees you as

Clean, nearly perfect, and as a person of infinite value.

Christ is willing to fight for you!

Christ is determined to reclaim you!

Christ will never allow Satan to win, now or in the future.

Christ will hold on to you and defend you for eternity!


Location, location, location!

Let us consider location,

Beyond the man.



The tip of lightening

Emanating from this slam-down

Cosmic battle of Good vs. Evil,

Of God vs. Satan,

Is taking place in the synagogue,

In full view of all the people.


There is no secret here.

Christ’s authority is on display for everyone to see.

The fact that the unclean spirit convulsed him,

Cried out in a loud voice,

And was cast out of the man

Gives credence to the authority of Jesus

To win over evil

And to teach with authority.

It is credible …

It is a certainty

That Jesus is, indeed, the Son of God.



The battle takes place within a structure of organized religion.

This isn’t a coincidence

Or a shear accident.


I’m not one to live a paranoid life,

But it is nearly impossible not to see that

Forces opposed to the Gospel

Are sometimes at work within the very

Halls, naves, and offices of the Church.

Forces opposed to Jesus

Sometimes hide in plain sight,

Camouflaged by beautiful robes, candles, and high steeple edifices.


Christian history is resplendent with abhorrent examples

Of treachery, oppression, threats,

Violation of vows, betrayal of trusts,

Larceny, abuse, rape, mutilation,

And, yes, even homicide.


Christian history is stained with evil practiced in

Cathedrals of grandeur

By authorities of privilege.



Power and wealth that inflates egos and male hubris,

Sadly, we’ve been there, done it, and wrote the book.

To make progress,



It is incumbent we

Repent today,

Confess the sins of the past,

And work in ministry for a better tomorrow.


Satan isn’t driven off by a wooden cross.

Demons do not fear

Doctrine, theology, or law,

Nor do they respect episcopal directives.

Holy water doesn’t scare the Devil.

Demons make it their business to cross all boundaries,

Including the threshold of the Church

And to pick a fight on the Lord’s sacred ground.


No place is safe.



No location is beyond the evil reach of forces opposed to Jesus.

What then, are we to do?


Biblical scholars have long been advocates for studying the Gospels by Starting with this question: What is the first thing Jesus does?

Christ’s first action in each of the Gospels will reveal a lot

About the theology, the thrust, the agenda of the Gospel author.


For John, Jesus’ first action is turning water into wine.

From thenceforth, the Gospel of John proceeds.

For Matthew, Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee and his expanded Sermon on the Mount.

For Luke, Jesus teaches in his hometown synagogue, in Nazareth,

Where he teaches from the prophet Isaiah.

But here in Mark, it is reported that Jesus teaches with authority

In the synagogue in Capernaum

And he exorcises an unclean spirit,

Who obeys him.


Indeed, considerable time and effort is spent in the Gospel of Mark

To cover all the landscape that amounts

To Jesus casting out demons, unclean spirits, even Satan himself.

In this spirit,

We find direction when we look ahead

In the third chapter of Mark.

It is the account of Jesus appointing his twelve disciples to



1. Be with him,

2. And to be sent out to proclaim the message, and

3. To have authority to cast out demons.

(Mark 3:14-15)


If demons are free to attack us

Anywhere and everywhere,

What are we to do?

We are to take the authority Jesus gives us

And to attack them, too.

Cast them out!

Get rid of them; every last one!


The strength to do so

Comes from God,

Not from within.

This isn’t about having the courage or having the ability.

This isn’t a mandate only for seminary graduates or the ordained.

This isn’t a call for judgment.

This is simply Jesus giving you and me his Divine authority

To cast out demons in our world.

Nothing more;

Nothing less.


This is simply Jesus giving each of his disciples everything we need,

Every resource that will be required,

To defeat evil, injustice, and oppression where ever and whenever they present themselves,

On their turf, or on ours.

This is our baptismal vow.  



Lies are evil.

Reject lies, without exception.

Use the authority of Jesus to cast the devil out of those who lie.


Stealing is evil.

Shine light where there is darkness and deceit.

Use the authority of Jesus to reveal theft and cast the devil out of those who steal.


Worshipping gods other than the Lord is evil.

It’s called idolatry.

Reject idolatry and call out idolatry when you see it.

Use the authority of Jesus to cast the demon out of those who want to worship anyone or anything other than the Lord.


It is possible to list example after example in the Bible

Of tactics and strategies,

The Devil uses to oppose Christ,

To pick a fight,

To wage spiritual warfare on a battlefield of his own choosing.



What are we to do?


We are to go on the offensive.

Take the authority of Jesus

To renounce and reject sin,

To cast demons out of everyone being destroyed by sin,

And to allow Christ to claim victory,

To reclaim and bring healing

To those wounded on the spiritual battlefield.


What are we to do?


Be on our guard that an unclean spirit doesn’t infect us, too.

Temper behavior and live righteously.

Surround ourselves with other disciples of Jesus.

There is strength in numbers.

Other disciples also hold us accountable,

Even as we are to hold others accountable.


What are we to do?


Love God.

Love neighbor.

Evil has nothing to gain

And is unable to establish a foothold in attacking those who

Live a life in God’s love and grace.


What we shouldn’t do

Is set back and do nothing.

We shouldn’t play prevent defense with the Devil.

We shouldn’t let our naivete lead us to give Satan a timid, half-hearted fight.

We shouldn’t let others dissuade us

To fight another day

Or to fight on some other issue or battlefield.

A passive approach to evil is nothing more than lazy.



Never back down.

Never give up.

The fight isn’t between you and any individual.

It isn’t personal.

The fight is between Christ and the forces who oppose him.


The outcome of the battle to be waged is never in doubt.

By his authority,

Christ is victorious.



Christ is always victorious.

With authority,

Cast out demons,

And taste the Divine victory that is ours!


“A New Reality”

Mark 1:14-20

21 January 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches


Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.




Jesus crossed a boundary

And I’m quite certain

Zebedee was not a happy camper.

I mean, what father in their right mind would be?


I’m currently reading Walt Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo Da Vinci,

A very kind and thoughtful Christmas gift.

As you probably know

Leonardo was a famous painter, inventor, and scientist;

Born in the village of Vinci, outside of Florence, Italy

In 1452, or, 566 years ago.

He died in 1519, or, 499 years ago.


Leonardo was truly a renaissance man,

Gifted with curiosity and imagination.

He was born out of wedlock,

The son of Piero da Vinci,

A local notary,

Who, in those days and in that time,

Functioned much like a para-legal in a modern-day law office.

He wasn’t a full-fledged lawyer;

But, he was empowered with considerable legal responsibility.


Notaries were held in high esteem in Italian renaissance culture.

Proud fathers passed on their training and professional credentials

From generation to generation.

Piero was at least a fourth generation Notary.

Notaries belonged to guilds,

Who maintained very strict morality requirements.

Because of this,

Leonardo was freed from the expectation of ever

Training for a profession in the law.

The guild simply wouldn’t allow it.

The expectation was that the profession was to be bequeathed to a legitimate heir.

The call, apprenticeship, and profession of notary

Would eventually fall upon Leonardo’s yet-to-be-born, legitimate half-brother.


From father to son,

Expectations have ebbed and flowed for centuries.


I recall from my own youth and development,

That time when I first spoke with my father

About my emerging call to ordained ministry.

Dad was a second career United Methodist pastor.

I remember my father first frowning,

Furrowing his eyebrow,

Then telling me how painful it is to be an ordained pastor.

It was as if he was trying to talk me out of it.

After he couldn’t dissuade me,

He then told be all about what a wonderful seminary he attended,

Drew, in Madison New Jersey,

And that I should immediately apply.

I recall vividly my astonishment at his near instant flip-flop,

Saying, “but, dad, I need to make my own way.”

(A comment my own son recently said to me).


“Yep. I understand,” he admitted.

A son needs to make his own way.


From father to son,

Expectations have ebbed and flowed for centuries.


We can only imagine the conversation in the boat that day

Following a night of fishing on the Sea of Galilee.

Zebedee and his two sons, James and John,

Were mending their nets.

It was a routine every morning;

To repair the rips and tears from the previous evening.

The sun would have been hot and high overhead.


If it was anything like a recently excavated first century fishing boat discovered in the Sea of Galilee,

Zebedee, James and John would have been

Mending, working, cleaning, and carrying on

In a boat dragged on shore

That was 27 feet long and nearly 8 feet wide;

A considerable boat, indeed.


The boat represented the family business,

The primary capital investment,

Passed on from father to son,

From generation to generation.


Small talk and idle conversation would have been interrupted by the stranger, Jesus;

Who appeared to know them

Even though

Not one of the three had never met him.


The invitation “Follow me”

Shattered generational expectations

With revolutionary thunder.

The world would never be the same.

A new reality was at hand.


Zebedee was one who learned early on in Christ’s ministry




That the Incarnation comes at a price.

Undoubtedly, he would have been thinking

“Where in ‘Honor thy mother and father’ does the Ten Commandments

Allow honorable sons to go tramping off

with the first stranger who says ‘Follow me’

Leaving their poor father in a lurch?”

“I’ve got nets to mend, fish to catch, bills to pay,

A business to run, a family to feed!”


Zebedee wasn’t the first to bear the weight of God incarnate.

The Gospel of Matthew reported the slaughter of the innocents;

Certainly their grief filled parents would have understood

That the Incarnation comes at a price.

Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt until Herod’s death

And it was safe to return home.

Certainly they understood

That the Incarnation of Jesus Christ comes at a price.


The Gospel of Mark,

In which we will spend considerable time over the course of this next year,

Paints a less than rosy picture of what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus.

The job description isn’t at all attractive.

The pay positively stinks, and is usually non-existent!

When Jesus calls the twelve on the mountain top in the third chapter of Mark,

His call is three-fold:


1. To remain with him.

2. To go out and preach.

3. And take His authority and cast out demons.

(Mark 3:14-15)


The first two requirements for discipleship are straight forward.

It’s the third that catches my attention.

The cost of the Incarnation for our Lord’s new disciples

Was to be an exorcist!


Who’s up for a good case of exorcism?

This is your chance to look the devil directly in the eye,

Call out Beelzebul by name,

And cast Satan out of every Tom, Dick, and Harry

Who are possessed,

Spitting up pea soup,

Or experiencing an epileptic seizure.

The line forms here.

Not many applicants?

Whose surprised?


The Incarnation of Jesus Christ comes at a price.

There is a cost to discipleship.

It’s not free.

Neither is it cheap.


Still early on in Jesus’ ministry

His own mother and brothers call Jesus home.

You can understand their concern, can’t you?

Word travels through small towns.
Jesus was preaching, teaching, healing;

Tramping around the countryside;

Attracting crowds and crowds and crowds of

Seekers, the curious, and the desperate.


Jesus hears his family are calling him home.


“Who are my mother and brothers?” Jesus asks

“And looking at those who sat around him, he said,

‘Here are my mother and my brothers! 

Whoever does the will of God

is my brother and sister and mother.’”

(Mark 3:34-35)


So much for Focus on the Family!

The price of discipleship depresses the value of the biological family

And inflates the value of those who do the will of God.

Those who do the will of God are considered by Jesus to be his family.

It’s no wonder Jesus’ own flesh and blood

Are whipped up in homicidal rage and

Attempt to throw him off a cliff.

(Luke 4:29)



God in the flesh,

Comes to the world,

Paying a price for our redemption and our salvation;

At the same time,

The world has a price to pay

To become his disciples,

To discern His will,

And to follow in His ways.

It’s evident that Jesus wants followers even more than believers.

Belief and faith will form later.

“Follow me,” is our Lord’s invitation today.


The price to pay for following Jesus is more than

Dropping your nets and

Leaving your expected inheritance and family business behind.

The price to pay for following Jesus is more than

Disappointing your biological father and mother.


The price to pay for following Jesus is

First, deny yourself.

Second, take up your cross.

Then, come and follow me.

(Mark 8:34)


Following Jesus, God Incarnate, comes at a price.

We see over the next three years of Jesus’ ministry, Passion, death, resurrection, and ascension

The disciples struggling to come to terms with paying the price of discipleship.

They live in denial,

Wanting to shout down Jesus’ promise of suffering,

Substituting in their own delusions of grandeur -

That one-day Jesus would ascend the throne.

Peter names Jesus as the Son of Man in one breath

Only to deny ever knowing him nearly a fortnight later.


When confronted with the call of Jesus to come and follow him,

To hang your hat on his Incarnation,

To assemble in line with this thing called “Christianity,”

It is important to enter discipleship with eyes wide open.

There is a new reality at hand.

Life as you and I used to know

Will be no more.


God has turned the world upside down.

God isn’t afraid of crossing boundaries;





In fact, at the very moment of conversion,

The Lord begins to make a habit of crossing boundaries.

Christ enters your life,

Turns over your tables,

And tramps mud all over your beautiful new carpets.


The emotional swell at the concluding verse of “Here I Am, Lord”

Has barely started to wane,

When the new reality of the price that has to be paid

Is laid out in spades:





“You want me to do WHAT?”

“You have got to be kidding!”

“Jesus, you’ve got to be out of your ever-living tree!”



Jesus wants us to be his recruiters,

To bring to him new candidates for discipleship.

Jesus expects us

To teach his new disciples everything,


Everything we’ve ever learned about Him;

And, yes, Jesus wants us to pay for it.



Jesus wants to teach you and me about radical hospitality.

Jesus expects us to open our homes and our church

And to practice hospitality that knows no bounds.

Unlock the doors and

Open the cupboards,

Set the table and start cooking!

Clean the carpets,

Make the bed,

Tidy up and make necessary repairs.

Open the curtains,

Let the sun shine in,

And welcome the world to

Enter in to God’s grace.

Anticipate the need.

Meet the need.

Exceed the need.

Do so, without being asked, and on our own dime.



Jesus wants us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.

Yes, Jesus wants us to put away the sword,

Reject violence and oppression where ever they present themselves,

And to only follow Him.

Learn and practice His ways of non-violence.

Speak up and advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves.

Take a stand and make a stand.

Do it in the name of Jesus.

Be willing to pay the price,

And when the bill comes due,

Pay the tab.



Jesus wants us to gather together often,

To be with Him,

To proclaim His Word,

To celebrate His Sacrament.

Others may laugh and ridicule us.

“We’ve got better things to do Sunday mornings,” they may chide.

So be it.

Let our Savior’s love shine through

our smile,

our gentleness,

our grace,

our every response.


Sometimes I wonder if any sane person,

Who knew the true cost of discipleship before being called

Would still step forward and say, “Here I am, Lord.”

It amazes me that people answer the call.


It amazes me that people are willing to drop their nets and still follow Jesus.

The fact that new disciples are answering the call everyday

Convinces me

Of God’s continued presence,

Of God’s active participation,

And of God’s absolute power of conviction.


God isn’t afraid of stepping on toes or crossing anyone’s boundaries.

Once the Lord calls you, however, there is no letting go.

Once the Lord claims you, you’re His forever.


Remember, the Incarnation comes at a price.

Once His call is answered,

His price must be paid.

Are you with me?

Because, I am with you.


“Speak, for Your Servant is Listening”

1 Samuel 3 & John 1:43-51

14 January 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches




The news wasn’t good.

His brothers had been caught red handed.

His father failed to react;

To do anything about his scoundrel sons. (1 Samuel 2:12)

Instead the father,

An elderly priest,

Turned and looked the other way.


The boys had been caught red handed stealing from the offering plate.

No, not money.



They had been stealing the remains of animal sacrifices from the Temple

Which were designated for the poor.

Instead of waiting at the end of the line,

Like any good parish pastor at a dish-to-pass dinner knows to do,

These contemptuous brothers (1 Samuel 2:17)

Budged in first,

Took the choice cuts for themselves,

Then turned over the leftovers and scraps for those in need.




The Lord calls his own to righteousness and justice.

When the crooked brothers blasphemed the Lord by their behavior

The Lord took notice.

Eli chose not to.


Their evil behavior didn’t end by stealing the choice cuts of lamb.

Elkanah, or Eli as he had come to be known,

Had also tried to confront the boys, Hophni and Phinehas,

About their evil dealings in the local brothels. (1 Samuel 2:23)

But they would not listen.

A man from God even came to Eli

To warn him that the Lord honors who honors him,

And despises those who hold him in contempt. (1 Samuel 2:30)

But Eli, and his terrible, good-for-nothing sons, would not be moved.


If the nearly blind, elderly priest

Would not respond to the Lord’s directive from an outsider

Perhaps the Lord had another card to play.



There was a third son,

A mere boy,

Meaning he was younger than the age of maturity,

Younger than 13.

It was time for the Lord to call Samuel.


The call of Samuel,

Which we have just heard proclaimed,

Is recognized as a monumental text

That has catapulted the imagination of many

And launched them into the process of discernment.



“Since God called the young child Samuel,

When is God going to call me?”  


Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.


Too often,

When we hear the word “call,”

Or the Lord “calling” someone,

We assume the call is to the single role of ordained ministry.

In Samuel’s case, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Lord called Samuel to righteousness and justice,

But also to a ministry of prophecy and judgment.

The Lord had a message to send to Eli

Through his newly called child prophet, Samuel.


Daddy and his boys were going to pay,

And pay mightily,

For the iniquity,

The blasphemy,

Eli’s house had committed.

They would be punished.

They would pay with their lives.




Justice and righteousness matter to God;

Both values to which all of God’s people are called.


Samuel was faithful to his call

And he did just what the Lord requested of him.

He informed his father, Eli, of the bad news,

Who took the Lord’s judgment to heart.

“It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”  (1 Samuel 3:18)

Finally, Eli had listened to the Lord.

The Lord fulfilled his promise.

Eli and his two sons would die.


Samuel, however would be spared.



He would become a life-long, trustworthy prophet of the Lord. (1 Samuel 3:20)

He would mature into the role as God’s last Judge (leader) in Israel,

The one who the Lord rallied to defeat the Philistines,

The one who God directed to anoint kings, Saul and David.

Samuel’s exciting life as God’s prophet can be read in the

Biblical books of Judges, and 1st & 2nd Samuel,

Which I highly recommend.


Are we living out our call to act with righteousness, upholding justice?

Samuel’s childhood call narrative teaches us something about our relationship with God.

Indeed, the Lord often guides one to diverse roles,

Changing over the course of life,

Spanning from childhood to old age.

The Lord sometimes calls one to difficult tasks

Or set seemingly impossible goals.

Sometimes the call is easy, and sometimes it’s not.

It begs the question,



What does God’s call look like to you,

At this time,

At this place in your life?


Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.




Both this Sunday and next Sunday

We are experiencing powerful call narratives from the Gospel;

Today from John and next week from Mark.

Jesus is launching his ministry by calling his first disciples.


John was doing his job.

You know John, don’t you?

The one who had amassed quite the following;

The one who had been baptizing the crowds in the Jordan River;

The one who had baptized Jesus in Jordan’s icy current.



He had been standing on the street corner with two of his followers,

Andrew and Simon (who would also be known as Peter),

Both from the seaside Galilean village of Bethsaida.


John, Andrew, and Peter

Were standing on a street corner in the lower Jordan valley,

In the region of Judah,

Someplace within a day’s walk

From where John was preaching and baptizing;

Quite possibly in the City of Jericho.


Jesus is seen walking by when John exclaims,

“Look, here is the Lamb of God!” (John 1:35)

Testimony results in action.

Andrew and Peter immediately followed Jesus.

“What are you looking for?” Jesus inquires.

“Rabbi,” they respond, “where are you staying?”

“Come and see,” Jesus replies.



Come and see.

And the first two disciples were called. (John 1:37-39)


Bethsaida, the town where Andrew and Peter grew up,

Was a small village,

Kind of like West Walworth / East Rochester,

And like in every small town,

Tongues tend to wag.

Everybody knew everybody else business.

Everyone was related.

Children grew up together.


While Jesus’ first two disciples were from Bethsaida,

Jesus had grown up in the nearby village of Nazareth,

Less than 30 miles to the west.

If Jesus intended to expand the number of his disciples,

Perhaps he should search in the network of those who he just called.

Thus, it makes sense,

Jesus, Andrew and Peter

Travel to Andrew and Peter’s hometown, Bethsaida.


It is here where our proclaimed Gospel picks up the narrative.



Jesus finds Philip, quite possibly a friend or relative of Andrew or Peter.

“Find” is a very important word,

Especially in the context of the Gospel of John;

It serves as a launch pad for deeper reflection as the story unfolds.


The easy way out would be to suggest

Andrew and Peter had simply briefed Jesus about Philip,

“Primed the pump,” as it is often said,

And convinced him

On the road between the lower Jordan valley in the south

And Bethsaida in the north

That Philip was a really good chap

And would serve as an excellent choice for our Lord’s third called disciple.


Yet, when we look at the Gospel of John in total,

Take in the completeness of it all

From a thirty-thousand feet perspective,

We see this longing desire for our God to know us

Through his Son, Jesus Christ;

To know his disciples,

To know those who are being called to make up his body.




Finding and knowing are characteristics of God, played in spades.

God finds and knows disciples even before each are called.


As Nathanael comes towards Jesus, he said,

“Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”

“Where did you get to know me?”  Nathanael asked, apparently mystified.

“I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you,” Jesus replied.

Nathanael immediately comes to recognition,

“Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the king of Israel!” (John 1:47-49)


John witnessed to Andrew and Peter.

“Come and see”  was our Lord’s invitation.

In turn, it was Andrew and Peter who led Jesus to

Their hometown friends, Philip and Nathanael.

Jesus found them and knew them, too.


It is the Divine nature of Jesus that finds disciples.

It is his love, which seeks to know each and every one of us.

It is his call, that every baptized disciple receives,

To come and follow him.



Jesus is the one making disciples.

It is the roll of Christ’s disciples to support him to make even more.


Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.


Have you testified like John,

Pointed to Jesus, saying “Look, here is the lamb of God!”?

Have you introduced friends and neighbors to Jesus?

Who in your network haven’t yet heard the whisper of God?

Who are your acquaintances

Who haven’t yet been introduced to Christ?


“God so loves the world,” Jesus teaches.

The whole world is called to Jordan’s baptismal waters,

To become a member of Christ’s body;

To be claimed by God,

Adopted by God.


As members of Christ’s body,

All of us are called to live a life of righteousness before God.

Follow God’s commands.

Act according to God’s instructions.

Let us be like Samuel.


Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.


As members of Christ’s body,

Let us dedicate ourselves to introducing others to Jesus,

To take an active roll in disciple making.

Witness what you have seen.

Testify to what you know.

Introduce others to Jesus

And let God do the rest.




What does God’s call look like to you,

At this time,

At this place in your life?


Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.


Some of us are called to the ordained ministry.

Some are called to prophecy.

Some are called to teach.

The apostle Paul even reports that some are called to speak in tongues.


Know this to be true:

God calls all of us to righteous living.

Jesus calls all of us to bring him new disciples.


“Roots and Promise”

Luke 2:21-40

31 December 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches


Luke 2:21-40

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.




This Gospel narrative of Simeon and Anna

Always brings to mind

A childhood memory.

My parents gave me a book titled “Simeon’s Secret”.

I looked it up on Amazon;

It was written by Janice Kramer and published in 1969.



We’d read it during the Christmas season.

I thought it was really cool that God will tell someone a secret.

It seemed like insider baseball to me.

Maybe God had a secret, or two, to share with me?

What could be more exciting than a private revelation from God?


What I don’t remember is Anna in the book,

Which is really a shame.

Anna is described as one of 6 female prophets in the Bible;

Her 5 predecessors all coming from Hebrew scripture,

(Our Old Testament).

They were

Miriam (Exodus 15:20),

Deborah (Judges 4:4),

Huldah (2 Kings 22:14),

Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14),

And the unnamed “prophetess” from Isaiah (Isaiah 8:3).


Women, do not ever feel inferior to men,

For God can, does, and has been working through women

Since the beginning of creation.

When God speaks to you, listen!

Take thou authority!

Men, there is no loss to your esteem or strength

To recognize the fact that God appears to be gender neutral

When it comes to selecting who is chosen to fulfill God’s will.

When God speaks to your wife, daughter, or granddaughter,

Listen, support, encourage, discern, and act

According to God’s will.


It is as if Anna is the cherry on the top;

The completion of the Jewish story line

Of creation, law, covenant, and prophecy.


Indeed, our Gospel is deeply rooted in Judaism;

Solidly Hebrew in its origin.

Jewish parents bring their

Jewish son to the

Jewish Temple to engage in the

Jewish rites of circumcision and purification, according to the

Jewish Law, as handed down from Moses.


Three items caught my eye here.


First, Jesus comes from a very, very poor family.

They offered a sacrifice of

“a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

(Luke 2:24)

Had they been middle class or wealthy,

They would have been required

To purchase a Temple raised lamb for sacrifice.


Compare 80% fat hamburger with

Free range, organic beef tenderloin.


Contrary to many who promote a Gospel of prosperity,

Jesus is not born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

Neither does he become a family man, landowner, or businessman.

He is a poor, itinerant preacher, who

Lives off the generosity of the population, who

Works and serves the poor.



One cannot know Jesus

Without being immersed in the world of

Poverty and brokenness,

Powerlessness and dependency,

Oppression and suffering.


On this eve of the New Year,

Consider this carefully:

How might I center myself in the world of Jesus,

Serving the poor, the powerless, and the oppressed?


Our Christian heritage,

Our Christian discipleship

Spring from our roots in Jewish poverty.


Secondly, the word “sacrifice” makes an entry into the Gospel.

With the birth of Jesus has come

Unending verses of Christmas carols,

Family gatherings, gluttony, and gourmandizing,

And gift giving galore.


Yet, we hear today of sacrifice,

First concerning Mary and Joseph’s

Sacrifice in the Temple at Jesus’ purification and circumcision,

Followed by the ominous words of Simeon himself,

“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

(Luke 2:34-35)

… just what a new mother wants to hear.


There is a price to be paid for salvation.

There is a cost to the redemption of Jerusalem.

What starts in a lonely manger in Bethlehem

Ends with a sacrifice on a cross in Jerusalem atop Golgotha.


The price to be paid doesn’t begin and end with Jesus,

Or the grief of the Heavenly Father

Whose only Son was sacrificed on our behalf.

Can we not also hear the cries of the innocent children

Being slaughtered at the command of Herod?

Listen carefully to the Gospel and

One can also hear the murder of John the Baptist, or

Jesus’ own family,

Who will come to reject him

And attempt to throw him off a cliff.

Listen to the early Church Fathers,

Of their sacrifice and reports of martyrdom.

Listen to those who have risen up against an abusive Church,

And have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Indeed, redemption and salvation come at a cost,

Whose price is often paid for in sacrificial blood.


On this eve of the New Year,

Let us carefully consider this Gospel inspired question:

What price are we willing to pay for the Lord’s redemption and salvation,

Both personally, and collectively?


Thirdly, the presence of the super religious and sincerely righteous

Simeon and Anna in the Gospel exude an air of expectation,

Of forward looking,

Of anticipation.


The Holy Spirit rested on Simeon

And revealed to him that

He would not see death until he had seeing the Messiah, the Son of God.

Now, there’s something to look forward to.

The bitter/sweet nearly present

Of the incarnation followed by certain death

With only the promise of salvation.


Simeon’s secret must have been shared with the widow Anna,

For she never left the Temple;

Day and night she lived her life in the heart of Judaism

Praising God

And speaking to all about the child Messiah

Who was expected at any moment.


Some secret, huh?


On this eve of the New Year,

Let us ask ourselves:

How might we live out our Christian faith

With the same fervent desire for worship and

With the same heightened expectation for the return of our Savior?


Dearly beloved,

Each of whom are loved by God

And who are also loved by myself as your spiritual leader,

On this seventh day of Christmas and

On the eve of the New Year,

Let us all resolve

To immerse ourselves in the love of our neighbor,

Serving the poor,

Determined to end the injustice of poverty in our world.

Let us all resolve

To look forward with fervent anticipation

To the return of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

May we all find the same peace that overcame Simeon and Anna;

That God keeps God’s promises,

That our redemption and salvation has come.

Give God our praise and our glory.


"A Witness' Testimony"

John 1:6-8, 19-28

17 December 2017, Third Sunday of Advent

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches


John 1:6-8, 19-28


There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 

He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. 

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 

John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 

This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.





Welcome to the third Sunday of Advent.

What a ride it has been.


The first Sunday of Advent we heard from Mark 13 about

The end,

The apocalypse,

The revelation about the Temple being destroyed

And our Lord, Jesus Christ’s promise that he will return.

Christ will come again, we fervently anticipate.


The second Sunday of Advent,

Last week,

We stepped into the Jordan River

In the opening of the Gospel of Mark

And are introduced to John the Baptizer,

Commonly known as John the Baptist,

Proclaiming a baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

Using Hebrew scripture as a foundation for his witness

John boldly proclaims that in Jesus,

God is here,

God is strong,

And God keeps His promises.

This is God’s Advent promise: Jesus will return.


Anticipation for Christ’s return mounts

When we make a one-Sunday pivot

From the Gospel of Mark to the Gospel of John.


Today, this Third Sunday of Advent,

We hear from John the Baptist,

Who I will correctly identify as John the Witness,

Based upon the way he is presented in the Gospel of John.

John the Witness is the self-proclaimed Voice

Of the one crying out in the wilderness

“Make straight the way of the Lord.”


A change has been made in the trajectory of Advent

From the identity of John and his role

To the identity of Jesus and what Jesus plans to do.

Who John is,

Isn’t nearly as important as

Who Jesus is.


The words “witness” and “testify”

Come from the same Greek root martureo,


Meaning an “attestation of fact or event from personal knowledge.”

John comes to bear witness,

To give testimony to his personal experience,

Of who Jesus is.


The Gospel author leads off with John’s role and motive:

“He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.”



I give up the other 51 weeks a year

For the Gospel to speak to us about who Jesus is,

Why he came, and

Why he promised to come again.


Yet, I believe our Gospel from St. John

Today is calling us to an equally high bar.

John is calling us to address a great challenge:

The Gospel author is saying


This was John’s testimony. What’s yours?


What is your witness, your testimony?


If you or I were to give sworn testimony

In a court of law about

Who Jesus is

And his motive for coming again,

What would we say?


This question woke me up at 4:00 am this past Thursday

Like a bolt of lightning from a sound sleep.


What is your witness, your testimony?

This is mine.


These are the facts as I’ve come to know them,

From my personal knowledge or experience:


1. Jesus is God,

The Creator and Lord of the universe.

I believe this to be factual,

Even though I am unable to provide proof of my belief.

In my experience,

Belief in one God, manifest as Jesus Christ,

Gives meaning to that which is otherwise unexplainable and mysterious.


2. I’m a disciple of Jesus

Ever since I was baptized as an infant.

My parents agreed to raise me as a disciple,

Teaching me everything that Jesus taught his disciples.

My parents fulfilled their commitment.

The Church fulfilled its commitment to support my Christian development.

As a member of Christ’s Church,

I likewise work to uphold our commitment to every baptized individual in their Christian development.


3. As a child,

I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior

At an altar call made at a Billy Glass revival service.

As a young teen,

I confirmed the vows made on my behalf at my baptism.

Henceforth, I’m eternally devoted to Jesus Christ.

As his disciple I am called to

Follow his commands and live a life

That is morally and ethically consistent with his.


4. Jesus commands his disciples

To love God and to love our neighbors.

Jesus identifies these two commandments as his most important.

I therefore spend the majority of my time and effort

Loving God and loving neighbors.

I love God by attending and participating in worship.

I love my neighbors by treating everyone as a friend,

Providing assistance whenever needed and whenever possible.


5. Jesus commands his disciples

To live in compliance with the Laws of God

As given to God’s spokesperson, Moses.

These laws of God are

Commonly known as the Ten Commandments.


6. Jesus commands his disciples

To share bread and wine every time we gather

So that we remember

His love for us,

So that we experience the forgiveness of our sins,

So that we are reminded of his promise of eternal life.

We fulfill our Lord’s command when we celebrate Holy Communion.


7. Jesus commands us to recruit additional disciples

From all the nations of the world.

We are to baptize each according to his prescribed method …

… in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit …

And we are to teach every newly baptized disciple

All that Jesus has taught us.


The primary source of Jesus’ teachings

Is the compilation of texts commonly known as the Bible,

Which disciples of Jesus consider sacred.

We fulfill our Lord’s command when we invite others to be baptized,

To believe in Jesus and to follow him,

And when we commit ourselves to teaching others

All that Jesus has taught to us.


What is my motive for sharing my testimony with you?

Like John the Baptist,

Like John the Baptizer,

Like John the Witness,

I share my testimony with you

That you might believe in Jesus and follow him as his disciples!


Furthermore, I offer to you my testimony

As an example and encouragement for you

To polish up and deliver your own testimony to others.


A few hints.


Keep it short.

Keep it simple.

State what you know to be true.

Be honest about what you don’t know.

Be clear about the difference between facts and faith or belief.

Speak from what you know and experience to be true.

Witness from your personal conviction.


Like John,

Testify to the Light.

The Light of the World is Jesus.

By our testimony

We pray that the entire world might believe in Jesus,

That everyone might follow him as his disciple,

Even as we look forward to his promised return.


Will you swear to tell the truth,

The whole truth,

And nothing but the truth,

So help you God?