“The Beginning of the Good News”

Mark 1:1-8

December 10, 2017 – Second Sunday of Advent, Year B

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Mark 1:1-8

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

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 

 

Prayer.

 

I just completed the book

 

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“The Sistine Secrets

Michelangelo’s Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican”

by Benjamin Blech and Roy Doliner.

For anyone who loves Dan Brown’s gripping novels

Of secret messages and ancient symbols,

Or, for anyone who have been blessed to visit Rome

And gaze up and absorb the Sistine Chapel ceiling,

This is a must read.  

 

One cannot understand Michelangelo’s work

 

 

While overwhelmed with awe, if distracted, or from a distance of 65 feet.

The great artist used these three simple precepts

… awe, distraction, and distance …

To slip past Pope Julius the Terrible and his censors

Messages that held far deeper meaning;

Messages that were in direct opposition to Church teaching at that time.

Messages that could have cost Michelangelo his life.

 

Michelangelo opposed the Church’s persecution of Jews.

The only Biblical figures Michelangelo paints to represent the redemption of humankind, are Jews; prophets and judges.

The non-Biblical figures painted were those from Plato’s teachings,

Not from the teachings of the official Church sanctioned Aristotle.

Appealing to the Popes vanity,

Michelangelo uses his image for the Prophet Zechariah,

Yet hidden behind in the images of circling angels and cherubs,

One is displaying “the fig”

(the thumb sandwiched between the index finger and the middle finger)

Towards the Pope’s image,

In a cleaver offense,

Similar to the contemporary “flying the bird.”

In one of the Creation panels,

Michelangelo paints God facing away,

As if opposed to the Pope and his Mass taking place in the chapel below,

All the while, exposing his bare backside.

Consider it a defiant “mooning” of a corrupt and oppressive Church.

 

I love it!

 

There is deeper meaning in much of the world around us.

Indeed, the word “intelligence” comes from the Latin root “intelligere”

Which means to realize or to understand,

Especially understanding on multiple or deeper levels.

 

 

There is deeper meaning beyond the mere obvious in

The opening of the Gospel of Mark.

To understand it more deeply and thoroughly,

One has to be willing to move beyond the surface moralism

Of John the Baptist teaching and baptizing in the wilderness

for the repentance of sins.

Of course, repentance is an appealing message

And it would have attracted a lot of people;

all the people from the countryside

And all the people from the city

(as Mark puts it)

To come, repent, and be baptized by John in the Jordan River.

Everyone sins.

Who doesn’t want to come clean?

All want to be cleansed of sin.

This attracts large crowds.

 

But is this the entire purpose of the Gospel author, St. Mark?

It’s a good message.

I’ve preached it many times myself.

Who can be against repentance of sins?

But is this the whole message of this passage about John the Baptist?

 

Like Michelangelo, the Gospel author of Mark leaves us some interesting clues.

 

1. The opening of the Gospel of Mark

Doesn’t dawdle in lineage or birth narrative, as in Matthew and Luke.

The opening verses, like the Gospel of John,

Steps directly into the Jordan River and

Begins with a statement of belief;

A theological flag stuck in the ground.

 

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“The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (1:1)

 

In its Greek context,

Out of which Mark was being authored in the first century,

Good News connotated Good News from the battlefield.

Good News was the result of the good guys winning and the bad guys losing.

The war that Mark saw raging was the war between good and evil,

The time before the Christ and the time after the Christ,

The era before the cross and the era that followed.

Good news comes to Mark from a place of struggle,

Battles with Satan, the Roman Empire, and with organized Judaism.

It is through this lens of struggle that we will come to view

The entirety of the Gospel of Mark in the coming year.

 

Good News from the front!

Mark is telling his first-generation Christians.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the Good News

And he has come.

 

Mark cites the Prophet Isaiah,

Quite possibly led by the similar account found in the Gospel of John,

Which we will experience next Sunday.

Mark cites the very words we heard read earlier in the service.

(Isaiah 40:1-11)

 

This is Isaiah’s struggle:

He found himself in Exile, with the rest of God’s chosen,

Punishment for their prior sin,

Ancestors who had turned their back upon God.

Exile had been long, hard, and cruel;

But now it was over.

God chose Isaiah to speak his will

To communicate release to his people:

 

 

“Comfort, O comfort my people,” God says to Isaiah,

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid.” (Isaiah 40:1-2)

 

The Good News from the front is that the struggle of exile is now ended,

The battle is now done.

Prepare the way of the Lord!

As is typical of most prophetic call narratives,

The Prophet is reluctant and puts up a number of excuses to wiggle out his prophetic responsibility.

Ah, people are like grass, he complains,

They ebb and flow, wither and fade.

People are so wishy-washy.

 

Silence!

 

Speak! The Lord commands. “Cry out!”

Get up to a high mountain, O Zion!

Get up on top of Mt. Zion.

Lift up your voice and say to the cities of Judah,

“Here is your God!”

(Isaiah 40:9)

Proclaim to Jerusalem,

Adorned at your feet as you stand upon Mt. Zion,

Here is your God!

 

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Here is your God

Is the message leading off Mark’s Gospel.

Here is your God

John the Baptizer proclaimed.

Here is your God

Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

 

Even in the midst of exile, struggle and battle

John the Baptist announces to the world

 

 

That God is here.

God reigns.

The word of God stands forever.

 

Like Michelangelo’s hidden message,

Mark highlights the Gospel opening message,

Drawing from the prophetic depths of Isaiah:

From the midst of struggle,

God is here.

 

From the midst of struggle,

God is here.

 

Can you apply this message to your life?

Ask yourself, “what is my greatest struggle?
Is it your marriage? Or your singleness?

Your loneliness?

Is your greatest struggle

Your anger?

Or your job?

Is it your relationship with your son or daughter, father or mother?

Is it a paper to be turned in or a test to pass?

Is it that bully who just can’t be avoided?

What is my greatest struggle?

Is it addictions, temptations, greed, or control?

Is it fear, uncertainty, or unbelief?

 

Whatever is your greatest struggle,

God is here.

God reigns.

The word of God stands forever.

 

Simply put, there is nothing you and God can’t handle together.

On your own, good luck.

The world will crush you.

With Jesus Christ, the Son of God,

Whatever your struggle is,

Together, you and God will triumph.

Good News is victory from the battlefield.

 

2. There is a second, nearly hidden, subtle,

Sistine Chapel ceiling type of message

that the Gospel of Mark hides in these awe inspiring opening verses.

His message to us is about power.

Again, power will be a common lens through which we will experience Mark

Over the course of the coming year.

 

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John the Baptizer proclaimed,

“The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

(Mark 1:7-8)

 

The celebrant doing the baptizing

Is commonly known as the one with power.

The celebrant is recognized as the authority,

One who can open the door to the kingdom or keep it shut tight.

 

But here, the one being baptized is recognized

As more powerful than I.

Jesus asks John to baptize him.

Mark recalls Jesus teaching in the third chapter

 

 

“But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.”

(Mark 3:27)

 

Strength is a king-of-the-hill type of proposition.

The strongest rises to the top,

Subduing all those underneath.

You can’t plunder a strong man’s house until

You first defeat the strong man,

Make him submit,

And tie him up!

 

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Jesus represents the new strong man,

The new strength revealed to the universe,

Truly the strength of God, made flesh and dwelling among us.

This strength gives victory to the cross.

This strength gives victory over death, signified by an empty tomb.

This strength endures forever with the gift of the Holy Spirit;

Not yet present, but future promised for the first time,

By the words of John.

 

God’s strength is revealed in Jesus.

Consider for a moment what this means to you and me.

Ask yourselves, “how am I weak?”

“In what circumstances am I aware of my weakness?”

“Who makes me feel weak?”

Complete the sentence, “I feel weak and inadequate when …”

 

Is weakness due to a physical infirmity? Age? Disease? Chronic condition?

Is weakness due to insecurity, fear of confrontation, or fear of failure?

Is your perceived weakness due to the size of your bank account, economic status, or social status?

 

The second hidden gem in this introductory Gospel passage is that

No matter how weak you or I might be,

No matter how weak you or I might believe ourselves to be,

God makes us strong.

 

God’s strength complements and compensates for our every weakness,

Real or perceived,

You or I may experience.

Jesus is the sign of this new strength.

His willingness to die for your benefit and mine

Reveals his commitment to our redemption.

His resurrection,

His victory over the grave,

Is a demonstration of his greatest strength of all;

The ability and willingness to give eternal life to all who accept his gift.

 

3. There is one last message I’d like to reveal in this opening to the Gospel of Mark.

Mark cites the prophet Isaiah.

Notice, however, John the Baptist is dressed like Elijah,

A prophet who came 400 years before Isaiah.

What’s up with that?

 

 

A brief synopsis of Elijah’s story,

As  found in 1st and 2nd Kings,  would be helpful.

(This underscores the fact that

To understand the Gospels,

One has to study and understand sacred Hebrew texts;

Our Old Testament.)

 

Elijah defended the worship of Yawhew, the Jewish God, our God,

Over that of the Canaanite deity Baal.

Elijah’s prophetic voice was to turn the people back

To a strict deuteronomic interpretation of religious law.

King Ahab and his pagan wife Jezebel

Despised Elijah and his prophecy.

Elijah defeats and kills 450 of their pagan prophets in a divine contest.

They threatened to kill Elijah and pursue him into the desert.

In his life, Elijah raises the dead,

Miraculously resupplies flour and oil to a compassionate widow,

Returns to Mt. Horeb where Moses received the Ten Commandments,

Confronts the king Ahab for his treacherous dealing purchasing a vineyard,

All the while, condemning the people for turning away from God and His word.

In the end, Elijah is whisked away into heaven in a chariot of fire in a whirlwind.

 

John the baptizer dresses like Elijah,

Yet, in the Gospel of John,

Proclaims he is not Elijah.

Why is this important?

 

One only needs to go to the Book of Malachi where it is written,

 

 

"Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.”

(Malachi 4:5)

Jesus identifies John the Baptist as the spiritual successor to Elijah, saying

“He is Elijah who is to come.”

(Matthew 11:14)

 

All of which it is to say,

By way of the prophets,

Elijah and Malachi,

 

 

God keeps God’s promises in and through Jesus.

 

God keeps God’s promises.

God promised to send Elijah before the Son of Man.

God did, by sending John the Baptist to prepare the way.

God sends to us Jesus,

To redeem and save the world.

You are still God’s people,

Both when you’re in exile and when you live in the providence of life.

 

This is the important message hidden in the actions, dress, and behavior

Of John the Baptist:

God keeps His promises.

 

Consider once again,

What this means to you and me.

God created you in God’s own image.

You are chosen by God, as an ancestor of Abraham,

To be a great nation, in perpetuity.

You are loved by God so much He sent us His son, Jesus,

Because, our loving God is deeply invested in our final outcome.

You are so precious to God,

That until our final outcome is determined,

We’ve been given the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit,

To guide, strengthen, and support us through every moment of our lives.

God has given us the Church,

Into which we have shared the same baptism as did Jesus,

To be Christ’s Body,

At work in mission and ministry until God’s kingdom come

And Christ returns.

 

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God keeps God’s promises.

And so should we.

 

As baptized Christians

We have promised to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,

Reject the evil power of this world,

And to repent of our sin.

We have promised to resist evil, injustice, and oppression.

And we have confessed Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior,

Placing our whole trust in his grace,

Promising to serve him as our Lord.

 

As proclaiming Christians

We profess our faith through the sacred creeds of the Church.

We proclaim the Gospel from our pulpits, and interpret it for the benefit of all God’s children.

We proclaim Christ crucified, resurrected, and ascended into heaven,

With the promise to return again.

 

As practicing Christians

We vow to be loyal to Christ’s Church.

We vow to support the Church with our prayers,

Our attendance in worship,

Our financial gifts and talents,

And with our service.

 

God keeps God’s promises.

And so should we.

 

In our opening words from the Gospel of Mark

We hear proclaimed the obvious message of baptism and repentance.

We also have revealed to us three more subtle but essential truths:

Here is our God! Our struggle is ended!

God’s strength emerges, and is revealed in Jesus!

God keep God’s promises!

 

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Stand upon the mountain and speak:

God is here.

God is strong.

God keeps His word.

To God be the glory!

Amen.  

“Keep Awake! Be Alert!”

Mark 13:24-37

December 3, 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Mark 13:24-37

 

“But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light,

and the stars will be falling from heaven,

and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

 

Prayer.

 

What do you do when the whole world is falling apart?

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We thought we were privileged,

Living in the greatest nation on earth,

Enjoying prosperity and abundance and wealth.

After all, the leftover Thanksgiving turkey and fixings

Are still probably lurking in the back of our refrigerators.

Am I right?

 

What do you do when the whole world is falling apart?

 

We thought we were privileged,

Yet we are traumatized by the oppression of racism.

The most segregated hour in America is from 11:00 am to 12:00 noon on Sunday mornings.

We are traumatized by gender inequality.

Gentlemen, it takes a man to recognize the fact

That women face far greater barriers to promotion and compensation that men do.

When a woman walks through the doors of a clinic or a hospital

She is treated far differently than a man.

Oh, yeah, we don’t have to give birth, either.

 

What do you do when the whole world is falling apart?

 

We thought we were privileged,

Above it all.

We are traumatized by sexual abuse in America.

Numbed, actually.

Accusers and the accused abound:

Charlie Rose, Matt Laurer, Roy Moore, Al Franken, Bill O’Reilly,

And our own POTUS, Donald Trump.

The list goes on and on and on and on.

Sexual abuse is so pervasive on university campuses, medical centers, halls of banking and business, and the factory floor,

Our own local institutions of pride

Have become tarnished and the curtain has been pulled back

For all the world to see.

 

What do you do when the whole world is falling apart?

 

We thought we were privileged,

The elect, the chosen, the dominate.

Christianity was the establishment 40 years ago in America.

Now, we can be counted among the remnants;

Our once powerful, culturally ensconced church is being dis-established.

Our post 9/11 security state causes us to ping pong

From crisis to crisis.

Public violence, terrorism, and rogue dictators

Dominate the news cycles, inflamed by cable news and social media.

Partisan politics and rising populism around the globe

Cause us to opine for “the good old days,”

Before the train wrecks that are piling up in many world capitals.

 

What do you do when the whole world is falling apart?

Just what. Do. You. Do?

 

Over the past three months

We dined on the conclusion of Christ’s ministry

In the Gospel of Matthew.

It was a cataclysmic clash in the Temple

Initiated by Jesus,

Slamming oppressive Judaism and its leaders,

Which would become the immediate catalyst for his

Arrest, trial, and death.

Watch and wait, Jesus taught his followers.

Watch and wait, for I will return.

Indeed, every serious student of the Gospel

Must take our Lord at his word.

 

Christ will come again.

 

What do you do when the whole world is falling apart?

We watch and we wait for Christ to come again,

Bringing judgment to all,

Punishment to some,

Eternal life to the rest,

To the faithful and righteous.

 

Today we are launched into the Gospel of Mark,

Set afloat in a new liturgical year,

Starting with the season of Advent;

A time of expectant waiting and preparation for the birth of Jesus.

Of course, the baby Jesus comes every year.

Those of us with any vestige of memory or experience in the faith,

Can attest to the fact that

When all the candles are lit

and Silent Night is sung at the conclusion of Christmas Eve services,

The annual return of the baby Jesus

Will be celebrated by pealing church bells across the land.  

Christmas is approaching

And we will celebrate the birth of Christ!

 

Christ has come.

Christ will come again.

 

Take note on this first Sunday of Advent,

(really, it’s kind of hard to miss it)

That our season of waiting begins with talk about the apocalypse,

Mark’s reference to the end of the world.

Remember, eschatology is the study of the end.

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Apocalypse is the end.

Apocalypse from the ancient Greek: apo-kalypsis,

Literally means “an uncovering” or a “disclosure of knowledge,” or “revelation”.

Mark is reporting Jesus’ revelation,

His uncovering,

Of how the world will come to an end.

 

Mark 13 is referred to the “mini-apocalypse” by New Testament scholars;

The center, balancing point in the Gospel,

Where Jesus reveals to his disciples,

Peter, James, John, and Andrew,

While overlooking the city of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives,

That the Temple will be destroyed.

This Temple right in front of us will be destroyed.

 

There will be conflicts among nations, earthquakes, and famines,

Jesus promises.

The faithful will be persecuted by trials, betrayed by brothers,

And children will rise against parents, putting them to death.

Jesus paints on the apocalyptic canvas

That the faithful will be scattered around the world,

The elect will be chosen and the rest will have their days cut short.

Fake messiahs and false prophets will appear and attempt to lead the faithful astray.

This is how the world will end, Jesus promises.

 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

 

Nothing says let’s enter the season of Advent

To prepare to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus

Quite like our Lord’s violent, disturbing apocalyptic vision.

 

What do you do when the whole world is falling apart?

 

While it may feel today like the world is coming to an apocalyptic climax,

Remember, the Temple was destroyed 40 years after our Lord’s prophecy.

That was 1,900 years ago.

We’ve been waiting for his return

While experiencing personal, mini-apocalypses ever since.

 

Quite frankly,

I have yet to be convinced the world today is falling apart any worse

Than any other time in Christian history.

Have we forgotten inquisitions, world wars, and genocide?

Just because they were before our time doesn’t mean they weren’t just as horrific.

 

Yesterday is as is today,

And it will be as tomorrow.

 

Historical context and perspective is helpful

To calm our anxiety and anchor us in a solid foundation of faith,

Built upon Jesus Christ, our Lord.

 

Past. Present. Future.

 

Jesus was born, in the past.

Christ is with us in the present, by and through his Holy Spirit.

Christ will come again in the future.

 

Jesus was born

To be the light of the world,

To redeem the world, and

To bring salvation to the world.

 

Christ will come again,

In this we hope and place our faith.

The end will come.

Judgment will take place.

One way or another,

Christ plans a prominent role in our future.

 

By starting out Advent in the Gospel of Mark

With Christ’s apocalyptical discourse

We are given directions about how to wait

And what to watch for

During this in-between time.

 

What do you do when the whole world is falling apart?

 

We survive.

Even better, we thrive

In the trauma and crisis of a sin filled, violent world.

We survive and thrive

But relying on the Christ who is with us;

Present with us,

Guiding us in the choices we make,

Assisting us whenever our faith begins to falter or fail.

Yes, we look forward to Christ’s second coming,

Yet, Christ’s vision of the end

Is one of ultimate victory of good over evil.

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Our Lord’s apocalypse forces us to rely upon the God we presently have.

It begins at the foot of his cross

Not beyond in some futuristic landscape.

 

The cross is where we meet

The Christ who is come,

Who is present with us here today.

 

Just as we could never imagine God sending us His Son,

Being born a child, to redeem and save the world,

We can only imagine other places God intends to be made present and known.

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During this season of Advent,

Christ invites us to look for God,

Anticipate and expect God to be found

Where you and I could not even dream.

 

As this world is falling apart,

Can you imagine God present and at work

To heal plagues of racism, sexism, and misogyny?

Can you and I imagine Jesus Christ

Present and at work

To end abuse in the work place and

To end violence on the streets,

Healing both the abused and the abuser?

During this season of Advent,

Can you and I imagine Jesus

Healing nations,

Bringing justice to the oppressed, and

Ushering in peace to all people?

 

Jesus is named the Prince of Peace for a reason.

 

Let us live our lives today,

Watching,

Waiting,

For God to be breaking into our lives in the here and now;

Not only in some future time, but into our life today.

 

Let us gather at the foot of the cross.

Expect God to be where God would be unexpected and uninvited.

 

Watch for the signs;

The cosmic order being disturbed,

The sending out of angels,

The gathering of the elect.

 

Keep awake.

Watch.

Prepare.

Lean on the God who is with us,

Depend upon him,

Even as we anticipate the Christ that is promised to come.

 

Christ has come.

Christ is come.

Christ will come again.

Just watch it happen.

Amen.

“Did You See Me?”

Matthew 25:31-46

26 November 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 25:35-36

I was hungry and you gave me food,

I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,

I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 

I was naked and you gave me clothing,

I was sick and you took care of me,

I was in prison and you visited me.’

 

Prayer.

 

Today we celebrate the fact

That Jesus Christ is our king!

 

We may love our country, our democracy, our flag,

But let there be no mistake,

Jesus Christ is our king!

We may love our family, our sons and daughters, our wife or our husband,

But Jesus Christ is our king!

We may love our homes, our neighbors, and our friends,

Yet, Jesus Christ remains our king!

 

Jesus may be physically absent for a time;

But this is only temporary.

He has left us with his Spirit, the Holy Spirit,

One and the same God, the Lord God, almighty.

His Spirit fills the body of every baptized Christian,

Making us, during this time of waiting, his body,

The Body of Christ,

Who forever remains our king.

 

When Christ returns,

Jesus gave fair warning to his Temple adversaries,

There will be a time of judgment.

 

How have we spent this time in waiting?

Have we been faithful to Christ and his teaching?

Have we followed the commandments of our God?

Have our actions been a reflection of our words and our faith?

 

Judgment spares no one, Jesus affirmed.

Jews and Gentiles alike would be judged,

Indeed, all the nations.

All the nations, Jesus allegorizes,

Will be gathered before him

And people will be separated one from the other.  

 

Those who have been actively preparing,

Faithfully and righteously waiting,

Will be rewarded with eternal life.

Jesus could not be more clear;

Those who have not been living a faithful life,

Will go away into eternal punishment.

 

How does that square itself, we ask,

With a gracious, loving, and forgiving God?

How does this square itself with John 3:16-17

Where Jesus taught

 

“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.”

 

Jesus wants us to believe in him,

Trust in him,

Follow only him;

For he is our king!

Jesus wants us to have life,

Life abundant,

Not a life of abundant things,

But a life of abundant love for God and neighbor.

 

Jesus wants us to choose life,

A good and righteous life,

Lived completely in his kingdom.

 

The Gospel of Matthew forces upon every disciple

Our Lord’s model for kingdom living,

For waiting for his return.

While justice may make us wince

 

Justice is necessary to complete Jesus’ vision

For how we spend our time in waiting.

 

The bookends of Matthew frame kingdom living.

Jesus begins teaching with his Sermon on the mount.

This is the standard by which we are to live

and by which we shall be judged:

 

Bolster the poor or weak in spirit.

Comfort those who mourn.

Be meek and humble.

Hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Extend mercy.

Keep your heart pure.

Be a peacemaker.

 

Be God’s blessing to the world!

 

Be willing to suffer for your faith.

Illuminate Jesus.

Obey God’s laws.

Reconcile with those with whom you are angry.

Maintain fidelity in your marriage.

Keep true to your word.

Don’t retaliate against those who sin against you.

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

 

This is how one lives in waiting for Christ’s return and his final judgment.

 

Our Gospel for today

At the conclusion of Christ’s ministry and teaching

Is the opposite bookend,

Framing his directives for our time in waiting.

 

Feed the hungry and satisfy thirst.

Welcome strangers.

Clothe those who have no cloths.

Care for the sick.

Visit prisoners.

 

Let’s spend some time evaluating ourselves.

How are we doing feeding the hungry and providing drink?

 

Locally, yes, we are providing food on a weekly basis for our local food pantry.

But is this enough?

According to the Census Bureau,

 

More than 45 million people, or 14.5 percent of all Americans

Live below the poverty line.

 

The hungry look at us and ask, “Did you see me?”

Certainly there is more work to be done.

 

Globally, yes, we are sending people to Central America,

Nicaragua and, more recently, Guatemala,

Supplying our short-term missionaries, Terry and Katie,

 

With malnutrition food bags

That can feed a family of four for four weeks.

But is this enough?

According to the World Bank,

Based on a poverty line of $1.90 a day,

700 million, or 9.6 percent of the global population live in poverty.

The hungry and thirsty look at us and ask, “Did you see me?”

Certainly there is more work to be done.

 

Let none of us idle away this time of waiting.

 

Let’s do a bit of self-analysis when it comes to welcoming strangers.

How are we doing?

 

Locally, yes, we have greeters every Sunday at church,

Welcoming visitors and guests.

But is this enough?

In 2012 our United Methodist

 

General Council on Finance and Administration

Reported that nearly 91 percent of United Methodist are white.

In contrast, the 2010 Census reported that the U.S. population

Was 72.4 percent white,

16.3 percent Hispanic,

12 percent African-American, and

4.8 percent Asian.

In addition whites are no longer the majority of births in the U.S.

 

I ask again, “how are we doing welcoming strangers to our worship?”

This only looks at the narrow axis of race;

How about people with disabilities?

People with different sexual preferences?

Are we a welcoming Body of Christ open to all people?

Are we truly inclusive as Jesus teaches us to be?

 

People who attend once and are never seen again

Are probably asking, “did you even see me?”

Truly, there is more to be done.

 

Globally, are we welcoming strangers?

Or are we afraid to address the question

Because we might be opening Pandora’s Box on the issue of immigration?

When Jesus gathers all nations before him,

I’m confident borders and nationalities will disappear into thin air.

The politics of King Jesus can’t be found in our laws and constitutions.

The politics of King Jesus can only be found in his words

As recorded in the Gospel.

 

Let us not idle away this time of waiting.

 

As if I haven’t made us all squirm a bit,

Let’s be daring enough to ask ourselves,

“How are we doing clothing those who need cloths?”

 

Locally, yes, we’re supplying clothing

To the East Rochester Resource Center,

To the Second Thought Retail Shop,

And to our St. Paulies collection bin out back.

We are doing good,

But how many of us don’t have closets stuffed with clothing

And chests of draws packed with goods?

All it takes is an attempt to move

To realize how much we have accumulated and failed to let go.

According to the same Census Bureau figure of 45 million people, or 14.5 percent of all Americans

Living below the poverty line,

A survey funded by Procter & Gamble reports

 

That one in three of these households find it difficult

To afford basic household necessities in the past year.

Three in four report cutting back in food in order to obtain necessary household goods.

That’s 15 million Americans struggling to afford clothing.

 

That family in emergency housing we passed by on our way to church this morning are probably asking, “did you even see us?”

Truly, there is more to be done.

Let us not idle way

This time of preparation

For the King’s return.

 

Internationally, keep packing suitcases to send to Guatemala.

Keep paying to ship suitcases filled with 50 pounds of children’s clothing, shoes, and underwear.

Give it away, and in doing so,

Make friends.

Don’t leave anyone wondering if we saw them.

 

How are we doing, Church, when it comes to caring for the sick?

Are you happy with your health care?

How about the health care of the poor?

In past centuries the Church was front and center

Opening hospitals and clinics,

But now,

A new idol has emerged in competition with our King;

The god of greed.

We have handed over the care of the sick

To political realities that worship at the altar of the almighty dollar.

Follow the money, goes the old saw,

And see how the poor are cared for

In stark contrast to the wealthy.

We Christians are guilty of letting it happen.

 

This is not to say that all is lost.

Good Christian doctors and nurses,

Administrators and support workers,

Some in our own congregation,

Work tirelessly and with mercy

To bring healing to the sick and dying.

Yet, the larger ship named health care

Needs turned in such a way

 

That efficient health care stewardship can be employed

Such that all may be equally cared for, loved, and healed.

Wellness is our King’s desire;

Wellness for all.

 

How many frightened patients in our beds or waiting rooms

Are left wondering, “did that doctor or nurse even see me?”

Or, “was I just another blood draw to be taken and charted?”

 

Pause.

Give presence.

Listen.

Extend mercy.

Heal, and be God’s healing.

Let us not idle away this time of waiting.

 

Internationally, how are we doing?

 

Let me just encourage you to donate your unused wheelchairs.

Katie, Terry, and I will see

That they are shipped to Guatemala,

Remanufactured to good as new condition,

And given to people who need them.

For these people, a wheelchair is life changing.

It may only be a small drop in the water in an enormous ocean,

But it is what we can you.

It’s what you can do.

And we can all agree that more can be done.

 

Lastly, kingdom living, preparing for Christ’s return and final judgment,

 

Includes his teaching to visit prisoners.

I’ll be the first to admit this,

I am an abject failure at visiting prisoners.

Other than completing a two-year program as a volunteer police chaplain

While in seminary,

I haven’t visited one prisoner in a jail in 32 years of pastoral ministry.

None from my flock have ever served time.

At best I can say is that some of our Conference Apportionments

Support jail ministry, justice, and chaplaincy programs.

Let’s be honest,

This is too little to hardly be worthy of our King’s attention.

 

Visiting the incarcerated isn’t about politics

Or condemnation under the law.

It isn’t about making someone’s punishment easier to endure.

I believe, Jesus wants us to visit prisoners

Because it’s an act of mercy.

Jesus was a prisoner.

His captors did not extend to him mercy.

Perhaps the 0.91 percent of Americans living in prisons,

And the nearly 200,000 prisoners living in the rest of the world,

Need some of God given mercy and grace.

 

Is the prisoner sitting in the Monroe County jail this Sunday morning

Thinking about all of us church going Christians

And asking themselves,

“do they even see me?”

“do they even know that I exist?”

Truly there is more to be done.

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Let us not idle away this time of waiting.

 

This last Sunday of the lectionary year,

When we celebrate the Reign of Christ

And the fact that Christ is our King,

We mostly leave the Gospel of Matthew until 2019 – 2020.

Until then we will travel through the Gospels of Mark, Luke, and John.

Though we leave Matthew for a time,

Let us not forget how he has accented Jesus’ teaching:

Live prepared.

Actively engage and meet the needs of the world.

Love lavishly.

Forgive abundantly.

Extend mercy.

Welcome all.

And know,

Judgment is coming.

Jesus will return.

We will each be held accountable.

Amen. 

“Choosing to Do Otherwise”

Matthew 25:14-30

19 November 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 25:14-30

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 

After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 

And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 

Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

 

 

Prayer.

 

 

People get hurt when we don’t step in and do the right thing.

 

Take a look at this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnKPEsbTo9s

 

Wow.

That’s amazing:

95% of customers complain when their burger is bullied.

Only 12% confront bullies and defend a kid being bullied in the same restaurant.

88% of customers witnessing a kid getting bullied

Stand back and do nothing.

 

People get hurt when we don’t step in and do the right thing.

 

Do you feel bad for the 88% of the people in the restaurant

Who stood back, kept their distance, and did nothing?

What’s up with that?

Are they frightened? Vulnerable? Afraid of sticking their neck out?

Are the afraid they might get beat up by a gang of bullies picking on that kid?

 

For the love of God,

Someone, please;

At least pull out your phone and call 911,

Go get the manager, or

If necessary,

Put on your big-boy pants, say a prayer for protection, and intervene.

It’s no wonder so many non-Church and former-Church people

Believe the Church has become irrelevant and inauthentic in their life.

 

It’s far easier for us to feel bad for that poor third slave in Jesus’ parable.

At least he is honest.

He admits to his fear.

“Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’”

(Matthew 25:24-25)

 

We feel bad for the poor slave that buries his talent and does nothing.

We feel bad for him

Because of the harsh judgment delivered by the master.

He insults him, calls him wicked and lazy.

He chastises him for making assumptions not based on facts:

You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?

(Matthew 25:26b)

And the master convicts and sentences the third slave:

“Take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.”

“As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

(Matthew 25:28, 30)

 

There is much to learn here.

 

Allow me to set the stage.

 

First, this is the final segment of a long and dangerous confrontation

Initiated by Jesus with the Chief Priest and other Temple authorities

In the hours immediately before his arrest, trial, persecution, and death.

For Jesus,

The confrontation brings judgment

Against the oppressors (Organized religion),

At the same time,

This is a final teaching opportunity

To teach his disciples and those of us in the crowd

About the end times,

The eschaton,

The coming of the Lord,

Christ’s own promised return.

 

Last Sunday, we heard a parable about Ten Bridesmaids and the Unexpected Return of the Bridegroom.

It formed the foundation for Christ’s promise and prophecy.

Today, Jesus molds and shapes a vision of the eschaton,

His promised return,

Which provides for us helpful resources to answer the question,

“What are we to do as we wait for Christ to return?”

 

Let me fill in the stage.

 

Secondly, Jesus is talking about judgment.

It’s helpful to be self-aware that

We only like talking about judgment when it involves others,

Usually people we don’t like,

Who we deem unrighteous, or

People who are just plain evil.

We’ll talk about them all day long.

 

But when it comes to judgment in regard to me personally,

That’s when you, me, and everyone else in this room

Starts to squirm in our chair.

It is hard to imagine what our personal judgment will be like.

Judgment vis-a-vis justice is problematic

Because it usually involves destruction, violence, and

The possibility of being thrown into the outer darkness,

Where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

It’s hard to imagine personal judgment

When we’re bathing in a perpetual environment

Of Wesleyan grace,

Complete with an abundance of faith, hope, and love.

 

Thus, judgment remains

One of the most un-talked about topics of Jesus,

The virtual elephant in the room,

In the Church at large

And in our personal lives and journeys of faith.

Yet, this is delusional.

If we don’t talk about judgment,

Maybe Jesus will make it go away!

 

Let me complete the stage.

 

You’ve heard me say it before,

And I’ll say it again,

“Don’t push a parable of Jesus too hard or too far beyond it’s intended purpose.”

Parables are fictional stories Jesus created.

Parables are meant to teach by example.

Examples were drawn from ancient life and culture,

Realities that are very difficult, sometimes nearly impossible,

For us to translate into our reality today.

Parables aren't perfect.

 

An important clue to me with our parable at hand

Is that Jesus is talking about slavery.

I can’t even …

We can’t even begin to get our heads wrapped around this,

And it would take me a few hours to complete that conversation.

 

Don’t push this parable too hard or too far.

I believe Jesus wants us to push it only so far

As we can reasonably discern his will,

And no further.

 

Oh, boy!

This is like

Return home after a formal affair and

Being able to unbutton an overly tight corset

Or slipping out of an undersized pair of jeans.

This approach gives us room to breathe,

And, I’d suggest, room to look at this parable completely differently

Than we have ever looked at it before. 

 

8a.JPG

Jesus uses the word “talents.”

He doesn’t use the word “denarii”, “pieces of silver”, or “shekels”.

He intentionally says talents:

The master leave to one five talents,

To the second slave two talents,

To the third one.

 

Is a talent a coin? As is often interpreted.

Or is a talent something you are good at? As is also commonly proclaimed.

Perhaps a talent is something completely different.

 

Consider this as a possibility:

Jesus wants his disciples to know that

9.JPG

A talent is

A call;

An opportunity,

A position God places us in,

Where you and I may use our position, our call, our resources

To make a difference.

 

A talent is an opportunity for you and me to step up

And become a part of the 12 percenters

Who will stop a kid from being bullied in a restaurant.  

 

The question

What do we do while we are waiting? Begs to be asked.

Are we frozen in fear like that third slave?

What are we afraid of?

Are we ignoring or denying a call to be God’s righteousness in the world?

10.JPG

 

Or, can we use this time of waiting

As an opportunity to invest our resources,

To roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty,

To take risks,

To engage in mission and ministry,

To make a stand for God and His kingdom?

 

Yes.

Yes, we can.

 

The way of judgment is set before us.

Will we be wicked and lazy,

Allow ourselves to submit to temptation

And become a conduit for sin and evil to fester in the world?

Will we be quick to make inaccurate and uninformed assumptions about God’s will?

That approach, Jesus teaches us,

Results in harsh judgment and sentencing.

 

So, don’t sin or violate God’s laws.

Don’t grow lazy in faith or good works.

Don’t assume to know God.

The wicked and lazy face a painful and violent end.

 

Choose to do otherwise.

 

In this time of waiting for the Lord to come,

Step up, and step in.

Do the right thing.

 

In this time of waiting for the Lord to return

Live righteously, according to God’s law.

Live actively, passionately for the completion of God’s kingdom.

Learn God’s Word.

Through prayer and Christian support

Discern and apply God’s ways to our daily living.

 

Make use of the talents God gives you.

Seize every opportunity,

Take advantage of what privilege you have,

Make use of every resource,

… time, talent, and treasure …

To optimize God’s call for your life,

To become fully God’s hands,

To re-create the world

Into the kingdom that only God can imagine,

Into the kingdom God desires

For all His children.

13.JPG

 

In this time of waiting,

We can choose to do otherwise,

To invest and improve God’s kingdom.

Amen. 

“Prepared for the Bridegroom”

Matthew 25:1-13

12 November 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Church

 

Matthew 25:1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

 

Prayer.

 

With apologies to our dearly beloved members and friends

Who struggle with the chronic disease known as addiction, and

Who daily ride the bucking bronco of sobriety,

I personally like weddings in the Gospel of John a lot better than

Weddings in the Gospel of Matthew.

 

In John, the wedding is followed by a gala reception,

And when the wine runs out,

Jesus miraculously makes more!

In Matthew, weddings are occasions were some are not let in

And where some are thrown out and the door is shut!

Yikes!

 

Yet, it is not my job to select scripture that I flatter.

My job is to proclaim and interpret all scripture;

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Some scripture I’d just as soon not deal with,

Like the parable of the ten bridesmaids this morning.

Some may title this parable the wise and the foolish bridesmaids.

But I don’t think that places our attention on Jesus’ intention.

If I have a choice,

I’d title this “The Parable of the Coming Bridegroom”.

 

This portion of Matthew,

Unlike the other Gospel authors,

Brings laser focus to Jesus’ intent:

To focus his disciples on judgment, justice, and

What is commonly known as eschatology.

Judgment and justice are commonly understood.

But what is eschatology?

 

Eschatology comes from the Greek eschatos.

Escha- means last, or end.

-tology means the study of.

So eschatology means the study of the last, or the end of times.

 

Jesus is speaking about the final events of history;

When death, judgment, and the final destiny

Of the soul and humankind are at stake.

 

The setting remains

Where we have mostly journeyed these past two months:

Jesus is having a high stakes confrontation with Temple authorities,

Just hours before they would have him arrested, tried, and crucified.

Jesus is concluding this confrontation in the Temple

With this parable today,

Another related parable next week,

And a culminating allegory in two weeks.

 

In this setting,

Where our Lord is facing his own eschaton,

He is preparing his disciples,

And us, by extension,

For our own forthcoming eschaton, judgment, and justice too.

 

There are many ways to interpret the final events of history,

In light of scripture in general,

And, specifically in our Lord’s teaching.

 

In Hebrew prophecy, such as the writings of Amos,

The eschatology of the people was that the end of time,

Or, the day of the Lord, as it was known,

Was an event to be excited about;

An event to be anticipated.

It would come when the Lord took decisive action.

They anticipated the Lord would come and

Smash the invading armies who were camped outside the city’s gate and ready to conquer them.

 

To the prophet Amos,

He pulled back the reigns and said, “hold on just a minute!”

The day of the Lord was coming and

His judgment against their sin would be harsh.

The day of the Lord would result in their defeat and exile into a foreign land.

Amos proclaims,

“Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!

Why do you want the day of the Lord?

It is darkness, not light.”

“But let justice roll down like waters,

And righteousness like an overflowing stream.”

(Amos 5:18, 24)

 

Why do you want the day of the Lord?

Is a question Amos asks.

After hearing these words of Jesus,

Why do you want the day of the Lord?

Is a question our Gospel begs us to ask, too. 

 

Early Church thought and study of the day of the Lord

Appear throughout the New Testament

But most definitely in the book of Revelation.

John of Patmos used prophetic prose to

Outline his vision of what the end of time,

The coming of the Lord,

Would look like.

 

Using Revelation as a backdrop

One can view eschatology from a futurist point of view;

That is, the final events of history that is yet to come.

It is unfulfilled prophecy.

The end will take place at some future date.

 

Others may interpret Revelation’s eschatology from to point of view

That prophecy was fulfilled

In the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

and subsequent Christian persecutions.

 

Others might take a longer historical world view

And interpret the final events of history taking part

Over the past 2,000 years

With associations and major people and events of the world

Playing key roles in the end of times.

 

And, there are those who take the point of view

That scripture is merely speaking symbolically

About the ongoing struggle between good and evil.

 

In the Early Church world

There remains the question of Amos,

Why do you want the day of the Lord?

 

While this may all appear academic,

These are important considerations when probing more deeply

Into our Gospel parable before us.

The bridegroom will return, but has been delayed.

Ten bridesmaids wait for his return.

 

Weddings are such festive occasions!

God has brought together two who are in love,

Joining together families and networks of friends.

A celebration waits for the conclusion of the formal ceremony;

People have been invited,

The reception is about to begin.

What’s not to like?

Everyone likes a good party!

Everyone looks forward to celebrating!

 

Yet, the bridegroom has been delayed.

The delayed bridegroom creates the circumstance for the bridesmaids

To ask, “what does eschatological living look like?”

In other words,

What do we do with ourselves until the bridegroom returns?

 

Some are foolish and unprepared, taking no oil for their lamps.

Others are wise, Jesus teaches; they prepared their lamps with flasks of oil.

But all ten fall asleep!

(Which makes me think of Peter, James, and John

Going with Jesus to Gethsemane in just a few short hours

Where Jesus would pray,

And all three of them would fall asleep!)

Matthew 26:36-46

 

Sleeping was the common denominator.

Jesus expected watchfulness,

Instead he received sleep.

Ten bridesmaids and three disciples failed him.

 

Being watchful is vital!

 

Being caught unprepared when the bridegroom appears

At midnight, the darkest part of the night,

The unprepared bridesmaids attempt to make up for their errors.

They try to buy some oil from local dealers,

But when they return, the door was shut.

The wise, prepared bridesmaids show

No mercy towards their unprepared sisters,

Which, to me, doesn’t appear to be very nice or empathetic of them.

They don’t share their oil, for fear not everyone will have enough.

They greet the bridegroom and are welcome to the feast,

The doors to the hall slamming shut behind them.

 

Apparently, preparation is everything.

 

The day of the Lord shuts the door.

Is this something we really want?

 

I’d add another question, “is the door shut never to be opened again?”

Consider Peter, James, and John sleeping with Jesus in the garden.

They were certainly embarrassed for letting Jesus down

By not staying awake and praying with him.

Yet, each of them went on to redeem themselves

To become apostles of the Church.

 

Jesus’ parable concludes with the bridesmaids left outside coming to the door, saying “Lord, lord, open to us.”

Jesus doesn’t say whether or not the door was opened

At that point, or at some point in the future.

The question is left unanswered.

Rather, Jesus says the lord door keeper responds,

“Truly I tell you, I do not know you.”

(25:11,13)

 

Apparently, knowing the lord gatekeeper is pretty important, too.

 

So, here we’ve plucked the diamonds from the rough

In this parable of the returning bridegroom.

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Watchfulness, preparation, and personal knowledge of the gatekeeper;

This is what Jesus desires us to know.

These are his main points.

Reiterating his statement from Matthew 24:50, Jesus states

“Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

(25:13)

 

Watchfulness, preparation, and personal knowledge.

What does this mean for us today?

 

Allow me to unpack this in reverse order.

13.JPG

 

1. Personal knowledge.

Know the Lord.

Know the gatekeeper.

If you don’t yet know Him,

The time is now.

 

Just as the bridesmaids personally knew the bridegroom,

So too, should each of us come into a personal relationship with God.

Invite God into your life.

God is waiting for your invitation.

 

Once God is in your life,

Become friends.

Become best friends.

Invest in your relationship.

Talk out your disagreements.

Learn about what you hold in common.

Learn God’s ways and discern God’s will.

Pattern personal conduct on the behavior of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

 

Speak words God would speak,

And refrain from using words God wouldn’t use.

Friends anticipate needs, and meet those needs, before they become a problem.

Anticipate God’s needs in the world.

Meet God’s needs.

14.JPG

 

2. Prepare yourself to meet God face-to-face.

Take your shoes off, I reminded one of my colleagues this past week.

Because if you’re meeting God, you are standing on holy ground.

With humility, take your shoes off,

Physically or symbolically,

… and submit yourself to God’s presence.

 

How will this meet take place?

Two thousand years after Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension,

And drawing from our rich theological roots from Revelation and related texts,

We can draw some logical, Biblical conclusions.

 

We may meet God face-to-face upon our death;

When we step from this world into God’s eternal kingdom,

And we are welcomed home by Jesus.

 

We may meet God face-to-face when Christ fulfills his promise

And returns to earth in a great apocalyptic clap of thunder.

It would be unwise of any of us to doubt the possibility

Of our Lord’s definite action.

 

Or, we may meet God face-to-face when good overcomes evil,

When light overwhelms darkness,

When our Lord’s prayer is answered

And the kingdom of God is established on earth as it is in heaven.

 

Regardless of how we will meet God,

It is essential we prepare ourselves for this meeting.

Live in every moment aware that this moment is a gift of God’s grace,

Knowing that judgment is in the future.

This moment of grace

Is a time to love and be loved.

God’s grace here and now

Is a time to forgive and be forgiven.

God’s present grace

Is an offering of eternal life,

Free for us to accept.

 

Don’t sleep away the grace God gives to you!

Do not treat God’s grace with casual indifference.

Denial of the end only works so long.

Time always runs out.

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3. Watch.

The bridegroom’s return is inevitable and unpredictable.

Therefore, watching must be done actively, not passively.

Watch and wait with the same diligence

As a soldier keeping watch,

Protecting the mortal lives of his friends.

Distracted attention or sleep is an invitation for catastrophe.

 

There is much to distract us and put us to sleep in this world.

We can be distracted by politics or religious dogma.

We can be distracted by money or prestige.

We can be distracted by power or self-interests.

Do not be distracted!

The Lord is coming,

The only question is “when?”

Since we neither know the day or the hour,

Our only choice is to keep awake,

To remain watchful,

To expect God’s imminent presence;

Anytime, anywhere, and in any circumstance.

 

The temptation is to let down the guard,

To become fatigued by a lifetime of watching and waiting.

This is where the community, the Church,

Plays such an important, vital role.

Encourage one another.

Support one another.

Yes, even correct one another. 

You heard me right; correct one another.

The stakes are life or death,

So why would anyone allow one of our own

To slumber away from God?

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Our Lord’s parable

Is an invitation to us all:

Watch.

Be prepared.

Know the Lord.

 

In the following verses of Matthew 25 over the next two Sundays,

Jesus will round out his eschatological message for us;

His promise for his eventual, inevitable return.

Death, judgment, and the final disposition of our souls

Rests in his hands. 

 

As for now,

Heed the lesson from this parable of the returning bridegroom:

Know the Lord.

Prepare to meet the Lord.

Watch for the Lord’s return.

Amen.

"Blessed are the Saints"

“Blessed are the Saints”

Matthew 5:1-12 and Revelation 7:9-17

November 5, 2017 – All Saint’s Sunday

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 5:1-12

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

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

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

 

Prayer.

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On this first Sunday following November 1st,

Known as All Saint’s Sunday,

We pause to remember our Christian loved ones,

Who have left this mortal life,

And who now benefit with eternal life

In the presence of God.

 

From Revelation, we earlier heard

John’s written word from his exile on the Aegean island of Patmos,

That “these are they

who have come out of the great ordeal.”

(Revelation 7:14)

 

Indeed, life is a great ordeal.

Beginning with the miracle of conception,

Life is given and guided by the hand of our Divine Creator,

The same author of the universe,

The one who makes each of us in his own image.

 

God is at the wheel and

We are along for the ride.

And what a ride it is!

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Each of us have very different life trajectories,

Yet, there are some events and ideals that all Christians hold in common.

 

1. Every disciple of Jesus Christ

Has first been chosen by almighty God

To come to the baptismal waters

And become united in baptism.

By our baptism we are united

With Jesus,

With every Christian who has come before us,

With every Christian now living,

And with everyone who God has yet to call to the water.

 

Baptism unites us,

Levels the playing field,

And forever marks us

Undeniably as Jesus’ own.

 

Remember the baptism of your loved one.

Remember your baptism.

And be thankful.

 

2. To live is to stand with both feet firmly planted on this earth.

All Christians share the fact that we were, or are, human.

We are united by our hunger and our thirst.

We are united by scorching heat and blowing snow.

We are united by our love and our grief,

Evident by the tears in our eyes.

And together,

Jesus leads us to the springs of the water of life.

(Revelation 7:17)

 

Living according to the will of God

Is living a life that is blessed.

Blessed doesn’t mean charmed or privileged.

 

To receive God’s blessing means that God approves

Of righteous effort and behavior.

 

God approves,

His Son assures us in his Sermon on the Mount,

Of those who are poor in spirit.

God approves of those who mourn.

God approves of the meek.

God approves of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

God approves of those who are merciful, pure in heart, and who work for peace.

God approves for those chose to follow God

When it would be easier not to,

And as a result, end up on the receiving end of persecution.

 

Christians are united by God’s blessings and grace,

Not only in God’s present approval,

But also in God’s future promise.

 

Those who live in God’s present approval

Are promised the kingdom of heaven,

Are promised God’s comfort,

Are promised to inherit the earth.

Those who are blessed today

Will be filled tomorrow.

Those who grant mercy

Will receive God’s mercy.

Those whom God approves will see God’s face,

Will be forever called and known as God’s own children,

And will inherit the kingdom of heaven.

 

Today’s approval

Results in eternal grace.

 

Remember how God has blessed our beloved saints,

Whom we remember this day.

Rest assured that God has now fulfilled his promise.

Give thanks for God’s blessings in your life

And look forward to receiving His future promise.

 

3. Every disciple of Jesus Christ

Endures the fury of temptation to violate God’s laws and will.

John of Patmos writes

“These are they

who have come out of the great ordeal;

They have washed their robes

and made them white

In the blood of the Lamb.”

(Revelation 7:14)

 

Everyone sins.

The saints we remember today

Have sinned.

We share with them and with each other the Devil’s fire,

Attempting to navigate this mortal life through Daniel’s furnace,

Walking the valley in the shadow of death.

 

As we are united by our temptation and sin,

So, too are we united by our Lord’s grace;

His forgiveness

Through his crucifixion.

We ask John, “How can blood wash clean a white robe?”

When that blood is Jesus’ own blood

And we stand in the soiled robe of sin.

We are unified in our petition to be cleansed.

And we are united in God’s mercy and grace

With the gift that Jesus gives to each of us.

By his death,

We are washed clean.

 

Remember no more the sins of those who have now died in the Lord.

Forget their trials, temptations, and sins.

Jesus has; and so, too, should we.

Confess the name of Jesus.

Claim him as your Lord and Savior.

And receive the forgiveness of your every sin.

 

4. Lastly, every disciple of Christ

Living in this kingdom

Can expect to be united with every other disciple

Living in the heavenly kingdom,

Standing before the throne

Worshipping God, singing

“Amen!

Blessings and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving

And honor and power and might

Be to our God

Forever and ever!

Amen.”

(Revelation 7:12)

 

We will join with our beloved saints who have preceded us

In God’s eternal kingdom.

Jesus assures us that he’s prepared our place.

He’s given us his Holy Spirit to guide us there.

And Jesus has promised us

That we will be united with his saints around the throne.

 

There will be no sin,

No temptation,

No broken relationships;

Because each of us will be standing in a span clean robe,

Newly washed.

Wesley called this perfection.

John calls this God’s heavenly banquet.

Jesus promises us that he is looking forward to greeting each of us,

Soon face to face. 

 

Hold tight to the memories our saints have given us;

Especially their witness and strength of faith.

Allow God to use these memories to guide and direct

Our own journey through this great ordeal.

 

Give thanks to God

For sharing with us for a time our beloved saints.

Give thanks to God for receiving each of them home.

And give thanks to God for our promise,

Our inheritance,

That one day,

We, too, will be welcomed home.

Amen.

“Reform, Refine, Release” In Celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

29 October 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

John 8:31-36

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

 

 

Prayer.

 

There comes a tipping point in every moral dispute

When the ice dam breaks

And the resulting momentous flow

Forever changes the trajectory of the world.

 

 

In 1954, Vermont Senator Ralph E. Flanders

Spoke from the floor of the U.S. Senate, saying

"Were the Junior Senator from Wisconsin in the pay of the Communists he could not have done a better job for them."

McCarthyism was dead, and Joe was soon to be buried.

 

 

In June 1940, the new British Prime Minister Winston Churchill

Addressed the House of Commons, saying

“.. we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

 

In March 1775 at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, the home schooled, self-taught lawyer and

 

 

House of Burgesses member Patrick Henry said,

"Give me liberty, or give me death!"

 

The world was forever changed.

 

 

500 years ago, on October 31, 1517,

A university professor of moral theology

and parish priest from Wittenberg Germany

Dropped into the mail

a letter to Albert of Brandenburg,

the Archbishop of Mainz,

that listed 95 complaints about perceived abuses of the Church.

His criticism had been brewing for years,

Finding genesis in generations before him.

 

 

His name was Martin Luther.

 

At the root of his 95 Theses, as they came to be known,

Was his criticism of Papal endorsed Church abuse;

specifically, about preachers selling indulgences.

 

 

Indulgences were certificates

believed to reduce the punishment for sins

purchased for the buyer

or the buyer’s loved ones in purgatory.

Income raised by the sale of indulgences

Helped pay for the construction of St. Peter’s church in Rome,

Cathedrals throughout Europe,

And the extravagance and opulence of the clergy,

Who lived often times surrounded by a sea of poverty.

 

With the threat of eternal damnation

hanging over their head like Damocles sword,

The impoverished people in the pews paid up.

Pay up, or go to hell,

The laity were threatened.

For example,

Parents paid up to free from purgatory their unbaptized infant

Who died prematurely,

Stained with original sin.

 

The rich paid without sacrifice,

Collecting certificates of indulgences

Like they were “Get Out of Jail Free” cards.

The poor seethed and suffered,

Until the day dawned,

When the world changed.

 

 

Martin Luther listed his 95 Theses,

Mailed his complaints to the archbishop,

 

 

Fixed them to the chapel door at his seminary,

And had them printed into leaflets by the new media, Gutenberg press,

And distributed them across the land to the entire world.

 

The Church was forever changed.

 

The schism has lasted for 500 years.

The Church that remained obedient to Rome,

Though deeply resentful and hurt,

Has refined itself and its doctrine.

The Church that was newly crafted and created,

Called the Protestant house,

Of which we proudly stand,

Was given a clean slate

Upon which could be created something new,

Something Spirit filled,

Something deeply aligned and identified with Jesus Christ.

 

Both the Roman Catholic and Protestant Church

have benefited greatly from this painful schism.

Doctrines that had no foundation in the Bible were reigned in.

Sacraments, and their meaning and purpose, have been re-examined.

Scripture and the proclamation of the Gospel has been elevated by many

To an equivalent status as the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

 

 

We believe Scripture

is the only source of proper belief – sola scriptura

And believe that faith in Jesus, not good works,

is the only means of God’s forgiveness – sola fide.

 

As city states at the time of Martin Luther were being transformed

Into national entities,

The propagation of the Protestant Reformation

Spread along national lines,

Deeply influenced by language, literacy, culture, and race.

 

 

Presbyterians emerged from Switzerland and Scotland.

Reformed denominations sprang up from the Dutch.

Lutherans propagated in Germany and France.

Baptist came from Switzerland.

King Henry the Eighth of England nationalized the Roman Catholic Church,

Creating the Church of England,

the mother church of the Anglican Communion,

which drank deeply of the Protestant Reformed movement.

Our Methodist heritage comes from our Anglican ancestry.

 

 

We have not traveled to a place where

The Roman Catholic Church and Protestant denominations are re-unified,

But we are getting closer.

We pray for Christian unity.

Many of us work for Christian unity.

Dearly beloved,

Continue to pray and work for Christian unity.

I was seminary trained together with many who were going on to the priesthood.

Differences are being bridged by open and honest dialogue.

There is still much work to be done.

 

It feels to me that

Many disciples of Christ, both laity and clergy alike, want unity.

The Spirit desires unity.

 

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It is my personal opinion that the only remaining barrier

To the unity of the Body of Christ

Is an ego-centric laity and clergy who are

Obsessed with righteousness,

Resistant to change,

Influenced by money,

And who strive after power.

 

For those of us walking through Matthew 21 and 22 these past few months,

This should sound frighteningly familiar.

 

The barrier to Christian unity is us.

 

Why is this history lesson important?

What makes this reformation recognition

relevant to your life and mine?

 

As members of the Body of Christ,

Not united, such as it is,

 

 

We have been given a gift:

The opportunity to refine what the reformers started 500 years ago,

To work with the Holy Spirit for the unity of the Body,

And by the Spirit’s power and grace,

Release these efforts to the world,

For the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom

And for God’s eternal glory.

 

The pathway to unity is clear,

And it begins with the transformation of ourselves.

 

 

Let us humble ourselves,

Recognize the possibility that

The Holy Spirit may be working through others

with just as much validity

as it may be working through you or me.

Let us humble ourselves, temper our opinions, squelch our biases, and wholly submit our will to the will of the Spirit.  

Let us humble ourselves, stripping away status, pedigrees, recognitions, and resumes.

Let us renounce all perks of power and

Smother every temptation for money and treasure.

 

Let us learn the lesson from our Lord’s confrontation in the Temple with the Chief Priests and the leaders of the people, that

The last shall be first, and the first shall be last,

That the greatest commandment is to love God,

And the second is just like it,

to love our neighbors.

 

 

Instead of focusing our faith on righteous inerrancy, judgment, or condemnation

Let us focus our eyes on Jesus.

 

Christian unity will come

Either in our life time,

When Christ will return,

Or when we are reunited in our eternal salvation.

We are not opposed

to the way

of any other Christian

As long as it is

the way of Jesus.

 

If there is any conclusion I can make

about the Protestant Reformation

It is this:

Reformation continues.

Reformation is the work of God, through the Holy Spirit.

 

 

Jesus Christ is leading the movement to reform the Church,

To refine the Church,

To perfect the Church,

To release the Church.

Unified with Christ,

We are called to reform and transform the world.

Amen.  

“Conflicting Loyalties”

Matthew 22:15-22

22 October 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 22:15-22

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

 

 

Prayer.

 

The preacher’s dilemma for today is

How does one preach about traps

Without it becoming a trap in itself?

 

Your dilemma in experiencing this Gospel text in this sermon is

 

 

How far am I willing to walk with Jesus

Up Calvary’s slope

To his imminent crucifixion?

 

Blows had been exchanged numerous times

In our Lord’s confrontation with the Chief Priest and Temple authorities.

Both Jesus and his opponents had given and taken offense

That would, within hours,

Result in Jesus’ arrest, trial, abuse, crucifixion, and death.

 

 

Civil authority was clashing with kingdom authority.

 

Politics makes for strange bedfellows.

Imagine Sean Hannity and David Axelrod working together at a new network.

Image Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer holding their noses

And working together to introduce new legislation on taxes.

I hear Democrats and Republicans

Are working together on health care reform.

Have you heard that?

I don’t know.

I try to keep my politics out of preaching.

The Gospel is my politics.

That’s the way I like to think about it.

But, you know.

I hear things.

 

Politics makes for strange bedfellows

Kind of like the Chief Priest, Sadducees, Pharisees, and Herodians

All coming together to set a trap for Jesus.

The Chief Priest and Sadducees were leaders of organized Judaism.

Pharisees were righteous and well educated lay people.

The Herodians were Jews who were loyal to Rome (their occupiers).

Leaders, followers, and collaborators with the enemy;  

All holding their noses while working together to trap Jesus,

To destroy Jesus,

To remove Jesus and every memory and aspiration he created.

 

 

Get Jesus in trouble with Rome

And they’d crucify him.

Trap Jesus by getting him in trouble with the populist,

And a lynch mob would take care of business.

Blood was in the water,

And it drew every variety of shark in for the kill.

 

Civil authority clashing with kingdom authority.

 

On this, the eve of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation,

 

 

It is good to remember Martin Luther

Who understood this titanic clash as being between

Civil righteousness and Spiritual righteousness.

Civil righteousness is something we work on,

Something we are accountable for,

Is achieved by how we act in society.

 

Spiritual righteousness, however, regards our relationship with God.

Spiritual righteousness is not determined by our actions

But by God’s love in Jesus Christ.

The contrast is between our dual citizenship:

We are citizens of the state and citizens of heaven.

(Thanks to Erick J. Thompson, as found at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3450)

 

 

Jesus replies,

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (22:21)

This appeals deeply to those of us who’s cultural DNA

Is rooted in the western, American experience.

In fact, we are so fond of it, most are content to linger too long,

To become too acculturated to this initial Gospel point of view

That we become reluctant to walk with Jesus

Any further than the first station of the cross.

 

 

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,

Or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”

the 1st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads.

The Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause

Create a dualistic world separated by a wall,

Between “the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.”

(Roger Williams, 1644)

 

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Pay your taxes.

Pay your tithe.

(That would be 10% of your gross income for those of us who like to be considered conservative, Bible believing Christians)

 

Pay your taxes.

Pay your tithe.

Our Lord’s adversaries must have been writhing in anguish;

Their trap failed to close.

 

 

(Much as many of us are doing right now,

writhing in anguish,

running through our minds our personal finances

and our financial contributions to the church)

 

No pressure.

 

 

Jesus is carrying his cross all the way up to Calvary,

Beyond this initial, first stop,

Where we would just as soon linger, lounge, and reside.

Come with me.

Exit your comfort zone and let us continue the journey with Jesus.

 

Every thoughtful, contemplative Christian

Can recognize the fact that the world isn’t black and white.

Despite our founding father’s best intent,

There are necessary intersections between church and state.

The wall separating the two is assailed

When we call for

and work for

civil justice;

Whether it is advocating for Palestinian rights,

Healthcare reform,

Gender equality,

Protecting the environment,

Or Black Lives Matter.

 

The wall separating civil righteousness and spiritual righteousness is assailed when the state elevates

Patriotism above faith,

Economic winners over losers,

The will of the powerful few over the powerless many.

 

Do we, as Jesus followers,

As people seeking spiritual righteousness,

Stay quiet in the civil realm?

 

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Our journey with Jesus from the Temple mount to Calvary’s mount

Opens our eyes to the conflicting loyalties that exist

Between Rome and Jerusalem,

Between Washington and this house of prayer.

 

Some of our Christian sisters and brothers find these conflicting loyalties

Easier to reconcile than others.

Some will swear to never swear an oath,

Vow never to bear arms, or

Join in million-man protests.

Some will

Even chain themselves to the doors of Capitol Hill.

 

Others will see no conflict in running for office

Trumpeting Judaic-Christian values,

Cite scripture from the stump,

Even erect monuments to the Ten Commandments in our court rooms.

 

 

Both often vilify each other.

 

The rest of us

 

 

are somewhere in-between,

With our heads spinning in a bog

Filled with fake news, social media, and 24-hour news channels,

All being stirred by the Devil himself.

I don’t know about you, but

I wonder all the time about

My conflicting loyalties between Caesar and God.

And I suspect you do, too.

 

Jesus stumbles,

Takes a knee under the weight of the cross,

As he ascends his earthly triumph.

 

Our epistle lesson encourages us to continue with Christ;

To stretch our spiritual canvas.

 

 

In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians

We are reminded of the expanse of humanity;

The need for the Word to go beyond Jerusalem,

Not only in Macedonia and Achaia,

But to the entire world.

 

The Good News of Jesus Christ comes personally, privately, and by individual re-birth,

Signed, signified, and eternally sealed by our baptism.

At the same time,

The Good News of Jesus Christ comes collectively, corporately, and to all of Creation,

By means of the Body of Christ, known as the Church.

 

Paul does not stop here.

He stretches us further.

 

The God who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ,

The God of Creation and re-creation,

Is the same God that loves us so much,

Individually, collectively, and without exception,

That He gives us His Holy Spirit,

That we can become an example to all believers,

To prepare ourselves for Jesus to return,

And for Him to rescue us from the wrath that is coming.

(I Thessalonians 1:1-10)

 

From before time to beyond the end of time.

Our God is our God.

 

 

From the individual to all of humanity,

From the private to the corporate,

Our God is our God.

And all is of God.

 

In the clash of civil authority and kingdom authority,

In the clash of Caesar and God,

When Jesus wisely proclaims,

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (22:21)

Jesus is running the table.

 

Everything is of God.

Everything is God’s.

Even Caesar.

So, in the end,

In the wrath that is to come?

Even that which is rendered to the state

Returns to the Lord, who first gave it.

Everything returns to God.

 

Elegant, don’t you agree?

Yeah, Jesus is that way.

Jesus is pretty awesome, in my book.

 

As one enters through the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,

Which sits on top of the traditional location

of our Lord’s crucifixion and burial,

In the old city of Jerusalem,

 

steps-to-calvary2.JPG

 

You turn right, climb rounded stairs,

Pass through a door way

Up a stone stairway; winding, crooked, and steep.

You are not yet to the top of Calvary, but near the end.

The way of the cross is nearly fully revealed.

 

“Show me the coin used for the tax,” Jesus commanded.

“And they brought him a denarius.” (22:19)

 

Interesting fact about the Temple economy,

When you look into the books of organized religion,

Both then and today,

There is much to be revealed.

 

 

Pilgrims coming into town to make their yearly visit would

Make their annual animal sacrifice to God.

They would also be required to make a once a year contribution,

Their tithe,  

To the unpopular poll tax.

 

Who likes paying taxes?

Pilgrims would pay up in their local script or currency,

Most commonly, but not always, Roman denarius.

Currency would be exchanged into Jewish shekels at usury rates.

This made the commoners,

The people in the pews

Seethe with anger.

 

The Roman denarius sported an image of Caesar

Together with the slogan,

 

 

Augusti Filius August Pontifex Maximus 

Which means

“Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest”

(Boring, Eugene, Matthew – Mark, The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, volume 8 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 420.)

 

Whose head?

Whose title?

 

Of course,

A righteous Jew was forbidden from

Worshipping another god,

Or sporting an idolatrous image of a god,

Especially right there in the Temple courtyard.

 

Let’s be clear,

It’s never a good idea to break the Ten Commandments.

It’s really bad when you do it right there in the Temple!

Yet, the Temple authorities had no trouble presenting Jesus with a denarius.

 

As soon as disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians

Presented a denarius,

Jesus exposed them as hypocrites

For all the world to see.

 

In the clash between civil righteousness and spiritual righteousness,

At the intersection of life and faith,

Loyalties are conflicted.

 

This once seemingly familiar Gospel narrative

Now presents itself as table tossing,

Revolutionary,

Like the world has been flipped upside down.

 

The last shall be first and the first shall be last.

Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.

This newly plowed ground

Drives us to the foot of the cross

And begs each of us to inquire about the conflicting loyalties in each of our lives.

 

What are yours?

 

19.JPG

 

What are the conflicting loyalties in your life? and

What do you do to justify the choices you make?

What sacrifices (yes, I said sacrifices) need to be made to place Christ first?

 

Like carrying around a few denarius in our pockets,

Or a few Abe Lincoln’s in our wallets and purses,

What idolatrous commitments do we make?

How are we complicit in the larger sins of the world, and

How is Christ calling you and I to respond?

 

Yes,

Jesus is asking us to re-examine the choices we make

Whether or not to let our kids play Sunday morning Pop Warner football

Or to cheer for the home team.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Jesus is much more serious than simply

Challenging us to a mundane conflicting loyalty.

 

 

His sacrifice nailed him to a cross

and dropped that cross into a hole.

What does our sacrifice look like?

Amen.

“You’re Going Out Looking Like That?”

Matthew 22:1-14

October 15, 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 22:1-14

 

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

 

Prayer.

 

This parable

Causes me to remember my defiant adolescence.

With hair down to my shoulders

And sporting rose colored glasses,

I’d come bounding down the parsonage stairs

Burst into the kitchen

And ask dad for the keys to the car.

Inevitably, my mother would turn away from

The dishes in the sink or dinner on the stove.

She would take a look at my outrageous tee shirt or clothing, and say

“You’re going out looking like that?”

 

“Yeppers, mom. Catch you on the flip side of life.”

And off I’d go,

Acting as if there was no accountability, …

… Knowing full well that there was.

 

This parable is the fifth in a row,

With three more to follow next month.

It is important to be reminded that

Jesus is confronting the Temple authorities,

The Chief Priest and leaders of the people.

The confrontation in Matthew 21 and 22 is escalating,

Becoming very dangerous and potentially violent.

 

For contextual reasons,

It is important to remember that this confrontation

Is taking place in the final days of Jesus’ life.

Try to imagine this confrontation taking place

During the early days of Holy Week;

Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday.

Just remember,

Jesus only has hours to live,

Share a final meal with his disciples,

Wash their feet,

Be arrested and tried and condemned,

And be crucified.

 

Time is short.

If ever there was a moment

To clearly and concisely communicate to the world

What the Kingdom of God looks like,

It was now.

 

Characteristics of God’s Kingdom have been revealed by Jesus

Throughout this high-stake confrontation in Matthew 21 and 22.

This is what we have learned so far:

·        Jesus’ authority comes from God, his heavenly Father.

·        God’s Kingdom is inclusive.

·        Those who do the will of God will go first into the Kingdom.

·        God seeks justice and righteousness.

·        God’s Kingdom is given to those who bear fruit.

 

Today, Jesus turns up the gain,

Amps it up, and

Takes this confrontation over the top.

It isn’t pleasant.

This isn’t the Christmas Jesus

Or the gentle Jesus, meek and mild, with children sitting on his lap

We so desire.

This is our Jesus,

At the height of his ministry,

Fulfilling his Father’s will.

He is filled with anger

And his confrontation is teetering on the edge of explosive violence.

 

Jesus confronts the Temple authorities

To expand our comprehension of the Kingdom of God.

There’s more to learn.

 

This parable causes us to ask

What kind of power does God exercise?

And how does God exercise it?

 

The King interacts on three occasions with four players.

 

1. The first player the king engages is the royal elite.

These are the ones who would not come,

Despite two personal invitations.

What kind of person in royal circles declines an invitation from the king?

They owe their status and influence on their proximity to the throne.

Why wouldn’t they come,

Unless they, themselves had reason to believe

They would be called to accountability

Or had become so smug that they had nothing to fear?

 

But those who were first in the kingdom

Didn’t really know their king.

(Sounds like the Chief Priest and the elders of the people)

 

The king’s response is proportional:

First, he decides to send a second invitation.

When even the second invitation is mocked …

Made lite of by some, ignored by others, and even flaunted by still others

By seizing the king’s slaves, mistreating them and killing them,

Then, and only then, the king resorts to judgment.

Judgment rains down.

He “destroyed those murderers and burned their city.”

There is a price to be paid for rejecting the king.

 

Yes, there is accountability, Jesus’ parable teaches us.

There is accountability in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The king will not be rejected.

Judgment is decisive.

 

2. The next two players the king engages are commoners,

Describe as both the good and the bad.

Commoners? This is over the top!

 

This is Good News for those who are left out in society.

Both the good and the bad are invited, and they come.

 

In some respect

This was an offense to the good;

They’d been working in the vineyard since the early morning,

Then along comes those who were hired at an hour before quitting time?

 

However, they get a free meal out of it;

So why not attend?

Good news is still good news.

 

It was good news to the bad, too.

The invitation wasn’t predicated on their past behavior.

The invitation was color blind;

It signified that the king’s hope for transformation in the present

And his hope for them to have a better future

Was of greater importance than

Any sin any one of them had committed in the past.

 

The king believes in redemption,

A second chance.

 

A wedding hall filled with guests

Would have certainly pleased the king.

 

The banquet was over the top;

Oxen, fat calves, a royal banquet unlike anyone has ever experienced,

A true feast, where all could gather and eat their fill.

(Much like our communion table)

 

With this second encounter with both the good and the bad

Jesus’ parable also teaches us that

The king’s grace is inclusive and unconditional.

The invitation to the banquet is extended to everyone.

The king’s grace is abundant,

Rich and overflowing,

Exceeding the expectations and the experience of his people.

 

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!

Now that’s some good news!

 

3. The last player the king engages in this parable

Is the man not wearing a wedding robe,

In open defiance of the king.

 

One could possibly title this final portion of the parable

“The Parable of the Wedding Crasher”.

 

Oh, the king gets his wedding feast,

But he noticed a man who was not wearing a wedding robe.

Again, the king is patient and proportional:

He gives the man who is openly defying him

An opportunity to justify his behavior.

 

The man is speechless.

Perhaps he is speechless because he had witnessed

The wrath the king had laid out on those he had invited,

Who went on to mock him.

Judgment had resulted in death.

Perhaps he is speechless because he had witnessed

The mercy the king had shown

By including both the good and the bad at the wedding banquet.

 

The King passes judgment,

But notice, again, it is limited.

“Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (22:13)

 

The phrase Jesus uses

“weeping and gnashing of teeth”

To pronounce his judgment

Has been used three times before in Matthew (8:12, 13:42, 13:50)

And will be used twice again (24:51, 25:30)

Mostly in the context of a parable.

While some believe this is a reference to hell,

I’d suggest this is simply Jesus’ way to simply indicate

Their removal from the banquet at hand.

He doesn’t kill the wedding crasher,

Unlike those who rejected him.

Defiance might get you kicked out,

But it didn’t preclude the possibility of his future return.

 

O, dear Judas. Rejection of the king leads to death.

But defiance, dear Peter, and there remains hope for redemption.

 

In a powerful way, Jesus reiterated

Yes, there is accountability in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The King will not be rejected.

The King will not be mocked.

Judgment may be proportional,

But it is decisive.

 

The King’s grace is inclusive and unconditional.

The invitation to the banquet is extended to everyone.

The King’s grace seeks the redemption of his people.

The King’s grace is abundant,

Rich and overflowing,

Exceeding the expectations and the experience of his people.

 

Jesus uses this parable to fill in some of the remaining characteristics

About what life is like in the Kingdom of Heaven.

He tells us a lot about the power of God,

His heavenly Father and our King.

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What kind of power does God exercise?

And how does he exercise it?

 

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God’s power comes from his grace.

God gives everyone a second chance.

God includes everyone, the good and the bad.

This is good news because

God has a place at the table for both you and me.

 

God’s power comes from his restraint.

Vengeance is the Lord’s, and his alone.

There is no place for vengeance in the life of a follower of Jesus.

This is an especially important message to us

As we attempt to navigate our life of faith in our turbulent world.

 

Leave vengeance up to God, knowing that it is only used as a last resort.

God’s greatest desire is for everyone to enter the Kingdom

And to feast at His heavenly feast.

This is good news!

 

Let there be no misunderstanding.

Let no one believe that we can take advantage of God’s grace.

God cannot be gamed.

Because, Jesus warns us,

God’s power also comes from His decisive judgment.

God demands accountability.

Let us conduct ourselves accordingly.

Amen.

“Taken Away”

Matthew 21:33-46

October 8, 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 21:33-46

“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 

They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” 

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” 

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

 

 

Prayer.

 

A week ago yesterday

We were closing up the cottage for the winter.

It was forty-seven degrees, cold and wet.

As I went about my business taking out the water line

And storing outdoor furniture inside,

 

 

I wondered about the in-the-ground hornets’ nest just beneath the kayak. 

It appeared as if there was no activity.

Given the cold day,

I stuck the handle of a rake into the hole.

Wow.

Was I ever surprised!

 

I stirred up a hornet’s nest just like Jesus.

 

 

In consecutive weeks,

We’ve followed Jesus in his triumphant entry into Jerusalem (21:1-11),

Up and into the Temple, where he overturned the money changer’s tables (21:12-17).

He confronted the Chief Priest and his Sadducee henchmen,

Countering their question with a hand grenade question about John’s baptism, making them appear like stooges (21:23-27).

He followed up by telling them a parable about two sons,

Comparing them to liars who say one thing and do another,

And he tells them that prostitutes and tax collectors will enter into the kingdom of heaven before them (21:28-32).

 

As if this wasn’t enough.

Jesus follows up with today’s parable about a landowner and wicked tenants. (21:33-46)

Next Sunday he tells another parable about a wedding banquet. (22:1-14)

In two weeks the confrontation in the Temple will conclude with

His answer to the Chief Priest about paying taxes. (22:15-22)

 

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Hold on tight!

 

What interests me in this verbal confrontation

 

 

Is how do we make what Jesus teaches

Relevant to your life and mine?

 

Today, Jesus tells a parable that appeals to every Jewish mind;

A straight forward parable

About a landowner who leased his vineyard to wicked tenants.

Leasing land to tenant farmers was

A common practice in the time of Jesus.

 

 

Jesus’ parable harkens back to Isaiah 5:1-7.

The prophet Isaiah tells of a vineyard owner

Who cleared a hill, planted a crop, built a protective wall around it, constructed a watchtower, and expected the new vineyard to produce grapes.

Instead it yielded wild grapes.

 

Bleh!

 

“What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?”

the vineyard owner laments? (Isaiah 5:4a)

So he removes the wall that the vineyard might be trampled down.

He refuses to prune or hoe it, to make it waste.

And he commands the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

Isaiah concludes,

 

 

“For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry.” (Isaiah 5:7)

 

Of course,

Isaiah was speaking God’s judgment

Upon His own chosen people,

Who were behaving unrighteously, living opposed to God’s Law,

And turning their backs on justice.

In return, Isaiah sees impending bloodshed

At the hands of invading Assyrians

And exile into foreign slavery …

Which they got, in spades.

 

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God expects justice.

God expects righteousness.

 

It is out of this context from Isaiah 5

That Jesus tells a new parable

About a landowner and his vineyard.

 

 

Jesus paints the tenants as wicked,

Killing the landowner’s slaves, not once, but twice,

Then killing the landowner’s son,

Expecting to get his inheritance.

When the landowner comes, Jesus asks the Temple authorities,

“What will he do to those tenants?” (21:40)

 

Before they can figure out his message,

They instinctively respond,

“He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest.” (21:41)

 

I’d like to think that Jesus paused here,

A nice juicy, pregnant pause,

Allowing the realization to sink in,

Giving them the opportunity to come to the ironic conclusion

That they had just condemned themselves.

Jesus paints the Temple authorities as the wicked tenants.   

 

 

God expects justice.

God expects righteousness.

They have done neither.

 

Unlike Isaiah who prophesied death and exile,

Jesus pronounces judgment upon the Temple authorities by saying,

 

 

“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” (21:43)

 

Killing Jesus upon a cross,

Publicly humiliating him for all to see,

Was an intentional act of injustice,

And it was a rejection of God.

The tragedy of the cross is this:

The leaders should have known better.

They go and conspire to murder him anyway.

 

There are consequences for rejecting God.

Don’t be the one others point to and say,

“He should have known better.”

Or “She should have known better.”

 

 

The prophet Isaiah know what it looks like to be a tenant in God’s vineyard:

“Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.” (Isaiah 56:1)

 

Likewise, the prophet Micah knows what it looks like to be a tenant in God’s vineyard:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

 

Truth is,

God’s will,

To be just, to advocate for justice,

To follow God’s Law and live a righteous life,

To accept the Lord, and to worship only him,

Lays a claim on our lives and actions.

Knowing what God wants us to do is great,

But sometimes we don’t like it.

Sometimes we oppose God’s will

Because it conflicts with our selfish will and carnal desires.

We aren’t the first to rebel against God,

Neither will we be the last.

 

Instead of thinking that living a life consistent with God will

As being suffocating or confining,

 

 

Consider the freedom that is given

When we live inside God’s vineyard

And produce good fruit.

The freedom that God gives

Is far more abundant and satisfying

Than the freedom granted by patriots or any government or land.

The freedom God gives is eternal.

 

True freedom,

The kind that only God grants when we follow His will,

 

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Ends senseless bloodshed,

Heals every wound,

And dries every tear.

This true freedom is in great need in our land in these traumatic times.

(Yes, I am speaking about the massacre in Los Vegas last Sunday)

 

True freedom,

Ends the bloodshed,

Heals every wound,

And dries every tear.

 

When we live in God’s vineyard and serve as good tenants,

Producing abundant fruit,

 

 

We love God:

We have no other gods,

We do not take the Lord’s name in vain,

And we keep God’s Sabbath day holy.

(Exodus 20:1-11)

 

When we live in God’s vineyard and serve as good tenants,

 

 

We love our neighbors:

We honor our father and mother.

We do not murder, steal from others, or commit adultery.

We tell the truth.

And we do not covet other people’s property.

(Exodus 20:12-17)

 

Living in God’s vineyard

Will place us last in line,

According to many of the standards established by society today.

When we do God’s will,

Act righteously,

And live lives committed to justice,

The last will be first,

And the first will be last,

When we come into God’s kingdom.

 

Jesus warned those first in line,

Who produced no fruit, and

Who were trampling his vineyard,

“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” (21:43)

 

Here then, is the point of Gospel relevance:

 

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What does living in God’s vineyard look like to you?

What can you do to produce good fruits of God’s kingdom?

Amen. 

“First In Line”

Matthew 21:23-32

October 1, 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 21:23-32

When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

 

Prayer.

 

It was as if

The tear gas had thinned

And most of the protesters had left the field.

Only the most hardened, committed remained behind.

 

Crowds of activists,

Filled with naive hopes and blind ambitions,

Had stormed the gates

And entered the sacred grounds of authority,

Being led by their charismatic leader.

He had turned the tables,

(So to speak)

On the powers and principalities of the man,

Exposing hypocrisy, corruption, greed;

Revealing his unimaginable failures to serve the public good.

 

The revolution squared off with the establishment,

Each eyeball-to-eyeball

In a high stakes confrontation

In full view of the surging crowds

And the authorities with their minions

Armed to the teeth and sporting riot gear

Holding them back.

 

Safeties had been taken off.

Bows were stretched.

The pregnant pause

Was silence saturated with sweat.

 

No, I’m not speaking about protests during the Viet Nam war;

Though the landscape from Ken Burn’s PBS documentary

Looks strikingly similar.

Neither am I speaking about the violent worker strikes and riots

Between labor and management during the Gilded Age of America..

 

No.

This impending, imminent confrontation that I’m speaking about

Is between Jesus and the Chief Priests (and elders of the people).

Jesus had just stormed the gates

With his triumphal entry,

Bringing the Hosanna shouting, insurrection minded crowds with him into the city.

Jesus had just ascended the Temple mount,

The seat of power and authority,

And upset the money changers,

Disrupting the Temple’s precious cash flow.

 

Barge right in uninvited

Open the safe and throw the money out the window;

Jesus knows how to attract attention.

Jesus knows how to

Gather a crowd.

And Jesus knows how to stick it to the man.

 

The man

… in this case …

The Chief Priest of the Temple

Steps forward from his crowd of

Cabinet members, staff members, volunteers, supporters, and soldiers.

He steps forward

In this highly charged, volatile setting,

Closing the gap between him and his antagonist, Jesus Christ,

The country bumpkin from Galilee.

He steps forward and

Puts himself into Jesus’ personal space.

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He jabs his index finger right into his sternum:

“By what authority are you doing these things,

and who gave you this authority?” (21:23)

 

It is as if

We can hear the soldiers taking a deep breath and

See them leaning into a fight.

The rivulets of perspiration can be seen trickling down the foreheads

Of Jesus’ riot minded, blood thirsty, revolutionary crowd.

(Yes, the Gospel can sing!)

 

By what authority? The Chief Priest asks.

Who gave it to you?

What is its source?

 

The Chief Priest asks because Jesus is a challenge to his authority.

How Jesus answers

Reveals much about

What Jesus intends to accomplish

With his intentional, high stakes confrontation.

 

Because the situation was so volatile,

Teetering on the edge of violence and mortal catastrophe

That would prematurely result in his own death

And the death of many others,

Jesus wisely foils the Chief Priest’s thrust

By saying

“I will also ask you one question;

if you tell me the answer,

then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.” (21:24)

 

“Seems fair,” the crowd probably thought to themselves.

People like the appearance of fairness.

“Let’s slow this down and draw this out,”

The Chief Priest probably thought to himself,

“Less the Romans lose confidence

In my ability to keep the population in order.”  

 

Fair enough,

Both Jesus and the Chief Priest agree to the terms of the agreement.

The Chief Priest asked his question and laid his cards on the table,

Now it was Jesus’s turn.

 

Allow me to pause for a moment

To share insider information

That will allow us to make sense of our Lord’s response.

 

Judaism at the time of Jesus,

As it is today,

Was not monolithic or homogeneous.

All Jews did not share the same world view.

Jewish leaders and followers alike

Disagreed over theology and beliefs about God.

Though there was one Temple,

Located in Jerusalem,

There was a rich diversity of Jewish thought and faith,

Much like there is a rich diversity of

Both Jewish and Christian thought and belief today.   

 

The fabric of Jewish diversity was quite beautiful.

There were numerous Rabbinical schools,

Each holding instructional classes right on the stairs of the Temple.

Each school was taught how to interpret Hebrew scripture

By a recognized Rabbi.

Students were attracted to a Rabbi who shared their world view,

And the Rabbi taught from his tradition.

Each Rabbi taught from his own beliefs and experience.

There were the ultraorthodox in one corner

And the liberal reformed Rabbis in the other.

There were conservative Rabbis on one side

And progressive Rabbis on the other end of the spectrum.

There was unity on the essentials,

… Creation, Covenants, and Torah …

On everything else, not so much.

Not so much.

 

There were also differences in first century Judaism

Between sects and orders;

Think Pharisees, Sadducees, Levites.

Think about the End-Time Apocalyptic nut jobs out in Qumran,

in the desert by the Dead Sea.

Think about John the Baptist

Who had taught and, in a new twist of things,

Was baptizing followers in the Jordan River.

There were many and as-sundry Jewish sects, orders, and factions.

 

Geography also helps define differences of world view

In early, first century Judaism.

Much like today,

Rural people tend to think differently

Than city folks.

Wages were different.

Education was different.

Rural Jews tended to support and defend their local Synagogue and Rabbi,

While resenting the fact that they were pressured to pilgrimage

To the one-and-only Temple in the big city

To make their sacrifice and pay their tax.

Rural Jews chose their Rabbi

Based on the world view they supported.

 

The Chief Priest of the Temple

Was the elite of the elites.

He was the aristocracy,

Rich, powerful, born of Temple lineage.

He was the steward of Temple theology and teaching.

He was empowered by Rome to keep the peace at all costs.

His world view valued stability;

Bank deposits being made,

People being placated,

Enemies made to disappear,

Friends being rewarded.

The trains had to run on time.

 

The elders of the Temple,

Of which are mentioned in the Gospel,

Are the Sadducees,

Who were in harmonious political and theological alignment

With their Chief Priest.  

 

Amid all these diverse, competing Jewish world views,

Conservative vs liberal,

Rural vs urban,

Wealth vs poverty,

Power vs the powerless,

Privilege vs virtual slavery,

Jesus believed the Temple Priest and his elders

Had a short-sighted, selfish world view and belief system.

They neglected their neighbors.

They supported the powerful.

They upheld the status quo;

often at the terrible expense of their own people.

 

Jesus was a rural bumpkin.

They were the urban elite.

This put Jesus right in their cross-hairs.

 

One of the raging topics of debate

Between these diverse Jewish points of view

Was the status of John the Baptist.

Everyone had an opinion and most were free to share it,

Especially in hot debate on the Temple staircase.

 

John had taught, prepared the way for the Messiah, and baptized followers

In the Jordan River for the forgiveness of sin.

But, was he a prophet?

Or was he simply a charismatic leader?

Was his baptism valid,

… did it take away sins … or not?

As Jesus adroitly asked the Chief Priest and his elders,

“Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” (21:25)

 

They argued among themselves,

Exactly as Jesus expected they would.

 

They argued among themselves,

Just like Christians argue among ourselves today.

(O yes! The Gospel bleeds RELEVANCE!)

 

Consider the different world views of Christianity today;

The Pope, Saint Peter, the Vatican … and all of its orthodoxy;

Think about Protestant evangelical movement;

Think about Protestant social gospel movements and mainline churches;

Consider house churches and mega-churches;

Think of country churches and city cathedrals;

Consider T.V. preachers and more Bible schools and seminaries than one can shake a stick at.

 

Everyone of us, who call ourselves a Christian,

Are being challenged,

“By what authority are you doing these things?” (21:23)

 

The raging, divisive issue facing the Church today,

Like the place of John the Baptist at the time of Jesus,

From our world view,

Is all about inclusion.

Who is in? and who is out?

Do we allow pastors and priests to marry?

To marry a person of the same gender?

To celebrate the marriage of two, same gender individuals?

Do we reserve the church only for righteous people

Who are righteous according to my standard?

Who look, act, and think like me?

Or did Christ die for everyone and, therefore,

Everyone is accepted and welcome here at the table?

 

When Jesus brilliantly asked the Chief Priest and his elders,

“Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” (21:25)

It was just like asking our Council of Bishops and General Conference,

“Do you believe clergy can be gay,

Celebrate gay weddings,

And welcome all people,

Regardless of race, gender, and status into the Church?”

 

Yeah.

The similarities are pretty shocking.

The parallels call us to pay attention to our Lord’s response.

 

I will not tell you what to believe.

But I will walk with you through the parable Jesus teaches in response.

 

Here I am,

Deep into the sermon,

And I’m only starting on the parable that Jesus teaches.

“Oy vey,” you’re probably thinking to yourself,

“we’re going to be here until a week from next Thursday!”

 

No. It’s not that bad.

Jesus starts by saying, “What do you think?” (21:28)

Do you really think he is expecting a divergent response?

Something other than what he knows will be true?

Starting off with “What do you think?”

Is a clue that the parable is easy to understand

And straightforward in its truth.

 

Who does the will of the father? Jesus asks.

The son who talks the talk, but fails to walk the walk?

Or the son who fails the talk, but does his father’s will and follows through?

Of course, the son whose actions speak louder than words.

 

In other words,

Don’t tell me.

Show me.

Show me by your Christ transformed faith,

Show me by your being born again, of both water and the spirit,

Show me by your actions and behavior

… that Christ died for everyone,

That Christ rose from the dead for everyone,

And that Christ will come again for everyone.

 

Show me by your behavior that you understand the Father’s will:

That everyone is called, claimed, and gathered at this table.

When Christ comes again,

There better be no more last, least, and lost.

Jesus is taking a head count!

Everyone better be at the table.

17.JPG

 

Because if there is one who isn’t at the table?

That’s on us.

That is our failure to fulfill the Father’s will.

 

The question isn’t about judgment or morality.

The issue isn’t defined by black or white or ethnicity.

For Jesus, there is no differentiation between ability and disability.

Gender, identity, and sexual preference hijack the larger conversation

Jesus is bringing from rural Galilee to the be-all-end-all, stiff shirt elite in Jerusalem.

 

Jesus brings with him a new teaching about righteousness,

Which is fulfilling the will of the heavenly Father.

The heavenly Father is the source of his authority, and ours.

 

What is righteous for Jesus?

The Law, yes. Certainly.

He claimed he didn’t come to abolish the Law.

He came to fulfill the Law. (5:17)

This is how Jesus fulfills the Law:

He prioritizes the commandments

And identifies the most important, and the second just like it:

Love the Lord, and love your neighbor.

 

The righteousness Jesus introduces into the Temple environs,

Tosses over the money changers tables,

Throws the Chief Priest into a tizzy,

And leads to the genesis of their homicidal intentions.

 

The righteousness Jesus introduces to the Temple

Tosses out the laws about cleanliness and animal sacrifice.

Jesus sought out …

… Reached out …

To the unclean, just as he taught ...

Women, slaves, the diseased, disfigured, and disabled.

He not only reached out, he touched the unclean and made them well.

He taught on the Sabbath.

Jesus, himself, was willing to advance a righteousness

Deeply rooted in grace, justice, and love,

At the expense of a righteousness

Based on sin, punishment, and exclusion.

 

The sacrifice Jesus seeks is not an animal sacrifice.

Paul would later correctly observe in his letter to the Romans,

This is the sacrifice God desires:

“to present your bodies as a living sacrifice,

Holy and acceptable to God.” (Romans 12:1)

No more atonement by proxy.

No more bleeding a lamb as some sort of warped idea that the slaughter is a substitution for our blood.

 

Present yourself.

Let Christ forgive you.

Let Christ restore you.

That’s the path to holiness and being acceptable to God.

 

The righteousness Jesus introduces into the Temple

Exposes hypocrisy for what it is;

Failure to follow through with God’s will,

Especially after which

God has already given us the authority to do so.

 

Our Gospel today is a call for each of us to

Remove the insincere platitudes and promises in our lives,

And replace them with

Authentic Christian behavior,

Authentic Christian living,

Worthy of our Lord.

 

Doctrine doesn’t need to be defended

As much as the poor need to be fed that the blind be made to see.

The crusades and the inquisition ended centuries,

Let’s not relive them.

Church law doesn’t need to be enforced

As much as the diseased need to be healed and demons need to be cast out.

 

Leave the justice up to God.

Let you and me together,

Be about the business of removing barriers that separate us from each other and from our God.

Let’s you and me together invite to this Table

Everyone, leaving no one behind.

Let’s you and me together partner with Jesus

To introduce his righteousness to all,

Even to the loftiest Temples and Courts in the land.

 

We’ve been given the authority.

Use your authority wisely,

To fulfill the will of our heavenly Father.

Amen.

“Moaning and Complaining”

Matthew 20:1-16

24 September 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 

And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 

But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

 

Prayer.

 

To label a parable is to interpret it.

 

This is always a fun way to begin a Bible study:

Tell everyone to cross out the nifty title

Slipped in-between the text

In their version of the Bible

And replace it with a title of their own.

Discuss.

 

To label a parable is to interpret it.

 

For years I’d been content to accept the title given me

By the New Revised Standard Version,

The academic brand I prefer,

For this particular Gospel parable.

It is titled “The Parable of Laborers in the Vineyard.”

One might just as easily title this parable

 “The Parable of the Just and Generous Owner,” or

“The Parable of the Grumbling Workers,” or

“The Parable of the Provocative Land Owner.”

 

In a similar way,

To create a sermon title

Is to give the listeners a clue

To how the preacher is interpreting the Gospel.

“Moaning and Complaining” might lead you to believe

That my interpretation of Matthew 20

Is focused on the discontented laborers.

Had I titled today’s sermon “Grace and Generosity”

Your imagination might be led in a completely different direction.

 

To label a parable of Jesus is to interpret it.

 

What if some parables are more complicated? …

… Stacks of multiple layers of meanings?

What if Jesus desired to communicate different messages

To different audiences

Over the span of time, distance, situation, and circumstances?

What if Jesus desired a parable’s meaning to evolve over the life span

Of the person in the audience,

The disciple doing the listening?

 

At the risk of pushing this, or any other parable, for that matter,

Too hard, or too far,

I’d like to suggest there are at minimum

Three different ways,

Three different lenses,

Three different world views,

To view this parable from Matthew 20.

 

It all begins with what you call it.

 

1. Let’s title this parable

“The Parable of the Just and Generous Land Owner.”

This is the easiest, simplest, most obvious path of interpretation

Any thoughtful disciple can take.

Indeed, I have taken this world view many times

In prior sermons on this passage.

 

A just and generous land owner

Assumes that the land owner is a representation of God.

 

God is just,

exactly like this land owner.

Certainly justice is high up on God’s list of values.

A parable of a justice minded God squares itself with other teaching of Jesus.

A just God is consistent with Hebrew scripture (the Old Testament),

And a justice abiding God fits in well with Acts and the Epistles.

 

Indeed, God is faithful to his word.

Just as the land owner pays each worker what was promised,

God is just,

Making certain that everyone who is willing and able to work is hired.

All are paid sufficiently to support themselves and their needs for the day.

No one goes hungry.

Everyone gets paid.

 

God is generous, especially when it comes to

Making certain His will is accomplished.

Likewise, the land owner pays at what amounts to be a greater rate

As the shadows lengthen and the day grows long.

Money is no barrier to God winning,

Achieving and exceeding goals,

Fulfilling his will,

Bringing in the harvest.

 

When viewed through the lens of a just and generous God,

Our Lord’s parable casts God as the ultimate landowner.

It gives him the sufficient goodness

And true-to-you-word honest integrity

To be a loving, understanding God.

God uses all of the created order for God’s good and will,

Even if we fail to see it.

In Jesus’ earlier words,

“God’s perfection is exemplified in God’s rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:48)

 

In our world of a just and generous God

Jesus chides us to stop moaning and complaining!

Stop with the envy and resentment.

Don’t complain about what others receive,

and don’t complain about what you think you deserve.

Stop viewing the world as if you’re looking with an evil eye or an angry heart!

 

Jesus brings encouragement to be thankful for the God we got.

Every promise is kept.

Every need is met.

Like the story of God liberating the children of Israel from slavery, and

like the story of the cross …

… of how Jesus liberates us from sin and death …

… our parable for this morning isn’t about worldly wisdom.

It is a story about divine grace;

of God’s unlimited love and concern for every, last one of us.

It isn’t about what we deserve

but rather it is about what we all need,

and how God generously provides,

sometimes even when we don’t deserve it.

 

But, perhaps today

Jesus is calling us to label his parable differently.

 

2. Let’s consider titling this parable from Matthew 20

The “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere Parable.”

 

No.

I’m not talking about justification for drinking.

 

If we call this parable “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”

We are freed to pull back the curtain

And have our assumptions about normal life deeply challenged.

Perhaps Jesus intends the focus of this parable to be

Those who are last hired,

Those who had to wait until five o’clock to be chosen.

 

In doing so,

The land owner is cast in a much more negative view.

Indeed, one could not associate God with the wealthy land owner.

Take God right out of the picture.

Think of the wealthy vineyard owner as nothing more than a shrewd businessman.

The land owner,

Desperate to bring in the harvest,

Approaches the last to be hired and asks,

“Why are you standing here idle all day?”

They said to him,

“Because no one has hired us.” (20:6-7)

 

Who is in the employment line at five o’clock in the afternoon?

Who are the last to be chosen?

Well, it certainly wasn’t the strongest workers.

It wasn’t the vineyard workers with the greatest experience.

It wasn’t the most efficient or most able.

Neither was it the brightest, smartest, or best able to put together

A fancy resume and have it printed on premium paper.

 

Those hired at five o’clock in the afternoon were the disabled;

People who were physically and mentally frail.

Standing on this street corner was

The single mother who fed her 3 children tea for lunch

Because she had no food in the cupboard.

(By the way, they are home alone, without a baby sitter or day care)

 

Waiting in his wheelchair is the man who had been

Shunned by his parents and shamed by his peers.

At five in the afternoon there

Was that kid on the autism spectrum

Rolling his head back and forth

Who’d been bullied by others and told all his life

That he’d never amount to anything.

The homeless, the diseased, the addicted,

And all the residents from the local asylum and poor house

Were the last ones remaining on that street corner,

Waiting in the hot sun,

Patiently,

All-day long.

They were the most desperate to earn a check.

Yet, they were the most willing to work to the best of their abilities.  

 

“Why are you standing here idle all day?”

When I hear the landowner ask this question,

I get mighty angry.

 

They said to him,

“Because no one has hired us.” (20:6-7)

This makes me want to cry.

 

Calling this parable taught by Jesus

“It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere Parable”

Describes a normal way of life and blows it up.

Blows. It. Up.

This turns everyday life inside out and upside down.

Be careful, because

This world view is revolutionary.

It better aligns this parable with the Beatitudes earlier in Matthew.

 

Blessed are, Jesus teaches us.

Blessed are …

The poor,

Those who mourn,

The meek,

Those who hunger and thirst.

Blessed are …

The merciful,

The pure in heart,

The peacemakers.

And blessed are the persecuted.

 

We are forced to bless others even when we feel

They’re all a bunch of freeloaders

Gaming the Medicaid system for additional food stamps.

We are forced to bless others even when we feel like

The boss is cheating me out of overtime and

I’m working myself to death at my second, part-time job,

Just to make mortgage and car payments.

We are forced to bless others

Even when we feel like we are the ones being ripped off.

 

This parable exposes the

Problem with identifying people’s worth with what they earn.

It reveals how wages divide the world.

And it is like a cold splash of water in the face

Waking us to the danger of assuming the rest of the world

should be the same as me.

 

Perhaps, Jesus is suggesting,

Every life has value.

Every person is important.

Every individual is necessary to fulfill God’s will,

To complete the Kingdom of God.

 

 

 

3. Let’s consider calling this parable of Jesus

“The Parable of the Provocative Land Owner.”

 

This world view builds on the previous example.

In the same way, God cannot be assumed to be the wealthy landowner.

Perhaps Jesus paints this parable in a way

That draws attention to the attitude of the landowner.

Let’s take a deeper look.

 

“I will pay you whatever …” (20:4)

It is as if he couldn’t be troubled with calculating the expense.

“Why are you standing here idle all day?” (20:6)

What are you? Blind? Or just plain ignorant?

Then, he acts like he’s poking a stick in the eye of those first hired:

“Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” (20:8)

I’m going to provoke those I hired first,

By schooling them and shaming them in front of everyone else,

That I’m paying the last hired the same amount as I paid those hired earlier.

It’s my money;

I’ll do with it what I want!

 

“Friend” he says to those who grumbled and complained,

“I am doing you no wrong.” (20:13)

Correctly translated,

“friend” is a sneer,

Intended to provoke a reaction!

 

When viewed this way

The landowner incites envy.

The landowner provokes those who brought him success.

That landowner is no God of mine!

 

How does it make you feel

When people of power and privilege and wealth

Talk down to you?

It makes me feel small.

It makes me feel worthless.

It strips away my dignity and my self-esteem.

 

Every one of those workers in Jesus’ parable

Would have to return to work the very next day

No further ahead,

With less dignity and self-respect,

More fully aware of the insurmountable gulf

That separated the rich from the poor

And the haves from the have nots.

Every one of those workers

Would return to work the next day

Knowing that there was no way to escape poverty.

There was no way up;

No way out.

 

Jesus reveals through this parable

A world where workers have no name and

Where laborers are identified as

“limitless and disposable fuel;

Bodies to be burned up.”

(Thanks to

 Rolf Jacobson, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner

 who discussed this approach

on the podcast

“Sermon Brainwave”

posted 9/23/17 http://download.luthersem.edu/media/working_preacher/podcast/561WPBrainwave.mp3)

 

I can see and hear your minds whirling.

“Workers of the world, unite!”

“That pastor Todd is starting to sound like a communist!”

Well, no.

That’s what our biased culturalism leads us to believe.

 

When workers are nothing more than fuel to be burned

Or fodder for cannons,

Then what Jesus is revealing about our world

Is a limited and false justice.

He is pulling back the curtain and exposing a world

Of justice available to the few who can afford it,

Where kids are drafted and blindly sent into the line of fire,

Where an organization hires its own investigator to conduct a so called independent investigation.

Oh, come on!

 

 

Wait.

That looks like our world!

Justice works just fine for

Those who are able to buy a plane ticket or fill their gas tanks to get out of the path of the hurricane,

Those able to donate enough money to have a building dedicated with their own name on it.

Justice works out swell for

Those who have friends in high places.

Justice works just fine for people with networks,

Who know politicians,

And who will never be eligible for the services of a public defender.

 

But,

What about those who had to ride out the hurricane?

Who are standing in a pile of rubble that used to be called “home”?

What about those who had to clean up the banquet hall after the dedication? Where good food went to waste, the bathrooms were left a mess, and where the wait staff was treated like dirt?

What about those who have been victimized,

Who filed a complaint,

Only to have it dismissed because it was decided to be “Unfounded”?

What about those who don’t have a friend,

Never knew a person in a high place,

And who lives a life alone?

 

Jesus is describing a divided world,

Not a world of relationships, healing and wholeness.

The contrast that Jesus creates with this parable

When we title it “The Parable of the Provocative Land Owner”

Is one that calls each of us into community,

Restoration, and

Healing

With each other

And with our God.

 

The world divides us;

Separates us into parties and factions,

Into casts and classes,

Into those who are saved

(those who are in)

And those who are not.

 

Scripture accurately describes the world

As “original sin”

Or, as the Apostle Paul describes it,

The work of “the flesh.”

Opposing this world

Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ,

Where God’s grace is inclusive of every individual,

Where God’s justice is sufficient,

Where God’s love is universal,

Where God’s forgiveness is unconditional,

And where God’s salvation is without exception.

 

That’s the God that I believe in.

 

When we remove the parable from the surrounding text

We are left with a preposition and a conclusion

That goes like this:

13.JPG

“The kingdom of heaven is”

Where “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (20:1, 16)

 

As you consider your own title for this parable,

Carefully consider this value statement:

“the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Does this lead you to any conclusions?

Can you see the mind of Christ,

Feel his heart,

And understand his will?

 

For some of us,

Our Gospel is a reminder of divine grace,

Not about what we deserve,

But about how our generous God provides

Sometimes even when we don’t deserve it.

For others,

Our Gospel reminds us that

Every life has value.

Every person is important.

Every individual is necessary to fulfill God’s will,

To complete the Kingdom of God.

And yet for others,

Our Gospel teaches us that

While the world attempts to divide us

Our Lord and our God

Is always at work to unite us,

To welcome into community,

To welcome into relationship,

To welcome into his kingdom

The last and the least and the lost and those who are often left behind.

 

Amen.

“Forgiveness is Harder Than it Looks”

Matthew 18:21-35

17 September 2016

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 18:21-35

 

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.

When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

 

 

Prayer.

 

Without question,

Jesus is making preparations

For his imminent absence.

What happens after he ascends to the Father?

 

He’s going to great efforts to school his disciples;

Teaching them

How to become effective Apostles

Called and sent throughout the world,

How to behave and act,

How to organize the Church,

And, of course, what to teach.

 

From this eighteenth chapter of Matthew

It’s quite clear that Jesus has a realistic expectation

About what the Church will face and how his disciples will respond.

To address these issues,

Jesus teaches with parables that exaggerate and

With directives that are amplified;

Creating, for some,

 

 

a disturbing image of the Church.

 

Disturbing?

Yes, disturbing.

Let’s think about it.

 

 

Cause a little one who believes in Jesus to stumble?

Anchor him down and throw him into the sea to drown. (18:6-7)

Tempted to stumble yourself?

Cut off your foot and throw it away. (18:8)

Tempted to look at something you shouldn’t?

Pluck out your eye and throw it away. (18:9)

 

Missing a member?

Leave the 99 surrounded by wolves,

And search for the lost until he or she is found. (18:10-14)

Have a conflict with another church member?

Go directly to resolve the issue.

If that doesn’t work, take a witness.

It that doesn’t work, take it before the church.

If that doesn’t work, keep reaching out until the sinner is returned and restored. (18:15-17)

Bind the good,

But damn to hell the sin and evil of the Church. (18:18)

 

Church.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

His expectations were realistic.

The way Jesus taught church leadership was over the top.

(It’s not like we haven’t been exposed to hyperbole in our lives!)

 

The way Jesus teaches is over the top.

 

Then Peter came and said to him,

 

 

“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” (18:21)

 

Nice try, Peter.

Nice try with that attempt to impress the Master

With that hyperbolic impersonation.

Peter probably was thinking to himself,

“If I inflate forgiveness from a one-to-one

To a seven-to-one prospect,

Jesus will be impressed with my grasp of forgiveness

And with my ability to adapt to his teaching style!” 

 

Ha! Peter.

You’re such a smart guy.

You’re not even in the same league.

“Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (18:22)

 

For those of you attempting to do the multiplication in your head,

 

 

The answer is 539.

That’s a whole lot of forgiveness.

That’s over the top forgiveness,

A command to forgive

Unlike the world has ever seen before.

 

This Gospel passage and parable

Has caused me to consider, and reconsider,

A lot about forgiveness

This past week,

Both in the context of the Gospel

And in the context of the daily life of Jesus’ disciple.

This is what I am led to share with you:

 

 

1. First, the statement “if another member of the church sins against me”

Implies some other person in the church is actually guilty of sin

And I am the victim.

Sometimes this is the case.

Sometimes, however, we mistakenly believe ourselves

To be the victim of sin,

Blaming others,

When no sin was intended or committed.

 

There have been times in my own life

When I have felt like someone hurt or harmed me,

When, actually, I wasn’t.

I was wrong.

 

I responded like every member of the Goddard family tree

 

 

With the good old fashion Pennsylvania Dutch pout-and-silence treatment.

I responded with sin of my own: unwarranted anger, hurt, and judgment.

Many times it is my wife, Cynthia, who wakes me up to my error.

Other times awareness comes through reflection, prayer, or therapy.

Awareness of my own fault

Calls me back to the altar of forgiveness.

 

2. Secondly, I believe it is important to distinguish between

 

 

An apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

To compare and contrast these three …

… apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation …

Allows to more fully explore our Lord’s Gospel instruction and intent.

 

 

An apology is simply “a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure.

(Definition by Google)

An apology begins with self-awareness

And ends with an “I’m sorry.”

 

Short. Sweet. To the point.

 

It begins internally.

Courage is revealed when it is taken externally to the one who was hurt.

Saying “I’m sorry”

Is the foundation,

The beginning step that leads to healing.

That courage is the catalyst that can propel the offended

To the next step towards healing

 

Our prayer of Confession each-and-every Sunday during worship

Serves as our apology to God

For our offenses and failures

From this past week

And beyond.

 

Our Lord’s response is Holy Communion,

Sharing His Body and Blood.

The gift of the cross

Is Christ’s response to our apology.

 

Let that sink in for a moment.

 

Contrasting with an apology,

 

 

Forgiveness is the next step on the journey towards healing.

Forgiveness is intentional and voluntary.

Forgiveness does not require the participation of the offender.

Forgiveness is an internal process

“by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.”

(Definition by Wikipedia)

 

Forgiveness sets you free.

Working through the hurt,

Drawing insight about what happened,

Making a decision to let go of the anger and grudge,

Rebuilding your safety net …

All this is an intentional decision to move forward

And not dwell in the past.

The past isn’t erased,

But the painful memory from the past is changed

Into an optimistic hope for the future.

 

Pain from our past

That is transformed into hope

Is God’s gift to us when we make the decision

To engage in the hard work of forgiveness.

Jesus wants us set free;

Free from our sins,

Free from the hurt others have done to us,

Free from everything that inhibits us from moving forward with hope.

 

We’ve got to want it.

We are called to do it.

Take responsibility, Jesus tells us.

Forgive.

Be forgiven.

 

Unlike an apology and forgiveness, which are internal,

 

 

Reconciliation is interpersonal;

Between two people.

Reconciliation requires the work and cooperation of two individuals,

The offender and the victim.

Therefore, reconciliation is not always possible.

It is terribly frustrating when one desires reconciliation,

But their efforts are rebuffed by the other,

Preventing healing to take place.  

 

Standoffs can take years.

Barriers can remain for generations.

 

Reconciliation requires dialogue;

The two parties to sit down and talk,

To sit down and listen to one another.

Stories need to be exchanged.

Hurt must be expressed.

 

Like lancing a boil

Remorse must be genuine and authentic.

Restoration must be made.

Repentance, with the vow to never re-offend,

Is the beginning of rebuilding trust.

That’s reconciliation.  

 

Reconciliation is complete

When the kingdom of God is complete,

Sin is no more,

And the relationship between God and humankind

Is completely and eternally restored.

 

3. Third. Our Gospel lesson from Matthew 18

 

 

Tells us about the intensity and frequency of forgiveness.

 

Forgiveness isn’t a one-and-done type of thing.

One doesn’t forgive then “get over it.”

Forgiveness is a process,

Ongoing,

That never ends.

 

Forgiveness never ends.

 

Early on, when one makes the decision to begin forgiveness

With the goal to be freed and have hope restored,

The intensity will be enormous.

The pain is raw and visceral.

The offense still hurts.

But, with time, and with intentional effort,

Intensity does lessen its grip.

Air returns to the room.

Despair fades.

Hope grows.

It’s almost possible to taste God’s gift of freedom.

 

 

Time doesn’t heal old wounds by itself.

Time must partner with an intentional effort to forgive.

 

I’m still working on forgiveness from thirty years ago.

I’m still working on forgiveness from what I’ve done

… And from what has been done to me …

Just this past week.

 

Forgive.

Be forgiven.

Keep at it.

It only gets better.

 

4. Lastly, it is important to observe

From our parable for today

 

 

That forgiveness always has a social consequence.

The other slaves witnessed the injustice being committed

And reported the offense directly to the king.

 

There is always a ripple in the social fabric

When forgiveness is made

And when forgiveness is withheld.

 

The social reality of forgiveness

Is easily understood when viewed through an economic world view,

Like how Jesus constructs this parable.

Money that is loaned, debts are paid or debts are forgiven;

Or not.

Courts award fines in an awkward effort to maintain a semblance of justice.

We western, modern Americans understand money.

Money is quantifiable. Countable.

We understand money.

So Jesus’ parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Is easily understood by most of us here today.

 

But what if we view our Lord’s command to forgive

Frequently and lavishly and extravagantly

Through the world view of a victim of a violent sexual assault?

Forgiveness might take a lifetime,

Or it may never come at all.

 

If, thanks be to God, the victim of a violent sexual assault

Is able to bring herself to a place of forgiveness,

What happens to the rest of the world?

Other victims?

Other families?

What takes place in the thoughts of future jurors sitting in a court room?

Does this bring healing to the police officer who completed their investigation and made an arrest?

Or is the police officer disgusted with a victim’s forgiveness

And testimony at sentencing?

 

Are there other world views through which we can

Discover new characteristics of forgiveness?

I suspect there are.

 

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Forgiveness not only changes the victim.

Forgiveness changes the world.

 

This is Christ’s intent.

Forgiveness must be frequent, lavish, and over the top.

Forgiveness must be enormous, beyond imagination.

Forgiveness must be ongoing, tenacious, relentless.

 

On our journey towards reconciliation,

Jesus recognizes that

Not everyone will be able to turn that corner of forgiveness,

Not everyone is capable of forgiving and being forgiven.

This is precisely where life intersects with faith,

Where atonement compliments our failed efforts,

Where Jesus completes forgiveness

And we are set free.

 

 

What is unforgiveable to me,

Is forgiven by Jesus Christ.

 

Seven times seventy-seven is over the top forgiveness!

To the best of your ability

Be the forgiveness in this world.

Set yourselves free and set others free.

What happens when and where

You and I fail to forgive

Or are unable to forgive?

Leave the rest up to Jesus.

His cross will do the rest.

Amen.

“More Than Mere Recipe”

Matthew 18:15-20

10 September 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 18:15-20

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 

 

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

 

 

Prayer.

 

 

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

 

This simple statement is a core value

For everything from successfully franchising a business

To solving advanced mathematical equations.

 

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

 

 

There is a beauty to mathematics

That slowly revealed itself to me in high school and in college.

As I took more classes, I understood more, and I got better at it.

My grades improved with every mathematics class I took.

 

I appreciate the logic that serves as the foundation for math.

It is the same foundation that served Sir Isaac Newton 350 years ago.

And that same foundation served the Babylonians two-thousand years before Newton.

 

A mathematical proof that displays

Symmetry, simplicity, efficiency, and purpose

(In my humble opinion)

Provides a natural elegance that is unmatched in the natural world.

 

The recipe is proof,

Confirmed by theoretical mathematicians

Who have built on the historical work of predecessors.

Proofs, like Supreme Court decisions, are built on prior proofs.

There are always new hypothesis to make

And new proofs to be solved.

Like cooking, there are always new dishes to create.

 

The role of the applied mathematician

Is to find the right recipe for the problem or puzzle at hand and

Add the data.

In our age of server farms, parallel processing, and super computers,

Applied mathematicians simply

Wait for the results to flow in.

 

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

 

 

Order a Big Mac from any McDonalds on the planet

And you can be reasonably assured that your hamburger

Will look and taste the same.

From Jerusalem to Johannesburg,

From Miami to Manilla,

The McDonalds franchise employs the same recipe.

 

McDonalds, and every other successful franchise,

Teaches managers and line workers the same curriculum,

Arranges the same supply streams for every ingredient,

And will even go to the extra effort to

Design, build, and deploy the same cooking ovens, efficient kitchen layouts, and production processes to every restaurant.

 

The recipe becomes baked in as dogma;

All in the name of quality control,

All in the effort to serve every customer the same hamburger

That satisfies expectation

Based on prior experiences.

 

The same sandwich from McDonalds,

Like the same cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts,

Is the result of a very disciplined approach to the axiom:

 

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

 

Our Lord’s instruction today,

As uniquely recorded in the Gospel of Matthew,

Appear to be the perfect application to this approach.

Jesus offers a three-step recipe for predictably resolving church conflicts.

 

 

This is how it works:

·        First, go and try to resolve your conflict one-to-one.

·        Second, if step one is unsuccessful, return with one or two witnesses, and try to resolve the offense.

·        Third, if steps one and two are unsuccessful, take your conflict before the church and allow the church to resolve the issue.

Sometimes, Jesus correctly observes, even these disciplined steps fail.

If this is the case, Jesus instructs his disciples

To treat the unrepentant offender as a Gentile and a tax collector.

 

I’ve learned this past week

That many congregational and community churches

Have this three-step recipe for dealing with intra-church conflict

Written right into their church constitution and bylaws.

Certainly every mainline denomination that takes the Gospel seriously

Teaches this approach to conflict resolution

In the pulpit and in the classroom,

From the cradle to the grave.

United Methodists have baked this simple and efficient,

Christ directed process, directly into dogma,

It’s found in The Book of Discipline.

 

Of course,

The results have been perfectly predictable:

 

 

The church is absent of conflict

And all Christians live in harmonious bliss.

(I’m trying not to break a smile

Or bust out laughing!)

 

What gives?

 

We followed the recipe,

Yet, we still live in conflict.

Progressives are pitted against conservatives.

Just one example:

We are embroiled in bitter debates over human sexuality that threatens to divide the denomination.

 

The debate over sexuality and gender

Is only the tip of the iceberg.

Politics spill over into congregations,

And pompous, partisan popular-ism is

Breading hate,

Sowing seeds of discrimination,

And fanning the flames of violence.

 

What gives? Pastor Todd.

 

 

If Jesus gives us the cure, why aren’t we using it?

 

If life was only so simple, we sigh.

If only life was so simple.

 

Hum.

 

 

Simple.

Think about it.

Simplicity; it’s a clue.

 

Simplicity is necessary for our axiom to be true:

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

 

Most of our conflicts are simple,

And, therefore, are easily corrected when we

Faithfully and dutifully apply

Our Lord’s three-step recipe for conflict resolution.

Most conflicts are so simple, they are resolved at step one.

“I’m sorry. I should have held the door open for you.”

“No problem. I always appreciate the assistance.”

“Next time, I’ll try to be more thoughtful.”

Forgiveness takes place

Everyone goes home happy.

 

The problem that we face,

The problem Jesus correctly identifies,

 

 

Is that sometimes human nature isn’t quite so simple.

There might be too many variables,

Too many competing motives,

In our lives and intersecting world views.

 

Each variable threatens the predictability of the outcome.

The more variables

The higher the likelihood

Our expected batch of grandma’s delicious chocolate chip cookies

Will come out of the oven

A melted mixture of in-eatable mush.

 

Once Jesus lays the foundation

For the simple application of conflict resolution

Which proves successful for the majority of conflicts,

Jesus pivots

To address the more rare but highest profile disagreements.

 

Jesus steers us in an important new trajectory

When he teaches his disciples,

 

 

That if none of these three steps resolves the conflict,

“let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” – Matthew 18:17b

 

This isn’t a catch all

Terms of service agreement

approved by the company’s legal team.

This isn’t a cover your backside strategy used by Jesus

to address every possible conflict and force a one-size-fits-all solution.

 

 

Treating those with whom we have unresolved conflicts with …

Treating them … as Gentiles and tax collectors

Is a consistent application of Jesus’ core values.

Treating those who have sinned against us

As Gentiles and tax collectors

Is how Jesus reached out in mission and ministry.

Reaching out to gentiles and tax collectors is  

Christ’s approach to a broken world.

 

Who did Jesus reach out to?

Gentiles!

You know, Gentiles

Like soldiers and their household, Canaanite women, and widows.

 

Who did Jesus reach out to?

Tax collectors!  

You know, tax collectors

Like Matthew and Zacchaeus.

 

How did Jesus do it?

 

 

With abundant, overwhelming grace,

With lavish, exorbitant forgiveness,

With universal, unconditional acceptance.

7 times 77. That’s how much.

7 time 77 is the abundant forgiveness to be applied.

That’s so much grace,

That’s so much forgiveness,

That’s so much love,

Christ’s outreach can only be considered Divine.

 

How did Jesus do it?

With amazing love,

Such amazing love

That He was willing to die for me.

 

 

Amazing love, how can it be?
That you, my king. would die for me
Amazing love, I know it's true
Its my joy to honor you
Amazing love how can it be?
That my king would die for me
Amazing love I know it's true
Its my joy to honor you
In all I do
I honor you

(Chris Tomlin lyrics)

 

Yes, Jesus allowed the rich, young ruler to walk away disappointed,

And, yes, I believe Jesus would allow us today

To let a disappointed, disgruntled member of the church walk away.

But Jesus never intends this to be

The end of the story or

The final word.

Jesus gives to each of us disciples

The responsibility to continue reaching out,

Never giving up,

Never letting go of the unrepentant.

 

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In the Church of Jesus Christ,

There are no throw away or disposable people.

There are no irresolvable conflicts.

 

When people get angry and church blows up,

As Jesus knew it inevitably would,

Jesus wants us to respond with abundant grace and amazing love.

Pay attention to how Jesus reached out to Gentiles.

Note how Jesus reached out to tax collectors.

Watch for how Jesus approached the broken, diseased, and castaway people of the world.

 

Go and do likewise.

Go and do likewise.

 

One final note.

 

 

Jesus promises

Where two or three are gathered in His name,

Jesus is there among them.

– Matthew 18:20

 

This appears to be a simple enough of a principle.

With every ounce of my pastoral authority,

Allow me to encourage us

To behave accordingly.

 

 

Live as if Jesus is in the room.

Because he is.

 

Affirm, or bind, all that is good and Godly,

And do it with authority,

Because Jesus is among us.

 

Reject, destroy, or loose, all that is opposed to God,

And do it with authority,

Because Jesus is right here by our side.

 

Let the chips fall where they may,

But always act for what is good, right, pure, and just.

Always err on the side of God.

Err on the side of abundant grace and amazing love,

Because this is the Good News Jesus calls us to bind and proclaim.

He supports us in our worship and in our study,

In our homes and in our places of employment,

In our lives and in our hearts.

“Low I am with you always, to the end of the age,” – Matthew 28:20

Jesus promises.

 

May we never forget,

May we never take for granted,

Jesus remains present in our lives today.

 

 

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

 

While this may be true for most of life,

We are all aware that conflict and disagreements,

Belief and faith,

Grace and love

Are sometimes more complicated than a simple axiom can address.

All conflicts cannot be resolved using 

A simple three-step recipe.

 

Love is more complicated than a mathematical algorithm.

Christ’s love, forgiveness, and salvation is more than personal;

There is a community component to it;

There is a Kingdom of God component to it, too.

It’s complicated.

 

Life is complicated.

We can only do life,

 

 

We can only find true fulfillment in life,

By embracing the grace and love of God,

And spreading it thick and generously throughout every aspect of life.

 

Share the grace and love of God

Especially with those with whom we have unresolved conflicts,

Knowing we can’t give up

And we can’t do it alone.

We are dependent upon Christ,

The strength and authority of Jesus,

Already present,

Already with us, and

Already by our side.

 

Amen.

“Making Church Strong”

Matthew 16:13-20

27 August 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 16:13-20

 

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

 

 

Prayer.

 

It’s pretty apparent.

People do not agree on who Jesus is.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Even among my Christian friends and colleagues

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

Church councils, conferences, and enclaves for generations

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

Born of a virgin,

Expected to imminently return,

The nature of is imminence and his transcendence,

The substance of His body and blood in our Sacrament,

And His role in the Church today.

 

At the risk of sounding too self-centered

The debate in much of the contemporary American Church,

Both Roman Catholic and Protestant, is

What makes Jesus relevant to my life today?

 

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

There should be little mystery why

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

 

2.JPG

 

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

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

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

Well, some say …

But, others say …

Holy non-committal, Batman!

 

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

Or what to do with Him.

The Gospel of Matthew runs this fine line

Of embracing the world

That is conflicted and contested

With the identity and nature of Jesus Christ.

 

Thirty-two years ago

Cynthia and I traveled to Caesarea Philippi.

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

It is important to paint the picture of the environment

Where Jesus intentionally led his disciples

And initiated this Gospel discussion.

 

3.JPG

 

Caesarea Philippi is an ancient city,

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

Pagan worship ran deep, for the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians

Are known to have worshipped Ba-al at this site.

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

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

 

It would have taken Jesus two days to lead his disciples from Capernaum on the North shore of the Sea of Galilee to Caesarea Philippi.

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

Jesus wants to lead the conversation about his identity specifically

At Caesarea Philippi.

 

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

Forming one of the main tributaries of the Jordan River.

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

and related deities.

 

 

On the walls of the cave behind Jesus

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

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

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

The pagan god associated with storms and fertility.

 

Sculpted icons and symbols in the rock walls around Jesus

Created a Mount Rushmore type environment from which Jesus spoke.

From the mouth of this cave, on center stage,

Set before numerous and diverse symbols of pagan worship,

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

 

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

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

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

That would have been bad!

 

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

To make a statement,

Not only about identity,

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

Starting that day, and moving forward.

Jesus wasn’t a stone-cold monument to a transcendent god.

 

4.JPG

 

Jesus is our living, breathing, loving, personal, caring God;

An ever-present companion on life’s tumultuous journey.

This is a vitally important lesson Jesus taught His disciples.

It is just as important for us to learn today.

 

Simon Peter steps up to the challenge

With his short, succinct, persuasive elevator pitch:

 

5.JPG

 

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

 

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

The winning ticket was claimed by Peter in a pagan cave at Caesarea Philippi.

 

Jesus correctly observes that flesh did not reveal his identity.

In other words,

It wasn’t the pagans,

The Romans or the Greeks,

Who revealed to Peter who Jesus is.

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

Peter’s statement of faith is based on

A personal encounter with Jesus

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

 

This essential truth from this Gospel passage

Clearly marks the lines of responsibility when it comes

To establishing and implementing

God’s policy manual

For leading a Christian life.

We disciples,

Are charged with introducing people to Jesus,

Creating the personal encounter with Christ.

That’s it.

We do the introduction.

Then get out of the way.

God does the rest.

 

It is through that introduction,

Through our clear, concise, succinct elevator pitch,

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

God finds a way to nest into their contextual setting.

God finds a way for each individual

To be discipled and educated in the ways of Jesus,

That Christ may become relevant in the spiritual life and journey

Of every called and claimed Christian.

 

This is our pitch.

This is our song.

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

 

6.JPG

 

Introduce people to Jesus.

Trust that God will do the rest.

 

Do not worry about our Jewish or Islamic friends;

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

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

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

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

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

With each of us individually,

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

 

Peter is likened to a rock,

Petra, in the Greek,

And upon this petra foundation,

Christ will build his ekklesia,

Jesus will build his Church.

Peter is rock strong.

Jesus is Church strong.

 

You will notice

I’ve put in the bulletin this morning

 

7.JPG

 

Information about hashtag #ChurchStrong

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

Ask a friend, or ask your grandchildren.

They’ll show you how.

 

I’ve done this to encourage you

To drop in the hashtag #ChurchStrong as you talk about

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

Doing so will allow us to search #ChurchStrong,

Read each other’s replies,

And witness to the world

That we follow Jesus,

As built upon Peter, the rock.

 

Let me start the conversation

About what makes #ChurchStrong,

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

Your thoughts, your beliefs,

About what makes Church Strong.

 

 

1. #ChurchStrong

Live an honest, authentic life.

Live humbly.

Live righteously.

Follow the rules.

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

Purge hypocrisy right out of your life.

 

 

2. #ChurchStong

Love God.

Love neighbors.

Lead with your heart.

Be kind in every circumstance,

Especially when the spiritual forces of wickedness attack you.

Be passionate in your love of God and neighbors.

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

 

 

3. #ChurchStrong

Speak and act with conviction.

Make a commitment, and keep it.

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

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

Testify how God is at work in your life

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

Take a stand for that which is just, honorable, and true.

 

 

4. #ChurchStrong

Praise God.

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

Praise God in your prayers and in your devotions.

Praise God in your work and in your relaxation.

Praise God at home and together in weekly worship.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Never stop praising God.

 

 

5. #ChurchStrong

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

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

But giving up your VIP seat for someone more deserving.

Being Church Strong means being the compassionate hands of Jesus

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

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

 

Church of Peter,

Be #ChurchStrong.

Body of Christ,

Testify to who Jesus is:

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

Tell the world why God has sent us His Son:

 

13.JPG

 

Just as Peter had a personal encounter with Jesus,

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

Be #ChurchStrong.

Amen.

“Five Loaves and Two Fish”

Matthew 14:13-21

6 August 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

 

Prayer.

 

The day began as if

 

it was a Game of Throneskind of day.

 

Over the past six weeks, or so,

I’ve been watching the HBO series, Game of Thrones.

This seven-season fictional story is not for children,

For woven into an interesting plot and story line

Is an orgy of sex and endless violence.

Every episode results in treachery, assassinations, and beheadings.

This is television for

Mature audience ONLY!

 

Set in a medieval environment,

This fantasy is about seven kingdoms, blood lines, and families

Vying to claim the throne

or fighting for independence from the throne.

The narrative reminds us of power and its temptation,

Ambition and its danger,

Wealth and its abuse.

Do not read the books or watch the series if you are one bit squeamish!

 

The day began for Jesus as if it was a Game of Throneskind of day.

 

Jesus had been rejected by his own family.

He had returned to his hometown of Nazareth

Where he had taught in the synagogue.

But those in attendance,

Family, friends, and neighbors

Challenged the upstart.

They probably remember his childhood,

Growing up in the village,

Drawing water from the common well,

Working as a common laborer with Joseph.

 

Where would a hired hand or a day laborer gain wisdom

To teach in the synagogue?

Was wisdom to be found in the common well’s leaky bucket?

What could a carpenter’s nail teach him?

What could a stone mason teach him that could be proclaimed in a synagogue?

It’s one thing to come from one of the esteemed rabbinic schools in Jerusalem,

But it’s something altogether different

To espouse knowledge you do not have

And wisdom you have yet to achieve.

 

So they took offense, rejected him,

And according to Luke 4,

The crowd took Jesus to the brow of a cliff outside of town

With homicidal intentions.

Jesus miraculously walks through their midst,

And simply leaves,

Never to return home again.

 

It was a Game of Throneskind of day for Jesus.

 

At that same time,

The Gospel of Matthew reports (14:1)

King Herod is entertaining his own birthday party.

It was a feast for the nobles, the lords, and ladies;

The elite of the elite,

The top one percenters.

Herod’s self-thrown party was

An orgy of food,

An excess of alcohol,

Puffed up pride,

Exaggerated entitlement,

Topped off with a dab of testosterone

A dollop of estrogen,

And a whole lot of unmentionable behavior.

Oh, and the room was certainly filled

With guards, soldiers, and an excess of weapons.

 

What could possibly go wrong?

 

To satisfy his drunken, sexual fantasy

And . seduce his brother’s daughter,

Herod agreed to kill John the Baptist

And deliver his head to her on a platter.

 

Jesus and John the Baptist had been close.

John prepared the way for Jesus, God’s Son, the Messiah, to come.

John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River,

Giving Jesus the start of his earthly mission.

John had encouraged his disciples to ally themselves

And become disciples of Jesus.

Their lives were tightly woven together in the fabric

Of God’s unfolding will and salvation history.

 

In a Game of Throneskind of setting,

John was beheaded,

And the tragic news had reached Jesus.

 

Be patient.

There is a reason for me to lay this foundation

Of a Game of Throneslike background for today’s Gospel passage.

 

One can only imagine the grief and mourning

That descended upon Jesus;

When Jesus withdrew from there in a boat

To a deserted place by himself.  (14:13)

 

But the crowd would not allow Jesus to find solitude or to mourn.

One can only assume this crowd

Was the crowd

Who Jesus had been teaching parables from a boat

As they crowded the seashore.

The crowd’s needs were too great.

They wanted to know more.

Their sick needed to be cured.

What a contrast with the crowd

Jesus had just left back home in Nazareth.

 

They followed Jesus along the shore

Until Jesus looked upon the crowd and had compassion. (14:14)

This is a common characteristic of Jesus;

When he looks upon a crowd,

It draws out and wells up his compassion.

 

Pause for a moment to compare and contrast

The guests at Herod’s orgy

With the crowd of five-thousand men, besides them women and children:

The few, the elite, the rich, the powerful, the full

… in Herod’s palatial estate …

Verses

The many, the poor, the needy, the hungry

… in a field, in the wild, overlooking the lake.

The kingdom of this  earth,

The kingdom of Herod

Could not be more opposed

To the kingdom where God’s compassion flows.

 

It is nearly impossible for us Western Americans today

To understand the depth and complexity of food, nutrition, and eating

In the life and times of Jesus.

We are accustomed to eating until we are full

At every meal, usually three times a day.

 

 

The National Institue of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Estimates that 68.8 percent of adults are overweight or obese,

35.7 percent of adults are considered to be obese,

And 6.3 percent of American adults are extremely obese.

(https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/overweight-obesity)

Almost everyone eats until we are full.

Given my history, no; I’m not fat shaming anyone.

I’m simply observing …

As a people we eat until we are full;

And at the first sign of being less than full

We go in search of snacks.

 

To find a meaningful comparison with our world today,

One only needs to look to Telica, Nicaragua,

The second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere,

Where we’d serve a roll and sugar water to children at the conclusion of daily Vacation Bible School,

Knowing full well that

For many of them

A roll and sugar water would be their only meal that day.

 

One only needs to look to Tecpan, Guatemala,

Where it is not unusual for single mothers

To boil leaves and serve it to their children

As their lunch;

Their only food for the day.

Yes, there is hunger and homelessness around us,

But nothing nearby is on the scale or in the same universe

As the malnutrition and hunger of families and children

Our neighbors,

Just south of our boarder.

Nothing in our modern experience can compare

To the everyday hunger in the population

In the life and times of Jesus.

 

Herod, and those attending his birthday party,

Were the few who ate until they were full.

The rest of the population,

Like the ten or fifteen thousand in the crowd with Jesus

Never ate until they were full.

They lived in a constant, chronic state of hunger.

 

“And all ate and were filled.” (14:20a)

 

When a populist community leader feeds ten or fifteen thousand

Hungry, lower and middle-class people

It draws the attention of the power at hand.

It makes a political statement.

It demonstrates a rising threat that cannot be ignored.

The eye of Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome would be watching.

 

What Herod failed to see or understand

Was the deeper theological statement that Jesus is making

When he miraculously feeds this huge crowd of people.

Multiplying five loaves and two fish

Into a feast of abundant quantity sends a statement

To the crowd, and to us today,

That God sees our needs,

Has compassion for us when we are in need,

And responds with creative, overwhelming abundance.

This is God’s nature.

 

The God of creation

Holds nothing back.

God’s covenant blessing

To Abraham and all of us descendants continue to multiply.

Jesus feeding the crowds gathered in hunger

Was a means of communicating the fact

That God’s people can trust in God’s presence

Even in times of scarcity.

 

God’s grace and compassion is abundant.

I can imagine the twelve disciples working clean-up

Thinking to themselves,

“What a coincidence.

There are 12 baskets.

There are 12 of us.

Each basket is filled to overflowing with leftovers!

What a God!”

 

Indeed, what a God!

 

The feeding of the five thousand

Convinces me of my foundational belief,

That God gives us all that we need, and more.

Therefore, when there is anyone in want or need,

The problem isn’t with God.

The problem is with us.

 

We are a trusting, faithful people;

But only so far.

We save for a rainy day.

We set aside capital or contingency reserves.

We establish trusts, foundations, and development departments.

 

God has supplied us with all the resources necessary,

Yet, we continue to want to hoard our earthly treasures.

The first sign of unfaithfulness

Is when one person goes to bed hungry.

 

Let us be resolved to be good stewards of God’s wonderful blessings!

Let us be generous;

Trusting that God will provide for today and in the future.

Let us be compassionate like Jesus;

Trusting that it is God’s intent that all might have their needs met.

Let us work miracles like Jesus.

God gives us the power

To multiply better than compound interest,

To extend the prosperity of our table

To every family and every table in creation.

 

The feast is a part of our roots, our culture, our DNA.

It comes to us from before time and is illustrated abundantly

In our Hebrew scriptures;

In our Old Testament Bible.

Today, it manifests itself in dish-to-pass dinners,

Church picnics,

Wedding receptions,

Funeral receptions,

Pre / post worship coffee and cookies hospitality.

 

The feast is when people can come together and bless each other.

The feast is when people gather and are blessed by a loving God.

The feast is one that is an open invitation;

Everyone is invited,

All are welcome,

No one is to be excluded.

Eat until you want to more.

 

The feast of this altar table harkens back to that Upper Room feast,

A memorial, no doubt, of the love that

Led Jesus Christ to the cross,

To die for

The forgiveness of our sins

And to rise for

The salvation of the world.

At the same time,

The feast of this Eucharistic table becomes more fertile ground

When it causes us to reflect back even further,

To that rural hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee

When Jesus was filled with compassion,

And fed thousands with only five loaves and two fish.

 

Yeah.

What a God.

This is the God I follow.

This is the God who I will love.

This is a God whose love never quits, never ends, never runs out.

Come and feast at the table of our God.

Amen.

“Parables of the Kingdom”

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

30 July 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church

 

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

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

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

 

Prayer.

 

This thirteenth chapter of Matthew is truly

One of the wonders of the world!

 

Two weeks ago we heard the parable of the sower;

Three out of four sewn seeds will fail, but …

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

So too, will those who

“hear the word

(of the kingdom)

and understands it.” (13:19, 23)

 

Yeah! I want to be that guy!

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

Tell me more, Jesus …

 

Last week we heard Jesus teaching his parable

Of the weeds among the wheat.

He starts with

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

The Son of Man sows the good seed,

Then sends out his angels

To separate all causes of sin and evildoers

In in one fell swoop of final judgment.

 

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

Good wins over evil.

The righteous end up shining like the sun.

I want to be that guy;

The righteous one who ends up shining like the sun.

Boo-yah!

 

Jesus teaching in parables

From a boat

To a crowd on the shore

Is like your favorite band playing three hours

And you find yourself swelling with the crowd

Begging for a second encore.

The momentum of the first two parables

Is like an overwhelming surge

That breaks the line of defending enemies.

 

“Jesus,” voices from the crowd cry out,

“Tell us more about the kingdom of heaven!”

We want to know more …

 

In rapid fire succession,

Jesus fills in the details

With today’s five brief parables.

The kingdom of heaven is like …

 

The kingdom of heaven is like

A mustard seed.

Size doesn’t matter!

Let us not forget that the mustard plant

Is invasive as mint,

Fast growing,

And quickly becomes a tree.

From the very modest

Great things will come.

A mustard seed can move mountains,

Jesus teaches in Matthew 17:20.

What is nearly invisible

Can have an overwhelming impact.

Like in the first parable,

One small seed will produce a fantastic yield.

 

Every individual,

Every child of God

Has the potential to be the mustard seed

In the emerging heavenly kingdom.

 

The migrant farmer

will rise up and lead the fight for justice,

Fair wages and appropriate living conditions.

The homeless, single mother

Will rise up and become the leader in the community

That brings nutrition to babies,

Jobs and childcare to mothers,

And affordable housing for every family.

 

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

The one who’s family disowned him,

Who society had stigmatized,

And who was left for dead

In that inner-city drug house?

You know, the one

Found, revived, and got their life together?

The one who sobered the disease into remission

And is now making two meetings a day?

Yeah, that guy or gal

Will one day rise up

And become the researcher who finds the

Root cause, deep in the brain, of addiction …

And will find a way to reverse this neurological affliction

That transform every patient

Into a model of health and wellness.

 

Wow.

Even I have a shot!

Tell us more, Jesus!

Can you hear the crowd clamoring for more?

 

The kingdom of heaven is like …

Yeast that makes flour rise.

Without the kingdom of heaven

The kingdoms, empires, and thrones of this world

Are more like unleavened bread;

Dull, flat, and tasteless.

But when the kingdom of heaven comes ripping in

Three measures, or nearly 50 bushels of flour,

Will be transformed by teaspoon sized amounts of yeast.

That’s all it will take to change everything!

When Jesus steps in,

Through the portal that links heaven and earth,

This world is transformed and lifted up.

Jesus empowers all God’s children

To rise above life’s circumstances,

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

 

The presence of Jesus in your life

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

Jesus Christ is the power surging in your veins,

Blood of His blood, blood of our blood.

Jesus Christ gives life, health, and goodness.  

 

Wow!

Jesus, we can rise above all this.

Even I can be transformed into something worthwhile!

Tell us more about the kingdom of heaven …

 

The kingdom of heaven is like unbounded, exuberant joy!

Imagine, finding unclaimed treasure;

Chests of gold, diamonds, and jewels.

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

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

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

Yeah,

That joy!

That joy is what the kingdom of heaven is like.

 

There is great joy in the justice that Jesus brings.

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

The justice of Jesus Christ levels the playing field,

Overturns the wrongs and rights the rights.

The justice of our Lord

Brings down those who hoard the abundance God has provided.

The justice of Jesus redistributes wealth

Such that every mouth is fed,

Every family has a home and every child is clothed.

And everyone who can work has a meaningful job.

 

There is exuberant joy in the peace that Jesus brings.

With peace there is prosperity.

With peace there is security.

Imagine a world without violence, terrorism, or war.

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

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

The peace that Jesus brings

Gives us joy!

 

Oh. My. God.

I couldn’t be more overjoyed!

Jesus, tell us more about the kingdom of heaven.

 

The kingdom of heaven is like …

A merchant, a common retailer,

Who searches for and finds a valuable treasure,

Like a pearl of great value.

That merchant then is willing to

Sell everything,

Do anything,

To claim it as their own.

 

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

Obsession is the attitude every person of faith should take

In seeking out and obtaining

Everything Jesus gave his life to offer.

 

Are we obsessed with loving God?

Then why isn’t our sanctuary full?

Are we obsessed with loving our neighbors?

Then why do we continue to make enemies.

Why do we

Nurture unresolved hatred and conflicts

And enjoy watching passively while neighbors suffer?

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

Of proclaiming to the world

Good news of God’s grace,

Redemption and salvation for all?

 

Faith without obsession

Is like watering a weed.

 

SNAP!

Sweet Jesus.

The age of passive Christianity needs to be behind us.

We better become obsessed with filling up this sanctuary,

These empty pews / seats.

 

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

 

Why yes, there is.

The kingdom of heaven is like …

A net that catches everything.

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

But for now,

The net catches fish of every kind.

 

The kingdom is diverse and inclusive.

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

Just cast the net and bring them all in!

 

Stop looking for rich prospects

Who we hope will pay our bills.

Stop looking for people who look just like us

Who we hope will share the same values and beliefs.

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

 

Cast the net and bring them all in.

 

Sweet Jesus,

You’ve given us more than we expected today.

There’s more here about the kingdom of heaven

And our roll in it

Than we ever could have imagined.

 

God created you,

Gave you life,

And now

God calls you and me to spread and grow the kingdom of heaven.

You and I,

We play an important part

In leavening this world;

Transforming it and allowing the kingdom of heaven to rise.

This brings us joy!

This makes us obsessed!

Burn with obsession

Until all are brought in;

Until all love and serve the Lord.

Amen.

“Three Out of Four” or “One-Hundred, Sixty, Thirty?”

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

July 16, 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth; Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

 

 

Prayer.

 

 

“Holy Parables, Batman!”

Buckle in Disciples of Jesus.

We’re in for a lot of ‘em

Coming down the line.

 

Today’s parable of Jesus is the first of three

Over the next three Sundays.

Then, plan on seven more this Fall.

(Yes, I am kind of a liturgy nerd)

 

Some might make the claim that Matthew

Has already introduced some of Jesus’ parables

Earlier during the Sermon on the Mount.

However, many stake the claim that Matthew 13

Is just the beginning of a series of parables

Jesus is intentionally teaching

To a diverse and changing audience.

His method of teaching is intentionally parables.

 

 

Indeed, our parable of the Sower and the Soil this morning

May mark the beginning of Jesus encountering

At least four kinds of people in his future.

Of four nearly identical seeds sown on four different types of soil,

Three seeds are failures.

One seed is sown with unbelievable success.

 

Jesus will bomb with three of four future encounters.

They’re not going to end well,

Especially that one before Pontius Pilate,

Or, that one on Galgotha.

 

 

 

But, ah! That fourth.

That fourth encounter,

That fourth effort for ministry,

That fourth witness to the love and grace of Jesus Christ,

That fourth person;

The persistent woman,

That sightless beggar,

That nauseating leper.

 

 

The results of Jesus sowing ministry with that one-in-four person

Will result in an abundant harvest,

Yielding results beyond our wildest imagination;

Some a hundred-fold, some sixty, others thirty.

 

Intentional, on Matthew’s part?

Is this an intentional literary technique used by the Gospel author

To prepare the audience for Jesus’ future encounters?

I don’t know.

But, you can be certain,

This insight will be in the forefront of my thoughts

As I prepare for upcoming Sundays.

 

Although I have been teaching and preaching

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

For more than 31 years,

I’m always learning something new.

This is what I learned this past week:

 

 

The root of the word “Parable” in Greek is Para Bolē,

Meaning “putting alongside for active comparison.”

Para – put. And Bolē – alongside.

It was a name given

By Greek philosophers

 

 

To an illustration

In the form of

A brief fictional narrative.

An illustration

Used to communicate an essential truth.

Fiction.

Story.

Essential Truth.

 

Teaching in parables did provide Jesus with a sufficient smoke screen

To keep him out of trouble with the Jewish authorities

And out of jail with the Romans.

Fictional stories that communicate a deeper meaning

Are just obscure enough

To leave even the harshest critic

And most passionate district attorney

Frustrated beyond contempt.

 

But there is more to a good parable

Than just keeping out of trouble.

 

I like C.H. Dodd’s observation that

 

 

Jesus taught in parables

“to tease the mind into active thought.”

We experience today’s Gospel of the Sower and the Soil,

And we shout, “Wake up, brain! It’s time to pay attention!”

 

 

Here’s something else I learned this past week about parables.

John D. Niles advanced his theory of oral literature

In a book that came out in 1999 titled

Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral Literature.

In it Niles explores how

Human beings

Shape their world

Through the stories they tell.

Think about the world view of

Pueblo Indian healers,

Ballads sung in Slovenian market squares,

Folktales and legends told by fireside in Italy,

Jokes told at a dinner table in Des Moines,

Parables told by Jesus to crowds

Gathered at his feet or at the water’s edge.

 

Human beings shape their world through the stories they tell.

It is chiefly through storytelling that people possess a past.

Truthfully, we are more a people

Known as Homo Narrans, or storytelling beings,

Than we are Homo Sapiens, or beings of wisdom.

 

Look around.

Where can wisdom be found?

In Washington? In Albany? In Rochester?

Here in church? Standing in this pulpit?

Ah, …

But let me tell you a story:

Three men walk into a bar,

A minister, a rabbi, and a priest …

 

We are storytelling beings,

And so was Jesus.

 

 

The more work required of the listener, the better.

The mind is teased into active thought.

The more the parable is explained, the less effective it becomes;

… which is exactly why I’m not even going to address verses 18 to 23.

These subsequent verses water down the effectiveness of the point

Jesus is making.

Also, it was probably added into the text

A generation or two after

The Gospel of Matthew was

Transformed from oral storytelling to pen on papyrus.

Besides, if I have to explain the punchline to a good joke,

I might as well not tell you the joke

Because it just isn’t funny anymore.  

 

So, in today’s parable,

Let our minds be teased!

What is being compared?

Four identical seeds,

Each being sown in different soils.

Why is it being told?

It might not be as obvious as you or I think.

 

We have the added value of hindsight.

We know that followers of Christ will have a difficult time,

Especially in the first 300 years following Christ’s ascension.

Disciples and Apostles will have trouble

Fulfilling Jesus’ apostolic command

To make disciples of all the world,

Baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit,

Teaching them all that Jesus has taught.

Three out of four efforts to witness would result in

Ruin, persecution, and martyrdom.

 

Our assumption might be that

Jesus is telling this parable to give courage to his followers

Who will face discouraging failure.

Jesus would have known their future, we might assume.

“Chin up,”

We can imagine Jesus encouraging all those who follow him

With a Vince Lombardi styled pep talk,

“Don’t lose hope.”

“Don’t give in.”

 

Yet, our first assumption may be wrong.

 

 

Why is Jesus telling this crowd this parable?

A common tool for teasing the mind when it comes to uncovering the essential truth within a parable

Is to look to the point of exaggeration.

 

 

Where is the embellishment?

Where is the hyperbole?

That’s where the clue can often be found

That unlocks the answer to the question,

“Why is Jesus telling this parable?”

 

The presidential style whopper comes

When Jesus reports

That fourth sown seed yields a hundred-fold!

Some of those fourth seeds will yield sixty.

Still others will yield thirty.

To every experienced farmer in the crowd

A one-to-thirty yield was unbelievable.

A one to a hundred yield wasn’t even fathomable in this universe.

 

Here, then is the point!

Is your mind sufficiently teased yet?

 

 

Don’t be distracted by the three out of four failures

The testimony of Christ is sure to generate.

Look at the YIELD of that fourth seed!

Your results will vary, no question about it.

The hyperbole reveals the point:

Look to the YIELD!

 

In spite of the wild inefficiency of the sower,

God’s miraculous activity is apparent.

To those who sow God’s Word

There is a promise that there will be a harvest;

And boy, it’s going to be a whopper!

 

There are many in today’s world,

Some even sitting in our sanctuaries,

Who are wringing their hands,

Overwhelmed with anxiety,

Despondent over the future of the Church.

 

This is what they see:

Declining attendance.

Dwindling participation.

Schism, division, and destruction.

Loss of relevance.

Even open disdain that faith has any helpful contributions to society.

There are many who are terrified

That the Church may not have a future,

That the Church has seen it’s final harvest,

And that the Church’s last harvest

Is fading in our rearview mirror.   

 

Jesus is telling us

 

 

That there will be a harvest in our future

And, watch out, because it’s going to be great!

It’s going to be great,

Not because you or I are in control,

But because

This world is God’s world.

The master Creator is in control

And He assures us,

The future is fantastic!

 

You and I don’t know,

We can’t see,

We can’t even begin to understand

The nature and place of each human heart

Or what God has planned for the future.

We are so easily distracted by the pessimist

Who want us to focus on our three out of four failures.

We tried this, and it didn’t work.

We tried different fundraisers, and nobody came.

We tried that, and we just couldn’t get a commitment.

 

Enough already!

 

 

Look to the YIELD!

The abundant harvest is coming

Because God is in control.

The abundant harvest is coming

And our future is fantastic

Because this is

God’s seed and God’s soil.

This is

God’s Church,

God’s plan,

God’s will,

God’s creation,

And God is in control.

 

Beloved members and friends,

Let us take our place in telling Salvation’s story,

Of doing our part to shape the world

Simply by the stories we tell.

Sow seeds.

Tell the Gospel story.

Tell the parables of Jesus;

There is no need to come up with new ones.

Tell the parables Jesus taught us.

Don’t worry if some will not get it,

If some will not understand;

Expect that

Three out of four will miss the point completely.

Jesus was comfortable leaving interpretation up to his faithful.

So should we.

 

Let your mind be teased.

 

 

Look to the YIELD.

Take part in sharing the story,

Telling the story,

That will shape this world

Into God’s perfected kingdom.

The future looks fantastic!

Amen.