“Time is Short”

Luke 13:1-9

Lent III - 24 March 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist churches

 

Luke 13:1-9

(http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=420178752)

 

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

 

Prayer.

 

Lent is a season of many things.

It points us towards Jerusalem and invites us to travel with Jesus towards mortal confrontation.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere,

Lent is a season where Spring teases us with hints of that which is to come,

While reminding us of the reality right before our eyes:

 

Slush, mud, and that sloppy mess endlessly wiped away from our windshield.

 

There just isn’t enough windshield wiper fluid in this world.

 

Keeping a clean windshield this past week made me think about repentance;

A common thread woven throughout Lent,

Addressed each year through the Gospels,

Especially prevalent and characteristic of Luke / Acts.

 

Had the presence and actions of Jesus Christ taken place today in our cultural environment

Jesus may have used windshield wipers as a metaphor for repentance.

It might have gone something like this:


‘Consider the slush of Spring,

Salted, plowed, and sprayed upon your windshield.

Windshield wipers are like repentance;

Every sin and moral failure is wiped away,

Never freezing fluid cleans and shines.

Just as one is able to see more clearly,

Slush and spray return and gradually obscure sight.

Repentance is needed all over again.’

 

Silly speculation? Perhaps.

Yet, allow our windshield wipers to remind us

Of our need for continual, repeated, lifelong repentance.

 

………….

 

Every preacher of experience


Will have used the Lenten theme of repentance

To address the issue numerous times throughout their career.

I’ve personally interpreted and preached on this Gospel passage on repentance eleven times.

 

Yet, the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ,

Never ceases to amaze me.

The more I study,

The more I digest and discern,

The more I reflect and pray,

The more the Gospel opens up to me.

I’m always learning something new,

Which allows me to fall deeper into relationship with Jesus.

6.JPG

 

New to me this year

Is a model of repentance that reflects maturing spiritual growth,

Which I’ve visually crafted into a flowing river

Leading us directly to God.

 

At the beginning of the journey

Is Christianity 101.

Freshman year.

We step into the boat called the Church

And begin our lifelong journey of faith.

We emerge from our baptismal waters an empty slate;

A clean pallet, upon which our mentors, the Saints, begin to paint.

“Teach them all that I have taught you,” Jesus commanded. (Matthew 28:20)

 

We begin with a definition:

Repentance means

“the activity of reviewing one's actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs, which is accompanied by commitment to change for the better.”

(Wikipedia, with reference to: Jeremiah Unterman (2017). Justice for All: How the Jewish Bible Revolutionized Ethics. University of Nebraska Press. p. 109.)

 

Repentance.

Reviewing one’s actions.

Feeling contrition or regret.

Commitment to change for the better.

 

The God of our Hebrew ancestors,

As recorded in our Old Testament,

Call God’s people to repentance:

“Thus saith the Lord GOD: Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations.” - Ezekiel 14:6

 

Self assessment inevitably leads to the feeling of sorrow

And a desire to return to ways of righteously following God’s will and ways.

 

Our Early Church ancestors

Use the Greek word Metanoia (met-an'-oy-ah) to describe repentance;

A change of mind and a change of conduct. 

John the Baptist called for people to repent.

Jesus called for repentance. (Matthew 4:17)

Jesus instructs his disciples to proclaim repentance. (Mark 6:12)

Peter calls on people to repent in his Pentecost sermon. (Acts 2:38)

Paul calls on both Jew and Greek to repent towards God. (Acts 20:21)

 

Obviously, the beginning of repentance is an important early step

In the journey that leads us to God.

 

The behavior of the world,

And our sinful behavior,

Must be recognized and assessed.

We must experience the sorrow that follows;

Sorrow that comes from the heart,

That comes from disappointing God.

That sorrow must drive a growing, burning desire

For moral transformation with a stubborn intention

To never fail God again.

 

Christianity 101. Repentance begins with moral transformation.

But that’s not where it ends.

 

Are you ready to continue on?

To matriculate to Christianity 201?

To grow with the flow and

To be brought closer to God?

Turn on your windshield wipers.

 

A clean windshield allows us to see more clearly the reality that surrounds us.

Repentance allows us to see clearly

The hazards and dangers of the world.

Repentance allows us to see clearly

A safe way forward, an escape from the mortal realities of life.

Repentance allows us to bring into sharp focus

The purpose and meaning

Of Christ’s Passion, Suffering, Death, and Resurrection.

 

It’s impossible to interpret the times without the ability to see clearly.

“You see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens.” Jesus teaches (12:54)

Clean off the windshield so you can see the clouds!

 

Repentance makes it clear to see the randomness of suffering and death.

Planes fall from the sky and people die.

Eighteen were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them.

The tyrant Pilate killed Galileans and mingled their blood with Temple sacrifices.

Random. Senseless. Suffering.

 

Repentance makes this crystal clear:

We all die. Age 6 months, 21 years, 59 years, 94 years.

Bad things happen to good people, to bad people, to all people.

Our mortality is shared with everyone else in God’s creation.

 

Here’s the Good News:

We’re alive now.

Take advantage of this moment and repent, Jesus encourages us,

“Unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” (13:5)

Repentance can only happen in the here and now;

You can’t repent after you die.

 

Time is short.

This breath and this heartbeat is a gift from God;

Take advantage of it.

Repent now.

 

This is what we can see with a clean windshield:

Repentance brings into focus the actions and meaning of Jesus.

With our repeated repentance we can come to a deeper understanding

Of Christ’s love for us,

The generous and abundant gift of atonement,

Substituting our sins for his death upon a cross.

Repentance allows us to see, confirm, and claim God’s promise;

The eternal gift of salvation,

Victory over the grave and a promise that

The river of faith leads us into an eternal presence with God.

Wow.

Repent.

Repent often.

A safe way forward is clear.

Follow the Way;

God’s Way forward.

 

Keep those windshield wipers working

And use your wiper fluid lavishly.

Christianity 301 is right around the next bend.

 

Repentance makes clear an individual characteristic of a Christian life.

What is often overlooked,

But can now be clearly seen before us,

Is the reality and power of communal repentance.

 

What happens when more and more of the world’s population

Engages in the repeated acts of individual and collective repentance?

The Kingdom of God advances.

The Kingdom of God grows in strength.

The Kingdom of God welcomes home new disciples of Jesus

And the world becomes transformed.

 

Like a rolling snowball that grows with increasing size

The momentum of the Kingdom of God grows with such power and force

That God’s Kingdom will not be deviated,

That God’s Kingdom will only have one eventual and certain outcome.

 

Stand confident in this fact:

There is nothing that you or I can do that will derail or bring to destruction God’s Kingdom.

We are freed with creative license to facilitate and participate in Kingdom growth.

So, let’s repent; and get to work!

 

Stand confident in this fact:

The outcome of God’s Kingdom is certain;

God’s Kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. (11:2)

Bank it.

Count on it.

 

Our senior year culminates with graduation;

What John Wesley called Christian Perfection.

Perfection is that complete state of clarity, purity, and love.

Perfection is what we strive for with every act of repentance,

With every wipe of our windshield.

 

Perfection is the example we attempt to set for those who come behind us.

Perfection is God’s gift of being forgiven,

Being re-made righteous,

Striving to maintain righteous,

Living as righteous.

Perfection is God’s gift of salvation,

Living in eternal love and presence of God.

 

Perfection of the world is God’s deepest desire.

 

…….

 

Jesus calls you, me, and the world, to repentance.

“Turn back, oh man. Forswear thy foolish ways!” as he sings in the musical Godspell.

Assess yourself.

Raise your self-awareness. 

Taste bitter regret.

Rise to the commitment of moral transformation.

 

Repent, Jesus commands.

 

As that sin is forgiven and wiped away

See the world more clearly.

Time is short and the length of our lives is unknown and sometimes arbitrary,

So repent now. Repent repeatedly.

With repentance comes clarity:

See the dangers, trials, and snares before us.

See the path God gives us to safely make forward progress.

 

Repent, Jesus so desires,

That we may see clearly and journey boldly

With Christ

To his cross and empty tomb.

 

Repent, beloved.

Repent knowing that

Repentance advances God’s Kingdom, that

Repentance brings us to Christian perfection, that

Repentance bring us home to God.

Amen.

"Cry of Lament"

Luke 13:31-35

17 March 2019, Lent II

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

(YouTube Sermon Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0KDC6EMlBY&t=2s)

Luke 13:31-35

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you.

And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Prayer.

 

Lent is a time of prayer;

A continuous conversation directly with God.

Throughout salvation history,

The narrative of God’s creation and intervention in the lives of his people,

God expresses a consistent desire to be open and responsive to prayers.

 

Communication goes both ways.

When God does the talking, it is important for us to do the listening.

God speaks through our thoughts, dreams, visions, intuition, imagination, and creative arts.

God speaks through the words of others,

Through the presence of others,

Through the support of others.

God speaks in the movement of worship;

Scripture proclaimed,

Music and silence,

Sacraments tasted and celebrated.

Listen.

Listen carefully.

Listen actively.

Listen attentively to God.

 

Pro tip: Write it down, less we forget.

 

There are times when we are directly connected to God in prayer

That we are the ones called upon to do the talking.

Our Biblical history is full of experiences where God longs to hear from us.

Like a loving parent with an adult child far from home,

God wants us to pick up the phone and hear our voice.

God wants us to take the time to put pen to paper and fill him in on our latest activities.

God wants to remain intimately engaged in every aspect of our lives.

It isn’t that we’re informing God of something he doesn’t already know.

The engagement, communication, and relationship is what God seeks.

 

There are many ways that we can do the talking.

Like a good pitcher,

It’s an advantage to be able to throw a variety of pitches.

Mix it up.

Keep it diverse.

Make it fresh.

First, we can bless and praise the Lord.

Praise and adoration is all about putting into words

Our experience of a powerful, eternal, loving, gracious, forgiving, saving God.

Words come easier for some than for others;

Praise and adoration may be expressed with dance, instrument, ritual, color, or parament.

For others,

It may come simply from awareness

Of being in the presence of the Holy Spirit.   

 

Secondly, we can use prayer to ask God for what we need.

The fancy word for this is a “Prayer of Petition”.

Jesus tells us to ask, seek, knock.

So we should do it.

In need of forgiveness? Ask for it.

In need of help or support to get through a rough time? Ask for it.

In need of strength to ward off temptation. Ask.

God wants to be asked.

Just do it.

 

Thirdly, we can use prayer to ask God to assist others.

This is called a “Prayer of Intercession”.

Our prayers are not so much as an expectation that God

Doesn’t know what’s going on, or,

Isn’t concerned with what’s going on, or,

That God will make our intercessions his top priority

And answer every one of them just as we ask.

 

Intercessions create the greatest change

In the heart of the one doing the praying.

Intercessions soften us up;

Creating a determination to partner with God

To address the needs of the world.

When the entire Body of Christ are praying to God our intercessions,

The heart of every disciple is softened, and

Everyone has the opportunity to become God’s blessing

To someone else,

For someone else.

 

Fourthly, prayer can be used simply to say “thank you” to God

For what God has given and for what God has done.

Attribute the goodness of the world to our God who wants the best for us.

Attribute the victories in life to our God who loves us and works on our behalf.

God’s miraculous work is sometimes obvious, often times not.

Leave nothing up to coincidence or luck.

Give thanks always.

 

Lastly, often overlooked, but highlighted by Genesis 15 and Luke 13

Is recognizing that cries of lament are also an essential means of prayer.

What is a lament?

Simply stated, a lament is making a complaint.

Don’t bother complaining to one another.

Take your every complaint to the Lord in prayer.

Take them straight to the top.

 

When making your lament,

There is no need to ask for anything.

Simply name your pain.

Spell it out in every detail.

Make your pain God’s pain.

Make your problems God’s problems.

Make God complicit in your suffering.

 

Make your lament to God,

Leave it at God’s altar,

And walk away.

Leave the rest up to God.

 

This is exactly what Abram does with God.

God had made covenant with Abram way back in Genesis 12;

He would be given the land,

God would make him great,

Abram would become the progeny of generations of people,

Blessed by God,

Who would populate the earth.

 

Problem was, Sarai, Abram’s wife, was barren;

… and she was 90 years old. (Genesis 17: 17)

 

“Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield;

Your reward shall be very great.” (Genesis 15:1)

Reward? Payment?

Abram didn’t want material things;

He was already wealthy.

What Abram wanted was a son, an heir that God had promised.

 

Abram doesn’t come right out and ask for children;

He just lays it out there.

Abram named his pain,

And made his pain

God’s pain.

 

That’s a lamentation.

The Lord brought Abram outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them … So shall your descendants be.” (Genesis 15:5)

You’ll have so many offspring, you won’t be able to count them all.

God reaffirms the promise,

And takes his promise to the next level.

God expands the promise with unlimited abundance. 

 

God is open to our suffering.

God invites us to share our pain.

This is God’s promise when we cry with lament.

Jesus overlooks the city of Jerusalem

And he cries out in pain.

 

“Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” (13:34)

 

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

Who’s very meaning is peace.

The suffix -salem comes from the Hebrew Salom, or Shalom.

Jerusalem had become a place of ruthless, destructive violence, stoning, and killing.

 

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

This lament is a resounding echo of

Jesus being nearly thrown off a cliff and killed

After reading from the Isaiah scroll

In his hometown synagogue of Nazareth.

 

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

Is located and established by David on top of Mount Zion.

David had the Ark of the Covenant,

The dwelling place of God,

Located in the center of God’s people

On top of the mountain.

God present.

God centered.

God with God’s people.

 

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

Whose Temple crowned the peak of Zion,

Became the only place where there was a

Constant connection between heaven and earth.

The Holy of Holies was that intersection

Where God passed freely.

 

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

The location where God engaged in constant warfare

Over the powers of sin and death

With none other than the devil himself,

Fighting with everything at stake,

Even over the life of Jesus.

 

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

Where belief had waned,

Where faith had become complicit with Rome,

Where organized religion had become drunk with power,

Where Herod Antipas was one of many tyrants the world would know.

 

Jerusalem, Jesus laments;

In this time of Lent,

Jerusalem becomes for us a foreshadowing

Of the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus, yet to come.

 

Jesus cries with lament;

But this isn’t the final word.

 

Allow God to lead you outside

To gaze into the night sky.

“Look to the heaven and count them …

So shall your descendants be.” (Genesis 15:5)

 

Like with Abram,

God responds to the lament of Jesus

With reaffirmation and an expanded, abundant promise.

Jerusalem would not only become known for crucifixion,

Jerusalem would now become know for an empty tomb.

 

Jerusalem! We will celebrate in a few short weeks

Is become:

Resurrection!

Ascension!

The descent of the Holy Spirit!

The origin for all apostolic missions!

The promised sign for the return of our Messiah, Jesus Christ!

 

That’s good news!

 

……….

 

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When Jesus cries of lament,

You and I are given license to share our complaints with God, too.

There is no point in complaining to one another;

That only stirs up the hornet’s nest for no good reason.

Take your complaint straight to the top;

Straight to God.

Just spell it out.

Lay it out in spades.

Name it.

Invite God into your suffering.

 

Then walk away.

Leave your pain at this altar

Confident in the knowledge, experience, and promise

Of a loving, gracious, and abundant God.

Amen.

“Temptation”

March 10, 2019 – Lent I

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

(Video of “Temptation” on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43m_WgyS8as&t=97s)

Luke 4:1-13 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=418968364)

 

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” 

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 

When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Prayer.

Dearly beloved, welcome to Lent;

A season for all Christians to prepare ourselves

For the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of

Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Our methods of preparation remain unchanged

Throughout two-thousand years of Church history, tradition, and experience.

 

We pray.

We pray for others and ourselves.

We pray for the Church and the world.

We pray in silence and in unison.

We pray to connect our soul with God.

We pray daily.

 

We do penance,

Which is a fancy way to say,

We confess our sins to God in prayer.

We confess what we know we have done that violates God’s law and God’s will for our lives.

We also confess the sins that we are unaware of,

But have done them anyway.

We confess daily.

 

We repent of our sins,

Which means that we every effort to stop our sinful behavior,

Turn away from our sinful ways,

And vow never to engage in such activity again.

Every day we repent and work towards perfect abstinence from prior sins.

 

We give alms during Lent.

Almsgiving means acts of charity.

We give as an obligation to do what is right and just,

Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant.

We are to give anonymously, generously, and cheerfully.

Lent calls us to daily engagement in acts of charity.

 

We deny ourselves during Lent.

We fast from that which we love.

We are called to refrain from acts of self pleasure

That we might be freed to focus solely on the pursuit of spiritual goals.

Lent is upon us.

Let us prepare ourselves with

Prayer. Confession. Repentance. Charity. Fasting. Self-Denial.

Let us walk with Jesus to the cross

In anticipation of

The glory of the empty tomb

We know is coming.

This, being the First Sunday of Lent, is always a narration

Of the Gospel account of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness.

This year, we draw from the Gospel of Luke;

Other years will draw from the closely paralleled Matthew, and

To a lesser extent, Mark.

 

1. In our eagerness to drink in the Gospel

and find ways to immediately apply it to our lives,

Every preacher today worth their weight in salt needs

To slow down this potential runaway train,

Less our efforts leads us to misguided but well intended interpretation.

 

When you and I experience this harrowing narrative

Of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness

We are tempted to reduce the purpose and meaning of all temptations

To simply garden-variety challenges to individual faith.

 

Don’t.

 

Of course, we all face temptations to sin

Every day of our lives.

Of course, we should resist temptation to sin

Just as Jesus did.

 

However, the careful disciple should have our suspicions aroused.

There’s more here than a simple reduction to

Three lessons and encouragement to live righteously.

 

2. The first tip off is the fact that

The temptations of Jesus Christ

Takes place in an environment permeated by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is “full of the Holy Spirit” Luke reports. (4:1)

 

Where ever the Holy Spirit is present and active,

Take notice!

 

Jesus had just returned from the Jordan,

Where it is reported that he was baptized by John

And the Holy Spirit descended upon him

“In bodily form like a dove.” (3:22)

 

The same Spirit that descended upon Jesus

Had overcome Mary and her conception (1:35).

 

As we heard proclaimed a few Sundays ago,

The same Spirit of the Lord comes upon Jesus

When he returns to Galilee and he begins his ministry. (4:14)

The same Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus

Reading from the Isaiah scroll in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth.  (4:18)

The Spirit filled Jesus spoke truth to power,

and it nearly got him thrown off a cliff and killed. (4:29)

 

In a similar way,

Luke will paint a passion narrative

At the opposite bookend of the Gospel

Of a Spirit filled Jesus locked in a mortal fight to the end

Against the evil powers of this world.

 

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Whatever the temptations of Jesus mean,

It connects deeply with the Spirit’s prior intervention

In the life of Jesus Christ.

 

3. What do the temptations of Jesus mean?

 

Jesus was “led by the Spirit in the wilderness,” Luke reports (4:1)

 

The wilderness is deeply contested territory.

The wilderness exists

Between Jericho and the lower Jordan River valley to the East

And the mountainous City of Jerusalem to the West.

The contrast is defined to the East with water and life

Compared with arid, mountainous elevation moving West.

 

Think

Green verses brown.

Level, straight, and even verses crooked and steep.

Warmth verses cold, especially when the sun goes down.

Safety and security verses robbers and bandits.

 

In the wilderness,

The devil has home field advantage.

 

Jesus is led by the Spirit right to the heart of darkness,

Into demonic danger,

To engage in cosmic, divine warfare in the devil’s own backyard.

It is God’s intent,

It is God’s purpose,

For his Son, Jesus, to take the fight for humanity

Straight to the doorsteps of hell.

And Jesus would be armed with the power of the Holy Spirit to get the mission done.

 

The use of military language is intentional.

When it comes to God verses the devil,

It’s warfare.

It’s a fight with only one potential outcome;

One winner and one loser.

 

The Lord must always win.

 

4. Not only is the wilderness the devil’s playground,

Jesus is placed at further disadvantage:

He’s weakened by hunger and thirst for forty days,

All-the-while facing repeated, withering temptation.

This is before the grand finally,

The devil’s last three temptations

As described in great detail in Luke.

 

The weakened Jesus is tempted with nourishment and strength.

Observation #1: Temptation is targeted upon the vulnerable. 

 

The devil recognizes the divinity and power of a Spirit-filled Jesus

With the conditional phrase “If you are …”

The better translation from the Greek of this and the third temptation is

Since you are the Son of God …”

 

The devil knows.

Jesus knows the devil knows.

We know: Jesus is God’s Son.

 

Since you “are the Son of God

Command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” (4:3)

 

One does not live by bread alone, Jesus correctly quotes Deuteronomy (8:3)

The irony of this first attack

Is that Jesus is the one who feeds 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish.

Jesus is the one who feeds his followers with his body and his blood.

One lives “by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

 

All these kingdoms can be yours, the devil offers,

As if the world was his to give away.

The devil so desires to be worshiped,

To be elevated above God,

If only God would submit.

 

The devil lies.

All glory and all authority “has been given over to me,” the devil falsely claimed. (4:6)

Nothing has been, nor will ever be given over to the devil

Or his forces of sin or evil.

Nothing.

Observation #2: The devil lies, and those who lie are imitating the devil.

 

Loosely citing from the Shema, Jesus replies

“The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

Worship the Lord; only the Lord.

Lastly, the devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem

To the pinnacle of the temple,

And begins his final attempt by quoting scripture.

The 91st Psalm reads

“For he will command his angels concerning you

to guard you in all your ways.

On their hands they will bear you up,

so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” (91:11-12)

 

Observation #3: The devil knows scripture and is willing to cite it to his advantage and for evil benefits.

 

The observant will recognize the passion link of the crowd leaders

At the crucifixion scoffing at Jesus saying

“He save others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, His chosen one!” (23:35)

 

God will not be provoked.

God will not be managed,

Even for the sake of the Son of God.

Jesus smothers the fire with cold water

Bringing voice to the third citation from Deuteronomy

“Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (6:16)

 

Every test had been finished.

Every temptation had been tried.

Observation #4: God cedes nothing to the devil.

Not then.

Not now.

Ever.

 

The devil “departed from him until an opportune time.” (4:13)

 

Opportune time?

The devil departs until Jesus enters Jerusalem and the Passion begins.

The devil plays a prominent role in the Passion narrative,

With Judas,

With Caiaphas, Herod, and Pontius Pilate,

With the zealot inflamed crowds. 

 

Prepare yourselves, dearly beloved.

God has taken the battle over our souls

Right to the devil’s backyard.

God brings to the cosmic struggle over our salvation his A game:

Jesus Christ, his Son, filled with all the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Draw on the word of God,

It brings nourishment and strength.

Beware of lies, and those who tell lies.

Be warned: the devil cites scripture, and probably knows it better than you or me.

 

So, in whom do we place our trust?

 

We place our trust in Jesus Christ.

There is no greater victory than an empty tomb.

 

God wins.

That’s Good News!

Amen.

“Transfiguration”

Luke 9:28-36

3 March 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 Video Link to “Transfiguration” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOJtkwLGYXs&feature=share

Luke 9:28-36

 

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 

Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. 

While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

 

Prayer.

 

I got my taxes done last week.

It wasn’t good.

It reaffirmed one of many axioms of life to be true:

 

The only certainty in life is death and taxes!

 

Luke’s account of the transfiguration of Jesus

Reminds me of two additional axioms of life and faith:

The only absolute in life is the absolute love of God.

And, the only constant in life is the constant state of change.

Transfiguration, by definition is

“a complete change

In form or appearance

Into a more beautiful or spiritual state.” (Google Dictionary)

 

Something in Jesus changes.

Physically he changes.

Visually he changes.

The trajectory of his purpose, motive, and methods change.

I’d even suggest that the arc of God’s intervention in salvation history changes.

The Gospel invites us to keep pace with this change.

 

Are we up to the task?

 

Since Christmas, we have been following Jesus

Almost exclusively traveling throughout Galilee,

His hometown province in northern Israel.

Jesus launched his ministry of preaching, teaching, exorcism, and healing.

 

We remember how the ministry of Jesus began,

With his baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We recall Jesus calling his first disciples from the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

He orients them, instructs them, and prepares them to become apostles.

To this day, the Church draws heavily from Jesus’ Galilean ministry

To prepare people for a life of discipleship.

This is Christianity 101.

 

The presence and actions of Jesus draws a crowd.

Of course it would:

The world is in search of healing.

Just look at our long list of prayer concerns.

The world longs to learn the truth about God,

Not some rigid fundamentalist rant.

 

A diverse crowd assembles,

Drawn like metal filings to a magnet.

The crowd included Jews and Gentiles,

Dark skinned, mixed race Samaritans from the South and

Caucasian, worldly Greeks from the North.

All surged to touch him, that they may be healed.

All crowded closes to hear and learn from Jesus.

Jesus was preaching from the barrel,

Teaching his familiar Beatitudes,

This time delivered on a coastal plain.

 

Jesus preached truth.

What he taught was explosive, revolutionary, a complete reversal of the world’s order.

What Jesus taught reveals all the details

Of a loving and gracious God,

Deeply invested in life and relationships.

 

The only constant in life is the constant state of change.

 

The air was charged with electrons.

All that was needed was

A divine touch.

The moment was electric.


Jesus makes the pivot

In dazzling light.

 

Once the ozone cleared,

God’s arc of salvation history would begin to play out:

Passion,

Death,

Resurrection,

Ascension,

And, as so eloquently described in the Gospel of Luke / Acts,

The descent and beginning of the age of the Holy Spirit.

 

To prepare for the monumental changes that Jesus is about to enact,

He takes Peter, James, and John on a prayer retreat.

They go to a near-by mountain top.

Being on top of a mountain gives the allusion that one is near God.

Larry, our real estate agent would affirm the importance of

Location! Location! Location!

 

Good call, Jesus.


Just like all mountain top experiences in life,

One can not live at the peek for long:

Mountain tops are barren, windswept, and devoid of water.

The air is thin.

Mountain tops are cold, often overcast, and rushed:

One has to get down from the mountain before daylight is lost.

 

Jesus prays.

Peter, James, and John claim they were “just resting their eyes.”

Actually, they peek.


Reminiscent of a burning bush,

God’s presence is made known

When the appearance of his face changed

And his cloths became dazzling white.

 

Epiphany!

The whole manifestation of God in Jesus Christ his Son,

Confirms to a world languishing in sin and brokenness

That something new is in the making.

Epiphany! God with us, doing something new!

 

Moses appears before their eyes;

The first prototype sent by God to deliver to the world the gift of Law,

That the world might be saved from sin.

But as each successive wave of judges

Attempted to rule as God’s representatives,

Each judge sunk deeper into corruption, sin, and death.

(See the Biblical book of Judges)

 

The only constant in life is the constant state of change.

 

Elijah appears before the eyes of Peter, James, and John.

Elijah is the forerunner,

Historically the next divine initiative

To warn the world of their sin

And to call the sinful to repentance.

The prophetic age used chosen individuals

To serve as God’s spokespersons

That the world may be saved by the repentance of sin.

 

The only constant in life is the constant state of change.

 

Moses and Elijah together with Jesus;

The Messiah,

The circle of salvation being closed,

With God stepping directly onto the world stage

In the person of Christ.

 

The only constant in life is the constant state of change.

 

Luke is the only account of the Transfiguration to reports the content of their conversation:

“They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure,

When he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”  (9:31)

 

Already, Luke is looking one step ahead.

In hindsight, our Gospel author tells us that


God’s unfolding plan was never to stop

With death and resurrection.

God intended to send the gift of the Holy Spirit

To guide and empower us post-ascension,

After Jesus left with the promise to return.

 

God completely ignores Peter’s offer to Jesus

To draw out this moment of Epiphany.

The Lord doesn’t play fetch when it comes to

Our will, petitions, or prayers.

The Lord always acts

In God’s own time

In God’s own ways

According to God’s own plans.

 

Note to self: playing fetch with God

Ends with a discouraged, shallow faith,

Feeling like you’re being ignored, and

Becoming ultimately frustrated.

I’d suggest that

Telling God what to do is idolatrous.

 

God doesn’t fetch.

Rather God speaks from a cloud

With his familiar words,

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

Reminiscent of his baptism,

Jesus emerges into the newest era of life

With the same divine words that ushered in his first calling.

Jesus is clearly identified to Peter, John, and James

Who he is: God’s son, the anticipated Messiah, and

By what authority Jesus has license to act:

When Jesus speaks, God is doing the talking.


When Jesus speaks, God is doing the talking.

We better pay attention.

 

The only constant in life is the constant state of change.

 

Jesus is transfigured from a teaching, preaching, healing, ministering Son of God

To a more beautiful, spiritual state.

Jesus is transfigured into

God on a mission

To bring redemption and salvation into the world;

God on a mission

To send the Holy Spirit to guide and develop

God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  

Individual salvation breaks open a new divine reality;

That God intends to save the collective whole.

God intends to save the world.

 

This change is dramatically revealed to us this coming week

As the Church likewise pivots from Epiphany to Lent.

The Ash Wednesday worship experience

Hits us with startling, mortal abruptness:

 

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”

Spoken as ashes are imposed.

 

Yet, the anxiety of change is tempered

By the enduring axiom of God’s

Unending,

Unconditional,

Overwhelming

Love.

 

A living, breathing, resilient Church

Must be willing to pivot when God pivots.

The Church has endured much change down through the centuries.

Early apostles gathered to deal with how to fund the spread of Christianity.

Early Church leaders divided into East and West over beliefs, rule, and the wording of creeds.

Our Western Church divided again over the abuses of clergy and distorted doctrines.

Our Protestant heritage is marked with change

As there has been further division into denominations.

 

In our Wesleyan heritage

Change took place over issues of slavery,

The Sunday School movement, and

The Social Gospel movement.

Attendance and participation has ebbed and flowed,

Sometimes dramatically.

 

The only constant in life is the constant state of change.

 

United Methodist are teetering on the precipice of change.

This past week United Methodist delegates from around the world

Gathered to bring resolution to the issue of human sexuality.

How’d that work out?

 

The voice of “stay the course” won.

Everyone lost.

Epiphany?

God showed up, certainly.

The mercy and love of God is with those who are hurt

Even as the future remains clouded in a fog of mystery.

If only answers came easily.

11.JPG

“Do not be afraid,” Jesus reassures on numerous occasions.

Do not be afraid of change.

Do not be afraid of adapting to change.

Change is coming from both within and from outside

The Church of Jesus Christ.

 

To believe in a relational God and to follow Jesus as our Lord and Savior,

It is helpful to be aware of how God responds to the needs of the world.

Jesus changed at his transfiguration.

God changes to meet the needs of a needy world.

To keep in relationship with God,

We, too, must be willing to adjust course.

We, too, must be willing to leave the familiar Galilee behind

And journey with Jesus to Jerusalem,

To the cross and

To the tomb.

 

To keep moving towards Jesus,

We must move.

We must allow God to transfigure us.

 

Transfiguration is hard.

It requires us to give up the old, familiar, comfortable ways.

It forces us to trust in the Lord,

That the new and uncharted path down which we are being led,

Is indeed, the will and way of the Lord.

 

Transfiguration is frightening.

Through all the whirlwind of change

One thing remains firm, solid, and absolute:

The love of God.

God loves you.

God loves all His children.

 

God created.

God continues to create.

Nothing stays the same.

Indeed, the only constant in life is change.

 

Jesus changed right before the eyes of his closest disciples.

He changed from being a preacher and miracle worker

Into Messiah, God’s chosen,

Redeemer and Savior of the world.

Jesus changes from life, to death, to resurrection.

 

So too are we called to change;

To draw closer in our journey with Jesus Christ,

To respond to God’s evolving plan,

Bringing His kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.

Amen.

“Do Unto Others”

Luke 6:27-38

24 February 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

(Video of “Do Unto Others”)

Luke 6:27-38 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=417585896)

 

“But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 

But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

 

1.JPG

Prayer.

 

I’ve finally found a political party that I can support.

No. It’s not the Democrats.

Neither is it the Republicans.

Though I have a lot of Libertarian leanings, it not the Libertarian party, either.

Socialist? Nope.

Communists? Heavens to Betsy, NO!

 

My politic is the Gospel.

I’d invite you to join me

In making the Gospel your politic, too.

I invite you to place Jesus Christ front and center in your life.

The Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ.

 

With Jesus as the top priority,

All other concerns of the world are transformed and

Fall into place in God’s order:

Politics.

Economics.

Ethics.

Business.

Law.

Science.

Health.

Relationships.

Family.

All must be reconsidered and reprioritized.

All have their foundations rocked and upset by Good News.

All take their place in a supportive role for the priority:

The ministry, message, and promise of Jesus Christ.

 

….

Rules.

 

Many individuals who decide to follow Jesus

Will look for a black-and-white list of rules to live by:

A Christian direction manual.

For many the Bible becomes this book of rules to be followed.

The Ten Commandment and the Beatitudes,

This Sermon on the Plain, as found in Luke,

Can be stripped down to bare bones

And reduced to a bulleted list.

These are the laws to live by.

These are the approved behaviors for Christian living.

 

It is as if following Jesus was an ethical principle.

The problem with following a simple list of rules

Is that it stunts the growth of faith

And inhibits spiritual development.

Biblical inconsistencies undermine a fundamentalist belief.

We get stuck in the quagmire of righteousness and judgment.

Judgment and fear become the quicksand of a dead-end, failed faith.

 

When we become followers of rules

Instead of followers of Jesus

Rules become the new idolatry.

The Good News of Jesus Christ,

His mercy and grace,

Is drowned out by the noise of schism, inquisition, exorcism, and death.

 

Come with me, if you dare,

And let us discern Gospel more deeply.

Keep the rules, yes,

But let us draw a little bit closer to Jesus.

 

….

Expectations.

 

Many Christians will experience

Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain

And say to ourselves, “Oh, boy.”

“I’m not worthy.”

“I don’t love enough.”

“I’m miserly and don’t like sharing.”

“I’m not merciful to others.”

“I’m way too judgmental of others.”

 

Others will say to themselves, “Yep, that’s me.”

“I try to love everyone.”

“I’m generous.”

“I’m merciful.”

“I try to be non-judgmental.”

“I try to forgive.”

 

Jesus is calling this diverse crowd of followers,

Gathered on the coastal plain,

Straining to hear his words and to be healed by his touch,

To ask themselves

“Am I living up to God’s expectations?”

 

“Am I living up to God’s expectations?”

 

You and me;

How are we doing?

Are we living up to God’s expectations

As outlined and taught by Jesus?

 

It’s nearly impossible to talk about enemies

Without militaristic testosterone laden bravado.

Talking about those who hate and curse you

Brings up painful memories of being bullied and humiliated.

Speaking about those who abuse you

Will be different for survivors of sexual abuse or rape

Than it is for those who’ve never been assaulted.

Abuse opens pandora’s box of pain and trauma.

Love

Can’t be an all-or-nothing proposition.

If it was,

Every one of us would come up short.

 

Love comes from God.

God’s expectation is that disciples of Christ

Are called to spread this love throughout every area of life,

Like smoothing cement from a concrete pour into every area of the form,

Or spreading icing completely covering a cake.

We are called to spread God’s love into every human relationship,

Starting with the easy,

Eventually smoothing love into the most

Painful, shameful, hurtful, broken areas of life.

 

Loving the easy makes it easier to love the less-than-easy.

Loving the less-than-easy makes it easier to love the hard.

Loving the hard makes it easier to love the enemy,

Those who hate and curse you,

Even those who’ve scared you with the shame of abuse.

 

Are we living up to God’s expectations, as Jesus taught?

Let’s talk about mercy.

How merciful are we towards others in this world?

Do we do good to those who are less fortunate than we are?

Are we generous,

to a fault?

Are we generous,

until it hurts?

Do we work to bring relief to those imprisoned by barriers and circumstances beyond their control?

Are we committed to serve, rather than being served?

Are we all in

Righting injustice and ending oppression?

 

Like love, mercy is an essential, core characteristic

Of our loving God,

Placed on display for all the world to see,

In the life and actions of Jesus.

How can you and I expand our capacity for mercy?

 

How can we expand our capacity for mercy?

 

The first place to start is to get off the couch,

Get out of the sanctuary,

Roll up the sleeves and get our hands dirty in the mission field.

Serve.

Volunteer.

Take a meal, deliver a meal.

Sort, sew, pack, and send.

Muck out, rebuild, and do it in the name of Jesus.

That is the intersection of mercy and love.

 

….

What’s at stake?

 

There is even more.

The expanse and depth of the Gospel politic

Probably knows no end.

I continue to discover more

Every day I immerse myself in the Good News.

 

Come with me and together,

Let us examine what is at stake here.

 

For Jesus the stakes weren’t simply

If people believed him or not.

The stakes of the Gospel ended up getting him murdered.

Jesus was crucified because of the Good News,

Because the norms of this world are upset.

The Gospel is revolutionary.

The primary sign of what is at stake in the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Is when the world pushes back;

When resistance rears its ugly head.

 

Resistance is always a sign of God’s presence, work, and will.

The hometown congregation threw Jesus out of the Synagogue.

Jesus was criticized by authorities for healing on the Sabbath and

Violating numerous other Jewish Laws.

Jesus upset cash flow, the Temple treasury, and angered the Finance Team.

Organized religion pushed back, using Rome as their ignorant tool.

Arrest, suffering, trial, humiliation, and death was intended

To put Jesus into the tomb once and for all.

 

We all know that’s not how it ended.

God always triumphs over resistance.

Good News proclaims redemption and salvation.

Good News paints a picture for what living in God’s kingdom looks like.

 

Our partnership with God and with one another

Is at stake moving forward

In our faithful effort to discern and follow God’s will,

As we engage in the sacred task of kingdom building.

Do unto others:

How we treat others

Matters.

How we treat others

Dives to the core of the Christian experience

And maturing faith.

 

God’s kingdom is a land at peace,

Where love and mercy abide,

Where judgment is replaced by acceptance and inclusion.

Expect resistance in our work of kingdom building,

Even as Jesus was resisted.

 

….

Rules.

Expectations.

Resistance.

 

Thus it is with Luke’s sermon on the plain.

Jesus invites us to grow deep,

To mature beyond living by rules.

Jesus invites us to grow deep,

To come into God’s season

In God’s due time.

Amen.

 

“Power of the Touch”

Luke 6:17-26

17 February 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist churches

YouTube Video of “Power of the Touch”

The Beatitudes, as reported in the Gospel of Luke

The Beatitudes, as reported in the Gospel of Luke

 

Luke 6:17-26 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=416985523)

 

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

 

Prayer.

 

Wait. What?

This isn’t the Beatitudes I’m familiar with.

You mean there are more than one?

 

There are four Gospels, after all.

 

Yes, the Beatitudes can also be found in the fifth chapter of Matthew;

But, they are widely different from Luke’s account.

In Matthews account there are 9 Beatitudes and no woes.

Luke reports 4 Beatitudes and 4 woes.

 

Don’t go looking for the Beatitudes in the Gospels of Mark or John,

Because you won’t find them.

They aren’t there.

 

Jesus delivers his Beatitudes in Matthew on a mountain top,

And he taught them to a select, exclusive audience:

Only to his disciples.

In contrast to Matthew,

Luke describes Jesus teaching the Beatitudes on a plane,

A flat, expansive region, possibly along the Mediterranean coast.

He teaches to the group of his disciples and a great multitude of people,

Jews and Gentiles alike,

From all over the region.

 

When Luke makes the effort to spell out

That people from the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon are drawn to Jesus,

He is making a theological statement that

People from the other side of the tracks,

People from other races and religions,

People from other ways of life,

People with a different world view

Make up the crowd.

People different from the forever blessed and chosen

Jewish descendents of Abraham

Came to hear him, and

To be healed of their diseases

By the power of his touch.

 

Jesus comes for everyone, without exclusion.

Again, this is a consistent theological characteristic of Jesus

Uniquely spun into the fabric of Luke.

 

The implications of this Gospel reality

Is that when ever

or where ever

the Church collectively,

Or we, individually,

become judgmental of people different than us

We are moving ourselves away from Jesus.

 

Jesus is at the center of a diverse crowd,

And so should we.

That’s where his truth is revealed and people are healed.

 

 

Could it be, as many scholars suggest,

That the Beatitudes from Matthew and Luke are similar

Because Jesus preached the same, or similar, message multiple times

To different crowds

In different settings?

Possibly.

I don’t know for certain,

But it makes sense to me.

 

The underlying message that Jesus is communicating

Is central to the core of his Messianic presence.

Epiphany,

God with us fully as Jesus Christ,

Completely human and fully Divine,

Doesn’t equate blessings with salvation.

There is no equating woes with damnation.

There is no hint of judgment to be found.

 

There is, however,

An upending of expectations;

A reversal of fortunes.

 

Remember in the opening chapter of Luke,

Mary, the mother of Jesus, makes her proclamation in the Magnificat:

The Mighty One, Luke reports

“has shown strength with his arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (1:51-53)

 

Expectations are upended.

Fortunes are reversed.

 

Remember earlier in Luke

When Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth to begin his Galilean ministry

He teaches in the Synagogue from the prophet Isaiah.

He stakes out the same ground by reversing fortunes and upending expectations:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (4:18-19)

 

The same upending of expectations and reversal of fortunes

Are woven into Jesus’ sermon on the plane

With his use of blessings and woes.

The least are made great and

The great are made the least.

 

The Greek word for "blessed" used in the Beatitudes is makarios, 

Meaning satisfied, unburdened, at peace.

 

Satisfied are the poor.

Unburdened are the poor.

The poor are at peace.

 

Imagine a world where the poor aren’t living paycheck to paycheck,

Struggling to cover all the bills, and

Feed every mouth at the table.

Imagine a world where families don’t flee violence and poverty in waves of immigration to a foreign land.

Imagine a world where the poor are able to simply live out their lives in peace.

 

It might be hard for us to imagine such a world,

But it’s a vision of God’s kingdom that is crystal clear to Jesus

And he wants everyone in the crowd

To hear and

Understand his vision of Good News.

 

The Greek word for “woe” used here in Luke is ouai,

Meaning a word of warning,

The same word used by many of the prophets:

Judgment is imminent.

Repent or find yourself lost, trapped, or blindsided.

 

Gospel is bad news to the rich;

Who have become rich at the expense of the poor.

Here’s your warning, Jesus proclaims;

Judgment is at hand

Take this opportunity to repent of your ways.

 

Repent, those who are full.

You’re going to learn what real hunger is all about unless you share your abundance with those in want or need.

Because you’re going to get yours.

 

You think this is funny? Jesus asks.

Repent, Jesus warns with a woe.

Repent or you will find yourselves mourning and weeping.

 

The woes that Jesus pronounces

Begs each of us to ask

What it is in our lives that blind us,

That traps us with a false sense of security,

That misguides our trust?

 

Are we blinded by our good health, diet, and exercise routine?

Does a good bill of health from our doctor make us overly confident?

Are the A1C and triglycerides within healthy, normal limits?

Did that EKG indicate you’re good for another 20,000 miles?

 

Here’s the bad news:

Each of us are one heartbeat and one breath away from catastrophe and death.

Cancer and Alzheimer’s will bankrupt the richest in a New York minute.

Stroke and heart disease can make the

Healthiest, wealthiest, captain of industry

Bedbound in a nursing home for years.

 

Place your trust with the Immortal,

The God of Creation,

The God who created you.

Follow your doctor’s orders, yes,

but recognize every physician’s mortal limitations.

With Jesus there are no mortal limitations.

 

Are we blinded by our wealth?

“I don’t need to place my trust in God when I’ve got money in the bank,” it is easy to believe.

Bigger houses, fancier cars, abundance of food and drink

Insulate us to the fact that wealth often

Comes at the expense of others, or,

When our God given generous hearts turn cold.

We see the need but fail to act.

 

Are we trapped by our own ego and popularity?

 

Woe to you, Jesus warns,

“Don’t place your trust in anything: health, wealth, or status.

Repent of your ways.

Place your trust in God.”

 

 

The message this diverse, hodgepodge crowd

Was drawn to hear

Was blessings and woes.

But they were also drawn by the power of his touch

That came out from him

And healed them all. (6:19)

 

The only way to touch Jesus is to be at the center of the crowd,

Making ourselves as close to Christ as we possibly can get.

That’s where the power of healing is at.

That’s where unclean spirits are exercised.

That’s where Good News is proclaimed

and the fortunes of this world are upended with the eternal fortunes of our loving God.

 

Are you close enough to Jesus to feel his power,

To experience his healing touch,

To see the depth and breadth of God’s grace and love for the world?

If not, why not?

If you are,

Be satisfied.

Be unburdened.

Be at peace.

Be blessed.

Amen.

Eulogy for Harold Granger

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26 January 2019

Grace and peace to you, beloved.

 

We gather this day

To give praise and thanksgiving to God

For the life of Harold.

We gather

To extend to one another our support during this time of mourning.

We gather

To apply the balm of Gilead to our wounds

That the hand of God

Might touch and bring healing to our broken hearts.

 

I approach this eulogy for Harold with sadness, joy, and calm assurance.

 

It is with sad reluctance that we say goodbye

To a faithful husband, loving father, good friend, and a gentle soul.

I’m going to miss you;

We’re going to miss you, dear friend.

 

I am sad that Harold didn’t have more than one opportunity,

When I’d pick him up for lunch with the men of Zion,

To enjoy the easier access of my new car.

I will deeply miss our discussions about the books we are reading,

And what makes their content so engaging.

(Don’t worry, Harold. I’ll finish Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming” for you)

 

I am sad that Harold was one of the few people

I was able to talk with about politics, policy, and the electorate;

Without fear of offending or angering him.

My sadness wonders, “Who will take his place?”

 

I am sad that Harold’s keen scientific mind and love for technology

Will be absent from our discussions.

I have been sad, as I know many of you have been sad, too,

To see Harold’s health in decline.

I am sad that Harold’s absence will be a great loss of

A great man of faith, who loved the Lord and loved his neighbor.

 

It is with a joyful heart

That I know Harold inspired countless others

To carry on his example to this generation

And generations to follow.

His passion for excellence in engineering

And his love for technological improvement

Will burn long and bright in my life

And in the lives of many others.

 

His calm, logical approach

to the challenges, trials, and troubles of this world

Will serve as an example of healthy debate, critical thinking,

and the ability to make change when necessary.

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Harold’s love of reading gives me joy

whenever I crack open a new book,

And I hope the first thing you do when you return home

Is to open a book of your choice and start reading, too.

It will make you happy.

 

It is with joy that I got to experience Harold’s love,

His love of Nancy, son and daughters, grandchildren, family

His love of his friends and church family,

And his love of those who are in need

and those who are the least fortunate.

I am so happy that Harold has given us a lasting example

Of generosity, and how simple, kind, acts and gifts

can change the world.

 

I am happy that I had the privilege to be with Harold and his family at the end,

To share the 23rd Psalm,

to anoint him with the oil of healing,

and to lift him up to God in prayer.

I am happy that Harold has faced his final trial

And he now rests in peace.

I am overjoyed that Harold brought happiness into your life and mine.

 

It is with a calm assurance I know

That Harold’s faith was deeply rooted in Jesus Christ.

From his earliest of days until his final breath

Harold believed and profoundly knew

That Jesus claimed him,

Provided the example for a life of righteousness,

Forgave his sins and the sins of the world,

And has now saved him into eternal life.

 

We stand assured that Harold has been saved

Solely by the grace of God through Harold’s faith,

Which led to his acts of kindness, outreach, and love.

 

At the end of the day

I am deeply thankful to God

For sharing Harold with me over these past many years.

I am thankful for the sadness that I feel with his death.

I am thankful for the joy that I feel in his life.

I am thankful for the assurance of faith I possess in his life, death, and eternal life.

My prayer for you?

Is that you share this thankfulness, too.

Amen.

“When the Wine Gave Out”

John 2:1-11 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=414816719 )

YouTube Video of “When the Wine Gave Out” Blizzard Closing, 1/20/19 Oh, my!

January 20, 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

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 Prayer.


40 years ago, I found myself at an elegant restaurant in Elmira Heights;

“Pierce’s 1894” was its name.

I was more interested in my prom date than she was in me.

She was preoccupied with her ex-boyfriend

Who had just dumped her for someone else.

I wasn’t even her second choice; someone else had turned her down.

 

It was awkward.

 

I had been thinking long and hard how I might come to impress her.

Ah! I knew.

I could demonstrate to her my sophistication and knowledge of wine.

Problem was, I didn’t know anything about wine.

My best friend, Garry, coached me prior to the prom:

“Just order a red,” he suggested.

“Carlo Rossi, if you have to make a choice. That’s what mom and dad drink.”

Great. I was ready.

Or so I thought.

 

The assistant waiter and waitress

Were filling water glasses, bringing rolls, and overall, trying to impress

(which they were), when she asked

“Would you like something to drink?”

“I would like a glass of red wine,” I said rather smugly.

“What kind of red would you like?”

And then, my mind went blank.

I couldn’t remember the brand I had been coached to request.

 

Awkward silence was followed by “the look” and an eye roll.

 

“No worries,” the waitress said, “I’ll send over the wine steward to help you make your selection.”

Thinking the wine list was printed on one side of a laminated paper,

I thought I was saved!

I’d certainly be able to find the brand I couldn’t remember.

“Thank you. That would be nice,” I replied.

 

Whew!

 

The wine steward appeared

And he had a book.

Not a list on a half sheet of plastic coated paper.

He had a book, listing thousands of wines from the cellar.

Terror swept across my face and sweat began to run.

Pressure was building and there was no relief valve.

“I’ll have a Tom Collins,” I blurted out,

Fully exposed as a fraud.

I was so embarrassed.

 

Was this the most embarrassing moment of my life?

I don’t know, but my prom encounter with a wine steward

Certainly makes for one of my top ten!

What was your most embarrassing moment?

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I’d like to think that Jesus threw me a life line,

Because I never had another date with the girl I took to the prom.

I dodged a bullet.

More accurately, Jesus and I dodged a bullet.

 

As I look back in reflection,

It seems to me that Jesus is in the habit of throwing out life lines,

Saving us from ourselves, and sometimes,

Saving us from each other.

 

Often, I’m unaware of his saving grace when it’s taking place.

Often, I’m ignorant that the life line he uses is composed of

The spiritual fabric we commonly refer to as “the Body of Christ.”

 

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That hand reaching out to us?

Perhaps that is the hand of Jesus,

Offered by another fellow disciple,

Who is faithfully acting to fulfill God’s will.

Perhaps that hand reaching out to us

Is not only the substance

But also a sign of God’s amazing grace.  

 

Don’t be afraid or ashamed to take the hand.

 

Are you able to think back

And recognize circumstances when

Jesus threw you a life line?

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Jesus certainly threw the bridegroom in the Gospel a lifeline.

The fact that Jesus miraculously turned water into wine

Was only known to the servants and the chief steward,

Creates a social cover for the bridegroom;

Protecting his pride,

Preserving his reputation.

Could you imagine if he had to go through life

Known as the guy who failed at his own wedding reception?

 

Our Gospel of Jesus turning water into wine

Should vector us back

To a deeper understanding of God’s presence, grace, and salvation

In our lives.

 

This semi-mysterious nature of Jesus’ first miracle

Accentuates the unique purpose and meaning of John’s gospel,

Unlike that of the synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

 

John is frying other fish.

 

Consider the contrasts:

Jesus’ mother is not named in John.

There is no narrative of Jesus being baptized in John;

Neither is there a 40 day temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

There is no Passover meal in John;

In its place, Jesus washes the disciple’s feet.

 

John’s contrasting motives and message

Is like bringing Technicolor to black and white,

Computer generated imagery to cartoon flip boards.

In the absence of a Passover meal

We are compelled to explore more deeply

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Our Eucharistic roots;

As only the Gospel of John can reveal.

 

Following John’s masterful theological prelude,

The testimony of John the Baptist, and

Jesus calling his first disciples

(Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, and Nathanael)

It is the mother of Jesus

Who launches him into his mission and ministry.

 

In his opening salvo

Jesus replaces nothing with abundance.

He substitutes empty wine skins with 120 to 180 gallons of high quality wine in stone jars.

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Abundance, John paints on his Gospel canvas,

Is a recognizable signature of Christ’s glory and his ministry.

Abundance draws followers to Jesus.

 

Abundance reveals the manifestation of God.

 

Epiphany is on a roll!

 

The miracle of Jesus turning water into abundant, high quality wine

Is only the first half of our Eucharist roots in the Gospel of John.

We don’t have to seek after bread,

In-so-much, as bread comes and finds us.

In the sixth chapter

Jesus feeds five thousand

With five loaves and two fish.

 

Again, Jesus replaces nothing with abundance.

He substitutes empty stomachs with a crowd of happy and full future followers,

Complete with 12 baskets of surplus barley bread! (6:13-14)

Abundance,

Here in the presence of bread and wine,

Is the sign of God’s glory, ministry, and presence.

 

Abundant nourishment

Is provided before we are aware of our deeper hunger.

Abundant sustenance

Satisfies our every need.

Abundant excess

Ensures our future, eternal life in the presence of God.

 

The abundance of God’s grace,

As revealed to us in the signs and symbols of bread and wine

In the Gospel of John

Are named by our own John Wesley

In the theology of our Methodist roots:

Prevenient grace,

Sustaining grace,

Justifying grace, and

Sanctifying grace.

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 The entire Gospel of John becomes our Lord’s Eucharistic meal

Meant to convey

The overwhelming, eternal abundance of God’s grace.

 

Wow.

Let that sink in for a moment.

 

God must really love us and

Care for us.

God is willing to do anything to save us;

Even dying on a cross.

 

The last observation I’d like to make about

John’s opening miracle narrative of

Jesus turning water into wine

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 Is the fact that God shows up at an unexpected time,

Pouring forth abundant, exceptional quality wine

From the wrong vessel – a 20 or 30 gallon stone jar. 

Jesus isn’t pouring premium wine from a Baccarat decanter

Or even a fancy French bottle.

He’s using a stone jar meant for catching water runoff.

There is something beneath box wine!

 

Holy discontinuity!

 

This reveals a subtle, but consistent theological thread

In the Gospel of John:

God shows up when least expected

And in the midst of the most unexpected circumstances.

 

This is my experience.
Is it yours?

 

As you think back over the course of your life,

This miracle should serve to pry open memories of

When God showed up,

Becoming manifest in your life,

When you least expected

In the midst of the most unexpected circumstances.

 

Think about it.

Epiphany is pretty awesome! Eh?

Yes, God is.

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On this day

And in this passage

May the Gospel direct

Us to the life line Jesus is throwing to us.

May the Gospel vector

Us to the amazing, abundant, overwhelming grace and love of God,

Revealed in the gifts of bread and wine.

May the act of turning water into wine

Remind us that God shows up;

God shows up,

Perhaps when we least expect it,

But when we need him most.

Amen.



















“Christianity’s Contradiction”

Mark 12:38-44

11 November 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Mark 12:38-44 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=408599693)

 

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

 

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

 

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Prayer.

 

Christianity is full of contradictions.

If you haven’t noticed,

You haven’t been paying attention.

 

I recall a seminary professor teaching our class that

A church building is a reflection

Of the God the people worship.

 

A modest building would reflect a simple, unpretentious God.

A cathedral would reflect a majestic, powerful, awesome God.

A fully accessible building communicates a God that welcomes and accepts everyone,

While a building full of stairs tells some that “you’re not welcome here.”

A stone-cold building,

Like an altar that is set back or separated from the congregation,

Reflects a distant, unapproachable God.

A pulpit that is high and lifted up may mean the primacy of scripture,

Or it may mean class and clergy privilege.

A building in disrepair, cluttered, or not clean communicates

That we’ve surrendered to apathy,

We’ve thrown in the towel, and

We’ve just given up believing in our God.

 

What does our building say about the God

In whom we place our faith?

 

I believe in a majestic, powerful, awesome God,

Yet, I’d rather we be serving meals for the hungry

And building homes for the homeless

Than buying a pipe organ or installing Tiffany stained glass.

 

I believe in a loving God of mercy and grace,

So, it just about kills me to see that it is costing us $12,000 for a new furnace to be installed this week.

I’d much rather see our resources used to expand worship attendance;

Making disciples of Jesus Christ

For the transformation of the world.

 

I’d much rather see church funds used to send short term missionaries abroad to feed and clothe families, build houses, fit people to wheel chairs, and communicate the fact that

God loves them and we love them, too.

 

But, winter is coming.

Our sanctuary has to be heated.

 

Christianity is full of contradictions.

Disciples of Jesus have to make choices.

Often those choices are hard, sacrificial, sometimes contradictory.

 

The choices we make

Communicates the priorities we make in life

And the God in whom we believe.

 

I choose to wear long robes when leading worship.

It was a decision I made years ago;

Fully aware of Jesus teaching about the scribes in the Gospel of Mark.

Unlike the scribes,

I chose to wear liturgical clothes when leading worship,

Not to draw attention to me,

But to reflect a reverence and respect in my approach to God.

Yes, the money used to pay for this stole

Could have been used for the poor;

Instead, I made the intentional choice

To purchase these robes, stole, and cincture

That you may approach God with the same level of reverence, respect, and awe of God as I do.

 

The question that must be addressed is

Who benefits; myself or God?

Let there be no misunderstanding,

These robes are not meant for your benefit or mine.

These robes are solely meant to benefit the Lord.

 

The choices we make

Communicates the priorities we establish

And the God in whom we believe.

 

It is my choice to talk about money and giving.

Stop complaining that all you hear from going to church

Is begging for money.

I choose to address money and giving because

The Bible has 900 more references to money than to sexuality.

(Pulpit Resources, 2003)

I address money and giving because

It is the most frequently cited topic that Jesus preached and taught about.

I address money and giving because Jesus teaches

“Where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.” (Matthew 6:21)

 

Money and giving is called stewardship;

And it is Gospel.

 

My wife, Cynthia, and I made the decision a long time ago

To tithe to the church.

Ten percent of our income is given in a charitable contribution to the churches I serve;

That’s before taxes, before other bills are paid, before we have any left over to spend on our children or ourselves.

It took us a while to get there, like it does most people,

But now that we tithe 10% of our income to the church, there is no going back.

 

Allow me to be crystal clear;

I’m not boasting.

We don’t tithe to make ourselves look good in your eyes or anyone else.

We don’t give to support a budget or program or a building.

We don’t contribute out of obligation.

 

We tithe because

Our trust is in the Lord,

Who has provided, is providing, and we are confident that the Lord will continue to provide for all our mortal needs.

 

We tithe because

The grace and love of God needs to be shared,

The Gospel needs to be propagated,

Jesus Christ must be glorified.

 

We tithe because

God’s kingdom must be spread,

For this generation,

And for generations to come.

 

Tithing is way more satisfying than any luxury we might like to imagine.

The happiest people on the planet are those who are generous,

Who give to the tithe, and beyond.

 

I personally invite you to join my family in living the tithe.

The tithe boldly proclaims, our trust is in the Lord!

The tithe boldly makes the stand that this is God’s kingdom!

And it is a kingdom of

Love and grace,

Justice and peace

Forgiveness and salvation.

 

Disciples of Jesus are asked to make choices;

Choices that are sometimes hard, sacrificial, or contradictory.

 

Our choices have meaning.

Our choices mean something.

Our choices communicate what we value,

What we believe,

In whom we place our faith.

 

The widow gave “out of her poverty everything she had, all she had to live on.” (12:44)

Where would her next meal come from?

That was not her concern.

She had no need to trust in her own resourcefulness.

Her trust was in the Lord.

She believed the Lord would continue to provide

She was confident that she would be fed.

She gave everything.

And so can we.

Amen.