"All Things Are Possible"

Mark 10:17-31

October 14, 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Mark 10:17-31 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=406368106)

 


 

Prayer.

 

I’m not getting in.

You’re not getting in, either.

 

If

It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle

Than

For someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,

Just as Jesus proclaims,

Then, we,

Like the original disciples,

Are doomed.

 

We are doomed.

Everyone go home.

Last one out, turn out the lights and lock the doors.

 

Scaring potential disciples away with a message of impossibility

Wouldn’t make Jesus a good United Methodist.

 

When approaching the Gospel of Mark

The best strategy is complete honesty.

 


 

The Gospel cannot be managed,

Despite the fact that

This is our first inclination.

Here is a sample of some of the classic attempts at managing Jesus,

Most often employed by

Snake oil preachers

Slinging a prosperity gospel:

·        The rich man became rich because he followed the law, therefore, follow the law and get rich

·        Nobody can actually keep the law, therefore, nobody can give up everything, either

·        Giving up everything was a command only to this man, not to us

·        This command only applies to the rich, and we all can think of someone more wealthy than we are

·        Give it up, but know that God intends to reward you a hundred-fold later

Some would call this “weasel exegesis.”

Others would call this “hermeneutical contortions.”

I’ll simply call it “dishonest.”

 

Don’t manage the Gospel

No mater how painful it might bite.

Just own it.

 


 

 

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (10:17)

The problem is in the question.

The man’s question implies that there is something he can do

To inherit eternal life.

If there was something he could do

Everyone would be doing it,

And we wouldn’t need Jesus.

There is nothing he could do.

Likewise, there is nothing we can do

To inherit eternal life.

The only means to inherit eternal life

Is to believe in the saving action of Jesus –

Being resurrected from the dead.

 

….

 

The Gospel truth can be found in our Lord’s response.

 


 

Jesus response is based on the man calling him Good Teacher.

Only God is good, Jesus points out.

Humankind is stained with temptation and sin.

We are a broken people when measured up to the law.

Everyone is.

Everyone fails, no exceptions.

Point One: Only God is good.

 


 

Jesus looked at him and loved him.

In fact, this is the only person in the Gospel of Mark

Who is identified as one whom Jesus loved.

Jesus loved the one who walked away.

 

We don’t know what happens to him,

For we never hear from him again.

It doesn’t mean

He doesn’t make his way back into the life of Jesus.

Quite frankly, I believe he would have,

Perhaps as one at the foot of the cross,

As one who looked in the empty tomb,

Or as one of 3,000 baptized by Peter

In the second chapter of Acts. (Acts 2:41)

 

One way or another,

This man would find himself before Jesus once again.

Standing before the eternal judge,

Jesus still loved him.

Jesus loved him enough to die for him.

Jesus loved him enough to win victory over the grave for him.

Point Two: Jesus loves even those who walk away.

 


 

“You lack one thing,” Jesus tells him.

One thing.

The one thing wasn’t rigid righteousness following the Ten Commandments.

One thing was lacking.

“Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.” (10:21)

This was the ONE THING:

Place the needs of the poor before your own needs.

If a neighbor is hungry and you’ve got food;

Share it!

If a neighbor can’t afford to fix a hole in their roof;

Pay for it!

If neighbors are poor because of systemic injustice;

Fix it!

If our neighbors are poor;

Give it.

 

Loving our neighbor is a higher priority than our wealth and accumulations.

Let’s get our priorities straight, Jesus is telling us.

Are we content with the presence of poverty

To the extent that

We are willing to walk away from Jesus?

I’m not; and I don’t think you are, either.

Point Three: The needs of the poor, the last in this world, are a priority over mine.

 


 

Of course, it’s impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

Just as it impossible for any of us to do anything to enter the kingdom of God.

Good works isn’t an entry pass.

However, this is God’s kingdom and God makes the rules.

If God wants you in the kingdom, you’re in,

“for God all things are possible.” (10:27)

 

Know this to be true:

Throughout history and throughout scripture,

God has demonstrated time and time again,

That God wants you in his kingdom.

God longs for you.

God desires a relationship with you.

 

“God so loved the world.”

“God sent his only beloved Son.”

“God doesn’t want the world condemned.”

“God wants the world to be saved.” (John 3:16-17)

Point Four: God loves you and wants you in God’s eternal kingdom.

 


 

Jesus carefully observes that “for God all things are possible.” (10:27)

He doesn’t say that all our petitions will be granted.

That would relegate God to the status of a dog fetching a stick.

We are no master.

God is the master,

And the sooner we learn our place in the God / human relationship,

The sooner we can come to peace with suffering and evil.

The cosmos and all that is in it are God’s own creation.

Thankfully, our God is loving and generous.

Point Five: God is capable of all things and acts according to God’s own plan.

 


 

It’s almost as if Peter is whining;

Because he is.

It would be great to hear a recording of his complaint!

“Look, we have left everything and followed you.” (10:28)

When Jesus begins with “Truly I tell you,”

The TRULY means it’s the honest truth

What he’s about to say.

Listen up!

 

Sacrifice family or vocation

For the sake of Jesus or

For the sake of the Good News

And your needs will be taken care of …

… in abundance.

Even our desire for eternal life will be satisfied.

 

Jesus makes a promise;

Our response is simply to take him at his word.

That’s called faith.

Point Six: Have faith; Jesus will support us and Jesus will save us.

 

There you have it;

The honest, unmanaged truth about the Gospel.

 

….

 

10.JPG

Only God is good;

Even still, do your best to follow God’s laws

And know that only God can save us.

 

Jesus loves even those who walk away;

And so should we, too.

Our love for another this day

May become a seed that takes root and bears fruit some day in the future.

 

Place the needs of the world,

Specifically, the needs of the poor,

Before our needs.

Serve, without the expectation of being served in return.

 

God loves you

And is looking forward to spending an eternity with you.

 

God is capable of all things.

God always acts in God’s historical interest;

Which is

His love for creation and humankind.

Therefore, expect great things!

 

Place your faith in Jesus.

You are loved.

In the end, there will be no end.

Your table will overflow.

All will be abundantly satisfied.

Everything will be okay.

 

This is God’s kingdom.

We are members of it.

And it goes on forever.

Amen.

“Deny the Self, Take Up the Cross, Follow Jesus”

Mark 8:27-38

16 September 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist churches

 

Mark 8:27-38 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=403758914)

 

Prayer.

 

Good theater has three acts.

A great sermon has three points.

Jesus teaching the crowd with his disciples,

 

2.JPG


 

“If any want to become my followers,

Let them deny themselves

And take up their cross

And follow me,”

Is pure gold. (8:34)

 

Jesus is using a technique called an If-Then Statement,

He states a hypotheses and follows it with a conclusion.

This is also known as a Conditional Statement.

As if casting a wide net in search of volunteers he says

IF any want to become my followers,

THEN deny self, take up their cross, and follow me.

 

This approach is the foundation for classical logic and geometry,

Legislation, law making and interpretation.

Today, If-Then conditional statements are

Even an essential skill for computer science and programming.

Using If-Then Statements are fundamental for constructing an Excel spreadsheet.

 

Teaching with this technique is bold.

It’s also revealing.

 

This approach reveals an inner self-confidence

In who Jesus is,

What he intends to do,

And how he will change the world.

 

Let’s connect the dots.

Let’s connect the hypotheses with the conclusion.

I. Deny the Self

“Who do people say that I am?” (8:27)

Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” (8:29)

 

Jesus reveals that he is the Messiah,

Not the Messiah the world had been waiting for,

But the Messiah which God poured into the world

For the world’s forgiveness and salvation.

 

Denying myself is all about

Assuming my God appointed role

In my relationship with God and with my neighbors.

Denying the self is all about eating some humble pie,

Checking the ego and pride,

And putting words to action.

 

Loving neighbors means serving them;

Assisting them to meet their needs before my own.

Denying myself is all about

Authentic, servant leadership;

Service before self.

 

Loving God means serving God;

Assisting God to spread the Gospel and Kingdom to all the world.

Denying myself is all about making

Loving God and

Serving God a higher priority

For my time, talent, and treasure

Than anything else of this world.

My challenge to you is this in the coming week:

Make a list of every time you’ve intentionally placed service before self,

Service to God and service to our neighbors,

Before serving your own self-interest.

Make a list and post it on your refrigerator.

It will help keep you accountable.

It will help keep you following Jesus.

II. Take Up the Cross

Jesus underwent great suffering and rejection.

He was killed and three days later he rose again,

Just as he predicted and taught. (8:31)

 

A common denominator of the human experience is suffering.

Suffering works its way around to everyone, given time.

It’s painful to see the suffering of others,

To experience our own aging, frailty, and pain,

And finally, to endure unto death.

 

It’s hard to put a positive spin on suffering.

 

What Jesus is suggesting in the conditional teaching

About his predicted suffering is that

Suffering affords followers of Jesus

An opportunity to make a connection

Between our suffering

And the suffering of Jesus

During his passion and death.

 

That terrible left shoulder pain I’m going through

Makes me wonder how much Jesus’ shoulders must have ached

As he hung on the cross.

The mourning and grief I feel after my loved one died

Must have been like that of Mary, the mother of Jesus, at the foot of the cross.

The finality of death

Made real during funeral planning

Must have been brought home

When the body of Jesus was taken from the cross

And cleaned and prepared for burial.

 

Associating our suffering with the suffering of Jesus

Is a special kind of divine invitation

Into a deeply personal relationship

Between Jesus and yourself.

Through this lens,

Jesus is teaching us that even suffering

Is a gift of God’s grace and love for the world.

III. Follow Jesus

Lose your life for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel

And your life will be saved. (8:35)

 

Priorities matter.

I’ll not be the one to judge

Where you place your priorities,

But God will.

 

I’m not perfect, though I’m striving for perfection.

Come, let us strive together

For a more noble purpose;

To follow Jesus,

Share his love,

And to spread his Gospel.

 

In my life,

Following Jesus and his teaching is more important than:

1. Hanging out with friends

2. Watching the Bills game

3. My supervisors, my supporters, and my detractors

4. Buying a new car or house

5. Moving up in my career or taking a new job

6. Perfect attendance at school or scoring a 100 on a test

7. Good health and a long life

8. Retiring early

 

How about you?

 

Can you make a list of your priorities?

Where you like to spend most of your time?

Where you are willing to spend most of your money?

 

What can you de-prioritize in your life

And substitute in Jesus in its place?

 

Are you willing to sacrifice everything,

Even your very own life,

All for Jesus,

All for his Gospel?

Priorities matter.

Beloved members and friends

Make Jesus first.

Keep Jesus first.

Promote Jesus first.

That’s what it means to follow Jesus.

That’s the path forward.

 

Amen.

“Many Turned Back”

John 6:56-72

August 26, 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist churches

 

John 6:56-72 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=401940671)

 

Prayer.

 

Sickening.

Disbelief.

Disappointment.

Betrayal.

Each are characteristics of living a life abiding in Christ

And inviting Jesus Christ to abide in us.

 

Ironic, isn’t it?

That the Gospel is called Good News?

 

There is a mistaken perception that the Christian life

Is free from worry, pain, sin, and evil;

That, once one accepts by faith

That Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior

Life becomes filled with love, peace, abundance,

And dancing unicorns.

 

The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John

Is like a bucket of ice water thrown into our face.

It just doesn’t work that way.

 

Many will make the claim that

God blesses the faithful with abundance wealth.

Therefore, if you aren’t wealthy, you must not be faithful.

You’re just not doing it right.

 

Many will claim that

God spares Christians from famine, disease, poverty, and suffering.

Therefore, if you suffer, it must be due to your own sinfulness.

And, we all know

Sinners are destined to hell.

 

This is delusional,

And just plain wrong.

 

 

Beware of those who preach a gospel of prosperity, excess, greed, or fear;

For their gospel is not the Gospel.

Guarantees of prosperity or fear of damnation is not the Good News

God has given to his faithful.

 

The pessimist might observe that

It is almost as if the Gospel removes all incentives

For following Jesus,

Pulling the rug right out from under our feet.

 

The faithful share a different reality,

as conveyed so eloquently in the Gospel of John:

 

 

God loves the world.

God sent us his Son, Jesus.

Everyone who believes in Jesus is saved. (3:16)

 

I like the label theologians have applied:

John lays out for all the world to see

“The Scandal of Grace.”

 

It is scandalous to the principalities of this world

That God loves everyone, without exclusion or exception.

 

4.JPG

 

Prior history doesn’t matter.

Current circumstances aren’t relevant.

Future potential isn’t of any concern.

Belief is the only metric upon which

Scripture teaches us God places judgment.

This, my friends, is a pretty low bar

For laying claim to God’s gift of grace.

5.JPG

 

 

It is scandalous to the economies of this world

That salvation is God’s gift to all.

Eternal life is the grand equalizer of the caste system.

The Lazarus’ of this world are lifted up by angels

(See Luke 16:19-31).

The mountains of social status, pride, pedigree, and wealth are made low.

The valleys of the last, least, and lost

Are raised,

To make plain and straight

A highway for our God.

 

 

Grace is amazing when we apply it to ourselves,

But scandalous when applied to others.

 

Please pray for me

That I can get over myself

And overcome my propensity for judgment,

For my tendency to marginalize and complain about others,

And I’ll pray for you, too.

 

….

 

What really caught my attention

In this sixth installment from the sixth chapter of John

Is the fact that

So many followers of Jesus

Don’t believe.

So many who follow Jesus

Walk away.

Many of his disciples

“turned back and no longer went about with him.” (6:66)

 

Apparently, they were having a hard time stomaching

The scandal of God’s grace, too.

 

 

“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” many disciples complained. (6:60)

“Does this offend you?” Jesus replies. (6:61)

These Jewish born and raised

Bandwagon fans of Jesus,

… Multitudes miraculously fed with

Five loaves and two fish just days earlier …

Have made their way with Jesus

Back to the synagogue at Capernaum

Where they listened to him teach.

 

At this time

Christ’s followers had no experience of Eucharist,

So they understood his words literally.

When they hear Jesus speaking about

Eating his flesh and drinking his blood

They are thinking cannibalism.

Sickening.

 

Their superficial assumption

Was that Jesus was teaching in violation of Jewish law.

They also assumed

That Jesus was demeaning and dismissive of Moses

Whose miracle of manna from heaven

Provided sustenance for the day,

But, was a mile short of providing for eternal life.

 

Like their (and our) ancestors

Newly freed from Egyptian captivity

And wondering in the wilderness,

Many grumbled.

 

Sadly, the disappointed and unbelieving Jews

In the audience at the synagogue in Capernaum

Didn’t have the benefit of hindsight like

The early Christian communities had

In the developing years following Christ’s ascension.

 

The early Church knew the narrative of the Upper Room

And faithfully practiced the sacrament of Holy Communion

Whenever they gathered

In remembrance of Jesus.

First Century disciples of Jesus

Could understand more deeply the distinction between

Life in the Spirit verses Death in the Flesh.

 

 

Grumbling appears to be a common thread

In human DNA.

When it comes to churches

I have yet to serve one that doesn’t have

Some level of conflict amongst members and friends;

Some more, some less.

Grumbling is as common as two farmers talking about the weather.

 

Complaining members of a parish are to a pastor

Like dulling an axe by using it to cut rocks.

Grumbling members of the clergy are to a bishop

Like one hanging a rug over a close line and beating it clean of dirt.

 

Grumbling members of Christ’s Church demonstrate

A lack of trust that God provides for today,

And will provide for tomorrow.

Grumbling turns a community of faith inward

At the expense of loving our neighbors.

Complaining disciples of Jesus

Are scandalized by God’s grace

And are the first to tell anyone and everyone about it.

 

 

If left to fester too long,

Like a cancerous tumor,

Complaining becomes the new normal,

Faith begins to wane,

Belief withers,

And many disciples turn back

And no longer go about with him. (6:66)

 

Why would anyone chose Death by Flesh

Over Life,

Eternal Life, in the Spirit?

 

It is easy to condemn Judas, son of Simon Iscariot,

For his betrayal of Jesus.

His betrayal cost Jesus his life.

Then, he had the audacity to take his own life.

What a “Feckless Pud”!

(As one of my Twitter followers is prone to say)

Why would Judas chose Flesh and Death over Eternal Life?

 

It is also easy to look down our noses

At the followers of Jesus who jumped on his bandwagon

Only for a free lunch.

When the prospect of future charity fizzled,

They bailed faster than a sailor on a sinking ship.

By turning their backs on Jesus and walking away,

They no less betrayed Jesus than did Judas.

 

Yet, the Gospel presents us with a warning about

Our own moral condescension.

Consider two dangers.

 

 

First, think about the temptation for a community of faith to bail on Jesus.

When a Christian community fails to place Christ in the center of all things,

When it simply becomes a service organization,

Or worse yet,

When a church becomes an inward focused relic

Gasping for its own survival,

Is it any more of a betrayal of Jesus

Than the betrayal of Judas,

Or of the followers who lost their belief,

Turned and walked away?

 

Let us keep our eyes upon Jesus!

 

 

Secondly, think about the temptation to personally walk away from Jesus.

There is a difference between faith and certainty.

None of us can claim certainty when it comes to knowledge of God.

To do so would be idolatrous,

Placing ourselves as God’s equal.

But all of us have faith,

Some grand and expansive and deep.

Others have faith that is small like a mustard seed.

When it comes to faith,

Size doesn’t matter.

 

“To whom can we go?” Simon Peter speaking to Jesus correctly observes.

“You have the words of eternal life.” (6:68)

 

Indeed, we can run,

But we have no place to escape from the love and grace of God.

Once claimed,

Forever claimed.

There is no other place to go

Than into the loving arms of our Lord.

 

Let us encourage each other.

Keep your eyes upon Jesus,

And I’ll do the same.

 

….

 

 

The one who eats this bread will live forever.

That’s a promise.

We call that grace.

The fact that the table is open to all,

Without reservation, precondition, or barrier

Is, indeed, scandalous.

 

I constantly have to remind myself

That the bread from heaven,

The Eucharist,

Isn’t about Todd,

Or whoever is serving as the celebrant.

The bread from heaven is about Jesus;

The Body of Christ.

The scandal is that there is a place at the table for me.

The scandal is that there is a place at the table for you.

 

Dearly beloved,

Keep your complaints to yourself.

Ask God for the guidance and strength to resolve disputes,

Then follow through with words and deeds.

 

Grumbling distracts.

Complaints tempt us to walk away,

To take our eyes off Jesus.

So, just don’t do it.

 

Instead, our Gospel encourages us,

Collectively and individually,

To abide in Christ,

Keep your eyes on Christ,

And to allow Christ to abide in us.

Chose life;

Eternal life.

Eat this bread and live.

Amen.  

“We Want Signs and Direction!”

5 August 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

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

 

Prayer.

 

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

 

The Gospel draws deep from our ancestral roots.

To understand Jesus,

To see Jesus as he is revealed,

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

Released from Egyptian slavery,

Miraculously saved with the parting of the Red Sea,

Liberated and forever free.

 

Their future lay in the land promised,

A land flowing milk and honey;

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

The journey would take 40 years,

A full generation,

The completeness of the life of Moses.

 

 

It is important to recognize in the Exodus story

That it is God doing the acting.

Moses is God’s proxy,

God’s mouthpiece,

God’s servant.

 

In the first of ten plagues

To soften Pharaoh’s heart

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

When he does, God turns the water into blood

Throughout the whole land. (Exodus 7:19)

After ten plagues, Pharaoh nearly had enough.

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

 

 

God directs,

Moses complies,

God acts.

 

God directed Moses how to celebrate Passover

As a perpetual ordinance,

To avoid the destroyer,

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

Moses complies,

God acts,

The ensuing grief caused Pharaoh to cry out pain

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

 

Pharaoh reached the end of his rope.

He gave in and set our ancestors free.

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

To the eternal covenant with Abraham:

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

The Lord’s blessing upon us will continue

From generation to generation.

 

God directs,

Moses complies,

God acts.

Each time in the Exodus narrative,

Revealing something new about our Heavenly Father.

 

Likewise, for the festival of unleavened bread.

Likewise, for crossing the Red Sea.

Likewise, for Mana from Heaven (Exodus 16)

 

 

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

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

 

The Lord directed Moses to speak

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

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

 

Moses did as he was told.

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

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

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

That all might be fed.

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

God’s action reveals the fact that

 

 

God intends

That all God’s children be abundantly nourished.

 

…………

 

Jesus is not the second coming of Moses.

Intermediaries are gone; the age of prophets is over.

The Prophetic Age has ended;

With Jesus,

The Messianic Age began.

 

Jesus is the Son of God.

God decides direct intervention,

Becoming human and stepping into humanity,

Is necessary.

 

 

Divine intervention is the only way forward

To forgive and save the world.

It is critically important to understand that

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

 

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

When Jesus acts,

Similar to the actions of God in the Exodus narrative,

Something new is revealed about our God,

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

 

 

After miraculously feeding 5,000 would be followers

With 5 loaves and 2 fish,

Jesus and his disciples give them the slip,

Probably during their after-dinner siesta.

 

The disciples,

As we heard last Sunday,

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

Only to be caught up in a storm.

Jesus walks on water,

Identifies himself,

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

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

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

Not bad, for the God of creation.

 

 

Funny thing about hunger:

It keeps coming around,

Reoccurring every few hours.

Food perishes, hunger returns, everyone needs to eat.

 

5,000 people come searching for Jesus

Because their hunger returned.

5,000 people find him.

Jesus observes,

They came searching for him because their hunger returned,

Not because they were witnesses to the sign Jesus performed

Of multiplying bread and fish.

Their bellies were empty.

 

Pay attention to what Jesus does:

 

10.JPG

 

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

 

In other words,

I gave you …

… Past tense …

Bread and fish,

And now you’re hungry again.

I, the Son of Man, will give you …

… Future tense …

Food that endures for eternal life.

 

Boom!

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

Through the context, words, and actions of Jesus:

 

 

That which Jesus provides is sufficient for eternal life.

That’s it.

There is no need for anything else.

There is no need for anything other than Jesus.

 

No need for a fountain of youth,

So, stop searching for it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Stop with the idol worship!

 

Simply put, there is nothing that offers salvation other than

Belief in Jesus Christ.

Everything else are mere idols;

Temptations that threaten to steal our attention,

To divert our eyes from Jesus.

Money, healthcare, patriotism, policy, politics …

All offer false promises of salvation.

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

In 80 years each of our bodies will be dead;

Yet, for those who believe in Christ?

We will be sustained,

We will endure for eternal life.

 

 

It is God who reveals to the children of Abraham

That salvation only comes through belief in Jesus Christ.

 

Whining must be in our DNA.

Our ancestors whined to Moses about their hunger.

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

A miracle,

Anything, that would confirm their belief in him.

 

“We want a sign.”

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

That was a pretty good miracle.

What can you do for us to make us believe?

 

Like Simon Cowell on America’s Got Talent,

“Show us your act.”

 

Well, it really wasn’t Moses who acted,

Who performed the miracle;

It was God.

Moses was simply the faithful go-between prophet.

 

 

It is God who provided mana from heaven.

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

It is God who provides for our daily nourishment today.

 

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

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

“Were you too busy eating to notice?”

 

The sign is the miracle of multiplication.

 

 

What God reveals through this sign

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

To abide in Christ,

To take up residence wholly and solely in his life.

 

Eat bread, fish, or quail,

Fill your stomachs;

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

Believe in Jesus,

Abide in him;

and you’ll be satisfied for eternity.

Those who come to Christ will never hunger or thirst.

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

 

…….

 

 

The Gospel of John is difficult to understand.

I get that.

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

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

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

Many wade into the Gospel of John quickly,

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

 

With the blessing of hindsight,

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

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

That just as Jesus reveals something about himself

There is a misunderstanding.

Think of the woman at the well

“But you have no bucket.”

Think about Nicodemus

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

Think about Jesus speaking about the destruction of the Temple

And about him turning water into wine.

 

Understanding John is hard for everyone.

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

 

 

For understanding, imperfect as we may be,

Searching for God’s message, leads to abiding.

Understanding always leads to abiding.

Abide in Christ.

Take up residence in him.

 

This is why I so passionately love the Gospel.

The quest always leads us back to Jesus.

 

Our search for understanding today

Has revealed much about our God

And our relationship with him:

God wants us to be free.

God is faithful to the covenants made between us.

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

God wants all to believe in Jesus;

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

Amen.

“Seeking Calm in the Midst of a Storm”

Mark 4:35-41

June 24, 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

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

Prayer.

 

The easy way out for any preacher of this text

Is to state the obvious:

Jesus stilling the storm proves

 

Jesus is master over all things;

Even master over the forces of nature and creation.

This establishes the Divine identity of Jesus Christ

For every recipient of the Gospel, forever more.

 

Simple.

Straight forward.

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

Throw in a nice illustration,

Give it three points,

And wrap it up in under 20 minutes.

I may have delivered that sermon once or twice before.

 

The identity and divinity of Jesus

Are stated and restated with such frequency in the Gospel

It causes every serious student engaged in intentional discipleship

 

To explore further,

To dig deeper.

The Gospel invites us to ask,

To seek,

To discern the will of God,

To listen,

And to pray.

 

When it comes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,

Never be satisfied with the easy or the obvious.

 

Of course,

Jesus stilling the storm reveals

A metaphor exposing deeper truth.

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

The deeper truth about God,

God’s kingdom and our place in it,

Serves as a hidden gem;

God’s gift for us to find.

 

Storms come in all shapes and sizes,

Differ in context and location, and

Range from the predictable to the unpredictable.

Storms can maim.

Storms can kill.

 

Storms on the Sea of Galilee

In the time of Jesus

… and absent the benefits of modern day weather forecasting …

were quick and unexpected.

Storms would sweep in from the Mediterranean,

Flow over the towering ridges that surround the Sea of Galilee

And accelerate across its surface.

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

 

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

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

 

She was telling me about Hurricane Harvey

The devastation it wrought,

And the pain it continues to bring,

To the local population.

 

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

Hurricane warnings went out days before landfall.

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

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

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

It was too late.

The water rose so fast

The safest place was your roof.”

 

40 inches of water in four days.

One hundred twenty-five billion in damages.

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

 

Terrifying.

Riding out a hurricane perched on your roof.

Truly terrifying.

 

Where, then, is Christ and His Church?

 

The Body of Christ is stilling the storm of Hurricane Harvey

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

To muck out houses,

Rebuild and restore families and neighborhoods,

Especially among those least able

To right their own sinking ship;

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

 

“Peace! Be still!” Christ commanded.

Shovels shoveled.

Hammers hammered.

Saws sawed.

Work continues to this day,

And will for years to come.

The wind and the seas are being calmed

One person,

One family,

One neighborhood

At a time.

 

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

 

An expansive reading of all four Gospels of Jesus Christ

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

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

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

Illness; both chronic illness and mortal diseases.

Death in the family.

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

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

People then are not very different than you and me.

 

“Peace! Be still!” Christ commanded.

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

The eyes of the blind man were opened.

Leprosy was healed.

The woman’s hemorrhaging ceased.

Demons were cast out.

A half-breed, immigrant Samaritan

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

The dead were raised back to life.

The wind and seas were calmed.

 

The essential truth that Christ reveals

Is that God sides with victims of injustice,

The poor and marginalized,

The sick and mourning,

The immigrant and foreigner in our land.

 

God is offended by greed and the misuse of power,

By selfish and self-serving behavior.

God is offended by sin and the unrepentant,

In spite of the fact that

Forgiveness and salvation are

His gift of love to all the world.

 

Being the pastoral shepherd of two congregations

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

 

Death and disability,

Mourning and grief,

Sin, regret, and temptation,

Denial and betrayal,

Isolation and loneliness.

 

Storms of life are

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

Storms of life are

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

Storms of life are

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

 

“Peace! Be still!” Christ commanded.

Prayers go out and are offered up.

Our church family gathers with

Acceptance and support,

Presence and love.

We reach out with hugs and casseroles,

With cards and meat platters.

We meet over coffee or on a quiet backyard deck.

Pain is noticed, wounds are bound and cared for.

Tears are dried.

The Body of Christ abides with us

And in us for others

To still the storms of life.

 

Church is about belonging.

We belong.

We belong with God

And we belong with one another.

 

Are you daring?

Are you courageous?

Come with me.

The Gospel today calls us to

Push the storm as a metaphor

One last step.

 

Disciples of Christ

Were part of a larger Jewish society

That was caught in the whirlwind of a social hurricane.

Rome occupied the nation,

Held captive sacred institutions,

Taxed, dominated, and brutally suppressed dissent.

Jews would soon revolt and be put down,

Slaughtered, chased down like dogs,

Diaspora-ed to the far corners of the planet.

Christians would be driven underground,

Spreading in secret throughout the empire,

Living in fear of persecution and martyrdom.

 

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

 

“Peace! Be still!” Christ commanded

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

“Peace! Be still!” Christ commanded

Even as he submitted to the humiliation of the cross.

“Peace! Be still!” Christ commanded

In his triumph over death and the grave.

“Peace! Be still!” Christ commanded

Even as he was whisked away and ascended into heaven.

 

In case you haven’t noticed

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

 

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

Empathy for others is replaced with partisan stubbornness.

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

Fake facts, fake news, and outright lies.

Listening is out of vogue.

Shouting is the new style.

Love is replaced by hatred, intolerance, and oppression.

 

The political storm is fracturing families and friends.

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

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

 

Is this what we want?

 

No?

Then stop it!

Stop feeding the beast.

Stop posting and boasting.

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

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

 

God is calling us to be better.

God is calling Christians and His Church to be better,

To rise above the sin of the world, to

Obey the command of Jesus:

“Peace! Be still!”

 

“Peace! Be still!”

Let peace begin with me.

Be the peace that spreads to our world;

Quenching its evil, poisonous, deadly firestorm;

Bringing stillness;

Placing us at the feet of Jesus.

 

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

I would.

 

Peace does not come at the expense of justice.

The Apostle Paul writes to the Church in Rome:

 

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

(Romans 12:2)

Just because we live in the world

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

Chose differently.

Instead,

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

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

 

I watch politics closely;

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

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

My politics are not Democrat or Republican,

Liberal or conservative,

Libertarian, Socialism, Communism,

Or any other brand of broad-brush -isms.

 

15.JPG

 

My politic is the Gospel of Jesus Christ,

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

 

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

Don’t hate the man or the woman;

If you must hate,

Hate behavior that is evil.

Despise behavior that is unbecoming of Jesus.

Rail and resist behavior that is unjust and oppressive,

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

At our baptismal waters.

 

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

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

A pragmatic defense doesn’t cut the mustard.

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

The Gospel is so revolutionary,

It seeks to turn the world upside down.

 

Jesus knows better.

Jesus was, is, and will forever remain relational,

Connected to us and invested in this world.

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

 

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

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

 

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

“Peace! Be still!”

Is it possible to allow the peace that Christ brings

To calm the wind and the waves,

To bring peace and healing

To ourselves and our broken world?

 

Yes, Christ is Lord

Over heaven and earth,

Over all of creation.

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

To every storm we face in life.

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

To others as they traverse the storms of life.

 

We’re all in this together.

 

Let us treat each other with respect and love,

As Christ’s own chosen and named.

We are called to be the peace,

To live the Gospel,

To transform the world.

 

You can do it;

I can do it;

If together, we so chose.

Amen.

“Deep Thoughts”

Reflections on Worship

Heritage Christian Services - Pieter’s Family Life Center

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

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Luke 9:47-48

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

 

Prayer.

 

Have you ever thought deeply?

About God,

About others,

And your place in the universe?

 

It’s good to think deeply.

 

The disciples were thinking deep thoughts.

They had just witnessed Jesus being transfigured,

His face changed and also his clothes,

right before their very eyes.

Wow.

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

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

Luke continues,

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

Stunned to silence.

Wouldn’t you be?

 

It’s good to think deeply.

 

The disciples were thinking deep thoughts.

The disciples witnessed Jesus healing a boy with a demon.

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

He shrieks;

Foams at the mouth.

The demon mauled him and refused to leave him.

That’s some scary stuff, right there.

“Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit,

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

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

Astounded. Speechless.

 

It’s good to think deeply.

 

The disciples were thinking deep thoughts.

As if seeing Jesus transfigured,

Hearing the voice of God, and

Experiencing the healing touch of Jesus

Wasn’t enough to make the disciples wonder,

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

Wait! What?

They didn’t understand, Luke reports,

“its meaning was concealed from them,

So that they could not perceive it.

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

 

The disciples of Jesus had much to think about.

 

Instead of thinking of heavenly things,

Their thoughts were entirely earthly.

Who was the greatest? They wondered.

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

They didn’t have to say it;

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

Jesus could see their question written all over their faces.

Jesus took a child and put it by his side.

“Whomever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me,

And whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me;

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

 

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

And he just gave them a whole lot more.

 

1. First, welcome a child and welcome Jesus.

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

The original Greek word is de-chet-ai,

Which means,

To take,

To accept,

To receive,

To receive kindly.

 

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

My job isn’t to do the most work,

Pour the most cement,

Distribute the most bags of food, or

Fit the most people to wheelchairs.

Though, these are very important jobs.

 

But, my job,

Being the old man of the team,

Is to play with children.

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

Receive God’s love,

Share it kindly with families and children,

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

 

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

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

To think deep thoughts.

With whom can I share God’s love?

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

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

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

This. Very. Day?

This. Very. Moment?

 

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

Take the time,

Sooner, rather than later,

To let someone know,

By your words and your actions,

That God loves them,

And you love them, too.

 

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

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

But it’s only a first step

On a lifetime spiritual journey

That leads the disciple of Jesus

Straight to the heart of God.

 

God loves you so much

He wants to walk with you throughout your life,

Sharing your joys and your struggles,

Your ups and your downs,

Simply because God loves you

And wants the best for you throughout your life.

 

What a privilege it is to walk with Christ,

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

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

Ever since that day I have lived a privileged life,

Surrounded by fellow disciples of Jesus,

Upheld, supported, and loved

In local churches I have attended and served.

 

God’s acceptance for who you are,

Made in God’s own image,

Loved unconditionally,

Is life’s greatest victory.

I pray that it be your victory, too!

 

3. Lastly, Jesus teaches his disciples that

The least is the greatest.

 

Let us think deeply what this means.

 

To be a true leader,

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

Means that we must become a servant to all.

Humble service means we place the needs of others first.

It means we think deeply about the needs of others

Before we discern or meet our own needs.

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

 

Yes, it’s a tall order.

But we can do it.

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

 

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

Make friends.

Be a friend.

Get to know your friends.

Be daring enough to dig beneath the surface

Of just talking about the weather.

Allow your God given curiosity

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

Only then, leaning on your deeper understanding,

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

 

Our greatest role model is Jesus himself.

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

He can begin to meet our deepest needs;

To be forgiven of our sins,

To be guided to make good, healthy choices,

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

And by his resurrection,

Save us into eternal life.

That’s what friends do for each other.

 

Dearly beloved,

Think deeply,

Just as the disciples did,

About accepting the child that exists in others,

Accepting Jesus,

Being received by our Heavenly Father,

And becoming Christ’s servant to all.

 

God loves you,

And so do I.

Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.

Amen.

“Jesus: Lord of Sabbath”

Mark 2:23-3:6

3 June 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

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

Prayer.

 

The interpretation of scripture

Is a time honored tradition.

I do it nearly every day

And proclaim my results nearly every Sunday.

 

Every occasion when the Word of God is proclaimed

The preacher is charged with the revered responsibility

Of interpretation.

It’s a sacred responsibility I take seriously.

 

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

 

 

Interpretation implies an objective Truth served up in the Gospel,

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

This is why two different preachers will have

Two different interpretations of the same scripture lesson.

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

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

 

My father,

A tenured ordained elder in the United Methodist Church,

And I had a difference of interpretation of the third commandment

 

 

As found in Exodus 20:8

“Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.”

and Deuteronomy 5:12

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

 

For my father,

That meant no work on Sundays:

You don’t mow the lawn.

No house cleaning.

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

You don’t even go golfing.

Sundays were reserved for going to church,

Having a large family meal after church,

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

 

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

 

His Sabbath world view

Was about the prohibition of work

And keeping the day holy by attending worship.

These values are deeply instilled within me,

For which, I am eternally grateful.

 

Yet, I have come to discover,

Or, it has been revealed to me,

There is much more here,

Highlighted in the Gospel

For us to interpret and apply.

The Spirit moves.

The Lord gives

Essential truths that even challenge and change

The way I had always understand Sabbath.  

 

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

The Pharisees and Jesus came to completely different

Interpretations of the third commandment,

As recorded in two different locations:

In Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.

 

The worldview of Pharisees in context of ancient Israel

Is very different from ours today.

 

 

Pharisees saw the world

In the context of Roman occupation,

A complex Temple economy,

With an upstart, potentially destabilizing, self-proclaimed Messiah

From the rural north country of Galilee coming to Jerusalem.

 

The Pharisees viewed the world in crisis and political turmoil.

On the one hand,

The world was a place of opportunity;

Privilege, wealth, and status.

On the other hand,

The world was in great jeopardy during a dangerous time.

 

Thank goodness the Pharisee didn’t have Facebook!

 

Pharisees saw the Ten Commandments,

The Law,

As a list of prohibitions

Given by God to God’s chosen people,

To keep community stability.

For the most part, I agree with their interpretation,

Just as my father did.

 

The Ten Commandments were finite, literally set in stone,

And needed another 613 commandments,

Called “mitzvoth”,

To fully interpret and expound upon these ten.

 

 

Jesus had a more expansive worldview.

Jesus was frying other fish.

He saw things differently.

His interpretation was so potentially destabilizing

The Pharisees and Herodians conspired against him,

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

 

Jesus didn’t see the third commandment

About observing the Sabbath day and keeping it holy

As a prohibition.

Unlike many of the other prohibitive commandments,

(Think “Thou shall not …”)

Jesus understands the Sabbath law as permissive.

Jesus sees Sabbath law as liberation,

A means of God’s mercy and grace,

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

Jesus interprets it differently

By reading the third commandment

In the context of God’s larger recorded words.

 

Let me explain.

 

 

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

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

 

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

The difference is important.

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

 

Here’s the context:

The Lord’s Sabbath commandment

Was delivered to newly freed slaves.

 

God hates slavery,

Always has, always will.

God hates everything about slavery,

Where one oppresses another with intimidation and violence,

Where one works another person hard,

Every daylight hour,

Seven days a week.

Think about it:

Our Hebrew ancestors

Held in Egyptian slavery

Worked seven days a week

Under the hot African sun.

Now, God is giving the newly freed Hebrews

A day off.

 

 

God created the weekend!

 

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

This was a law every freed Hebrew would enthusiastically keep!

This wasn’t prohibition;

This was permission!

 

Some have observed that western culture

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

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

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

 

From Exodus and Deuteronomy

It is important to recognize

The Sabbath’s permission to rest

Extends to sons and daughters,

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

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

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

 

Rest!

 

Rest! The Lord commands.

Everyone needs to rest,

Because rest is liberation;

Salvation from slavery and captivity.

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

Is liberation, freedom, and salvation.

 

 

The command to rest for Jesus

Is first, and foremost,

A line in the sand advocating for justice.

 

Everyone deserves rest.

 

Jesus observes before the Pharisees

“The Sabbath was made for humankind,

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

 

Let’s look at Exodus,

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

 

 

Exodus expands the context:

The Lord’s Sabbath commandment

Was delivered to newly freed slaves

Who were children of Abraham,

Living in covenant with the God of creation.

 

Rest!

For in resting

We are mirroring the creative behavior

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

And rested on the seventh.

(Exodus 20:11)

 

Furthermore,

The command to rest for Jesus

Is about connecting God’s people

With the God who created us,

Our Heavenly Father.

The relationship we have with God

Defines the deep roots of our faith

That anchors us throughout life.

 

 

Sabbath.

Rest.

Freedom.

Creation.

Life.

Living in relationship with God.

 

Keeping the Sabbath day holy

Is permission to reflect upon the sacredness of life:

What it means to live

As God’s child,

Chosen,

Called,

Sent,

Redeemed, and

Saved.

 

The Sabbath was made for life!

 

 

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

 

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

Game on, Pharisees.

Good news for the world.

Not so much good news for the Pharisees.

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

 

Jesus has never been afraid to lean into privilege,

To speak truth to power,

To bring liberation and freedom,

To draw a line in the sand for social justice.

Jesus always invites his chosen to embrace creation,

Celebrate life, live in righteousness,

With the same faithfulness God has shown towards us.

 

Dearly beloved,

Sabbath.

Jesus, lord of the Sabbath,

Invites us to

 

12.JPG

 

imagine what the world would look like

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

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

Where all may find rest,

Where all may fall into love and relationship

With the God who created them.

 

Let us learn from Jesus.

Let us boldly follow his example.

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

Amen.

“Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”

John 3:1-17 

Trinity Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church

 

John 3:1-17

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

 

 

Prayer.

 

Have you ever been in a conversation with another person,

Such that both hear the same words,

But each derives a different meaning?

 

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

 

 

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

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

Into completely unfamiliar territory.

The pilot reduce altitude

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

“Where are we?” yelled the pilot.

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

Thinking of a better way to rephrase it

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

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

 

Such is the case of Jesus and Nicodemus.

 

A leader of the Jews,

Schooled in the law of Moses,

Clandestinely approaches Jesus under the concealment of darkness.

Nicodemus is seeking understanding about signs;

The signs that Jesus performs.

Clearly in the mind of Nicodemus,

Signs which show the presence and favor of God.

 

The word misunderstood

Is spoken by Jesus:

You must be born anõthen.

 

 

This is one Greek adverb with multiple meanings.

Nicodemus clearly hears it as “again,”

As demonstrated by his follow-up question

“How can anyone be born after having grown old?

Can one enter a second time

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

 

Jesus’ continuing commentary clearly shows

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

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

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

 

 

“No one can enter the kingdom of God

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

In other words,

The only way into our Heavenly Father’s kingdom

Is to have one foot in this world

And the other foot firmly planted in heaven.

Being born of water = think “this world,”

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

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

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

 

Being born of water

Should cause one to consider

how the God of creation

has a long history of rescuing God’s people;

saving us from

our unrighteousness,

warring intent,

and sins of the flesh.

 

But the world is not enough.

Baptism by water is not enough.

Perfect attendance in church isn’t enough.

Attending seminary and being ordained isn’t enough.

There is nothing humanly possible,

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

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

 

In Christ, heaven and earth kiss.

 

 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith,

and this is not your own doing;

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

so that no one may boast.”

(Ephesians 2:8-9)

 

We are not saved by our works,

the apostle Paul correctly interprets the Gospel,

We are saved solely by the grace of God.”

In the post Ascension, post Messianic era,

that grace

 

 

is God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.

6.JPG

 

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

Think wind, Jesus tells us,

“It blows where it chooses,”

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

“you hear the sound of it,”

(our senses are aware of its presence)

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

(In other words,

don’t spent wasted time

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

Just let it go.

Let it be.)

 

Simply be aware;

Watch for the signs,

Listen for its rustling,

Follow where it leads.

Let the Spirit guide you in the here and now.

 

“Very truly, I tell you,

no one can see the kingdom of God

without being born from above.” (3:3)

Not “again.”

“From above!”

Baptized in this world,

Adopted by the Spirit of Christ from above!

 

One foot planted squarely in both heaven and earth.

 

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

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

We have not been abandoned.

In Christ, God has adopted us

As God’s very own children and heirs.

 

 

“You have received a spirit of adoption,”

Paul teaches.

“We are children of God,

And if children, then heirs,

Heirs of God and … with Christ.”

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

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

 

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

We have been claimed and named,

Bought and paid for,

Accepted and included,

into God’s heavenly family.

 

 

The power of adoption,

Or huiothesia in the Greek,

Cannot be over stated.

Parents who have adopted children may understand somewhat.

Adopted children may understand to a point.

It is one thing to give birth,

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

To gather them in and make them your own.

 

That intentional will

Is but a taste,

Just an inkling of,

The enormous gift of love the Spirit represents.

 

 

Grace is an order of magnitude beyond our comprehension.

We don’t have to understand it,

Simply claim it,

Live in it,

Bathe in it,

Drink it in.

 

On this Sunday when we celebrate the Holy Trinity

 

 

Our scriptural lessons

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

Of a Father’s love that created us,

Made covenant with us,

Taught us how to live,

And hoped for our obedience.

 

We experience

A Father’s love who sent us his own Son

As a gift to humankind,

To forgive our sins

And to save us into eternal life.

 

We are filled with

A Son’s love

That refused to abandon us,

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

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

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

Linking us with Christ

As fellow children and heirs of God.

We are enabled to call upon God

With the same intimacy Christ used:

“Abba! Father!”

even as he was lifted up upon a cross.

 

Dearly beloved,

This is a God that will not let us go.

We are His children,

Siblings with Christ,

Heirs to the divine inheritance.

 

Come,

Take this bread.

Drink this cup.

Cry “Abba! Father!”

And lay claim to God’s grace

Given to you.

Amen.

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

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

Pentecost – May 20, 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester and West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

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

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

Prayer.

 

Louis, Aubrey, and Paige welcome.

I welcome you into

The community of God

Known as Christianity.

 

God chose you;

Intentionally chose you to be a Christian.

Forevermore, your identity is

your name

and

your tribe:

Christianity.

 

On this day we celebrate

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

The same Holy Spirit warmed the hearts

of your parents and family members, and

Brought into their consciousness

the need to bring you forward

to these baptismal waters.

 

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

That unites us one with Christ

and one with each other

For all eternity.

Nothing can, or will,

Break or destroy our baptismal union.

 

The Holy Spirit acted,

Using my hands as the hands of God.

What God has done,

No one can undo,

Nor does God need to repeat the call or initiation.

What God has done

Is done.

 

Church; now I’m looking at you.

 

The Holy Spirit has done its part.

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

the promise we’ve just made.

 

 

We’ve promised to proclaim the good news

And live according to the example of Jesus,

Teaching Louis, Aubrey, and Paige

Everything about Jesus that you’ve been taught.

Don’t you dare leave anything out.

I’m too old for excuses.

Teach them everything!

 

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

To develop a personal faith and relationship in Jesus,

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

All their days.

This is their time of preparation,

To prepare themselves for the day they will confirm

Their baptismal vows.

So, prepare them!

 

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

 

 

Teach and practice love and forgiveness.

By our baptismal vows,

We are a NO HATE zone,

We are a NO CONFLICT zone.

Hatred and fighting is not tolerated in this house!

As the Father has loved the Son,

And the Son loves his disciples,

So, too, are we to love one another.

 

Christ didn’t die for our redemption

So that you and I might be curmudgeons,

Stubbornly refusing to grant and receive forgiveness!

Confess, repent, forgive! Repeat!

Teach it.

Practice it.

Repeat so often that Louis, Aubrey, and Paige

Become the forgiveness of Christ,

That the world might be redeemed.

 

By word and example show them how to serve others;

How to love God, and love neighbors.

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

Will guide you to selfless service and righteousness,

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

 

This probably feels more like a lecture than a sermon.

I understand.

I’m being so forceful and direct

Because I know the immense responsibility

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

 

Heaven is on the line.

 

There is too much at stake

For there to be any risk of failure.

All hands are needed

For the power and authority of the Spirit

To be transferred from Christ to his Church.

 

Nick, Sarah, Kannan, Shanthi, and Jeerthi

Welcome into the membership of the local chapter.

Sadly, there is no secret handshake,

Or, if there is one,

No one has taught me!

 

Welcome into the membership of the

East Rochester United Methodist Church.

It is humbling,

It is good,

It is a privilege to journey together as friends,

The path that leads to Jesus Christ,

Abiding in his eternal grace and love.

 

6.JPG

 

You are a part of the leading edge

of the awesome transformation God is doing in this congregation.

Ride the wave!

 

As your spiritual, ordained, appointed leader,

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

By proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ,

By celebrating the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion,

To guide in the organization and administration of the parish,

And by word and example,

To work with you to serve others.

 

My words. My vow. My honor.

 

In turn,

You join with every other member

of the East Rochester United Methodist church,

Making this four-point vow:

 

 

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

 

Pray.

Pray boldly.

Pray continuously.

Pray, because Jesus tells us to pray

And he teaches us how to pray.

 

Pray.

Not to change God,

But that the Holy Spirit might change you.

 

Join me in prayer daily.

 

2. Members show up.

 

Show up for worship.

No excuses.

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

 

If you can’t attend Sabbath worship here,

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

Visit a parish when traveling or when schedules conflict.

 

Corporate worship matters.

Being together, giving God thanks and praise matters.

It’s important.

Visit our growing online efforts to

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

 

Without you, we are not complete.

 

This is your worship home.

We are your worshipping brothers and sisters.

Show up and return often.

 

3. Members give.

 

Time. Talent. Money.

Time and talent, I think we all get.

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

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

 

Allow me to be straight forward about giving money.

Every member is responsible for a share of the overall

Income and expenses of our Christian community.

Money doesn’t grow on trees,

Nor do we find it under cabbage leaves.

Every penny comes from us;

Each according to ability.

 

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

If we run short,

It means there are one or more members

Who need to increase financial support,

To come to parity,

With the rest of us.

 

The guide is the Biblical tithe;

Ten percent of income.

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

Especially with raising a family.

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

I invite you to join us.

 

4. Members serve.

 

We love and serve the Lord.

We love and serve our neighbors.

We place the needs of others before our own needs.

 

Members serve, then eat last.

Members sacrifice our own comfort and well being for friends,

For others,

Especially for the last, least, and lost.

 

Members serve as advocates.

Members serve as peacemakers.

Members serve to right the wrongs of the world.

Members serve as the hands of Jesus.

 

 

I have every expectation

And every confidence in the five of you,

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

That you will faithfully keep your vows and covenant.

 

I believe you and take you at your word.

By the power and the authority of the Holy Spirit

You will support the ministry of this parish and our Church

By your prayers,

Your presence,

Your gifts,

And your service.

 

May the Holy Spirit of Truth

Bless, preserve, and keep you.

May the Holy Spirit of Truth

Strengthen your belief,

lead you to righteousness,

and save you from self-condemnation.

May the Holy Spirit of Truth,

Who was present and active

At your baptismal waters,

Grant you all power and authority

To bring about His kingdom

To God’s eternal glory.

Amen.

A Sermon for Zion: "The Spirit of Truth"

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

Pentecost, 20 May 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion and East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

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

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

 

Prayer.

 

Exactly as Jesus taught

The Messianic Age ended!

He flew up into the air, hallelujah!

Jesus was the last, final messiah.

No need to wait for another.

 

Turn the page.

 

Exactly as Jesus promised

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

With Pentecostal fire

The Holy Spirit came upon and overwhelmed the obedient disciples,

Waiting in the Upper Room.

 

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

Welcome to the Holy Spirit Age.

 

The author of Acts reported what happened:

The Holy Spirit came with sound and heat,

Filling the entire house.

 

Sound filled the house:

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

People who live in tornado alley would describe this

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

Shelter in place, auntie Em! 

 

Heat filled the house:

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

Talk about running around with your hair on fire!

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

 

As a result,

All “were filled with the Holy Spirit

And began to speak in other languages,

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

 

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

Peter set the record straight.

They were witnessing,

Just as Joel prophesized hundreds of years earlier.

Their multi-lingual witness

Revealed the coming of the Lord,

The presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

It was the dawn of a brand new age.

 

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

In the form of Jesus Christ,

God returned to the world as the Spirit,

The Advocate, the Paraclete, the Spirit of Truth.

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

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

 

This explained what happened, on the day of Pentecost.

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

Why did Jesus leave his disciples and humanity behind?

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

 

Answering the “why?” question gives us insight

Into God’s motives;

God’s deep, longing desire

To love and save the world.

 

Scripture reveals three items that are essential for our understanding.

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

 

1. First, the Holy Spirit replaced Jesus

To transfer his power and authority to his Church.

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

Jesus promises. (John 16:14)

 

The problem facing Jesus was

He was one man

Who could only be in one place

At one time.

His singularity

Limited his reach

And restricted his ability

To teach, heal, forgive and save

To only the individual directly before him.

 

God’s unfolding plan

Reveals the need for

The power and authority of Jesus Christ to scale

From the individual

To the global needs of humanity.

 

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

God’s deepest desire to spread his kingdom worldwide.

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

When the Spirit fills us,

Starting with our baptism by water and Spirit,

We become the Body of Christ.

We assume the authority of Jesus.

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

With the responsibility to use it

According to God’s will.

 

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

More needed done.

More needed taught.

Disciples need direction, guidance towards truth.

 

To this day

God’s will continues to be revealed,

Continues to adapt to the ground game,

Continues to adjust to the evolving needs of humanity.

 

As the world evolved, so too would God.

 

For scripture to be understood,

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

For the Gospel to be proclaimed,

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

For the kingdom of God to be spread,

The Holy Spirit needs to empower advocates for

Justice,

Peacemaking,

And Social Holiness.

 

Jesus recognized the fact

That post-ascension apostles could not manage alone.

 

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

He tells them that the Spirit must replace him,

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

It would take the Spirit to do

That which Jesus was unable to do

In three key areas:

sin and belief,

righteousness in physical absence,

and judgment and condemnation.

 

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

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

And bring the unbeliever from the land of the lost

Into the kingdom of God.

 

For those who needed Christ’s physical presence

To prod their righteous behavior,

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

Somehow, God still had to go after lost sheep.

 

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

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

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

 

Our Holy Spirit Age was a necessary transition

In our relationship with God,

And no one knew it,

Or could articulate it more accurately,

Than Jesus, himself.

The power and authority of Jesus

Had to be transferred to the Church

If Christianity was going to propagate the world.  

Disciples then, and every generation moving forward,

Depend upon the guidance and support of the Holy Spirit.

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

And the gift of the Holy Spirit of Truth,

Enlightens and brings to life the gifts of Jesus:

Forgiveness of sins,

Repentance,

And salvation.

 

Today we celebrate God’s gift of the Spirit,

A sign of his grace and overwhelming love

For you and me.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.