“Loving the Bookends”

John 13: 31-35

19 May 2019 - Fifth Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

(Sermon Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTaBVA95QE4 )

John 13: 31-35

 

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’

 

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 

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Prayer.

 

Jesus had just washed the feet of his disciples;

An act of humble service.

I wonder how the world would be different

Had Christianity adapted the Pitcher and Bowl as our symbol

Instead of the Cross?

 

The tool of the state

(Rome, that is)

To impose it’s ways was the cross.

The means of the state was death by public crucifixion.

 

Take one, make an example of him.

Then take another.

And another.

Hang ‘em high for all to see.

Hang ‘em to die outside of city gates, where everyone passes.

The longer and more drawn out the affair, the better.

 

Wails, cries, and word of mouth is better than social media.

No pay per view: it’s free, sponsored by Rome.

Bring lots of towels and hand sanitizer because it’s

Bloodier than a butcher shop.

 

Crucifixion projected

Domination. Cruelty. Oppression. Death.

Reminds me of conquering colonization of the past 300 years.

 

My inherent pessimism and privileged bias

Leads me to counter my internal conflict;

“No, it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Our sinful nature and love of evil probability

Would have led to the same outcome;

Regardless if we wore a shiny cross on a necklace around our neck

Or a sterling charm molded in the shape of a bowl and pitcher.”

 

Maybe I’m wrong.

 

Had the Church adapted a bowl and pitcher instead of the cross,

We might be living in an age of peace and tranquility,

Where service is above self,

Where the Light has overcome the Darkness, and

God’s kingdom has come.

 

God’s time is God’s time, not our time.

 

 

Jesus had just washed the feet of his disciples;

An act of humble service.

Our Gospel narrative from St. John is far more familiar

On Maundy Thursday of Holy Week,

Yet, we revisit it five weeks later.

Why?

 

The major characteristic story arcs

That make the Gospel of John unique and distinct

From the paralleled synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are

Abundance,

what a life of Discipleship looks like,

Love, and

Glory.

 

1. Abundance.

 

Eucharist symbols are related to the abundance of God’s grace:

Jesus feeding 5,000 and their families with five loaves and two fish,

Jesus turning water into an abundance of wine to save a wedding feast,

Jesus directing his disciples to fish on the other side of the boat,

Having them pull in 153 fish that nearly broke their nets.

 

That’s abundance.

Abundance is the fingerprint of God.

 

2. Discipleship.

 

In the final scene from the Gospel of John,

Jesus has a face-to-face with Peter.

A life of discipleship is one of service, Jesus tells him;

Tending the Lord’s flock,

Feeding the Lord’s flock,

Leading the Lord’s flock,

In the physical absence of Jesus until his return.

Serve the flock just like the Good Shepherd has served you.

 

If you claim that you are a follower, a disciple, of Jesus Christ

And you’re not engaged in an intentional ministry of service

You’re doing it wrong.

 

Roll up the sleeves.

Get your hands dirty.

Put to work the talents God has given you.

Get to work in God’s name for God’s benefit.

If you can’t work, write a check.

If you can’t work or write a check, pray.

 

Discipleship and service are inseparable.

 

3. Love.

 

The Gospel of John oozes love;

God’s love for the world, and

Christ’s love for his followers.

 

We hear from this Upper Room narrative

Immediately after Jesus had washed the feet of his disciples, Jesus teaching

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” (13:34a)

Taken in it’s short form, we know this isn’t true.

God had already put commandments in the book to love others.

 

Leviticus 19:18 reads

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

 

Leviticus 19:34 reads

“The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

 

Allow this commandment to speak for a moment,

In context of our modern body politic.

 

What is new

Is the longform command of Jesus:

“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (13:34b)

“Just as I have love you,” is what is new and set’s the love of Jesus apart

From anything the world had ever seen.

 

Jesus’ love is new, fresh, different, … revolutionary.

 

Case in point:

The context of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

This narrative is bookended

By Judas’ betrayal before and Peter’s denial afterwards.

Yet, Jesus loved them enough to wash their feet anyways.

 

It’s easy to love the center,

Those who everyone loves.

It’s much harder the further you pull away from the center.

It’s hard for me to love those on the outer edge.

 

It takes the love of Jesus

To love the bookends.

 

Who are the bookend people in your life?

Those who are most difficult for you to love?

 

Are they people who have betrayed you, like Judas?

Ask Jesus for the strength,

And wash their feet anyways.

Are they people who have denied knowing you, like Peter?

Pray for strength, courage, and direction,

And wash their feet anyways.

Are they people with whom you have become estranged?

People who you approach as if walking on eggshells?

Those who are broken?

Those who you dread?

 

Just as Jesus sucked it up and loved his disciples,

Wash feet anyways.

 

If you have Jesus in your life,

It’s possible to draw upon his love

When our love reaches it limit and runs out.

 

4. Glory.

 

When it comes to interpretation

Sometimes the Gospel gets in its own way.

I mean, what is this “glorify” thing?

What is this “glorification” thing all about?

It’s hard to read, untangle, understand;

Even for me!

 

“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” (13:31b-32)

 

Traditional Christianity defined “glorify” as

Words and actions that direct praise, honor, and adoration

To the penultimate act of God’s salvation history:

The cross,

The empty tomb, and

The ascension.

 

God is glorified in the words and actions of Jesus.

The death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus brings praise, honor, and adoration to God.

 

Likewise, Jesus is glorified in God’s initiative and actions throughout salvation history.

God sent his Son, Jesus, into the world,

Not to condemn the world,

But that the world might be saved through him.

 

This is a great definition of “glorification”

For a sterile, academic discussion,

But it falls short of the target if we are seeking application to our lives.

 

Are you daring?

Let’s push the thinking of traditional Christianity just a nudge:

Let us consider

“Glorify” is a recognition of the presence of God in our midst.

 

Judas didn’t recognize the presence of God in Jesus, so he

Walked out and betrayed him.

Peter was so caught up in the murderous, frenzied crowd,

He was unable to think beyond self preservation

And he denied Jesus three times.

 

Too often,

I am so focused on navigating through secular life -

Paying bills, working long hours, juggling responsibilities, being a dad, and,

Oh, what’s for dinner? -

That I, too, fail to recognize the presence of God in my presence.

I suspect I’m not alone.

 

I’m not suggesting the cliche

“Slow down and smell the roses.”

 

I am suggesting engaging in an intentional spiritual discipline

Known as mindfulness.

Mindfulness means tuning our spiritual antenna to achieve maximum efficiency and sensitivity.

 

Mindfulness means we

Watch.

Listen.

Be alert.

Recognize the presence of God.

 

When we become conscious or aware of God’s presence, direction, power, grace, and love ...

Right here, right now ...

We become the glorification of God

Of which the Gospel of John speaks.

 

Glorify God.

Recognize God’s presence.

 

….

 

The Gospel of John is about

The abundance of God symbolized by the acts of Jesus;

Living the life of a discipleship;

Loving one another, neighbors, and aliens,

Loving those who are easy to love and

Loving the bookends,

Just as Jesus loved his disciples, Judas, and Peter alike;

And living a life of glory,

A life lived with Jesus Christ,

A life lived in the presence of God.

 

Dearly beloved,

Love, just like Jesus loved;

Love with no strings attached.

When your love runs out, ask the Lord to make up for our deficits.

 

Live in the presence of God.

Be aware of how God is at work in the world.

Testify to God’s presence.

That brings glory to God. 

That’s how you truly glorify his name.

 

Amen.

“The Father and I are One”

John 10:22-30

May 12, 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Church

 

John 10:22-30

 

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

 

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(Sermon Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOI1qEkbQK8&fbclid=IwAR0KBx951IBaBjKicXh1svdGNdM96F8lShoBk_A6WSNpBO9ozscW0liEojI )

Prayer.

 

It is a bit of an awkward transition

During this season of Easter,

The season of resurrection,

To move from last Sunday’s final resurrection appearance of Jesus

To this Sunday’s narrative from the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John.

 

This narrative takes place before our Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection.

‘So what’s the connection?’ the inquisitive are certain to ask.

 

In Jesus’ final post resurrection appearance in the Gospel of John,

Abundance is a characteristic Jesus puts forward

For living a life as one of his disciples.

An abundant life is not one of material abundance,

But one recognizing the amazing grace

of living in God’s abundant love.

 

It is symbolized with water turning into wine,

When 5 loaves and 2 fish are multiplied to feed the crowd,

When 153 fish strain and nearly break the disciples’ nets.

 

Are we aware of God’s amazing, abundant love?

Where and when in our experience have we been so privileged to drink it in?

 

...

 

The metaphor of sheep

Is the common ligament that connects Jesus teaching

About what a life of discipleship is like

With those who know and follow Jesus.

Jesus tells Simon Peter what a life of discipleship looks like:

“Feed my lambs,” Jesus says.

“Tend my sheep.”

“Feed my sheep.” (21:15-17)

 

Feed: i.e. Nourish. Sustain. Abide with and in.

Tend: i.e. Encourage. Direct. Lead.

 

Look around;

These are the sheep of Jesus.

We are the stand-in shepherd,

Until the Good Shepherd returns.

 

Are we feeding each other?

Teaching each other?

Calling each other and holding each other to accountability?

 

Are we abiding with each other,

Even when sometimes that means we walk with each other

Through the valley of the shadow of death?

Have no fear!

We are not alone!

Take comfort!

God abides with us,

And we are invited to lean on his rod and staff!

(Psalm 23:4)

 

Are we one other’s biggest cheerleaders, supporters, and fans?

Are we using the skills God has given us

To discern God’s will and ways, and

To faithfully steer ourselves and God’s flock

In the direction of God’s will?

 

What a glorious Church we become

When we all pull together,

When we all steer a common course,

Fixing our eyes upon Jesus!

 

...

 

“I have told you, and you do not believe,”

Jesus told the crowd of Jews

Who asked if he was the Jewish Messiah. (10:25)

 

I told you.

Is there something you don’t understand?

I told you.

If you understood, you must have chosen to not believe.

You have chosen not to follow.

Belief begins with a choice:

Become familiar with the voice of Jesus? and

Choose to follow?

Or, choose to remain a stranger?

Don’t let him into our lives, and

Don’t let Jesus guide or call us?

 

Free will means the final decision is up to us, to you and me.

Choose wisely.

 

There are consequences to choosing not to believe or follow Jesus:

 

1. There is not the protection of the Good Shepherd.

You will be vulnerable to

The evil of this world

That snatches and steals.

You will still face evil and temptation.

The question will be if you choose to face it with Christ or without him?

 

2. Without a shepherd

Life occurs in isolation, away from the flock, disconnected from the body.

Abundance is replaced by dependence,

Dependence becomes desperation, and

Desperation leads to death.

 

Lone sheep don’t last long in the wild.

 

On the other hand, there are benefits to choosing to believe.

There are benefits to choosing to follow Jesus:

 

1. Choose Jesus and you will be protected.

The Lord’s protection is largely unnoticed for

It is largely unrecognized

The Lord’s protection often

Happens outside of our awareness, or

Happens outside or our timeline.

 

2. Choose to believe and follow Jesus, and

You will have eternal life and never perish. (10:28)

John’s Revelation gives us a glimpse of what this might mean:

Forgiveness, worship, and a great banquet.

No more crying or mourning.

Shelter from the scorching sun by day.

Refreshed and replentished by the water of life.

(Revelations 7:14-17)

When the choice is death or life,

Always choose life!

Life in his flock,

Life with Jesus Christ.

 

 

I told you before,

But I’ll tell you again:

“The Father and I are one.” (10:30)

 

‘The Father and Jesus are one’

Is more than a second confirmation

Of Jewish messianic expectation.

 

‘The Father and Jesus are one’

Is more than a theological detail

Necessary for early Church fathers

To stitch together a trinitarian doctrine. 

‘The Father and Jesus are one’

Is an invitation to unity, Christian unity.

With Christian unity comes the promise of

Christian perfection and immortality.

 

Christian unity is not about maintaining the organizational integrity of denominational realities.

Christian unity is all about abiding in Christ, and

Allowing Christ to abide in us.

Abide!

This is Christian unity.

 

We are one:

One in the Spirit,

One in the Lord;

One united with each other, and

One united with Jesus.

The Father and Jesus are one.

 

We are one united with the Father,

Our creator, and

The Creator.

We are one with the Creator of all things before all things.

We are one with the Creator who is transforming the kingdom of this world into the kingdom of God.

We are one with the Creator who will continue to create all things for ever more.

 

Eternal unity is confirmed with God’s pronouncement in Revelation,

“I Am the Alpha and the Omega,

the beginning and the end.”

(Revelation 21:6)

 

 

Dearly beloved,

Let us be united in our belief

That Jesus is Messiah;

That he is one with our Father,

The Creator of the heavens and the earth.

 

Let us be united in our choice

To follow Jesus and become the benefactors of God’s amazing grace and love.

 

Let us be united in our discipleship

Feeding others,

Tending others,

Drawing others towards the same Good Shepherd.

May his flock grow!

 

Let us be united in our forgiveness and our salvation.

Let us be one.

 

To God be the glory!

Amen.

“Breakfast with Jesus”

John 21:1-19

5 May 2019 - Third Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

John 21:1-19 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=423799239)

 

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.

Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

 

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Prayer.

 

The shore of the Sea of Galilee

Is not a sandy beach.

 

It is rocky in character,

Ranging from small pebbles,

To larger skipping stones,

To big rocks used for piers or breakwaters.

The shoreline is reminiscent of our own New York Finger Lakes.

 

In the dark, pre-dawn hours;

Jesus gathers together flint, charcoal, bread, and fish;

Heads down to the shore and builds a fire.

 

Jesus is calculating.

 

Fishing with nets from a boat,

On a dark night in a dark sea,

Surrounded by dark heights, hills, and ridges,

That fire

Could have been

The only point of light visible to

Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two other unidentified disciples.

 

Jesus wants his disciples to be drawn to him.

 

This encore Gospel narrative

Is Jesus’ fourth resurrection appearance,

According to the Gospel author John;

First, Jesus privately appeared to Mary Magdalene.

Today is his third appearance to his disciples,

Twice in the Upper Room -

first without Thomas, secondly with Thomas.

 

The narrative takes place some unknown later time,

Along the shore of the Sea of Galilee,

Also known as the Sea of Tiberias.

Jesus has one more thing to do.

 

You and I might appreciate those who experience

A dramatic call to discipleship

Followed by an immediate and decisive conversion.

 

But for most of us,

The call and conversion to follow Jesus Christ

Is much more nuanced, complicated, subtle;

Usually followed by periods of doubt

On a gradual curve of spiritual development.

John records it was no different with Jesus’ disciples.

 

Jesus intends to call and send his disciples, yet again.

 

It’s too easy of a soft ball to hit over the fence

To believe that the disciples had

Witnessed the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus

And left Jerusalem unmoved.

Afterall, they went back fishing.

 

But you and I know better.

Life is more complicated than simply backsliding.

We backslide for a reason;

Often times for many reasons.

The disciples needed to work,

To feed themselves and their families.

They fell back into a familiar routine,

Returning to what they knew,

What was safe.

And they stuck together.

 

Jesus calls and sends his disciples for a third time.

In the first chapter of John

Andrew hears the testimony of John the Baptist

And goes to tell his brother Simon Peter.

“Come and see,” (1:39)

Followed by Jesus’ invitation,

“Follow me.” (1:43)

Philip and Nathanael followed,

And it was game on.

In the preceding chapter of John

(as we heard last week)

The resurrected Jesus comes and appears before his disciples

Locked away in the upper room

For fear of the crowd.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus says.

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (20:21)

Jesus calls and sends his disciples,

Empowered by the breath of the Holy Spirit,

To forgive sins.

Jesus is cooking breakfast on the shore over a charcoal fire.

Third time's the charm.

 

Like the disciples, I too, understand

The need for repetition.

My spiritual journey has been in a continual state of discernment,

Examination and re-examination of God’s call and commission for my life.

Consistent in the Gospel of John

Recognition comes in the context of abundance.

Think about Jesus turning water into wine.

Remember Jesus feeding 5,000 with five loaves and two fish.

Think about professional fishermen frustrated by not catching a thing

Until,

The one who made the fire

Tells them to cast their net on the right side of the boat.

153 fish is a big catch.

Good thing the game warden didn’t show up.

Jesus is known by abundance.

Abundant wine, bread, and fish.

Abundant patience, persistence, and promise.

Abundant forgiveness, grace, and love.

 

In the only Gospel that doesn’t have a Eucharistic scene,

Eucharist is disconnected from crucifixion,

Which is refreshing.

We are freed to explore Eucharist in a new context.

John allows the faithful

To significantly connect Eucharist with abundance.

This is a vital characteristic that should not be overlooked or underestimated.  

 

Jesus isn’t done.

Taking Simon Peter aside,

Jesus completes his third call and commission

By telling him what discipleship looks like;

To take on the role of the Good Shepherd.

“Feed my lambs.” (21:15)

“Tend my sheep.” (21:16)

 

Simon Peter, like you and me,

Should remember Jesus teaching his disciples in chapter 10.

“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus taught. (10:11)

“I am the gate for the sheep.” (10:7)

A good shepherd leads his sheep and they follow.

The sheep follow because the good shepherd knows them by name.

A good shepherd comes that the sheep may have life,

And have it abundantly.

A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.

 

Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep.

That’s what discipleship looks like.

Simon Peter finally gets it.

He understands.

 

This morning, like Simon Peter and the rest of the disciples,

We, too, have gathered to have breakfast with Jesus.

 

As we dine on this Eucharist meal,

May we be mindful of Christ’s abundance;

His love, grace, and forgiveness.

May we be encouraged that,

Though we may face periods of doubt and uncertainty,

Our spiritual trajectory is ever arcing to the heart of God.

May we be inspired to again,

Answer our shepherd’s call

To feed and tend his sheep.

 

To God be the glory.

Amen.

“Life in His Name”

John 20:19-31

Second Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches


( Sermon Video of “Life in His Name” )

John 20:19-31 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=423201179 )


When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

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Prayer.

 

The mission of the United Methodist Church is simple and straightforward:

"The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." (2016 Book of Discipline)

 

A disciple of Jesus Christ is a believer;

One who believes

That Jesus taught us how to live,

That Jesus died for to forgive our sins and to reconcile us with God and each other, and

That Jesus rose from the dead, bringing victory over death and the salvation of the world.

A believer comes to know that

Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.

 

There are numerous ways to come to believe

That Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead.

The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus,

As recorded in the Gospel of John,

Highlight a few that deserve our attention.

 

1. The first tactic is to have a physical encounter with the risen Jesus,

Like Mary Magdalene at the garden tomb,

Like his disciples on the first day of the week behind locked doors,

Like Thomas a week later,

Like Paul on the road to Damascus, one to five years later. (Acts 9)

 

When the risen Good Shepherd

Recognizes Mary, one of his own, by name,

It is no wonder Mary cries out “Rabbouni! (Teacher)”.

It is no wonder Mary enthusiastically complies with Jesus’ command,

Returned to his brothers,

Delivered his message, and proclaims

“I have seen the Lord!” (20:18)

 

As the Gospel of John reports,

Belief is complicated for those who see with their own eyes a resurrected corpse.

 

Jesus appears.

He stands among them.

Confirms peace.

The complicated become simple.

When the evidence of resurrection stands right before you,

Wounds from his hands and side gaping and raw,

It is no wonder the disciples rejoiced when they too saw the Lord,

And believed. (20:20)

 

When the one whose death and burial was witnessed

Now appears and stands before you a week later

It is no wonder Thomas gasps

“My Lord and my God!” (20:28)

 

My Lord … is a statement about the human Jesus who Thomas had followed,

Who lived, died, and had risen from the dead.

My God … is a profession of faith,

Witnessing to the fact that

God is inherently and completely present in the life of Jesus Christ.

Only God could do

What God has done.

 

Jesus ascended into heaven, and

With the exception of the conversion of Saul,

His personal appearances on earth ever since are few, and far inbetween.

 

I’d like to have a meet up with Jesus,

But I’ve never have had that personal,

One-to-one, face-to-face, let’s talk over coffee

meet up with Jesus.

I do look forward to meeting him someday,

At some point in the future, when I am welcomed home to glory.

How about you?

 

Please note,

I would never doubt or second guess someone’s account

Of a personal encounter with Jesus.

After all, God is capable of all things.

It just hasn’t happened to me, and

I don’t believe the resurrected Jesus has made a personal appearance

To the majority of disciples in the Church today.

 

If only it was this simple.

Or complicated.

 

2. The second tactic to come to belief

That Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead

Is to be convinced by the testimony or witness from someone else.

 

This is where the Church must prove its faith today.

This is where the rubber meets the road,

Where our confession, witness, and testimony take on paramount importance.

 

Dearly beloved, call or get out of the booth.

Go big or go home.

 

The disciples, like Mary Magdalene,

Had a story to tell the absent Thomas.

“We have seen the Lord.”

Yet, just as it was complicated with the physical appearance of Jesus,

It is so much more complicated without evidence,

Without the reanimated corpse

Standing in front of you and

Calling you by name.

 

The skeptic inside us all

Draws on the experience of death,

Its biological confirmation,

Mortal finality,

its complete irreversible transformation from breath to corpse, that

Every one of us must be sympathetic to Thomas and his doubts.

Unless I see …”

Unless I “put my finger in the mark of the nails” …

Unless I put “my hand in his side,

I will not believe.” (20:25)

 

I will not believe. Ouch.

 

Stubborn refusal.

How are we to overcome the stubborn refusal to believe?

How can we fulfill our mission?

How are we to bring people to the table of discipleship for the transformation of the world?

 

Strong arm tactics don’t work.

Think of all the kids forced to come to church

Who grew up vowing to never return.

 

Threats of hell and damnation don’t work.

Oh, they may work for a while;

But, in time, questions and curiosity overwhelm

Leaving behind a scorched cinder backslider of a person.

 

An exclusive, literal, fundamental belief doesn’t work;

Eventually, inconsistencies reveal a foundation built on sand.

Grace always trumps Law.

 

This is my testimony;

This is what has worked for me:

  • A laser focus on Jesus Christ, as reported in the Gospels.

  • An invitation to come clean, repent, to be forgiven, and start new.

  • Authentic love, that first comes from God, that builds and nurtures relationship, one person at a time.

  • Honesty and authenticity when speaking; I can only witness to the God of my experience, who I have come to know as Jesus.

  • Consistency in what I say and what I do.

  • A humble awareness of God’s amazing grace and eternal promise.

 

Our testimony and witness does bring non-believers and lukewarm believers to Jesus Christ.

Our testimony and witness warms hearts,

And draws people to the table.

Our testimony lights a fire and kindles it to burning passion.

 

Let’s you and me kindle the fire, and

Let God take it from there.  

 

3. The third tactic to come to belief

That Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead

Is to be filled and convicted by the Holy Spirit.

 

This is even more complicated, if that’s possible!

 

You and I can’t control the Spirit.

We can invite, cajole, petition, beg, plead, …

anything short of cutting off our right arm.

But we can’t control what God will do.

 

Nor should we touch that third rail of idolatry.

 

The Spirit moves where it chooses to move.

The Holy Spirit does what it chooses to do in God’s own due time.

When the Holy Spirit makes its presence known

All we can do is to sit back, be filled with awe, and give praise!

 

Unlike the author of Luke and Acts,

Who describes the descent of the Holy Spirit

As celebrated on Pentecost seven weeks after the resurrection,

The author of the Gospel of John relates the coming of the Holy Spirit

With the breath of Jesus on the first day of the week,

The evening of his resurrection.

“He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (20:22b-23)

 

This, I can say:

I’ve seen some miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in my life.

I’ve experienced truly awesome work of the Holy Spirit in my own life.

 

The key for me is to sit on my skepticism,

Don’t fall for the temptation to try to explain away the circumstance,

Nor blame it on simply an emotional experience.

The key for me is to make room for the Holy Spirit in the world;

To enter, to work, and to have its way.

The key for me is to let God be God.

 

...

 

The method of belief and conversion is important from a tactical standpoint.

Tactics matter when we plan our

Outreach, evangelistic recruitment, and discipleship.

How do we bring people to conversion?

What the best way to make disciples of Jesus Christ?

Perhaps we need to employ multiple tactics to cast a wider net?

 

When tactics are woven together according to God’s design

And our faithful actions,

We can begin to recognize God’s greatest, overarching strategy:

“That through believing

you may have life in his name.” (20:31)

 

Belief means life.

Belief is the key to life.

Belief is the well from which we draw to live a meaningful life.

Belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,

Is God’s longing desire that you and I may have everlasting life.

Amen.



“Risen!”

21 April 2019 – First Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

(Video of Easter Message, “Risen!”)

Cover.JPG

John 20:1-18 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=422592227)

 

Prayer.

 

In the beginning was darkness.

Ancient Hebrew members of our family tree wrote:

“In the beginning

When God created the heaven and the earth,

The earth was a formless void

and darkness covered the face of the deep,

While a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”

(Genesis 1:1-2)

 

Darkness;

Pitch as black,

Dark as ink,

A formless void, like

A fertilized egg’s undeveloped brain, like

A student’s ignorance on the first day of class, like

An enthusiastic disciple who does not understand the scripture.

 

Darkness;

The predawn moonless hours

Far removed from city lights,

Of such power that one is uncertain if eyes are open or closed,

When sound is amplified, distorted, absent, unknowable.

 

Darkness;

It was still dark when Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb,

A tomb in an Eden-like garden setting.

 

His tomb was in a garden.

 

Ah, a garden in the Spring!

Soil so full of potential

That invites the gardener to prepare, plant, water, and steward the crop.

The gardener knows the rhythm of life,

The harmonics of sun, moon, and clouds,

The melody of new birth, new creation,

The restoration of all, and

The promise of harvest

That keeps the hand on the plow and

The eye on the prize.

 

What?

Wait! What is going on here?

 

Startled!

The garden is agape.

The tomb is unsealed!

The tomb is empty!

All that’s left behind are the bloody cloths

The corpse of Jesus was wrapped in, and

The cloth that covered his face when he was buried.

 

Simon Peter and the other disciple heard her startled report,

But, their belief, like hers,

Was an assumption of theft,

So they return home uninspired, probably

Back to bed.

 

“Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.” (20:11)

 

Startled. Alone. Weeping.

Tears like those shed by our Lord at the tomb of Lazarus,

Tears of mourning welling from deep inside the belly,

Triggered by the traumatic memory of cross and nail,

Tears of anger that

Someone has violated and plundered the tomb.

 

Startled. Alone. Weeping. Angry.

Bewildered by the mystery confronting her.

Two angels appeared,

Rhetorically ask,

“Why are you weeping?”

She did not understand that he must rise from the dead. (20:9)

“They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” (20:13)

 

Startled. Alone. Weeping. Angry. Bewildered.

One would expect to find a gardener in a garden.

Recognition comes with a name

By a shepherd who knows his sheep by name.

 

“Mary!” the Risen Lord recognizes.

“Rabbi! Teacher!” Mary the sheep recognizes.

Mary recognizes her risen Shepherd;

Risen from the dead,

Risen back to life,

Risen to call her by name,

Risen to call her to follow:

“Go to my brothers and say to them,

‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father,

To my God and your God.’” (20:17)

 

Go and testify,

Witness to what you’ve seen,

Tell what you’ve been told.

Mary Magdalene becomes the first resurrection preacher in the Bible,

When she proclaims with joy and astonishment,

“I have seen the Lord!”

(Don’t ever tell me that women aren’t called to preach!)

 

I have seen the Lord! Mary obediently proclaims!

I have seen the Lord!

 

On this day of resurrection, like Mary,

We, too, are stunned to recognition.

We, too, are challenged by the call

To go and swear witness to

What we’ve seen,

What we’ve been told,

What we’ve come to know and believe that is true.

 

Resurrection

Is breath,

The same Spirit that swept over the waters on the day of creation.

Resurrection

Is life,

When Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Resurrection

Is victory,

Breaking the chains of death, and

Spilling forth light into every crevasse of creation.

 

Resurrection

Is the springboard to our Lord’s ascension,

Reunion with God,

Our heavenly Father.

 

Resurrection propels the world forward

With anticipation

For Christ’s promised return,

When a new heaven and new earth come into being,

Like a bride adorned for her husband.

 

Resurrection becomes promise

When tears and pain will be no more,

When God will come and dwell with us,

Making all things new.

Resurrection is the Alpha and the Omega of our God.

(Revelations 21)

 

Light has come to the darkness!

Go, and testify, “I have seen the Lord!”

Life is restored!

Go, and witness, “Christ is risen!”

Christ has ascended!

Go, and proclaim the promise, that

Christ will come again!

 

Dearly beloved,

He is risen!

Alleluia!

Amen.

“Truth”

A Good Friday Meditation

April 19, 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

jezus-and-pilate.jpg

 

John 18:33-38 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=422412919)

 

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him.

 

Prayer.

 

The truth is …

 

The Passion narrative from St. John

Has led me to brew on Pilate’s rhetorical question to Jesus

“What is truth?”

 

The truth is

In today’s world so often

Avoided, exaggerated, interpreted, hidden, stretched, bent, or simply denied.

 

What is it about the ninth commandment

“Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor”

(Deuteronomy 5:20)

That it is so hard to comprehend and practice?

 

The truth is

Significantly different from telling a lie.

Lies, or bearing false witness, as the Deuteronomist would say,

Deviate from the truth for personal gain.

Lies expose the selfish, self promotion, unbridled self interest.

The size of the fish I caught is exaggerated

Simply so that you will think more highly of me and my fishing skill.

 

The truth is

Significantly different from the opposite of fake news.

This would require one to assume that all news was truth.

Yet, we all should be aware that news is blurred,

Sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally,

By point of view, cultural blinders, moral and ethical assumptions, implicit or explicit biases, and religious beliefs.

 

The truth is

Really, really hard to pin down.

On the one hand are cold, hard facts.

On the other hand are deeply rooted beliefs.

This apparent contradiction has unnecessarily pitted science against religion for centuries.

 

The truth is

Believers believe and deniers deny.

And it’s really, really hard to lever someone to cross to the other side.

Then along comes Jesus.

 

“For this I was born,

And for this I came into the world,

To testify to the truth.

Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

(18:37b)

 

The truth is

Truth can only be found in the testimony of Jesus Christ.

 

The truth is

“In the beginning was the Word,

And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (1:1)

All things came into being through him. (1:3)

Life came into being. (1:4)

Life led to light,

The light of all people.

 

The truth is

“The Word,” God, that is,

“Became flesh and lived among us.” (1:14)

 

The truth is

Found in his testimony:

“I am the Bread of Life.

Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and

Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (6:35)

Truth.

 

“I am the Light of the World.

Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness

But will have the light of life.” (8:12)

Truth.

 

“I am the Gate.

Whoever enters by me will be saved, and

Will come in and go out and find pasture.” (10:9)

Truth.

 

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

No one come to the Father except through me.” (14:6)

Truth.

 

“I am the Vine,

You are the branches.

Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit,

Because apart from me

You can do nothing.” (15:5)

Truth.

 

“I am the Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (10:11)

Can you hear Mary weep?

Can you see Jesus breath his last?

 

Truth is

“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus testifies.

“Those who believe in me,

Even though they die,

Will live,

And everyone who lives and believes in me

Will never die.” (11:25-26)

 

This gives us hope;

An expectation for what awaits us

In just three days.

 

Truth is

I am unable to convince anyone of the truth.

Like everyone else,

I am only able to testify to the truth of Jesus Christ.

 

The lever that leads to belief ...

The catalyst of conversion ...

Is God’s gift of grace,

His presence in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

The Holy Spirit knows our condition, circumstances, and needs

Before we know them;

Before even our birth.

The Holy Spirit uses the testimony of apostolic commission

To lead the unbeliever to the altar of

Repentance, forgiveness, conversion, and justification.

And the Holy Spirit fills the breath of the newly converted,

Abiding within,

Empowering testimony

To this wonderfully beautiful, newfound truth.

 

Don’t worry about what you are to say.

The Spirit will give you the words.

 

Truth is

When darkness falls and

We strip this sanctuary of all color;

When we lay his body in the tomb and

We return home this cold, cold night;

We know …

We know the truth.

 

Truth is

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ

Is not God’s final word.

Amen.

“Have Love for One Another”

Maundy Thursday – April 18, 2019

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

thefootwashing-1024x768-19439.jpg

 

John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=422413459)

 

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.

And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 

Prayer.

 

The ongoing daily dialogue we have with the scriptures tells us that

the choices we make in our lives do make a difference in the eye of God.

A person’s actions,

both publicly and privately,

serve as a window to the soul.

 

A disciplined, mature spiritual life

could be defined as when a person’s actions

are consistent with the faith they proclaim.

This recognizes and eliminates personal hypocrisy.

This defines authenticity.

This is euphemistically referred to as

“Talking the talk and walking the walk.”

 

I think of it as living in harmonic rhythm with Christ.

This is my goal as his disciple:

to make what I say and what I do

become not only a harmonic rhythm with each other,

but also, a harmonic rhythm with what Jesus said and what Jesus did.

 

“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another,”

Jesus instructs his disciples.

 

Jesus talked the talk and walked the walk.

Jesus is authentic as they come.

 

Our Last Supper setting for this evening begins with His action:

Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

He pours water over their feet, washes, and towel dries.

His actions were startling to his beloved disciples,

perhaps just as startling as they are to us today.

In my opinion, feet are dirty and smelly and rather ugly.

Yet, Jesus washes 12 pairs of feet this evening.

 

His actions are incredibly humbling.

The teacher is usually the one held in higher esteem than the student.

Yet, Jesus demonstrates that humility is more important than any lesson plan.

 

His actions are incredibly courageous.

He knows that his betrayer is in line to have his feet washed.

Jesus washes the feet of Judas anyways.

The one who is giving Jesus up to the authorities to be killed

is one of those whose feet Jesus washed.

 

His actions were one of service.

He rolled up his sleeves

and went about the work of cleaning another’s dirty, filthy feet.

 

His actions are incredibly loving.

It is hard to get more intimate than washing someone else’s feet.

His touch demonstrates how much he loved his closest friends.

 

Jesus teaches, “you also ought to wash one another’s feet… you are blessed if you do them.”

 

When it comes to hypocrisy,

none can be found in Jesus.

 

Jesus is saying, “Just as I have done, so are you to do to other disciples.”

Treat other followers of Christ with humility,

not according to power or authority,

but as equals,

even if it takes making ourselves less than equals.

 

Be courageous in service;

extend mission and ministry

to those who are known to have hurt or betrayed us.

Be lavish in our service,

willing to go beyond what the world might expect.

Serve because we love, and

Without any expectation of reciprocity.  

 

Love enemies, just as we are to love ourselves,

… just as we are to love our God.

 

Because Jesus washed the feet of his disciples,

it requires that we pay especially close attention to what he has to say.

He gives a new commandment:

“Love one another.

Just as I have loved you,

you also should love one another.”

Shouldn’t this be the character that identifies us as followers of Jesus?

 

Love should define who we are and whose we are.

 

Often today, we lose sight of this simple, humbling fact.

It is far easier to apply the cultural

ethics and morality of the world upon our church,

than it is to apply this command of Jesus to our lifestyle and decisions.

 

The church becomes secularized when we import

democracy, authority, and power.

The body is whitewashed by

political agendas,

power hungry executives,

ambitious clergy,

and ladder climbing laity.

The ecclesia becomes just another system of righteous service

when we apply Robert’s Rules of Order.

 

But Jesus calls us to another standard.

The identity of His Body is to be grounded and identified by love.

Show me a community organization that requires everybody to love!

Show me a judicial expectation to love!

Show me a politician who runs on a platform of love.

Show me incorporation papers or by-laws of any business that demands love define its purpose, culture, or values!

 

Jesus calls his church, his followers, his disciples to love

– to love one another,

to love our enemies,

to love those who persecute us,

to love those who are un-lovely,

to love the least fortunate,

to love the outcast, the poor, the widow, the orphaned, the diseased, and the imprisoned.

 

Jesus calls us to love the Lord our God,

with our entire mind,

with all our soul,

with all our strength, and

with all our heart.

 

That love began with a pitcher of water, a basin, and a towel.

 

This is his reason:

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,

if you have love for one another.”

 

In this age of evangelical fervor,

isn’t this the greatest evangelism tool ever conceived and enacted by Jesus? When others see the love that we share, won’t they want to share it, too?

 

You won’t find love in your company’s ethic.

You won’t find love standing before a judge.

You won’t even find love in a therapist’s chair.

Love won’t be found in a course outline or a state curriculum.

You may be searching for love in a failing marriage or broken relationship.

You may even be searching for love from a bottle, from a pill, or in a high.

Love won’t be found there.

 

By the grace of God, let others find the love of God here with us!

Let us open the shades,

that all might look in and see the love that is proclaimed by our congregation,

without hypocrisy,

with integrity and authenticity,

both in our words and in our deeds.

 

Let us act with humility, with courage, with service, and with love,

just as Jesus did,

washing his disciples’ feet.

Let all the world see and experience God’s love,

as it is meant to be seen and experienced.

 

There is no greater love than the love Jesus has for you.

We are his disciples, his children, his followers.

It was for our sake that Jesus suffered and died on the cross

– to wash us clean of our sins

– to reconcile us with each other and with our God.

 

It was for our sake that Jesus rose from the dead

– to give us the gift of eternal life.

 

It was for our sake that Jesus broke bread and shared the cup

– to give us the sweet anticipation of his return and

the love in which we are enveloped. 

 

That same bread and cup are shared here this evening.

Tomorrow, his passion will be spoken.

And Sunday, His resurrection will be proclaimed.

 

Actions do speak louder than words.

Have love for one another, my beloved, just as Jesus loves you.

And by your love, you will be known.

Amen.

“Explicit and Dangerous”

Luke 19:28-40, 41-44

14 April, 2019 - Palm / Passion Sunday

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

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Luke 19:28-40, 41-44 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=421815235)

 

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.”

Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

(Video of Sermon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwLC9hLqBQw&t=6s )

Prayer.

 

Blessed Palm Sunday, everyone.

Blessed Palm Sunday from the one and only Gospel

That fails to mention palm branches

Being used for our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

 

Blessed Passion Sunday, everyone.

Blessed Passion Sunday because every word and act of Jesus,

Moving forward,

Will explicitly bring into focus

God’s miraculous, cosmic plan for humankind.

 

Over the course of the next seven days,

All will be revealed:

The enormity of God’s love,

An invitation to embrace his suffering by sharing his bread and cup, and

The Lord’s deepest desire for our future;

Reconciliation with God,

The salvation of the world.

 

Holy week has begun.

Let us enter humbly, modestly, prayerfully.

 

Unlike other years,

When I’ve been content to not preach on the Gospel and

Allow the reading of the Passion to do the heavy lifting,

A number of details from the Triumphant Entry

Have caught my eye.

I believe they deserve to be lifted up and examined more closely,

That their truth might be revealed.

 

Let’s talk about secrecy, contrast, and visitation.

 

1. Secrecy.

 

I’ve taken a lot of psychology classes,

Family system theory classes,

Marriage and family counseling courses,

Classes on crisis response and intervention,

And courses on mental health assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.

 

Universally, scholars from such disciplines agree:

Where there are secrets, there is dysfunction.

 

A lifetime of experience confirms their academic insight.

Where there are secrets, there is dysfunction.

 

Secrets reveal dysfunction

And invites the observant to deeper exploration.

Locating the source of dysfunction is just the beginning of understanding the character or nature of the dysfunction;

As well as the intensity, duration, and other vital issues.

 

The Gospel narrative of Jesus making his triumphant entry into Jerusalem

Is packed full of secrets. 

The action of Jesus is explicit and dangerous,

Much more so than most of us recognize.

 

Secret number one:

Jesus made arrangements for a secret code phrase to be used

To arrange for transportation into the city.

“Go into the village ahead of you,

and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden.

Untie it and bring it here.” (19:30)

This is the secret phrase: “The Lord needs it.”

 

It’s almost as if this is taken out of the Cold War and Spy vs Spy.

 

Secret number two:

The crowd is comprised mostly of his disciples

And fellow Galileans who had traveled south with Jesus

As he taught, healed, casts out demons, and made his way to Jerusalem.

The majority of the crowd weren’t from Jerusalem.

 

Passover had drawn them.

Jesus had inspired them.

The thought of Jesus leading a revolution impassioned them.

 

Secret number three:

His own people proclaimed Jesus king who comes in the name of the Lord.

The inhabitants of Jerusalem already had a king, thank you.

Those with power, authority, and wealth

Were quite satisfied with maintaining the status quo.

 

Had they come out of the city to join the parade,

So too would word have spread to the authorities and

Roman Legions would have been dispatched.

Jesus would have never made it beyond the city gate.

 

It is no surprise

Pharisees told Jesus to have the crowd lower their voice.

 

Jesus correctly recognizes

That ship had already sailed.

The cat was already out of the bag.

There was no more hiding the truth: the king had arrived.

“I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (19:40)

 

The dysfunction Jesus exposes

Is that of a corrupt religious system

That favored Law over Grace,

Judgment over Love,

And Death over Life.

 

The dysfunction Jesus exposes

Preyed on the poor, widows, and vulnerable;

Placed artificial barriers between the Creator and the created;

And exposed the abuse of power, authority, and wealth.

 

The secret subversion of Jesus

Is revealed the moment he walks through the city gate.

Jesus marches right over to the Temple and

Turns over the moneychanger’s tables.

 

Yet, the criticism of oppression and injustice Jesus wields

Isn’t shallow and superficial.

He actually brings to the table

A creative, constructive way forward;

One that reflects the character of our God,

Peace, love, forgiveness, and grace.

 

If you or I are staking the claim

That we are following Jesus

But we fail to take on corruption, injustice, and oppression of this world …

We’re doing it wrong!

 

If you or I aren’t tearing down barriers of wealth, power, privilege, authority,

We’re doing it wrong!

 

If you or I aren’t inviting the world to repentance

With an invitation to follow Jesus into the Kingdom of heaven,

We’re doing it wrong!

 

Be the hands and voice of Jesus for the transformation of the world.

 

Bring peace to conflict.

Replace hatred with love,

Judgment with forgiveness,

Punishment with grace.

 

2. Contrast.

 

In Roman culture

Whenever a victorious general came to town

They were given a triumph in his honor.

 

They would be welcomed into the city with a parade;

A triumphant entry, as it were,

Which would lead to

Ceremony, Recognition, Celebration and Glory.

 

Wikipedia reports

“The Roman triumph (triumphus) was a civil ceremony and religious rite of ancient Rome, held to publicly celebrate and sanctify the success of a military commander who had led Roman forces to victory in the service of the state or, originally and traditionally, one who had successfully completed a foreign war.”

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_triumph)

 

The triumphant

Would be crowned with laurel and dressed in royal purple.

 

If the victorious king came to town,

A royal welcome awaited him.

If the Son of God came to town,

A triumphant entry was a Messianic act.

 

Jesus lived in a culture of honor versus shame.

Honor and shame served as social currency;

Depicting a person’s relative value.

On one end of the spectrum was the Roman triumph,

At the other end was the shame parade

Of the condemned carrying his cross to his own crucifixion.

The shamed would be crowned with thorns

And be stripped of all clothing,

Exposed for all the world to see.

 

Perched precariously this day,

Teetering between Palms and Passion,

Between Triumph and Failure,

Between Honor and Shame,

We cannot but help to see this contrast

That reveals the glory of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

Sunday’s entrance is book-ended with Friday’s exit,

As if capital punishment was the final chapter in the narrative.

It wasn’t. It isn’t.

Death doesn’t win.

 

The real contrast is not between Sunday and Friday,

But between this Sunday and next Sunday.

The triumphs of this world pale in comparison with the triumph of God!

 

This world can only take one so far.

We are limited by the laws of nature and

The mortality of life.
One can only have so much success,

Accumulate a finite amount of wealth,

Obtain a big enough trophy case.

 

In contrast

The triumph of God is eternal!

Repentance, baptism, and conversion

Begin the eternal journey towards God

That transcends this mortal life and

Is perfected in eternal life.

 

3. Visitation.

 

Jesus makes his way down the steep path from the Mount of Olives.

People kept spreading their cloaks on the road before him. (19:36-37)

Luke makes intentional effort to place Jesus outside the city.

Jesus is still approaching Jerusalem

When the triumph parade takes place.

 

Jesus is still outside of the city,

At the bottom of the Kidron Valley;

An ancient garbage dump with a working cemetery built on top.

At the bottom of the valley,

A place symbolized by stench and death,

Jesus looks up at the Golden Gate through which he would pass

And ascend the Temple steps.

 

Looking up, Jesus wept.

Jerusalem is a city that “kills the prophets

And stones those who are sent to it.” (Matthew 23:37)

 

Jesus wept.

He could foresee

The destruction of Jerusalem,

When walls will be toppled, and

The children inside will be hemmed in and crushed.

His prophecy of lament and tears

Was not only due to the death and destruction that was coming,

But “because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

(19:44)

 

The City of Jerusalem, was, and remains to this day, a character;

A city, a place, an event, a time

Where prophets are killed,

Opposition is overcome,

Where forgiveness is given,

And salvation breaks forth.

 

Jerusalem is where the Holy Spirit

Breaks through the divide between heaven and earth,

Empowers and deploys the Apostles,

Giving birth to the Church,

Spreading the Body of Christ like wildfire to all the world.

 

Through God’s love and humanity,

God visits Jerusalem,

In the nature of Jesus Christ, and

Establishes it as our ecclesiastical anchor, our foundation,

From which God’s kingdom is grown and spread.

 

….

 

The secret is out:

Jesus has arrived.

The time for celebration has ended.

 

Tears of lament flow freely when sitting vigil,

When watching and waiting for a loved one to die.

Life is held in contrast with death.

Anticipate wearing emotions on the sleeve these next seven days,

And keep the tissues close at hand.

 

Jesus, whom we love,

Will suffer and die.

 

Remain by his side.

Keep alert.

Remember, God has a habit of visiting Jerusalem.

Watch for signs

Of God presence and

Our Lord’s resurrection.

Amen.

“Keep the Poor Among You Always”

John 12:1-8

7 April 2019, Lent V

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion and East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

John 12:1-8 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=421294457)

 

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

(Video of the sermon)

Prayer.

 

Allow me to clear up some confusion.

 

Mary, the sister anointing Jesus feet, and wiping them with her hair

Is not Mary Magdalene.

This was a medieval western Christianity legend

That attempted to connect her with an unnamed, sinful woman

From St. Luke (7:36-50).

This was an injustice to Mary Magdalen that is perpetuated to this day.

That unnamed, sinful woman

Also anointed Jesus feet and wiped them with her hair

While he was eating with one of the Pharisees

At his house in Jerusalem.

 

Likewise, this pair of sisters, Mary and Martha,

Is not the Mary and Martha sisters

- Mary who sits at the feet of Jesus

while Martha waits on them hand and foot -

As depicted in the Gospel of St. Luke (10:38-42).

That pair of sisters lived in the region where Jesus began his ministry,

In the north,

In the region of Galilee.

Great story; different sisters.

 

John’s Gospel account of Mary and Martha

Is about a completely different pair of sisters,

Coincidentally also named Mary and Martha.

Mary and Martha were common names.

 

St. John’s narrative about Mary and Martha

Takes place in the south,

In a suburb of Jerusalem called Bethany, and

Includes a brother by the name of Lazarus.

You may remember,

Lazarus was dead, stinking, and rotting four days in a tomb

When Jesus came and raised him from death back to life.

 

Raising Lazarus from the dead, St. John records,

Led to some Jews in the crowd believing in Jesus and following him,

While others went to the Pharisees and the council in outrage.

The council decided to have Jesus arrested.

Jesus withdrew further away from Jerusalem to Ephraim,

Near the wilderness, and

Remained there with his disciples. (11:54)

 

When Passover drew near,

Jesus makes his way back towards Jerusalem,

Stopping back in Bethany to have dinner with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

I wonder if Jesus inquired about Lazarus’ health?

 

Passover is near, and so too is Jesus’ hour.

 

A number of items from the Gospel of John,

About this act of love, followed by the confrontation with Judas Iscariot,

Catches my eye.

 

1. Smell.

The stench of Lazarus dead four days in a tomb. (11:39)

The smell of costly perfume made of nard,

Filling the house with fragrance. (12:3)

Death and life are contrasted in both scenes.

Corruption, on the one hand, and wholeness, on the other.

Smell calls the observant to attention.

 

Pause for a moment to smell.

Breath in deeply the smell of Mary’s perfume.

Imagine this house filled with its fragrance.

 

Rudyard Kipling wrote

“Smells are surer than sounds or sights

To make your heart-strings crack.”

(http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_licht.htm)

 

The smell of costly perfume

Can be a foretaste of the Passion that is to come.

One can almost smell the newly crucified Jesus,

His corpse washed and wrapped,

Stuffed with myrrh and aloes and laid in a tomb. (19:39)

 

2. Anointing.

Jesus reports

Mary purchased the perfume

For the day of his burial. (12:7)

 

Kings are anointed at coronation.

Priests are anointed at ordination.

The newly converted are anointed by the Holy Spirit.

The dying are anointed on their deathbed.

The dead are anointed recognizing new birth to eternal life.

 

This very day,

On the eve of Jesus riding triumphantly into Jerusalem

Jesus is anointed by Mary, the sister of Lazarus,

As a wonderful, beautiful, loving act of preparation

For Jesus to complete his mission:

To redeem the world,

Reconciling the world to God.

 

Too often, we experience the love of God, through Jesus His Son,

Moving in a single direction,

From God to humankind,

From God to me.

 

Mary is one of the rare examples of reversing love’s flow.

She loves Jesus,

Is willing to sacrifice greatly to show him love and compassion.

Mary returns to the Lord the love that first comes from God.

 

Mary’s love isn’t withheld.

It isn’t miserly or a mere token.

Mary’s love is extravagant, over the top, excessive, enormous;

Exactly like God’s love is for you and me.

 

We may say we love Jesus.

We often talk about loving Jesus.

Talk is cheap.

Actions speak louder than words.

Mary’s act of love is actually demonstrating love for Jesus.

How might we do the same?

What can we do to actually show our extraordinary love for Jesus?

 

3. Poverty.

8.JPG

It is impossible to separate Jesus from the poor.

The Gospel author of John

Recognizes how deeply entwined the message and meaning of Jesus

Is tied to how we respond to the poor of this world.

 

It is no accident that Judas Iscariot,

The one who was about to betray Jesus,

The one who kept the common purse and used it for his personal benefit,

Brings up the topic of the poor.

 

True, perfume that cost a year’s wages

could have been sold and given to the poor.

After his skimming, the poor would have probably received a fraction of the proceeds.

 

Judas wasn’t concerned for the poor.

But, John correctly notes that Jesus was.

 

Jesus brought good news in tangible ways to the oppressed and vulnerable.

He fed the hungry.

He healed the sick.

He returned the broken to wellness and restored them into community.

 

Jesus resisted oppressive political, religious, and social systems

That lay at the root cause of the worlds suffering.

 

There is an important insight to John’s Gospel

That comes from the ancient Greek, so I have learned:

Sometimes the present indicative form of a word

Matches the present imperative;

which is an academic way of saying

“maybe we should read Jesus’ statement not as indication of the way things are - ‘You always have the poor with you’

but as a command: … ‘Keep the poor among you always.’”

 

(With thanks to Lindsey Trozzo, as found at: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3993)

 

Keep the poor among you always.

 

Living a life of Christian piety is a life immersed in poverty.

 

One who understood and practiced piety was Francis Asbury.

This past week I have been reading his biography,

“American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodist” by John Wigger.

 

Asbury rode thousands of miles on horseback

During the American Revolution and in the decades thereafter,

Preaching the Gospel,

Converting the masses,

Expanding the Methodist movement beyond the wealthy coastal cities

Deep into the wilderness and frontier.

 

Asbury owned little,

Gave most everything away,

Lived on the generosity of host families.

His primary concern was with the saving of souls,

Bringing people into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ,

Then discipling them by organizing people into class meetings.

 

Class meetings, patterned after the class meetings of John Wesley,

Were led by a lay leader,

Met regularly,

Served to support one another in their discipleship,

And to reach out and serve the poor.

It’s rigid discipline encouraged love and devotion;

A modest, pious Christian life moving on towards sanctification.

 

Asbury avoided the trappings of wealth and power,

Eagerly seeking the farmer, the slave, the common person.

Asbury avoided locating in the comforts of cities on the Eastern seaboard,

Preferring the interior wilderness of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Tennessee.

Boarding with a frontier family,

Warmed by their hearth,

Speaking of mortal and immortal concerns,

Warms the heart and quickens the soul.

 

Keep the poor among you always, Jesus commanded.

 

Opportunities abound to not just talk about poverty

But to do something about it.

 

One in five children in America live in poverty.

Of our total population, 48% are poor or low income.

At the same time, 1% of the population own 43% of the nation’s wealth.

The bottom 80% are left with just 7% of wealth.

(http://kairoscenter.org/poor-peoples-campaign-concept-paper/)

 

And that’s just in America.

 

Love the Lord, the Great Commandment tells us.

Love your neighbor as yourself, it is quickly followed up.

When we can love our neighbors as extravagantly as Mary loved Jesus,

We will go a long ways towards keeping the poor among us

And serving their needs.

 

Just as Jesus fed the hungry crowds,

So too can we feed those who are unable to feed themselves or their families.

Just as Jesus healed the sick,

So too can we make health care affordable and accessible to all who need it.

Just as Jesus railed against systems of injustice and oppressions of this world,

So too can we.

 

 

Dearly beloved,

Breath deeply and smell the fragrance of Mary’s anointing perfume.

Be inspired to love Jesus,

Not just by our words,

But through our actions

With acts of love and charity.

 

Love God and

Love neighbors,

Especially our poorest of neighbors.

Roll up the sleeves and don’t be afraid of getting your hands dirty.

Serve the poor.

You’re doing the Lord’s work.

 

Keep the poor among us always.

 

Be God’s extravagant love.

Live modestly.

Embrace piety.

Let the rest take care of itself.

Amen.

“‘That Son of Yours!’ The Injustice of Grace”

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Lent IV - March 31, 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=420610732)

 

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:

 

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’

 

So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

 

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

 

Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

 

1.JPG

(Video of this Sermon)

Prayer.

 

Oh, boy!

Where do I start?

 

The challenges of preaching on this parable of Jesus are many.

1. It’s well known.

Most of us are familiar with it.

2. It’s been interpreted by preachers, professors, video Bible study leaders, and countless Sunday school teachers.

Quality and frequency varies, as does memory and age.

Even still, there aren’t many unturned stones.

3. This parable often arouses the dysfunction of families to bubble to the surface.

Coffee hour, the ride home, and conversation around the dinner table could be interesting.

It might be painful for many.

 

Let start with finding a title for this parable.

 

In the original Greek

There are no titles, chapters, or verses in the Gospels.

These have all been added later by scribes, editors, and early Church fathers.

The title assigned to a section, event, or parable

Reflect the author’s bias and

Shape the audience perspective.


How we think about the Gospel is often shaped

By how others thought about the Gospel.

 

So, what should we title our parable?

Here is my top four titles:

1. “Parable of the Prodigal Son”

2. “Parable of the No Good, Good for Nothing, Rotten-to-the-Core Son”

3. “Parable of Two Lost Sons”

4. “Parable of a Father’s Injustice”

 

I started out with 10,

Thinking each would make a good sermon point.

I wrote 2 and cut it back to 8.

It was still too long, so

I settled in on 4.

 

At the end of the day,

Jesus promises to offend everyone

By the injustice of God’s grace.


1. “Parable of the Prodigal Son”

Obviously, this is the traditional title assigned to this parable.

Prodigal means “a person who spends money in a recklessly extravagant way.” (Google search)

It assumes the younger son’s point of view:

He was rebellious.

He engaged in sinful behavior.

He loses everything.

No one helps him.

Life is terrible feeding pigs.

Even non-practicing, secular Jews would find slopping pigs abhorrent.

 

He plans and carries out a scheme to manipulate his father

With the hope that he will be allowed back home and reinstated as if nothing happened.

The Prodigal Son’s plan is successful.

Moral of the story: no matter how bad you mess up your life,

Your heavenly Father is waiting, watching, and hoping you will return home.

There is nothing - nothing whatsoever - that can separate anyone from the love of God.

It is our Father’s deepest, longing desire that we return home.


The Lord leaves the light on and the door unlocked.

We are always welcome and encouraged to return to our Heavenly Father.

 

2. “Parable of the No Good, Good for Nothing, Rotten-to-the-Core Son”

This point of view could have come from the grumbling Pharisees and scribes.

Judgment is often decreed by those deemed most righteous,

Those who you or I might feel comfortable watching our children or grandchildren.

We certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving our loved ones

With tax collectors and sinners.

This is the kind of judgment that Pharisees and scribes would have made:

The youngest son is an awful person who gets an awesome party.

 

If we find ourselves in this group of people

Who work hard to maintain our conservative, righteous credentials

Along with the Pharisees and scribes

It’s natural to resent the younger son.

This naturally leads us to question

“What is God’s answer to our resentment?”

 

Answer: love.

God’s love is lavish, abundant, without regard to prior behavior.

God doesn’t appear to be concerned with

How it plays in public opinion polls

Or what other people think.

Moral of the story: our Father’s love is unconditional, lavish, and abundant.


3. “Parable of Two Lost Sons”

How does a loving Father end up raising two knuckle-headed, hopelessly lost sons?

 

Growing up the youngest of four

In our Pennsylvania Dutch family,

I know that I got away with murder.

I also know how stubborn and bull-headed I can be.

 

I could very well be that younger brother seeking to sow my oats.

Fact: I don’t like getting my hands dirty, or

Working under a hot sun.

My brother works sun up to sun down just to smite me.

He makes me look bad.

Fact: I don’t deserve the inheritance;

It is supposed to all go to the eldest male child.

Asking for it plays on my Father’s soft heart.

Giving it to me tells me that my Father is soft in the head, too.


My name is “Mayhem” and I star in the Allstate commercials.

 

At the same time

I could very well be


That older brother working out in the field.

Fact: The baby of the family was always Father’s favorite,

And he always gets a free pass.

Fact: That brother of mine never worked a hard day in his life. 

Fact: I was happy when he left.

I hoped he never returned.

Fact: When he did return, no one even had the courtesy to tell me.

Fact: He’s dead to me.

I’m never talking to him again.


To which the loving Father responds:

“‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” (15:31-32)

Moral of the story: Finding the lost and returning them home is our Heavenly Father’s greatest priority.


4. “Parable of a Father’s Injustice”

Maybe, if dad had raised his sons better, they wouldn’t have turned out so rotten?

Where is the mother in the house?

Talk about dysfunction!

All three of them need psychiatric intervention and long-term care!

 

No matter how one experiences this parable of Jesus,

It is obvious to all that the loving, patient Father

Does not treat his two sons equally or fairly.

 

The Father gives to his young buck a share of the inheritance

That belonged to his eldest son.

It wasn’t his to give.

 

The Father was watching and waiting for his son to return.

He wasn’t out in the field working with his eldest,

Pulling his fair share of the work.

 

The Father was quick to give his prodigal son

Even more wealth and riches - that weren’t his to give.

He gives him a robe, ring, and sandals.

He gives him his brother’s prize winning 4-H calf.

The eldest son raised him from a pup.

 

The Father failed to invite his elder son to the party.

Holy cow; no wonder the elder son is angry,

Dug his heels in, and refused to go in.

 

There is overflowing resentment towards his Father who treated him unfairly.

“But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’” (15:30)

He’s outraged!

Can you blame him?


Moral of the story: God’s grace isn’t fair.

If God’s grace was fair

The lost would never be found.

The dead would never be raised.

And the only means of redemption and salvation

Would be to work our way into heaven.

 

I can’t speak for you,

But I’m just not good enough.

 

The injustice of God’s grace

Reminds us that we are not God;

To pretend otherwise is idolatrous.

 

Rain falls on the just and the unjust.

Sunshine comes to the good and the bad.

God’s favor comes to the deserving and the undeserving.

 

The only way for the lost to be found

Is if God’s grace is apportioned according to God’s wisdom,

Not ours.

 

This parable of two sons

Is no more a creative license to eat, drink, and be merry

Than it is to try to earn your way into heaven.

 

When it comes to God’s grace,

Some just need more than others.

 

…………..


These are the promises of Jesus: no matter how bad you mess up life,

Your heavenly Father is waiting, watching, and hoping you will return home.

 

Jesus wants us to know these essential truths: our Father’s love is unconditional, lavish, and abundant. Finding the lost and returning them home is our Heavenly Father’s greatest priority.

 

Moral of the story: God’s grace isn’t fair.

But it is sufficient.

 

God’s grace is motivated by our Father’s love

Who desires the lost to be found,

The sinner to be forgiven,

The estranged to be reconciled,

The dead to be given new life.

 

That’s good enough for me.

How about you?

Amen.

“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!

 

……….

 

10.JPG


 

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.