"Your Father's Good Pleasure"
August 11, 2013
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
East Rochester and West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
We learn to live with contradictions in our lives
or else we go crazy.
Consider for a moment Science and Religion.
Those who know me
know that I am a child of the Scientific method.
In other words, if you want me to believe something
prove it to me.
Spare me the anecdotes and testimonials,
I require a higher standard.
With my undergraduate in mathematics
taking a lot of engineering and computer science courses,
and learning from neuroscience researchers at the University of Rochester and around the world,
I demand the rigor of scientific studies that can be replicated by others,
that are assured of the removal all subjective influence by evaluators,
and that can demonstrate safety and efficacy.
That’s the goal, isn’t it?
We want things to work.
Here is the contradiction:
I’m aware that there is great mystery in the world.
Things happen in the absence of scientific explanation.
People from non-western cultural backgrounds
appear to be in much better acceptance
of this reality than I am.
My Eastern Orthodox colleagues would give me an eye roll
with my skepticism of Jesus’ miracles
and demand for scientific explanation.
My Roman Catholic colleagues would refer the unexplained
to committee for further examination
for Papal consideration and possible sainthood.
Even faithful in non-Christian traditions
appear to be more comfortable with experience
serving as an equivalent
or even superior
means of discernment
than that of the scientific method.
In 1964 I was struck by a car,
slammed into a curb,
and had my skull broken.
Headaches were eased by aspirin
whose methods of efficacy still are not known.
My skull healed without any medical treatment
other than directives for my mother to
“wake the boy every hour for the first night.”
To me it is a mystery.
In 1981 I walked through the doors of Marsh Chapel on the campus of Boston University
stood in front of a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr
and was swept away by the unexplainable.
My mind let go,
I was awash in love,
I experienced the complete acceptance of grace,
and had my inner spiritual polarity reversed.
My goal was changed from becoming a chemical engineer
to becoming a servant of Christ and his Church.
I can not explain it.
In 2010 I stood on a wind and storm tossed boat on the Sea of Galilee
reading the Gospel narrative of Jesus calming the storm.
I looked out to the waves and wind and rain
and commanded it to be still
just as Jesus did
and it was
I can not rationally or scientifically explain it.
Yet, in my life,
I have stopped trying.
I have stopped trying to explain the contradiction of Science and Religion;
the juxtaposition of proof vs faith;
rather, I have become comfortable living with the two
in dynamic tension,
perhaps the two even engaged
in an intimate slow dance
that is the pinnacle of human experience.
For me, this has come with a confidence of faith
grown through maturity and experience
that God is in control
and I can let go.
Grow comfortable with contradictions
or go crazy.
Our Gospel lesson for today lifts up two apparent contradictions
that has caused encyclical temper tantrums
and ecclesiastical melt downs throughout the Church for centuries.
Allow me to lay it out for you
to see for yourselves.
Jesus is traveling with his disciples on the road to Jerusalem,
to his eventual passion, death, and resurrection.
Jesus tells them, and us,
but we live in denial and, like the first disciples, we do not listen.
To forgive sins and
To conquer death
Jesus only had to die.
To have our sins forgiven we have to be dead.
To overcome death and be raised into eternal life we have to first die.
Do you see a common theme here?
Which, fortunately, is the one certainty that lies in each of our future.
The only thing we have to do is die.
All the good works in the world are not going to matter one iota.
Be the saint, if you want to,
or be the sewer dwelling rat.
he died for us all.
Adolf Hitler and Mother Teresa:
both are in.
Vlad the Impaler and Gandhi the peacemaker:
both are in.
Your bully and your beast of a boss;
your adversary and your ex;
and your tormentor and your evil twin;
they are in, too.
Christ died for us all while we were yet sinners.
That proves God’s love for us.
This, my beloved, is often referred to as “The Scandal of Grace”.
Love it or leave it.
This is the Good News of God’s grace.
And God’s grace is never leaving you
Our Gospel lesson for this morning is just one example of the contradiction
that turns the thoughtful disciple of Jesus
back to the bottle of antacid.
The parable that Jesus tells us this morning
clearly conveys the message to
“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.”
The Son of Man is returning at any moment
and we must be prepared.
“Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
The contradiction is this:
On the one hand, it sounds like our behavior doesn’t matter:
we are simply redeemed and saved by the grace of God
won for us by the cross and the resurrection.
On the other hand, it sounds like our behavior does matter:
We must prepare for the coming of the Son of Man.
The answer to the question, for me,
- Does our Christian behavior matter? -
comes from a confidence of faith
and willingness to live with the contradiction
by dancing with God
and observing the following:
Regarding individual salvation; no, behavior does not matter.
Regarding the transformation and salvation of the world into the kingdom of God; yes, Christian behavior does matter.
The answer comes in the opening verses of our Gospel for today.
It is our Father’s good pleasure to have already given us the kingdom,
Like an old car in need of restoration,
now we are being asked to take part in changing the world;
not with the goal of our own personal salvation
but with the goal of God collectively saving humanity.
God has already given us the kingdom,
rendering all our possessions and money useless.
They might as well be catapulted
to the eternal depths of the Labrea Tar Pits.
Things lose their power and value
because God has already given us everything.
Instead of investing our time and effort at what has no value
invest in the unfailing treasure of heaven.
Give your whole heart to the treasures of heaven
that the earth might be transformed.
Give your whole heart
to bringing the kingdom of God
to the kingdoms of this earth.
A confidence of faith
residing in the certainty of God’s favor;
revealed, lived, died, raised, and ascended in Jesus
gives us the freedom to die to our self.
We don’t need to worry about our final disposition.
We are confident in our redemption and eternal life.
This confidence of faith also gives us the freedom to live for others.
Why reach out to the hungry in Walworth and the developmentally challenged in Guatemala?
Why bring food to those in need in East Rochester and to the poor in Nicaragua?
Because we are confident in the belief
that God means to transform the world
and to make this landscape
into His kingdom of heaven.
“Do not be afraid,” Jesus assures us.
It is okay to live with apparent contradictions of faith in your life.
a life awash in God’s grace
becomes a life of confidence;
following in the example of Jesus
to bring justice, peace, and love to our broken and sin filled world.
This is your Father’s good pleasure
May you and I
make it so.