“Cross Talk”

Mark 8:31-38

25 February 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Mark 8:31-38

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

 

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

 

 

Prayer.

 

Lent opens many doorways.

 

Through open doors streams light;

Light

Of illumination

Of introspection

Of revelation

Of obligation.

 

 

Attempts at faithful living

During this season of

Living the Passion

Is as much about opening the doors God presents

As it is about

NOT closing doors that have already been opened.

 

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

We have felt the movement of God in our life.

We’ve been touched by Jesus.

We’ve been claimed and named.

And we’ve made sacred vows to follow him.

 

The door of conversion is only one door, however.

It is the first of many doorways that God provides

Over the course of our earthly life.

Each doorway is a gift of grace

That reveals what God wants us to see,

Inviting us to think and pray more deeply;

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

 

Of course we are tempted to close doors behind us;

To forget about our conversion,

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

To passively allow our witness to fade from memory,

To turn away from what God asks us to do.

 

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

Do not extinguish the light that has filled your soul.

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

Be the faithful;

Be the follower of Jesus Christ.

 

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

(And his disciple’s disbelief),

Comes this teachable moment:

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

 

 

“If any want to become my followers,

let them deny themselves,

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

 

The moment of proclamation;

Stating beyond all shadow of a doubt

That Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior,

Begins the journey of obligation.

This commanding obligation of Jesus is simply outlined:

Deny yourself

Take up your Cross

And Follow me.

 

The light of obligation

Streaming through Lent’s door

 

 

Begins with self-denial.

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

That is,

We place Jesus first;

Ourselves second.

 

We denial ourselves so that

We promote Jesus and his Good News

To the top of our priorities;

Before my own gratification,

Before my own self promotion,

Before my own selfish behavior,

Before family, job, or fun.

Jesus comes first.

His message comes becomes the pinnacle of my experience.

 

The price we pay to be his disciple

Is self-denial.

We surrender ourselves …

… Sacrifice ourselves …

Give up ourselves for Lent

For Jesus,

Who gave himself up for us on the cross.

 

If there is no self-sacrifice

We close the door

And deny the sacrifice that was made on our behalf.

 

 

What have you done to deny yourself?

What have you turned away from

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

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

But, let’s get serious:

 

 

What has control of your thoughts?

Your obsessions?

Your desires?

Are you ready to let it go?

This is the heart of self-denial.

 

The light of obligation

Illuminates our Lord’s command

 

 

To take up your cross.

 

At the center of Christian belief

Is the observation that

Your and my sins were atoned,

Were substituted,

By the willing sacrifice

Jesus made with his crucifixion.

Just as in ancient times

Animals were sacrificed in place of individual sins,

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

 

Take up your cross

Is the invitation

To take up your sins

Lift them up to God

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

Let Jesus take them away.

The burden of the cross is sin and forgiveness.

 

What sins have you intentionally committed?

What sins have you unintentionally committed?

What sins have been committed against you?

 

This Lent

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

It isn’t acceptable to allow sin to become

Perpetual unfinished business;

Never ending cycle of brokenness.

End the sin.

 

Forgive the sinner;

Even as we must beg for forgiveness

Forgive,

Just as you’ve been forgiven.

 

 

Forgive often.

Forgive freely.

Forgive lavishly.

Forgive repeatedly.

Forgive without expectation of being forgiven.

 

When that sinner is you,

Stop the sin.

Repent of the sin.

Vow not to sin again.

Repair the damage that your sin has caused.

And humbly ask to be forgiven.

 

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

But you will always be forgiven by Jesus Christ.

Approach Jesus with a completely humble and contrite heart.

 

 

Forgiveness isn’t natural;

Forgiveness is supernatural.

Forgiveness is simply Divine.

 

Light shines

 

 

Through the doorway

With the Jesus invitation:

“Follow me.”

Our Lenten obligation of his call

Is behavior change.

Following Jesus means we have to do something.

We have to do things differently.

 

 

Jesus’ command is simply stated:

Learn his ways,

Follow his example,

Do what he asks us to do.

 

Jesus may be our celestial stalker,

Our determined Divine bloodhound,

But unless each of us get off the stick

And learn his ways

By reading, listening, and reflecting on his Word

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

Efforts to follow Jesus without first learning his ways

Will end in religious frustration and resentment.

 

Get in the Word!

Lent invites us to live in the Word!

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

 

Learning what Jesus did

Is followed by the question

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

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

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

 

Like looking at a hurricane’s residual flotsam and jetsam

We begin the cleanup with that outstretched, helping hand;

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

We follow Jesus

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

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

 

 

Reach out.

Touch people with a smile.

Pay forward the love of Jesus Christ.

Invite people to become friends and join in the journey.

Draw friends to wholeness, wellness, completeness with God.

 

Three simple steps.

Three simple doorways

Lead us this day

To consider the blessings of Lent’s obligation;

The Light of God’s gracious journey

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

 

Follow me, Jesus asks.

There is no “EASY” button.

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

 

Being a disciple of Jesus

Requires self-sacrifice and self-denial.

Responding to the call of Jesus

Responding to the call means

We have to do something.

 

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Become someone new,

And leave the old you

Behind.

 

Walk with me

Beloved East Rochester sisters and brothers:

Deny yourself.

Take up your cross.

Follow Jesus.

Amen.

“With Wild Beasts”

1st Sunday of Lent, February 18, 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Mark 1:9-15

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

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

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

 

Prayer.

 

Welcome to Lent;

Our 40-day period of preparation by

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

This is what we do.

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

These are the disciplines we practice, especially during Lent.

 

What are we preparing for? You ask.

These traditional disciplines prepare us annually

To receive the message,

To be spiritually strengthened by the message,

That we might join with Jesus in proclaiming the message.

 

This is the message:

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

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

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

 

Hear the message.

Proclaim the message.

 

As powerful as this message may be,

We are preparing ourselves for even more:

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

By reliving and retelling the story

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

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

With the Spirit’s entry,

We are drawn closer together and closer to God.

With the Spirit’s strength, daring, and direction

We are transformed into God’s people

Called to transform the world.

 

Be transformed

That God might transform the world.

 

The first Sunday of Lent

Always begins with the Gospel account

Of the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

Matthew and Luke give elaborate, detailed accounts

Of the confrontation between Jesus and Satan.

 

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

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

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

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

You know the details.

I can still recall as a child in Sunday School

Wondering if Jesus was alone with Satan those 40 days,

Who was writing down the details?!!!

 

Our Gospel of Mark is quite a study in contrast.

There are no details in Mark.

Mark is the shortest of all the Gospel books,

And is believed to be the source document

Upon which other apostolic traditions authored their own Gospel accounts.

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

The Church concluded Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

Best reflected the core of Christian faith,

And included them into the collection of sacred texts

That today we call the Bible.

 

The brevity of Mark

Gives us a little bit more room for interpretation.

We can allow the Spirit to influence our imagination,

To lead us where it is too difficult to go

If mired down in endless details.

 

Today, we follow Jesus

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

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

Thirdly, Jesus emerges from his harrowing ordeal,

Goes north to Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God.

 

A few thoughts.

 

1. The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness

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

It has always made me wonder about this,

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

What possibly could be the motive for the Spirit of God

To drive Jesus into a confrontation with Satan?

The two greatest opposed sources of power in the world

Are destined to clash in a cataclysmic confrontation.

 

Why? is a question I cannot answer.

What we can learn by observation, however, is

Living faithfully,

With the Holy Spirit present and active

Sometimes means blessings,

Sometimes confrontation,

Nearly always, mystery.

 

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

In the Southern Jordan valley, near Jericho.

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

A difference of 3,320 feet in elevation.  

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

 

This is the wilderness where Jesus was tempted.

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

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

(That only see water once or twice a year,

When the rare Mediterranean storm clouds

Make it over the central mountains).

Think hot in the day and near freezing at night.

Think danger behind every scrub bush,

Bandits and Bedouins, around every turn,

Lurking in every canyon and cave,

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

 

Simply being in the wilderness places Jesus in mortal danger.

 

3. Forty days.

Forty days, or five weeks and five days,

Is a long time to roast in the day

And freeze at night.

Forty days is a long time to go without eating,

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

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

And when found, to stay close to water.

Forty days is a long time to think.

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

 

Forty days in the wilderness makes Jesus very vulnerable.

 

4. Temptations.

No details are given.

By definition, however,

A temptation is a desire to do something,

Especially something wrong or unwise.

Something wrong would indicate

Satan was attempting to get Jesus

To break righteous adherence to Jewish Law.

Something unwise would indicate

Satan was attempting to elevate the humanist nature of Jesus

To the detriment of his Divine nature.

 

Tempted by Satan.

It is impossible to know

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

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

What can be observed, however,

Is the fact that temptation was for forty days,

And that’s enough to break any man down.

 

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

 

5. Wild beasts.

Therion in the Greek,

Meaning a dangerous, life-threatening carnivore.

Imagine being

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

Think jackals, wolves, hyaenas, leopards,

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

(http://natureisrael.com/mammals.html#predator)

 

It is interesting to me that this little detail

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

Is this intentional? Or an oversight?

Does it make a difference? Or not?

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

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

 

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

 

6. Angels waiting on him.

Waiting, or Diekonomn in the Greek,

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

Meaning to minister, to serve.

This is what deacons do; they serve.

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

(Yes, the same word is used).

Angels ministered to Jesus,

Replacing his weakness with God’s strength.

It is important to recognize,

God’s angels are capable of serving, too.

 

Though shrouded in mystery,

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

God takes care of God’s own.

 

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

And, in my experience, God can and will

Take care of you and me, too.

 

Certainly, on this first Sunday of Lent

There are many unanswerable questions from the Gospel of Mark.

Where I believe we are called to place our attention,

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Beloved, it is a sign of faithful maturity

To be at peace with the mystery of God,

Especially when apparent contradictions cause the stomach to churn.

 

Consider times and circumstances in life

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

Are we capable of trusting in God to carry us through

Every crisis, every temptation, every disaster?

Even when drawing up face-to-face with death

And our personal faith is in danger of failing,

Can we place our entire dependence upon God,

And come to peace

Even in the presence of remaining uncertainty?

 

The tragic events of this past week

Certainly have left every parent asking,

Would our life end

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

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

The temptation to flee would be so powerful.

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Know this to be true,

Drawn from our account from St. Mark this day

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

If we depend on God,

God can take the strain.

God can bear the burden.

The Lord takes responsibility for His creation,

Especially for His children.

The Lord strengthens the weak.

God protects the vulnerable.

God calms our every fear.

And God is willing, able, and eager

To strengthen us back to health

After the crisis has passed.

 

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

 

At the end of the day,

Let us discipline ourselves.

Find rest.

Find peace.

Just as the Heavenly Father took care of Jesus,

God takes care of God’s own.

At the end of this 40-day journey,

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

 

Amen.

“Listen to Him”

Mark 9:2-9

11 February 2018

Transfiguration of the Lord

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Mark 9:2-9

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

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

 

Prayer.

 

Transfiguration of the Lord

Serves as the right-hand bookend

To the liturgical season sandwiched between

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

And Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of Lent,

Some five to nine Sundays later, on the right.

 

To know where one is headed,

It is important to know where one has been.

 

From the birth of Jesus and the angelic proclamation,

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

who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

(Luke 2:11)

To the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River,

Complete with the inbreaking and descent of the Holy Spirit

Complimented by the voice of God,

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

Our Gospel authors

(all four of them) make it crystal clear

That Jesus is the

Beloved Son of God,

A Savior,

A Messiah.

 

At the Transfiguration of the Lord

The Lord’s words of confirmation are surprisingly similar,

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

(Mark 9:7)

Beloved Son.

Savior.

Messiah.

 

Listen to him!

 

Listen.

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

It’s when God tells us to listen!

 

Pay attention!

Watch and listen.

Take in all that God is revealing today.

Take it all in.

 

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

He had been itinerating from town to town,

Preaching with authority,

Casting out demons,

Healing the sick,

And attracting huge numbers of followers.

Galilee had been saturated with Jesus.

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

Jesus was nearing one hundred.

Everyone was amazed at his teaching.

Everyone was absolutely convinced by his miracles. 

No one questioned his identity or his authority.

 

It was time to pivot.

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

 

Jesus ascended a Galilean mountain,

Bringing with him Peter, James, and John.

They weren’t brought there for the spectacular view

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

Look who showed up:

Elijah and Moses.

They do not symbolize prophecy and law

As some well-meaning but uninformed have proposed.

Their presence is the apocalyptic that every Jew anticipated,

The sign that this age was coming to conclusion.

 

The race had been run

And Jesus was on the final lap.

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

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

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

 

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

Immediately prior to the Transfiguration,

Peter declared publicly who Jesus was,

“You are the Messiah.”

(Mark 8:29)

Jesus harshly rebukes him,

And immediately turns right around

And teaches his disciples with Divine authority

That he will suffer, die, and rise again.

After today,

Jesus will repeat this important lesson,

As recorded in Mark, two more times.

 

Do not be naive!

Watch!

Listen to him!

Believe in what Jesus has to say.

 

The journey to the cross will be dark and dangerous.

The journey to the cross starts with suffering.

The journey to the cross ends with death,

A cruel, public, humiliating execution.

 

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

The coming of Messiah, it was believed,

Was the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy.

The title Messiah communicated optimism.

It was the tipping point

When the Roman and it’s legions of soldiers

Would be beaten like a junkyard dog.

The Roman era would be replaced

By a political savior,

Ushering in a Messianic era,

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

The new era,

This post-apocalyptical era would be called

The Kingdom of God.

 

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

 

Beloved Son.

Savior.

Messiah.

Listen to him!

Take it all in!

 

The spotlight is on Jesus today

And he is lit up like the Los Vegas strip.

The light that transfigures his appearance

Is given to us as a gift of grace.

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

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

Traveling with Jesus into the land of passion and shadows,

Which come to an end in darkness

On that Southern hill named Calvary.

 

When there is no light

Let the light of God sustain you!

 

The spotlight on Jesus

Might be the only memory,

Might be the only hope remaining,

At the end of our forthcoming 40-day journey.

 

Let transfiguration light guide you!

 

When they tear his lifeless body from the cross

And slide his corpse to the stone slab

For washing, preparation, and burial

All other light in the cosmos will be extinguished.

The wisp of a memory,

The near extinguished light of transfiguration,

Makes it possible to endure

His journey to death and burial.

 

Drink in his light!

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

 

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This is transfiguration’s promise:

God’s light that completely transformed Jesus’ countenance

On that Galilean mountainside

Is the same Divine light that

Will release the resurrected Jesus from his garden tomb.

 

Allow the light of God

To bring you through suffering and death.

Allow the light of God

To lead you to resurrection and eternal life.

 

“Listen to him,”

(Mark 9:7)

Our heavenly Father commands us.

Listen to him for he speaks with authority.

 

Beloved,

Be still.

Allow Jesus to speak in your life.

Take it all in;

All that he says, and

All that he does.

Take it all in.

 

Though the future path is painful,

We can, and will, endure.

Jesus is the way and the truth and the light

That leads to resurrection.

Amen.

“This is What I Came to Do”

Mark 1:29-39

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 4, 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Mark 1:29-39

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

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

 

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Prayer.

 

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

I have bumped into celebrities on rare occasions.

It has felt awkward.

Beyond a smile of recognition,

Do you say hello? Shake their hand?

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

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

 

The intrusions into privacy as the result of fame,

Must make it increasingly difficult to get work done.

It must get old.

Strong is the celebrity who does not become jaded,

Who responds with grace,

And appropriately acknowledges even the most disruptive fans.

 

In the Gospel of Mark

Our author does a marvelous job of

Recording this increasingly difficult tango.

 

 

Jesus goes from a private place to a public place,

Back and forth,

Alternating between concealment and secrecy,

And, publicity and proclamation.

The pendulum swings between messianic secrets

To our post-Epiphany theme of manifestation and revelation.

Jesus makes his public coming out,

Wading into three years of Galilean ministry,

At the same time,

He swears his followers to secrecy and

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

 

Christ is able to remain engaged in ministry

Because throughout Mark

He follows up ministering to the crowds

With retreats into privacy

For spiritual recovery,

For time to pray.

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

 

This rhythm is healthy;

A good discipline for all followers to emulate.

 

In every community he visits

The more popular he becomes,

The more difficult it gets

For Jesus to achieve success proclaiming the message.

He is forced to itinerate.

He is forced to move on.

 

 

Last Sunday,

Jesus was in the public Synagogue

Where he preached Good News with authority

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

He cast out this unclean spirit from a man

Who publicly identified him and challenged him.

Today we continue the narrative.

Jesus leaves the public venue of the Synagogue

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

 

 

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

Housing density is so high in Capernaum,

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

Think of people peeping through the windows,

Hanging from the gutters,

Looking down through cracks in the roof.

Her private residence had become a public spectacle.

 

He goes because he had been summoned.

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

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

She was sick in bed with a fever.

 

What we don’t know is:

Was she a widow?

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

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

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

What we do know is that her fever was serious because

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

There was an urgency here;

She was experiencing a health crisis that demanded immediate attention.

 

The newly called disciples turn to Jesus because

They had just experienced his preaching with authority.

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

If Jesus had that kind of power and authority

It was clear that they believed Jesus could

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

 

 

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

Trust in the power of Jesus and his resurrection.

 

Trust in the power of Jesus and his resurrection.

 

What is immensely helpful to me,

And I hope is insightful to you, too,

Is that this implies the message that Jesus brings

Is more than mere words.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is more than talk,

It’s action;

Casting out demons and healing people,

Bringing them back into the land of the living.

Jesus makes an incursion into the shadow land

of sin and evil, of

and with mercy,

brings healing and deliverance.

 

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

It’s answering the summons

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

 

 

For the Gospel to speak,

One has to act.

 

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

She began to serve.

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

 

 

“Kiakonein” is interpreted as a response of faith.

It is used to serve in ministry:

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

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

Serving epitomizes Christ’s own ministry,

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

She is an

icon of resurrection and a paradigm of Christian ministry.

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

 

The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law

Tells us what Christian discipleship looks like.

Yes, there is a message to be proclaimed,

But there is also ministry that needs done.

 

If you’re a lover of the prophet Isaiah,

You might call it social justice.

Others from a more Christ-centered, or

Christo-centric, point of view

Might call it kingdom building.

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

Might consider it relational evangelism with a missional response.

 

 

I call it living like Jesus.

 

When we live like Jesus

We reveal to the world

Christ manifest within us.

We demonstrate to the world

True incarnation.

This is truly Epiphany!

Living like Jesus means living an authentic, transparent life.

 

Christ’s message is proclaimed by

Both our words and our deeds.

 

How does this make a difference?

 

 

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

 

Go into the world,

Step into the crowds,

And start to make some friends.

 

Make friends, because you truly want to have friends.

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

Never let ulterior motives poison the relationship.

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

Don’t judge, lest ye be judged!

Temper public service and balance it with times of privacy,

Praying in a deserted place,

Or in a quiet closet,

Just like Jesus did.

 

Be humble.

It’s a privilege be a friend

Serving in Jesus’ name.

 

 

Serve simply because of the joy of serving.

Intentionally reach out to those who have no friends.

Reach out to those who have been cast aside by society

And left for dead.

Make it your purpose to love the difficult to love,

To serve those who are difficult to serve.

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

Our compassionate behavior,

Our ministry with the authority of Jesus,

Completes the message

That he came to proclaim.

 

Like Simon’s mother-in-law,

Serve simply as a response to the faith

That is developing and deepening in your life.

 

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

His message is God’s message to the world,

Not to just one demon possessed person, here,

Or one needing healing, there.

 

 

God so loved the world.

The Passion of Jesus Christ

Takes redemption, restoration, and healing beyond the personal

To the universal.

God so loved the world.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Takes salvation and eternal life from the personal

To the global;

… That the world might be saved through him.

 

Trust in the power and authority of Jesus.

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

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

 

 

The message of Jesus is spoken in the language

Of both words and actions.

This is what Christ came to do.

Go, and do likewise.

Amen.

“With Authority”

Mark 1:21-28

28 January 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Mark 1:21-28

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

 

 

Prayer.

 

When ever I’ve pilgrimaged to the Holy Lands,

The buzz amongst fellow spiritual pilgrims is,

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

In many locations,

History and tradition become so blurred

The archeological evidence often disappoints.

 

 

The synagogue in Capernaum is an exception.

We know exactly where it is at.

It has been extensively excavated.

The archeology confirms the fact that

This is indeed the location of the Jewish synagogue

That was in active use during the time of Jesus

In the village of Capernaum.

 

 

Stand at the North end,

Between the central columns facing South,

And you are standing exactly in the footsteps of Jesus.

This is where he taught with authority,

As related in our Gospel lesson for this morning.

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

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

And all were amazed at the loud, demonstrative departure

Of the unclean spirit.

 

Jesus left the crowded synagogue astounded and amazed.

 

 

Location, location, location, it is said

Are the three most important aspects of real estate sales.

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

To make sense of this Gospel lesson,

And to find useful applications for our lives,

Let us consider location.

 

A spiritual battle is taking place

With cosmic, cataclysmic implications.

 

The location of this battlefield,

First and foremost,

Is within a human person

Who had been kidnapped,

Taken hostage, and was being held

By a foreign power.

A demon had entered a man;

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

 

 

Through no fault of his own,

A demon entered this man

And began to wage war

With one of Abraham’s own covenant bound descendants.

 

The first shot was fired by Satan himself.

 

Regardless of your or my belief about demons,

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

Before we are quick to explain away Biblical demonic possessions

And make a diagnosis from a distance that

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

Let us move with caution.

 

Let us recognize some cold, hard facts:

 

 

Evil exists.

Evil is dangerous.

Evil is opportunistic, and

Evil isn’t afraid to cross boundaries.

Regardless of evil being personified, or not,

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

The power of Satan or evil in our world.

 

Jesus didn’t, and neither should we.

 

I do not like using military metaphors

When it comes to interpreting or proclaiming the Gospel.

Yet, today, it is entirely appropriate.

Spiritual warfare was initiated by Satan

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

 

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

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

This is not the case.

 

 

The Gospel of Mark plants the flag in the sand

And claims the cosmic prerogative

The universe’s high ground:

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

(Mark 1:1)

 

Jesus was no lightweight;

Jesus was the Son of God.

Jesus, Son of God, taught with authority!

 

It is with this Divine authority that

Jesus confronts the unclean spirit on the battlefield,

At the location of Satan’s own choosing,

In this formerly clean man.

 

Jesus takes off the gloves.

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

You haven’t been paying attention to Jesus

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

About the call of Simon and Andrew,

James and John).

 

Jesus has no fear.

He confronts evil

Eyeball to eyeball.

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

Even when the battlefield is your life or mine.

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

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

Simply to save the life and the soul of this man

Taken over and held hostage by a foreign power.

 

Consider the implications.

 

8.JPG

 

God values every human life.

God is willing to go to the mat for everyone.

This is an exceptionally powerful message

For those of us whose body betrays us.

 

Think about it this way:

Have you ever felt spiritually dirty?

Spiritually unclean through no fault of your own?

 

When the brain becomes diseased and betrays you,

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

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

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

Consider the shame that is felt by one

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

 

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

 

9.JPG

 

Jesus only sees you as

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

Christ is willing to fight for you!

Christ is determined to reclaim you!

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

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

 

Location, location, location!

Let us consider location,

Beyond the man.

 

 

The tip of lightening

Emanating from this slam-down

Cosmic battle of Good vs. Evil,

Of God vs. Satan,

Is taking place in the synagogue,

In full view of all the people.

 

There is no secret here.

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

The fact that the unclean spirit convulsed him,

Cried out in a loud voice,

And was cast out of the man

Gives credence to the authority of Jesus

To win over evil

And to teach with authority.

It is credible …

It is a certainty

That Jesus is, indeed, the Son of God.

 

 

The battle takes place within a structure of organized religion.

This isn’t a coincidence

Or a shear accident.

 

I’m not one to live a paranoid life,

But it is nearly impossible not to see that

Forces opposed to the Gospel

Are sometimes at work within the very

Halls, naves, and offices of the Church.

Forces opposed to Jesus

Sometimes hide in plain sight,

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

 

Christian history is resplendent with abhorrent examples

Of treachery, oppression, threats,

Violation of vows, betrayal of trusts,

Larceny, abuse, rape, mutilation,

And, yes, even homicide.

 

Christian history is stained with evil practiced in

Cathedrals of grandeur

By authorities of privilege.

Crusades.

Inquisitions.

Power and wealth that inflates egos and male hubris,

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

To make progress,

 

 

It is incumbent we

Repent today,

Confess the sins of the past,

And work in ministry for a better tomorrow.

 

Satan isn’t driven off by a wooden cross.

Demons do not fear

Doctrine, theology, or law,

Nor do they respect episcopal directives.

Holy water doesn’t scare the Devil.

Demons make it their business to cross all boundaries,

Including the threshold of the Church

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

 

No place is safe.

 

 

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

What then, are we to do?

 

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

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

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

 

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

From thenceforth, the Gospel of John proceeds.

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

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

Where he teaches from the prophet Isaiah.

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

In the synagogue in Capernaum

And he exorcises an unclean spirit,

Who obeys him.

 

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

To cover all the landscape that amounts

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

In this spirit,

We find direction when we look ahead

In the third chapter of Mark.

It is the account of Jesus appointing his twelve disciples to

 

 

1. Be with him,

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

3. To have authority to cast out demons.

(Mark 3:14-15)

 

If demons are free to attack us

Anywhere and everywhere,

What are we to do?

We are to take the authority Jesus gives us

And to attack them, too.

Cast them out!

Get rid of them; every last one!

 

The strength to do so

Comes from God,

Not from within.

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

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

This isn’t a call for judgment.

This is simply Jesus giving you and me his Divine authority

To cast out demons in our world.

Nothing more;

Nothing less.

 

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

Every resource that will be required,

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

On their turf, or on ours.

This is our baptismal vow.  

 

 

Lies are evil.

Reject lies, without exception.

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

 

Stealing is evil.

Shine light where there is darkness and deceit.

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

 

Worshipping gods other than the Lord is evil.

It’s called idolatry.

Reject idolatry and call out idolatry when you see it.

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

 

It is possible to list example after example in the Bible

Of tactics and strategies,

The Devil uses to oppose Christ,

To pick a fight,

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

 

 

What are we to do?

 

We are to go on the offensive.

Take the authority of Jesus

To renounce and reject sin,

To cast demons out of everyone being destroyed by sin,

And to allow Christ to claim victory,

To reclaim and bring healing

To those wounded on the spiritual battlefield.

 

What are we to do?

 

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

Temper behavior and live righteously.

Surround ourselves with other disciples of Jesus.

There is strength in numbers.

Other disciples also hold us accountable,

Even as we are to hold others accountable.

 

What are we to do?

 

Love God.

Love neighbor.

Evil has nothing to gain

And is unable to establish a foothold in attacking those who

Live a life in God’s love and grace.

 

What we shouldn’t do

Is set back and do nothing.

We shouldn’t play prevent defense with the Devil.

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

We shouldn’t let others dissuade us

To fight another day

Or to fight on some other issue or battlefield.

A passive approach to evil is nothing more than lazy.

 

 

Never back down.

Never give up.

The fight isn’t between you and any individual.

It isn’t personal.

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

 

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

By his authority,

Christ is victorious.

 

 

Christ is always victorious.

With authority,

Cast out demons,

And taste the Divine victory that is ours!

Amen.

“A New Reality”

Mark 1:14-20

21 January 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Mark 1:14-20

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

 

Prayer.

 

Jesus crossed a boundary

And I’m quite certain

Zebedee was not a happy camper.

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

 

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

A very kind and thoughtful Christmas gift.

As you probably know

Leonardo was a famous painter, inventor, and scientist;

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

In 1452, or, 566 years ago.

He died in 1519, or, 499 years ago.

 

Leonardo was truly a renaissance man,

Gifted with curiosity and imagination.

He was born out of wedlock,

The son of Piero da Vinci,

A local notary,

Who, in those days and in that time,

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

He wasn’t a full-fledged lawyer;

But, he was empowered with considerable legal responsibility.

 

Notaries were held in high esteem in Italian renaissance culture.

Proud fathers passed on their training and professional credentials

From generation to generation.

Piero was at least a fourth generation Notary.

Notaries belonged to guilds,

Who maintained very strict morality requirements.

Because of this,

Leonardo was freed from the expectation of ever

Training for a profession in the law.

The guild simply wouldn’t allow it.

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

The call, apprenticeship, and profession of notary

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

 

From father to son,

Expectations have ebbed and flowed for centuries.

 

I recall from my own youth and development,

That time when I first spoke with my father

About my emerging call to ordained ministry.

Dad was a second career United Methodist pastor.

I remember my father first frowning,

Furrowing his eyebrow,

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

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

After he couldn’t dissuade me,

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

Drew, in Madison New Jersey,

And that I should immediately apply.

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

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

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

 

“Yep. I understand,” he admitted.

A son needs to make his own way.

 

From father to son,

Expectations have ebbed and flowed for centuries.

 

We can only imagine the conversation in the boat that day

Following a night of fishing on the Sea of Galilee.

Zebedee and his two sons, James and John,

Were mending their nets.

It was a routine every morning;

To repair the rips and tears from the previous evening.

The sun would have been hot and high overhead.

 

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

Zebedee, James and John would have been

Mending, working, cleaning, and carrying on

In a boat dragged on shore

That was 27 feet long and nearly 8 feet wide;

A considerable boat, indeed.

 

The boat represented the family business,

The primary capital investment,

Passed on from father to son,

From generation to generation.

 

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

Who appeared to know them

Even though

Not one of the three had never met him.

 

The invitation “Follow me”

Shattered generational expectations

With revolutionary thunder.

The world would never be the same.

A new reality was at hand.

 

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

 

6.JPG

 

That the Incarnation comes at a price.

Undoubtedly, he would have been thinking

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

Allow honorable sons to go tramping off

with the first stranger who says ‘Follow me’

Leaving their poor father in a lurch?”

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

A business to run, a family to feed!”

 

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

The Gospel of Matthew reported the slaughter of the innocents;

Certainly their grief filled parents would have understood

That the Incarnation comes at a price.

Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt until Herod’s death

And it was safe to return home.

Certainly they understood

That the Incarnation of Jesus Christ comes at a price.

 

The Gospel of Mark,

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

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

The job description isn’t at all attractive.

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

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

His call is three-fold:

 

1. To remain with him.

2. To go out and preach.

3. And take His authority and cast out demons.

(Mark 3:14-15)

 

The first two requirements for discipleship are straight forward.

It’s the third that catches my attention.

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

Was to be an exorcist!

 

Who’s up for a good case of exorcism?

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

Call out Beelzebul by name,

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

Who are possessed,

Spitting up pea soup,

Or experiencing an epileptic seizure.

The line forms here.

Not many applicants?

Whose surprised?

 

The Incarnation of Jesus Christ comes at a price.

There is a cost to discipleship.

It’s not free.

Neither is it cheap.

 

Still early on in Jesus’ ministry

His own mother and brothers call Jesus home.

You can understand their concern, can’t you?

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

Tramping around the countryside;

Attracting crowds and crowds and crowds of

Seekers, the curious, and the desperate.

 

Jesus hears his family are calling him home.

 

“Who are my mother and brothers?” Jesus asks

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

‘Here are my mother and my brothers! 

Whoever does the will of God

is my brother and sister and mother.’”

(Mark 3:34-35)

 

So much for Focus on the Family!

The price of discipleship depresses the value of the biological family

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

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

It’s no wonder Jesus’ own flesh and blood

Are whipped up in homicidal rage and

Attempt to throw him off a cliff.

(Luke 4:29)

 

Jesus,

God in the flesh,

Comes to the world,

Paying a price for our redemption and our salvation;

At the same time,

The world has a price to pay

To become his disciples,

To discern His will,

And to follow in His ways.

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

Belief and faith will form later.

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

 

The price to pay for following Jesus is more than

Dropping your nets and

Leaving your expected inheritance and family business behind.

The price to pay for following Jesus is more than

Disappointing your biological father and mother.

 

The price to pay for following Jesus is

First, deny yourself.

Second, take up your cross.

Then, come and follow me.

(Mark 8:34)

 

Following Jesus, God Incarnate, comes at a price.

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

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

They live in denial,

Wanting to shout down Jesus’ promise of suffering,

Substituting in their own delusions of grandeur -

That one-day Jesus would ascend the throne.

Peter names Jesus as the Son of Man in one breath

Only to deny ever knowing him nearly a fortnight later.

 

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

To hang your hat on his Incarnation,

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

It is important to enter discipleship with eyes wide open.

There is a new reality at hand.

Life as you and I used to know

Will be no more.

 

God has turned the world upside down.

God isn’t afraid of crossing boundaries;

 

 

11.JPG

 

In fact, at the very moment of conversion,

The Lord begins to make a habit of crossing boundaries.

Christ enters your life,

Turns over your tables,

And tramps mud all over your beautiful new carpets.

 

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

Has barely started to wane,

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

Is laid out in spades:

 

 

12.JPG

 

“You want me to do WHAT?”

“You have got to be kidding!”

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

 

Yes,

Jesus wants us to be his recruiters,

To bring to him new candidates for discipleship.

Jesus expects us

To teach his new disciples everything,

And I mean EVERYTHING!

Everything we’ve ever learned about Him;

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

 

Yes,

Jesus wants to teach you and me about radical hospitality.

Jesus expects us to open our homes and our church

And to practice hospitality that knows no bounds.

Unlock the doors and

Open the cupboards,

Set the table and start cooking!

Clean the carpets,

Make the bed,

Tidy up and make necessary repairs.

Open the curtains,

Let the sun shine in,

And welcome the world to

Enter in to God’s grace.

Anticipate the need.

Meet the need.

Exceed the need.

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

 

Yes,

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

Yes, Jesus wants us to put away the sword,

Reject violence and oppression where ever they present themselves,

And to only follow Him.

Learn and practice His ways of non-violence.

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

Take a stand and make a stand.

Do it in the name of Jesus.

Be willing to pay the price,

And when the bill comes due,

Pay the tab.

 

Yes,

Jesus wants us to gather together often,

To be with Him,

To proclaim His Word,

To celebrate His Sacrament.

Others may laugh and ridicule us.

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

So be it.

Let our Savior’s love shine through

our smile,

our gentleness,

our grace,

our every response.

 

Sometimes I wonder if any sane person,

Who knew the true cost of discipleship before being called

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

It amazes me that people answer the call.

 

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

The fact that new disciples are answering the call everyday

Convinces me

Of God’s continued presence,

Of God’s active participation,

And of God’s absolute power of conviction.

 

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

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

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

 

Remember, the Incarnation comes at a price.

Once His call is answered,

His price must be paid.

Are you with me?

Because, I am with you.

Amen.

“Speak, for Your Servant is Listening”

1 Samuel 3 & John 1:43-51

14 January 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

  

Prayer.

 

The news wasn’t good.

His brothers had been caught red handed.

His father failed to react;

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

Instead the father,

An elderly priest,

Turned and looked the other way.

 

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

No, not money.

 

 

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

Which were designated for the poor.

Instead of waiting at the end of the line,

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

These contemptuous brothers (1 Samuel 2:17)

Budged in first,

Took the choice cuts for themselves,

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

 

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The Lord calls his own to righteousness and justice.

When the crooked brothers blasphemed the Lord by their behavior

The Lord took notice.

Eli chose not to.

 

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

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

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

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

But they would not listen.

A man from God even came to Eli

To warn him that the Lord honors who honors him,

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

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

 

If the nearly blind, elderly priest

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

Perhaps the Lord had another card to play.

 

 

There was a third son,

A mere boy,

Meaning he was younger than the age of maturity,

Younger than 13.

It was time for the Lord to call Samuel.

 

The call of Samuel,

Which we have just heard proclaimed,

Is recognized as a monumental text

That has catapulted the imagination of many

And launched them into the process of discernment.

 

 

“Since God called the young child Samuel,

When is God going to call me?”  

 

Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

 

Too often,

When we hear the word “call,”

Or the Lord “calling” someone,

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

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

The Lord called Samuel to righteousness and justice,

But also to a ministry of prophecy and judgment.

The Lord had a message to send to Eli

Through his newly called child prophet, Samuel.

 

Daddy and his boys were going to pay,

And pay mightily,

For the iniquity,

The blasphemy,

Eli’s house had committed.

They would be punished.

They would pay with their lives.

 

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Justice and righteousness matter to God;

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

 

Samuel was faithful to his call

And he did just what the Lord requested of him.

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

Who took the Lord’s judgment to heart.

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

Finally, Eli had listened to the Lord.

The Lord fulfilled his promise.

Eli and his two sons would die.

 

Samuel, however would be spared.

 

 

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

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

The one who the Lord rallied to defeat the Philistines,

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

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

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

Which I highly recommend.

 

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

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

Indeed, the Lord often guides one to diverse roles,

Changing over the course of life,

Spanning from childhood to old age.

The Lord sometimes calls one to difficult tasks

Or set seemingly impossible goals.

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

It begs the question,

 

 

What does God’s call look like to you,

At this time,

At this place in your life?

 

Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

 

--------------------------------------

 

Both this Sunday and next Sunday

We are experiencing powerful call narratives from the Gospel;

Today from John and next week from Mark.

Jesus is launching his ministry by calling his first disciples.

 

John was doing his job.

You know John, don’t you?

The one who had amassed quite the following;

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

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

 

 

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

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

Both from the seaside Galilean village of Bethsaida.

 

John, Andrew, and Peter

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

In the region of Judah,

Someplace within a day’s walk

From where John was preaching and baptizing;

Quite possibly in the City of Jericho.

 

Jesus is seen walking by when John exclaims,

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

Testimony results in action.

Andrew and Peter immediately followed Jesus.

“What are you looking for?” Jesus inquires.

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

“Come and see,” Jesus replies.

 

 

Come and see.

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

 

Bethsaida, the town where Andrew and Peter grew up,

Was a small village,

Kind of like West Walworth / East Rochester,

And like in every small town,

Tongues tend to wag.

Everybody knew everybody else business.

Everyone was related.

Children grew up together.

 

While Jesus’ first two disciples were from Bethsaida,

Jesus had grown up in the nearby village of Nazareth,

Less than 30 miles to the west.

If Jesus intended to expand the number of his disciples,

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

Thus, it makes sense,

Jesus, Andrew and Peter

Travel to Andrew and Peter’s hometown, Bethsaida.

 

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

 

 

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

“Find” is a very important word,

Especially in the context of the Gospel of John;

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

 

The easy way out would be to suggest

Andrew and Peter had simply briefed Jesus about Philip,

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

And convinced him

On the road between the lower Jordan valley in the south

And Bethsaida in the north

That Philip was a really good chap

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

 

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

Take in the completeness of it all

From a thirty-thousand feet perspective,

We see this longing desire for our God to know us

Through his Son, Jesus Christ;

To know his disciples,

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

 

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

God finds and knows disciples even before each are called.

 

As Nathanael comes towards Jesus, he said,

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

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

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

Nathanael immediately comes to recognition,

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

 

John witnessed to Andrew and Peter.

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

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

Their hometown friends, Philip and Nathanael.

Jesus found them and knew them, too.

 

It is the Divine nature of Jesus that finds disciples.

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

It is his call, that every baptized disciple receives,

To come and follow him.

 

 

Jesus is the one making disciples.

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

 

Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

 

Have you testified like John,

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

Have you introduced friends and neighbors to Jesus?

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

Who are your acquaintances

Who haven’t yet been introduced to Christ?

 

“God so loves the world,” Jesus teaches.

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

To become a member of Christ’s body;

To be claimed by God,

Adopted by God.

 

As members of Christ’s body,

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

Follow God’s commands.

Act according to God’s instructions.

Let us be like Samuel.

 

Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

 

As members of Christ’s body,

Let us dedicate ourselves to introducing others to Jesus,

To take an active roll in disciple making.

Witness what you have seen.

Testify to what you know.

Introduce others to Jesus

And let God do the rest.

 

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What does God’s call look like to you,

At this time,

At this place in your life?

 

Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

 

Some of us are called to the ordained ministry.

Some are called to prophecy.

Some are called to teach.

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

 

Know this to be true:

God calls all of us to righteous living.

Jesus calls all of us to bring him new disciples.

Amen. 

“Roots and Promise”

Luke 2:21-40

31 December 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Luke 2:21-40

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

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

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

 

Prayer.

 

This Gospel narrative of Simeon and Anna

Always brings to mind

A childhood memory.

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

I looked it up on Amazon;

It was written by Janice Kramer and published in 1969.

 

 

We’d read it during the Christmas season.

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

It seemed like insider baseball to me.

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

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

 

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

Which is really a shame.

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

Her 5 predecessors all coming from Hebrew scripture,

(Our Old Testament).

They were

Miriam (Exodus 15:20),

Deborah (Judges 4:4),

Huldah (2 Kings 22:14),

Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14),

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

 

Women, do not ever feel inferior to men,

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

Since the beginning of creation.

When God speaks to you, listen!

Take thou authority!

Men, there is no loss to your esteem or strength

To recognize the fact that God appears to be gender neutral

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

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

Listen, support, encourage, discern, and act

According to God’s will.

 

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

The completion of the Jewish story line

Of creation, law, covenant, and prophecy.

 

Indeed, our Gospel is deeply rooted in Judaism;

Solidly Hebrew in its origin.

Jewish parents bring their

Jewish son to the

Jewish Temple to engage in the

Jewish rites of circumcision and purification, according to the

Jewish Law, as handed down from Moses.

 

Three items caught my eye here.

 

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

They offered a sacrifice of

“a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

(Luke 2:24)

Had they been middle class or wealthy,

They would have been required

To purchase a Temple raised lamb for sacrifice.

 

Compare 80% fat hamburger with

Free range, organic beef tenderloin.

 

Contrary to many who promote a Gospel of prosperity,

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

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

He is a poor, itinerant preacher, who

Lives off the generosity of the population, who

Works and serves the poor.

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One cannot know Jesus

Without being immersed in the world of

Poverty and brokenness,

Powerlessness and dependency,

Oppression and suffering.

 

On this eve of the New Year,

Consider this carefully:

How might I center myself in the world of Jesus,

Serving the poor, the powerless, and the oppressed?

 

Our Christian heritage,

Our Christian discipleship

Spring from our roots in Jewish poverty.

 

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

With the birth of Jesus has come

Unending verses of Christmas carols,

Family gatherings, gluttony, and gourmandizing,

And gift giving galore.

 

Yet, we hear today of sacrifice,

First concerning Mary and Joseph’s

Sacrifice in the Temple at Jesus’ purification and circumcision,

Followed by the ominous words of Simeon himself,

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

(Luke 2:34-35)

… just what a new mother wants to hear.

 

There is a price to be paid for salvation.

There is a cost to the redemption of Jerusalem.

What starts in a lonely manger in Bethlehem

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

 

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

Or the grief of the Heavenly Father

Whose only Son was sacrificed on our behalf.

Can we not also hear the cries of the innocent children

Being slaughtered at the command of Herod?

Listen carefully to the Gospel and

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

Jesus’ own family,

Who will come to reject him

And attempt to throw him off a cliff.

Listen to the early Church Fathers,

Of their sacrifice and reports of martyrdom.

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

And have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Indeed, redemption and salvation come at a cost,

Whose price is often paid for in sacrificial blood.

 

On this eve of the New Year,

Let us carefully consider this Gospel inspired question:

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

Both personally, and collectively?

 

Thirdly, the presence of the super religious and sincerely righteous

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

Of forward looking,

Of anticipation.

 

The Holy Spirit rested on Simeon

And revealed to him that

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

Now, there’s something to look forward to.

The bitter/sweet nearly present

Of the incarnation followed by certain death

With only the promise of salvation.

 

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

For she never left the Temple;

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

Praising God

And speaking to all about the child Messiah

Who was expected at any moment.

 

Some secret, huh?

 

On this eve of the New Year,

Let us ask ourselves:

How might we live out our Christian faith

With the same fervent desire for worship and

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

 

Dearly beloved,

Each of whom are loved by God

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

On this seventh day of Christmas and

On the eve of the New Year,

Let us all resolve

To immerse ourselves in the love of our neighbor,

Serving the poor,

Determined to end the injustice of poverty in our world.

Let us all resolve

To look forward with fervent anticipation

To the return of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

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

That God keeps God’s promises,

That our redemption and salvation has come.

Give God our praise and our glory.

Amen.

"A Witness' Testimony"

John 1:6-8, 19-28

17 December 2017, Third Sunday of Advent

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

John 1:6-8, 19-28

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Prayer.

 

Welcome to the third Sunday of Advent.

What a ride it has been.

 

The first Sunday of Advent we heard from Mark 13 about

The end,

The apocalypse,

The revelation about the Temple being destroyed

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

Christ will come again, we fervently anticipate.

 

The second Sunday of Advent,

Last week,

We stepped into the Jordan River

In the opening of the Gospel of Mark

And are introduced to John the Baptizer,

Commonly known as John the Baptist,

Proclaiming a baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

Using Hebrew scripture as a foundation for his witness

John boldly proclaims that in Jesus,

God is here,

God is strong,

And God keeps His promises.

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

 

Anticipation for Christ’s return mounts

When we make a one-Sunday pivot

From the Gospel of Mark to the Gospel of John.

 

Today, this Third Sunday of Advent,

We hear from John the Baptist,

Who I will correctly identify as John the Witness,

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

John the Witness is the self-proclaimed Voice

Of the one crying out in the wilderness

“Make straight the way of the Lord.”

 

A change has been made in the trajectory of Advent

From the identity of John and his role

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

Who John is,

Isn’t nearly as important as

Who Jesus is.

 

The words “witness” and “testify”

Come from the same Greek root martureo,

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

John comes to bear witness,

To give testimony to his personal experience,

Of who Jesus is.

 

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

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

(John1:7)

 

I give up the other 51 weeks a year

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

Why he came, and

Why he promised to come again.

 

Yet, I believe our Gospel from St. John

Today is calling us to an equally high bar.

John is calling us to address a great challenge:

The Gospel author is saying

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

 

What is your witness, your testimony?

 

If you or I were to give sworn testimony

In a court of law about

Who Jesus is

And his motive for coming again,

What would we say?

 

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

Like a bolt of lightning from a sound sleep.

 

What is your witness, your testimony?

This is mine.

 

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

From my personal knowledge or experience:

 

1. Jesus is God,

The Creator and Lord of the universe.

I believe this to be factual,

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

In my experience,

Belief in one God, manifest as Jesus Christ,

Gives meaning to that which is otherwise unexplainable and mysterious.

 

2. I’m a disciple of Jesus

Ever since I was baptized as an infant.

My parents agreed to raise me as a disciple,

Teaching me everything that Jesus taught his disciples.

My parents fulfilled their commitment.

The Church fulfilled its commitment to support my Christian development.

As a member of Christ’s Church,

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

 

3. As a child,

I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior

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

As a young teen,

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

Henceforth, I’m eternally devoted to Jesus Christ.

As his disciple I am called to

Follow his commands and live a life

That is morally and ethically consistent with his.

 

4. Jesus commands his disciples

To love God and to love our neighbors.

Jesus identifies these two commandments as his most important.

I therefore spend the majority of my time and effort

Loving God and loving neighbors.

I love God by attending and participating in worship.

I love my neighbors by treating everyone as a friend,

Providing assistance whenever needed and whenever possible.

 

5. Jesus commands his disciples

To live in compliance with the Laws of God

As given to God’s spokesperson, Moses.

These laws of God are

Commonly known as the Ten Commandments.

 

6. Jesus commands his disciples

To share bread and wine every time we gather

So that we remember

His love for us,

So that we experience the forgiveness of our sins,

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

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

 

7. Jesus commands us to recruit additional disciples

From all the nations of the world.

We are to baptize each according to his prescribed method …

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

And we are to teach every newly baptized disciple

All that Jesus has taught us.

 

The primary source of Jesus’ teachings

Is the compilation of texts commonly known as the Bible,

Which disciples of Jesus consider sacred.

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

To believe in Jesus and to follow him,

And when we commit ourselves to teaching others

All that Jesus has taught to us.

 

What is my motive for sharing my testimony with you?

Like John the Baptist,

Like John the Baptizer,

Like John the Witness,

I share my testimony with you

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

 

Furthermore, I offer to you my testimony

As an example and encouragement for you

To polish up and deliver your own testimony to others.

 

A few hints.

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Keep it short.

Keep it simple.

State what you know to be true.

Be honest about what you don’t know.

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

Speak from what you know and experience to be true.

Witness from your personal conviction.

 

Like John,

Testify to the Light.

The Light of the World is Jesus.

By our testimony

We pray that the entire world might believe in Jesus,

That everyone might follow him as his disciple,

Even as we look forward to his promised return.

 

Will you swear to tell the truth,

The whole truth,

And nothing but the truth,

So help you God?

Amen.

“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. 

 

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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

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

3.JPG

 

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.

 

13.JPG

 

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)

 

8.JPG

 

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?

 

11.JPG

 

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.