“You’re Going Out Looking Like That?”

Matthew 22:1-14

October 15, 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 22:1-14

 

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

 

Prayer.

 

This parable

Causes me to remember my defiant adolescence.

With hair down to my shoulders

And sporting rose colored glasses,

I’d come bounding down the parsonage stairs

Burst into the kitchen

And ask dad for the keys to the car.

Inevitably, my mother would turn away from

The dishes in the sink or dinner on the stove.

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

“You’re going out looking like that?”

 

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

And off I’d go,

Acting as if there was no accountability, …

… Knowing full well that there was.

 

This parable is the fifth in a row,

With three more to follow next month.

It is important to be reminded that

Jesus is confronting the Temple authorities,

The Chief Priest and leaders of the people.

The confrontation in Matthew 21 and 22 is escalating,

Becoming very dangerous and potentially violent.

 

For contextual reasons,

It is important to remember that this confrontation

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

Try to imagine this confrontation taking place

During the early days of Holy Week;

Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday.

Just remember,

Jesus only has hours to live,

Share a final meal with his disciples,

Wash their feet,

Be arrested and tried and condemned,

And be crucified.

 

Time is short.

If ever there was a moment

To clearly and concisely communicate to the world

What the Kingdom of God looks like,

It was now.

 

Characteristics of God’s Kingdom have been revealed by Jesus

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

This is what we have learned so far:

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

·        God’s Kingdom is inclusive.

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

·        God seeks justice and righteousness.

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

 

Today, Jesus turns up the gain,

Amps it up, and

Takes this confrontation over the top.

It isn’t pleasant.

This isn’t the Christmas Jesus

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

We so desire.

This is our Jesus,

At the height of his ministry,

Fulfilling his Father’s will.

He is filled with anger

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

 

Jesus confronts the Temple authorities

To expand our comprehension of the Kingdom of God.

There’s more to learn.

 

This parable causes us to ask

What kind of power does God exercise?

And how does God exercise it?

 

The King interacts on three occasions with four players.

 

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

These are the ones who would not come,

Despite two personal invitations.

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

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

Why wouldn’t they come,

Unless they, themselves had reason to believe

They would be called to accountability

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

 

But those who were first in the kingdom

Didn’t really know their king.

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

 

The king’s response is proportional:

First, he decides to send a second invitation.

When even the second invitation is mocked …

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

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

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

Judgment rains down.

He “destroyed those murderers and burned their city.”

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

 

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

There is accountability in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The king will not be rejected.

Judgment is decisive.

 

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

Describe as both the good and the bad.

Commoners? This is over the top!

 

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

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

 

In some respect

This was an offense to the good;

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

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

 

However, they get a free meal out of it;

So why not attend?

Good news is still good news.

 

It was good news to the bad, too.

The invitation wasn’t predicated on their past behavior.

The invitation was color blind;

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

And his hope for them to have a better future

Was of greater importance than

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

 

The king believes in redemption,

A second chance.

 

A wedding hall filled with guests

Would have certainly pleased the king.

 

The banquet was over the top;

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

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

(Much like our communion table)

 

With this second encounter with both the good and the bad

Jesus’ parable also teaches us that

The king’s grace is inclusive and unconditional.

The invitation to the banquet is extended to everyone.

The king’s grace is abundant,

Rich and overflowing,

Exceeding the expectations and the experience of his people.

 

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!

Now that’s some good news!

 

3. The last player the king engages in this parable

Is the man not wearing a wedding robe,

In open defiance of the king.

 

One could possibly title this final portion of the parable

“The Parable of the Wedding Crasher”.

 

Oh, the king gets his wedding feast,

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

Again, the king is patient and proportional:

He gives the man who is openly defying him

An opportunity to justify his behavior.

 

The man is speechless.

Perhaps he is speechless because he had witnessed

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

Who went on to mock him.

Judgment had resulted in death.

Perhaps he is speechless because he had witnessed

The mercy the king had shown

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

 

The King passes judgment,

But notice, again, it is limited.

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

 

The phrase Jesus uses

“weeping and gnashing of teeth”

To pronounce his judgment

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

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

Mostly in the context of a parable.

While some believe this is a reference to hell,

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

Their removal from the banquet at hand.

He doesn’t kill the wedding crasher,

Unlike those who rejected him.

Defiance might get you kicked out,

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

 

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

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

 

In a powerful way, Jesus reiterated

Yes, there is accountability in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The King will not be rejected.

The King will not be mocked.

Judgment may be proportional,

But it is decisive.

 

The King’s grace is inclusive and unconditional.

The invitation to the banquet is extended to everyone.

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

The King’s grace is abundant,

Rich and overflowing,

Exceeding the expectations and the experience of his people.

 

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

About what life is like in the Kingdom of Heaven.

He tells us a lot about the power of God,

His heavenly Father and our King.

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What kind of power does God exercise?

And how does he exercise it?

 

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God’s power comes from his grace.

God gives everyone a second chance.

God includes everyone, the good and the bad.

This is good news because

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

 

God’s power comes from his restraint.

Vengeance is the Lord’s, and his alone.

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

This is an especially important message to us

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

 

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

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

And to feast at His heavenly feast.

This is good news!

 

Let there be no misunderstanding.

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

God cannot be gamed.

Because, Jesus warns us,

God’s power also comes from His decisive judgment.

God demands accountability.

Let us conduct ourselves accordingly.

Amen.

“Taken Away”

Matthew 21:33-46

October 8, 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 21:33-46

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

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

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

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

 

 

Prayer.

 

A week ago yesterday

We were closing up the cottage for the winter.

It was forty-seven degrees, cold and wet.

As I went about my business taking out the water line

And storing outdoor furniture inside,

 

 

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

It appeared as if there was no activity.

Given the cold day,

I stuck the handle of a rake into the hole.

Wow.

Was I ever surprised!

 

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

 

 

In consecutive weeks,

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

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

He confronted the Chief Priest and his Sadducee henchmen,

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

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

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

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

 

As if this wasn’t enough.

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

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

In two weeks the confrontation in the Temple will conclude with

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

 

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Hold on tight!

 

What interests me in this verbal confrontation

 

 

Is how do we make what Jesus teaches

Relevant to your life and mine?

 

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

A straight forward parable

About a landowner who leased his vineyard to wicked tenants.

Leasing land to tenant farmers was

A common practice in the time of Jesus.

 

 

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

The prophet Isaiah tells of a vineyard owner

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

Instead it yielded wild grapes.

 

Bleh!

 

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah concludes,

 

 

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

 

Of course,

Isaiah was speaking God’s judgment

Upon His own chosen people,

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

And turning their backs on justice.

In return, Isaiah sees impending bloodshed

At the hands of invading Assyrians

And exile into foreign slavery …

Which they got, in spades.

 

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God expects justice.

God expects righteousness.

 

It is out of this context from Isaiah 5

That Jesus tells a new parable

About a landowner and his vineyard.

 

 

Jesus paints the tenants as wicked,

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

Then killing the landowner’s son,

Expecting to get his inheritance.

When the landowner comes, Jesus asks the Temple authorities,

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

 

Before they can figure out his message,

They instinctively respond,

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

 

I’d like to think that Jesus paused here,

A nice juicy, pregnant pause,

Allowing the realization to sink in,

Giving them the opportunity to come to the ironic conclusion

That they had just condemned themselves.

Jesus paints the Temple authorities as the wicked tenants.   

 

 

God expects justice.

God expects righteousness.

They have done neither.

 

Unlike Isaiah who prophesied death and exile,

Jesus pronounces judgment upon the Temple authorities by saying,

 

 

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

 

Killing Jesus upon a cross,

Publicly humiliating him for all to see,

Was an intentional act of injustice,

And it was a rejection of God.

The tragedy of the cross is this:

The leaders should have known better.

They go and conspire to murder him anyway.

 

There are consequences for rejecting God.

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

“He should have known better.”

Or “She should have known better.”

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Truth is,

God’s will,

To be just, to advocate for justice,

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

To accept the Lord, and to worship only him,

Lays a claim on our lives and actions.

Knowing what God wants us to do is great,

But sometimes we don’t like it.

Sometimes we oppose God’s will

Because it conflicts with our selfish will and carnal desires.

We aren’t the first to rebel against God,

Neither will we be the last.

 

Instead of thinking that living a life consistent with God will

As being suffocating or confining,

 

 

Consider the freedom that is given

When we live inside God’s vineyard

And produce good fruit.

The freedom that God gives

Is far more abundant and satisfying

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

The freedom God gives is eternal.

 

True freedom,

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

 

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Ends senseless bloodshed,

Heals every wound,

And dries every tear.

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

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

 

True freedom,

Ends the bloodshed,

Heals every wound,

And dries every tear.

 

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

Producing abundant fruit,

 

 

We love God:

We have no other gods,

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

And we keep God’s Sabbath day holy.

(Exodus 20:1-11)

 

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

 

 

We love our neighbors:

We honor our father and mother.

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

We tell the truth.

And we do not covet other people’s property.

(Exodus 20:12-17)

 

Living in God’s vineyard

Will place us last in line,

According to many of the standards established by society today.

When we do God’s will,

Act righteously,

And live lives committed to justice,

The last will be first,

And the first will be last,

When we come into God’s kingdom.

 

Jesus warned those first in line,

Who produced no fruit, and

Who were trampling his vineyard,

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

 

Here then, is the point of Gospel relevance:

 

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

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

Amen. 

“First In Line”

Matthew 21:23-32

October 1, 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 21:23-32

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

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

 

Prayer.

 

It was as if

The tear gas had thinned

And most of the protesters had left the field.

Only the most hardened, committed remained behind.

 

Crowds of activists,

Filled with naive hopes and blind ambitions,

Had stormed the gates

And entered the sacred grounds of authority,

Being led by their charismatic leader.

He had turned the tables,

(So to speak)

On the powers and principalities of the man,

Exposing hypocrisy, corruption, greed;

Revealing his unimaginable failures to serve the public good.

 

The revolution squared off with the establishment,

Each eyeball-to-eyeball

In a high stakes confrontation

In full view of the surging crowds

And the authorities with their minions

Armed to the teeth and sporting riot gear

Holding them back.

 

Safeties had been taken off.

Bows were stretched.

The pregnant pause

Was silence saturated with sweat.

 

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

Though the landscape from Ken Burn’s PBS documentary

Looks strikingly similar.

Neither am I speaking about the violent worker strikes and riots

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

 

No.

This impending, imminent confrontation that I’m speaking about

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

Jesus had just stormed the gates

With his triumphal entry,

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

Jesus had just ascended the Temple mount,

The seat of power and authority,

And upset the money changers,

Disrupting the Temple’s precious cash flow.

 

Barge right in uninvited

Open the safe and throw the money out the window;

Jesus knows how to attract attention.

Jesus knows how to

Gather a crowd.

And Jesus knows how to stick it to the man.

 

The man

… in this case …

The Chief Priest of the Temple

Steps forward from his crowd of

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

He steps forward

In this highly charged, volatile setting,

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

The country bumpkin from Galilee.

He steps forward and

Puts himself into Jesus’ personal space.

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He jabs his index finger right into his sternum:

“By what authority are you doing these things,

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

 

It is as if

We can hear the soldiers taking a deep breath and

See them leaning into a fight.

The rivulets of perspiration can be seen trickling down the foreheads

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

(Yes, the Gospel can sing!)

 

By what authority? The Chief Priest asks.

Who gave it to you?

What is its source?

 

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

How Jesus answers

Reveals much about

What Jesus intends to accomplish

With his intentional, high stakes confrontation.

 

Because the situation was so volatile,

Teetering on the edge of violence and mortal catastrophe

That would prematurely result in his own death

And the death of many others,

Jesus wisely foils the Chief Priest’s thrust

By saying

“I will also ask you one question;

if you tell me the answer,

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

 

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

People like the appearance of fairness.

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

The Chief Priest probably thought to himself,

“Less the Romans lose confidence

In my ability to keep the population in order.”  

 

Fair enough,

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

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

Now it was Jesus’s turn.

 

Allow me to pause for a moment

To share insider information

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

 

Judaism at the time of Jesus,

As it is today,

Was not monolithic or homogeneous.

All Jews did not share the same world view.

Jewish leaders and followers alike

Disagreed over theology and beliefs about God.

Though there was one Temple,

Located in Jerusalem,

There was a rich diversity of Jewish thought and faith,

Much like there is a rich diversity of

Both Jewish and Christian thought and belief today.   

 

The fabric of Jewish diversity was quite beautiful.

There were numerous Rabbinical schools,

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

Each school was taught how to interpret Hebrew scripture

By a recognized Rabbi.

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

And the Rabbi taught from his tradition.

Each Rabbi taught from his own beliefs and experience.

There were the ultraorthodox in one corner

And the liberal reformed Rabbis in the other.

There were conservative Rabbis on one side

And progressive Rabbis on the other end of the spectrum.

There was unity on the essentials,

… Creation, Covenants, and Torah …

On everything else, not so much.

Not so much.

 

There were also differences in first century Judaism

Between sects and orders;

Think Pharisees, Sadducees, Levites.

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

in the desert by the Dead Sea.

Think about John the Baptist

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

Was baptizing followers in the Jordan River.

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

 

Geography also helps define differences of world view

In early, first century Judaism.

Much like today,

Rural people tend to think differently

Than city folks.

Wages were different.

Education was different.

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

While resenting the fact that they were pressured to pilgrimage

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

To make their sacrifice and pay their tax.

Rural Jews chose their Rabbi

Based on the world view they supported.

 

The Chief Priest of the Temple

Was the elite of the elites.

He was the aristocracy,

Rich, powerful, born of Temple lineage.

He was the steward of Temple theology and teaching.

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

His world view valued stability;

Bank deposits being made,

People being placated,

Enemies made to disappear,

Friends being rewarded.

The trains had to run on time.

 

The elders of the Temple,

Of which are mentioned in the Gospel,

Are the Sadducees,

Who were in harmonious political and theological alignment

With their Chief Priest.  

 

Amid all these diverse, competing Jewish world views,

Conservative vs liberal,

Rural vs urban,

Wealth vs poverty,

Power vs the powerless,

Privilege vs virtual slavery,

Jesus believed the Temple Priest and his elders

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

They neglected their neighbors.

They supported the powerful.

They upheld the status quo;

often at the terrible expense of their own people.

 

Jesus was a rural bumpkin.

They were the urban elite.

This put Jesus right in their cross-hairs.

 

One of the raging topics of debate

Between these diverse Jewish points of view

Was the status of John the Baptist.

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

Especially in hot debate on the Temple staircase.

 

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

In the Jordan River for the forgiveness of sin.

But, was he a prophet?

Or was he simply a charismatic leader?

Was his baptism valid,

… did it take away sins … or not?

As Jesus adroitly asked the Chief Priest and his elders,

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

 

They argued among themselves,

Exactly as Jesus expected they would.

 

They argued among themselves,

Just like Christians argue among ourselves today.

(O yes! The Gospel bleeds RELEVANCE!)

 

Consider the different world views of Christianity today;

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

Think about Protestant evangelical movement;

Think about Protestant social gospel movements and mainline churches;

Consider house churches and mega-churches;

Think of country churches and city cathedrals;

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

 

Everyone of us, who call ourselves a Christian,

Are being challenged,

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

 

The raging, divisive issue facing the Church today,

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

From our world view,

Is all about inclusion.

Who is in? and who is out?

Do we allow pastors and priests to marry?

To marry a person of the same gender?

To celebrate the marriage of two, same gender individuals?

Do we reserve the church only for righteous people

Who are righteous according to my standard?

Who look, act, and think like me?

Or did Christ die for everyone and, therefore,

Everyone is accepted and welcome here at the table?

 

When Jesus brilliantly asked the Chief Priest and his elders,

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

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

“Do you believe clergy can be gay,

Celebrate gay weddings,

And welcome all people,

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

 

Yeah.

The similarities are pretty shocking.

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

 

I will not tell you what to believe.

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

 

Here I am,

Deep into the sermon,

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

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

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

 

No. It’s not that bad.

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

Do you really think he is expecting a divergent response?

Something other than what he knows will be true?

Starting off with “What do you think?”

Is a clue that the parable is easy to understand

And straightforward in its truth.

 

Who does the will of the father? Jesus asks.

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

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

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

 

In other words,

Don’t tell me.

Show me.

Show me by your Christ transformed faith,

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

Show me by your actions and behavior

… that Christ died for everyone,

That Christ rose from the dead for everyone,

And that Christ will come again for everyone.

 

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

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

When Christ comes again,

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

Jesus is taking a head count!

Everyone better be at the table.

17.JPG

 

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

That’s on us.

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

 

The question isn’t about judgment or morality.

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

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

Gender, identity, and sexual preference hijack the larger conversation

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

 

Jesus brings with him a new teaching about righteousness,

Which is fulfilling the will of the heavenly Father.

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

 

What is righteous for Jesus?

The Law, yes. Certainly.

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

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

This is how Jesus fulfills the Law:

He prioritizes the commandments

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

Love the Lord, and love your neighbor.

 

The righteousness Jesus introduces into the Temple environs,

Tosses over the money changers tables,

Throws the Chief Priest into a tizzy,

And leads to the genesis of their homicidal intentions.

 

The righteousness Jesus introduces to the Temple

Tosses out the laws about cleanliness and animal sacrifice.

Jesus sought out …

… Reached out …

To the unclean, just as he taught ...

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

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

He taught on the Sabbath.

Jesus, himself, was willing to advance a righteousness

Deeply rooted in grace, justice, and love,

At the expense of a righteousness

Based on sin, punishment, and exclusion.

 

The sacrifice Jesus seeks is not an animal sacrifice.

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

This is the sacrifice God desires:

“to present your bodies as a living sacrifice,

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

No more atonement by proxy.

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

 

Present yourself.

Let Christ forgive you.

Let Christ restore you.

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

 

The righteousness Jesus introduces into the Temple

Exposes hypocrisy for what it is;

Failure to follow through with God’s will,

Especially after which

God has already given us the authority to do so.

 

Our Gospel today is a call for each of us to

Remove the insincere platitudes and promises in our lives,

And replace them with

Authentic Christian behavior,

Authentic Christian living,

Worthy of our Lord.

 

Doctrine doesn’t need to be defended

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

The crusades and the inquisition ended centuries,

Let’s not relive them.

Church law doesn’t need to be enforced

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

 

Leave the justice up to God.

Let you and me together,

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

Let’s you and me together invite to this Table

Everyone, leaving no one behind.

Let’s you and me together partner with Jesus

To introduce his righteousness to all,

Even to the loftiest Temples and Courts in the land.

 

We’ve been given the authority.

Use your authority wisely,

To fulfill the will of our heavenly Father.

Amen.

“Moaning and Complaining”

Matthew 20:1-16

24 September 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 20:1-16

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

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

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

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

 

Prayer.

 

To label a parable is to interpret it.

 

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

Tell everyone to cross out the nifty title

Slipped in-between the text

In their version of the Bible

And replace it with a title of their own.

Discuss.

 

To label a parable is to interpret it.

 

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

By the New Revised Standard Version,

The academic brand I prefer,

For this particular Gospel parable.

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

One might just as easily title this parable

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

“The Parable of the Grumbling Workers,” or

“The Parable of the Provocative Land Owner.”

 

In a similar way,

To create a sermon title

Is to give the listeners a clue

To how the preacher is interpreting the Gospel.

“Moaning and Complaining” might lead you to believe

That my interpretation of Matthew 20

Is focused on the discontented laborers.

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

Your imagination might be led in a completely different direction.

 

To label a parable of Jesus is to interpret it.

 

What if some parables are more complicated? …

… Stacks of multiple layers of meanings?

What if Jesus desired to communicate different messages

To different audiences

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

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

Of the person in the audience,

The disciple doing the listening?

 

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

Too hard, or too far,

I’d like to suggest there are at minimum

Three different ways,

Three different lenses,

Three different world views,

To view this parable from Matthew 20.

 

It all begins with what you call it.

 

1. Let’s title this parable

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

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

Any thoughtful disciple can take.

Indeed, I have taken this world view many times

In prior sermons on this passage.

 

A just and generous land owner

Assumes that the land owner is a representation of God.

 

God is just,

exactly like this land owner.

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

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

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

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

 

Indeed, God is faithful to his word.

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

God is just,

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

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

No one goes hungry.

Everyone gets paid.

 

God is generous, especially when it comes to

Making certain His will is accomplished.

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

As the shadows lengthen and the day grows long.

Money is no barrier to God winning,

Achieving and exceeding goals,

Fulfilling his will,

Bringing in the harvest.

 

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

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

It gives him the sufficient goodness

And true-to-you-word honest integrity

To be a loving, understanding God.

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

Even if we fail to see it.

In Jesus’ earlier words,

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

 

In our world of a just and generous God

Jesus chides us to stop moaning and complaining!

Stop with the envy and resentment.

Don’t complain about what others receive,

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

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

 

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

Every promise is kept.

Every need is met.

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

like the story of the cross …

… of how Jesus liberates us from sin and death …

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

It is a story about divine grace;

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

It isn’t about what we deserve

but rather it is about what we all need,

and how God generously provides,

sometimes even when we don’t deserve it.

 

But, perhaps today

Jesus is calling us to label his parable differently.

 

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

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

 

No.

I’m not talking about justification for drinking.

 

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

We are freed to pull back the curtain

And have our assumptions about normal life deeply challenged.

Perhaps Jesus intends the focus of this parable to be

Those who are last hired,

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

 

In doing so,

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

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

Take God right out of the picture.

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

The land owner,

Desperate to bring in the harvest,

Approaches the last to be hired and asks,

“Why are you standing here idle all day?”

They said to him,

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

 

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

Who are the last to be chosen?

Well, it certainly wasn’t the strongest workers.

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

It wasn’t the most efficient or most able.

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

A fancy resume and have it printed on premium paper.

 

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

People who were physically and mentally frail.

Standing on this street corner was

The single mother who fed her 3 children tea for lunch

Because she had no food in the cupboard.

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

 

Waiting in his wheelchair is the man who had been

Shunned by his parents and shamed by his peers.

At five in the afternoon there

Was that kid on the autism spectrum

Rolling his head back and forth

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

That he’d never amount to anything.

The homeless, the diseased, the addicted,

And all the residents from the local asylum and poor house

Were the last ones remaining on that street corner,

Waiting in the hot sun,

Patiently,

All-day long.

They were the most desperate to earn a check.

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

 

“Why are you standing here idle all day?”

When I hear the landowner ask this question,

I get mighty angry.

 

They said to him,

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

This makes me want to cry.

 

Calling this parable taught by Jesus

“It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere Parable”

Describes a normal way of life and blows it up.

Blows. It. Up.

This turns everyday life inside out and upside down.

Be careful, because

This world view is revolutionary.

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

 

Blessed are, Jesus teaches us.

Blessed are …

The poor,

Those who mourn,

The meek,

Those who hunger and thirst.

Blessed are …

The merciful,

The pure in heart,

The peacemakers.

And blessed are the persecuted.

 

We are forced to bless others even when we feel

They’re all a bunch of freeloaders

Gaming the Medicaid system for additional food stamps.

We are forced to bless others even when we feel like

The boss is cheating me out of overtime and

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

Just to make mortgage and car payments.

We are forced to bless others

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

 

This parable exposes the

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

It reveals how wages divide the world.

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

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

should be the same as me.

 

Perhaps, Jesus is suggesting,

Every life has value.

Every person is important.

Every individual is necessary to fulfill God’s will,

To complete the Kingdom of God.

 

 

 

3. Let’s consider calling this parable of Jesus

“The Parable of the Provocative Land Owner.”

 

This world view builds on the previous example.

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

Perhaps Jesus paints this parable in a way

That draws attention to the attitude of the landowner.

Let’s take a deeper look.

 

“I will pay you whatever …” (20:4)

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

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

What are you? Blind? Or just plain ignorant?

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

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

I’m going to provoke those I hired first,

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

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

It’s my money;

I’ll do with it what I want!

 

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

“I am doing you no wrong.” (20:13)

Correctly translated,

“friend” is a sneer,

Intended to provoke a reaction!

 

When viewed this way

The landowner incites envy.

The landowner provokes those who brought him success.

That landowner is no God of mine!

 

How does it make you feel

When people of power and privilege and wealth

Talk down to you?

It makes me feel small.

It makes me feel worthless.

It strips away my dignity and my self-esteem.

 

Every one of those workers in Jesus’ parable

Would have to return to work the very next day

No further ahead,

With less dignity and self-respect,

More fully aware of the insurmountable gulf

That separated the rich from the poor

And the haves from the have nots.

Every one of those workers

Would return to work the next day

Knowing that there was no way to escape poverty.

There was no way up;

No way out.

 

Jesus reveals through this parable

A world where workers have no name and

Where laborers are identified as

“limitless and disposable fuel;

Bodies to be burned up.”

(Thanks to

 Rolf Jacobson, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner

 who discussed this approach

on the podcast

“Sermon Brainwave”

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

 

I can see and hear your minds whirling.

“Workers of the world, unite!”

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

Well, no.

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

 

When workers are nothing more than fuel to be burned

Or fodder for cannons,

Then what Jesus is revealing about our world

Is a limited and false justice.

He is pulling back the curtain and exposing a world

Of justice available to the few who can afford it,

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

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

Oh, come on!

 

 

Wait.

That looks like our world!

Justice works just fine for

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

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

Justice works out swell for

Those who have friends in high places.

Justice works just fine for people with networks,

Who know politicians,

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

 

But,

What about those who had to ride out the hurricane?

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

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

What about those who have been victimized,

Who filed a complaint,

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

What about those who don’t have a friend,

Never knew a person in a high place,

And who lives a life alone?

 

Jesus is describing a divided world,

Not a world of relationships, healing and wholeness.

The contrast that Jesus creates with this parable

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

Is one that calls each of us into community,

Restoration, and

Healing

With each other

And with our God.

 

The world divides us;

Separates us into parties and factions,

Into casts and classes,

Into those who are saved

(those who are in)

And those who are not.

 

Scripture accurately describes the world

As “original sin”

Or, as the Apostle Paul describes it,

The work of “the flesh.”

Opposing this world

Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ,

Where God’s grace is inclusive of every individual,

Where God’s justice is sufficient,

Where God’s love is universal,

Where God’s forgiveness is unconditional,

And where God’s salvation is without exception.

 

That’s the God that I believe in.

 

When we remove the parable from the surrounding text

We are left with a preposition and a conclusion

That goes like this:

13.JPG

“The kingdom of heaven is”

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

 

As you consider your own title for this parable,

Carefully consider this value statement:

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

Does this lead you to any conclusions?

Can you see the mind of Christ,

Feel his heart,

And understand his will?

 

For some of us,

Our Gospel is a reminder of divine grace,

Not about what we deserve,

But about how our generous God provides

Sometimes even when we don’t deserve it.

For others,

Our Gospel reminds us that

Every life has value.

Every person is important.

Every individual is necessary to fulfill God’s will,

To complete the Kingdom of God.

And yet for others,

Our Gospel teaches us that

While the world attempts to divide us

Our Lord and our God

Is always at work to unite us,

To welcome into community,

To welcome into relationship,

To welcome into his kingdom

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

 

Amen.

“Forgiveness is Harder Than it Looks”

Matthew 18:21-35

17 September 2016

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 18:21-35

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Prayer.

 

Without question,

Jesus is making preparations

For his imminent absence.

What happens after he ascends to the Father?

 

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

Teaching them

How to become effective Apostles

Called and sent throughout the world,

How to behave and act,

How to organize the Church,

And, of course, what to teach.

 

From this eighteenth chapter of Matthew

It’s quite clear that Jesus has a realistic expectation

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

To address these issues,

Jesus teaches with parables that exaggerate and

With directives that are amplified;

Creating, for some,

 

 

a disturbing image of the Church.

 

Disturbing?

Yes, disturbing.

Let’s think about it.

 

 

Cause a little one who believes in Jesus to stumble?

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

Tempted to stumble yourself?

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

Tempted to look at something you shouldn’t?

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

 

Missing a member?

Leave the 99 surrounded by wolves,

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

Have a conflict with another church member?

Go directly to resolve the issue.

If that doesn’t work, take a witness.

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

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

Bind the good,

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

 

Church.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

His expectations were realistic.

The way Jesus taught church leadership was over the top.

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

 

The way Jesus teaches is over the top.

 

Then Peter came and said to him,

 

 

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

 

Nice try, Peter.

Nice try with that attempt to impress the Master

With that hyperbolic impersonation.

Peter probably was thinking to himself,

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

To a seven-to-one prospect,

Jesus will be impressed with my grasp of forgiveness

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

 

Ha! Peter.

You’re such a smart guy.

You’re not even in the same league.

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

 

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

 

 

The answer is 539.

That’s a whole lot of forgiveness.

That’s over the top forgiveness,

A command to forgive

Unlike the world has ever seen before.

 

This Gospel passage and parable

Has caused me to consider, and reconsider,

A lot about forgiveness

This past week,

Both in the context of the Gospel

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

This is what I am led to share with you:

 

 

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

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

And I am the victim.

Sometimes this is the case.

Sometimes, however, we mistakenly believe ourselves

To be the victim of sin,

Blaming others,

When no sin was intended or committed.

 

There have been times in my own life

When I have felt like someone hurt or harmed me,

When, actually, I wasn’t.

I was wrong.

 

I responded like every member of the Goddard family tree

 

 

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

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

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

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

Awareness of my own fault

Calls me back to the altar of forgiveness.

 

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

 

 

An apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

To compare and contrast these three …

… apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation …

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

 

 

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

(Definition by Google)

An apology begins with self-awareness

And ends with an “I’m sorry.”

 

Short. Sweet. To the point.

 

It begins internally.

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

Saying “I’m sorry”

Is the foundation,

The beginning step that leads to healing.

That courage is the catalyst that can propel the offended

To the next step towards healing

 

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

Serves as our apology to God

For our offenses and failures

From this past week

And beyond.

 

Our Lord’s response is Holy Communion,

Sharing His Body and Blood.

The gift of the cross

Is Christ’s response to our apology.

 

Let that sink in for a moment.

 

Contrasting with an apology,

 

 

Forgiveness is the next step on the journey towards healing.

Forgiveness is intentional and voluntary.

Forgiveness does not require the participation of the offender.

Forgiveness is an internal process

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

(Definition by Wikipedia)

 

Forgiveness sets you free.

Working through the hurt,

Drawing insight about what happened,

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

Rebuilding your safety net …

All this is an intentional decision to move forward

And not dwell in the past.

The past isn’t erased,

But the painful memory from the past is changed

Into an optimistic hope for the future.

 

Pain from our past

That is transformed into hope

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

To engage in the hard work of forgiveness.

Jesus wants us set free;

Free from our sins,

Free from the hurt others have done to us,

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

 

We’ve got to want it.

We are called to do it.

Take responsibility, Jesus tells us.

Forgive.

Be forgiven.

 

Unlike an apology and forgiveness, which are internal,

 

 

Reconciliation is interpersonal;

Between two people.

Reconciliation requires the work and cooperation of two individuals,

The offender and the victim.

Therefore, reconciliation is not always possible.

It is terribly frustrating when one desires reconciliation,

But their efforts are rebuffed by the other,

Preventing healing to take place.  

 

Standoffs can take years.

Barriers can remain for generations.

 

Reconciliation requires dialogue;

The two parties to sit down and talk,

To sit down and listen to one another.

Stories need to be exchanged.

Hurt must be expressed.

 

Like lancing a boil

Remorse must be genuine and authentic.

Restoration must be made.

Repentance, with the vow to never re-offend,

Is the beginning of rebuilding trust.

That’s reconciliation.  

 

Reconciliation is complete

When the kingdom of God is complete,

Sin is no more,

And the relationship between God and humankind

Is completely and eternally restored.

 

3. Third. Our Gospel lesson from Matthew 18

 

 

Tells us about the intensity and frequency of forgiveness.

 

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

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

Forgiveness is a process,

Ongoing,

That never ends.

 

Forgiveness never ends.

 

Early on, when one makes the decision to begin forgiveness

With the goal to be freed and have hope restored,

The intensity will be enormous.

The pain is raw and visceral.

The offense still hurts.

But, with time, and with intentional effort,

Intensity does lessen its grip.

Air returns to the room.

Despair fades.

Hope grows.

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

 

 

Time doesn’t heal old wounds by itself.

Time must partner with an intentional effort to forgive.

 

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

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

… And from what has been done to me …

Just this past week.

 

Forgive.

Be forgiven.

Keep at it.

It only gets better.

 

4. Lastly, it is important to observe

From our parable for today

 

 

That forgiveness always has a social consequence.

The other slaves witnessed the injustice being committed

And reported the offense directly to the king.

 

There is always a ripple in the social fabric

When forgiveness is made

And when forgiveness is withheld.

 

The social reality of forgiveness

Is easily understood when viewed through an economic world view,

Like how Jesus constructs this parable.

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

Or not.

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

We western, modern Americans understand money.

Money is quantifiable. Countable.

We understand money.

So Jesus’ parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Is easily understood by most of us here today.

 

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

Frequently and lavishly and extravagantly

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

Forgiveness might take a lifetime,

Or it may never come at all.

 

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

Is able to bring herself to a place of forgiveness,

What happens to the rest of the world?

Other victims?

Other families?

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

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

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

And testimony at sentencing?

 

Are there other world views through which we can

Discover new characteristics of forgiveness?

I suspect there are.

 

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Forgiveness not only changes the victim.

Forgiveness changes the world.

 

This is Christ’s intent.

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

Forgiveness must be enormous, beyond imagination.

Forgiveness must be ongoing, tenacious, relentless.

 

On our journey towards reconciliation,

Jesus recognizes that

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

Not everyone is capable of forgiving and being forgiven.

This is precisely where life intersects with faith,

Where atonement compliments our failed efforts,

Where Jesus completes forgiveness

And we are set free.

 

 

What is unforgiveable to me,

Is forgiven by Jesus Christ.

 

Seven times seventy-seven is over the top forgiveness!

To the best of your ability

Be the forgiveness in this world.

Set yourselves free and set others free.

What happens when and where

You and I fail to forgive

Or are unable to forgive?

Leave the rest up to Jesus.

His cross will do the rest.

Amen.

“More Than Mere Recipe”

Matthew 18:15-20

10 September 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 18:15-20

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

 

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

 

 

Prayer.

 

 

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

 

This simple statement is a core value

For everything from successfully franchising a business

To solving advanced mathematical equations.

 

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

 

 

There is a beauty to mathematics

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

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

My grades improved with every mathematics class I took.

 

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

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

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

 

A mathematical proof that displays

Symmetry, simplicity, efficiency, and purpose

(In my humble opinion)

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

 

The recipe is proof,

Confirmed by theoretical mathematicians

Who have built on the historical work of predecessors.

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

There are always new hypothesis to make

And new proofs to be solved.

Like cooking, there are always new dishes to create.

 

The role of the applied mathematician

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

Add the data.

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

Applied mathematicians simply

Wait for the results to flow in.

 

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

 

 

Order a Big Mac from any McDonalds on the planet

And you can be reasonably assured that your hamburger

Will look and taste the same.

From Jerusalem to Johannesburg,

From Miami to Manilla,

The McDonalds franchise employs the same recipe.

 

McDonalds, and every other successful franchise,

Teaches managers and line workers the same curriculum,

Arranges the same supply streams for every ingredient,

And will even go to the extra effort to

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

 

The recipe becomes baked in as dogma;

All in the name of quality control,

All in the effort to serve every customer the same hamburger

That satisfies expectation

Based on prior experiences.

 

The same sandwich from McDonalds,

Like the same cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts,

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

 

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

 

Our Lord’s instruction today,

As uniquely recorded in the Gospel of Matthew,

Appear to be the perfect application to this approach.

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

 

 

This is how it works:

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

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

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

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

If this is the case, Jesus instructs his disciples

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

 

I’ve learned this past week

That many congregational and community churches

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

Written right into their church constitution and bylaws.

Certainly every mainline denomination that takes the Gospel seriously

Teaches this approach to conflict resolution

In the pulpit and in the classroom,

From the cradle to the grave.

United Methodists have baked this simple and efficient,

Christ directed process, directly into dogma,

It’s found in The Book of Discipline.

 

Of course,

The results have been perfectly predictable:

 

 

The church is absent of conflict

And all Christians live in harmonious bliss.

(I’m trying not to break a smile

Or bust out laughing!)

 

What gives?

 

We followed the recipe,

Yet, we still live in conflict.

Progressives are pitted against conservatives.

Just one example:

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

 

The debate over sexuality and gender

Is only the tip of the iceberg.

Politics spill over into congregations,

And pompous, partisan popular-ism is

Breading hate,

Sowing seeds of discrimination,

And fanning the flames of violence.

 

What gives? Pastor Todd.

 

 

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

 

If life was only so simple, we sigh.

If only life was so simple.

 

Hum.

 

 

Simple.

Think about it.

Simplicity; it’s a clue.

 

Simplicity is necessary for our axiom to be true:

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

 

Most of our conflicts are simple,

And, therefore, are easily corrected when we

Faithfully and dutifully apply

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

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

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

“No problem. I always appreciate the assistance.”

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

Forgiveness takes place

Everyone goes home happy.

 

The problem that we face,

The problem Jesus correctly identifies,

 

 

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

There might be too many variables,

Too many competing motives,

In our lives and intersecting world views.

 

Each variable threatens the predictability of the outcome.

The more variables

The higher the likelihood

Our expected batch of grandma’s delicious chocolate chip cookies

Will come out of the oven

A melted mixture of in-eatable mush.

 

Once Jesus lays the foundation

For the simple application of conflict resolution

Which proves successful for the majority of conflicts,

Jesus pivots

To address the more rare but highest profile disagreements.

 

Jesus steers us in an important new trajectory

When he teaches his disciples,

 

 

That if none of these three steps resolves the conflict,

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

 

This isn’t a catch all

Terms of service agreement

approved by the company’s legal team.

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

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

 

 

Treating those with whom we have unresolved conflicts with …

Treating them … as Gentiles and tax collectors

Is a consistent application of Jesus’ core values.

Treating those who have sinned against us

As Gentiles and tax collectors

Is how Jesus reached out in mission and ministry.

Reaching out to gentiles and tax collectors is  

Christ’s approach to a broken world.

 

Who did Jesus reach out to?

Gentiles!

You know, Gentiles

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

 

Who did Jesus reach out to?

Tax collectors!  

You know, tax collectors

Like Matthew and Zacchaeus.

 

How did Jesus do it?

 

 

With abundant, overwhelming grace,

With lavish, exorbitant forgiveness,

With universal, unconditional acceptance.

7 times 77. That’s how much.

7 time 77 is the abundant forgiveness to be applied.

That’s so much grace,

That’s so much forgiveness,

That’s so much love,

Christ’s outreach can only be considered Divine.

 

How did Jesus do it?

With amazing love,

Such amazing love

That He was willing to die for me.

 

 

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

(Chris Tomlin lyrics)

 

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

And, yes, I believe Jesus would allow us today

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

But Jesus never intends this to be

The end of the story or

The final word.

Jesus gives to each of us disciples

The responsibility to continue reaching out,

Never giving up,

Never letting go of the unrepentant.

 

14.JPG

 

In the Church of Jesus Christ,

There are no throw away or disposable people.

There are no irresolvable conflicts.

 

When people get angry and church blows up,

As Jesus knew it inevitably would,

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

Pay attention to how Jesus reached out to Gentiles.

Note how Jesus reached out to tax collectors.

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

 

Go and do likewise.

Go and do likewise.

 

One final note.

 

 

Jesus promises

Where two or three are gathered in His name,

Jesus is there among them.

– Matthew 18:20

 

This appears to be a simple enough of a principle.

With every ounce of my pastoral authority,

Allow me to encourage us

To behave accordingly.

 

 

Live as if Jesus is in the room.

Because he is.

 

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

And do it with authority,

Because Jesus is among us.

 

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

And do it with authority,

Because Jesus is right here by our side.

 

Let the chips fall where they may,

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

Always err on the side of God.

Err on the side of abundant grace and amazing love,

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

He supports us in our worship and in our study,

In our homes and in our places of employment,

In our lives and in our hearts.

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

Jesus promises.

 

May we never forget,

May we never take for granted,

Jesus remains present in our lives today.

 

 

Follow the recipe;

Get predictable results.

 

While this may be true for most of life,

We are all aware that conflict and disagreements,

Belief and faith,

Grace and love

Are sometimes more complicated than a simple axiom can address.

All conflicts cannot be resolved using 

A simple three-step recipe.

 

Love is more complicated than a mathematical algorithm.

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

There is a community component to it;

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

It’s complicated.

 

Life is complicated.

We can only do life,

 

 

We can only find true fulfillment in life,

By embracing the grace and love of God,

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

 

Share the grace and love of God

Especially with those with whom we have unresolved conflicts,

Knowing we can’t give up

And we can’t do it alone.

We are dependent upon Christ,

The strength and authority of Jesus,

Already present,

Already with us, and

Already by our side.

 

Amen.

“Making Church Strong”

Matthew 16:13-20

27 August 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 16:13-20

 

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

 

 

Prayer.

 

It’s pretty apparent.

People do not agree on who Jesus is.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Even among my Christian friends and colleagues

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

Church councils, conferences, and enclaves for generations

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

Born of a virgin,

Expected to imminently return,

The nature of is imminence and his transcendence,

The substance of His body and blood in our Sacrament,

And His role in the Church today.

 

At the risk of sounding too self-centered

The debate in much of the contemporary American Church,

Both Roman Catholic and Protestant, is

What makes Jesus relevant to my life today?

 

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

There should be little mystery why

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

 

2.JPG

 

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

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

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

Well, some say …

But, others say …

Holy non-committal, Batman!

 

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

Or what to do with Him.

The Gospel of Matthew runs this fine line

Of embracing the world

That is conflicted and contested

With the identity and nature of Jesus Christ.

 

Thirty-two years ago

Cynthia and I traveled to Caesarea Philippi.

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

It is important to paint the picture of the environment

Where Jesus intentionally led his disciples

And initiated this Gospel discussion.

 

3.JPG

 

Caesarea Philippi is an ancient city,

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

Pagan worship ran deep, for the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians

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

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

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

 

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

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

Jesus wants to lead the conversation about his identity specifically

At Caesarea Philippi.

 

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

Forming one of the main tributaries of the Jordan River.

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

and related deities.

 

 

On the walls of the cave behind Jesus

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

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

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

The pagan god associated with storms and fertility.

 

Sculpted icons and symbols in the rock walls around Jesus

Created a Mount Rushmore type environment from which Jesus spoke.

From the mouth of this cave, on center stage,

Set before numerous and diverse symbols of pagan worship,

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

 

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

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

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

That would have been bad!

 

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

To make a statement,

Not only about identity,

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

Starting that day, and moving forward.

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

 

4.JPG

 

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

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

This is a vitally important lesson Jesus taught His disciples.

It is just as important for us to learn today.

 

Simon Peter steps up to the challenge

With his short, succinct, persuasive elevator pitch:

 

5.JPG

 

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

 

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

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

 

Jesus correctly observes that flesh did not reveal his identity.

In other words,

It wasn’t the pagans,

The Romans or the Greeks,

Who revealed to Peter who Jesus is.

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

Peter’s statement of faith is based on

A personal encounter with Jesus

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

 

This essential truth from this Gospel passage

Clearly marks the lines of responsibility when it comes

To establishing and implementing

God’s policy manual

For leading a Christian life.

We disciples,

Are charged with introducing people to Jesus,

Creating the personal encounter with Christ.

That’s it.

We do the introduction.

Then get out of the way.

God does the rest.

 

It is through that introduction,

Through our clear, concise, succinct elevator pitch,

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

God finds a way to nest into their contextual setting.

God finds a way for each individual

To be discipled and educated in the ways of Jesus,

That Christ may become relevant in the spiritual life and journey

Of every called and claimed Christian.

 

This is our pitch.

This is our song.

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

 

6.JPG

 

Introduce people to Jesus.

Trust that God will do the rest.

 

Do not worry about our Jewish or Islamic friends;

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

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

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

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

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

With each of us individually,

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

 

Peter is likened to a rock,

Petra, in the Greek,

And upon this petra foundation,

Christ will build his ekklesia,

Jesus will build his Church.

Peter is rock strong.

Jesus is Church strong.

 

You will notice

I’ve put in the bulletin this morning

 

7.JPG

 

Information about hashtag #ChurchStrong

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

Ask a friend, or ask your grandchildren.

They’ll show you how.

 

I’ve done this to encourage you

To drop in the hashtag #ChurchStrong as you talk about

The Gospel passage and today’s message in social media.

Doing so will allow us to search #ChurchStrong,

Read each other’s replies,

And witness to the world

That we follow Jesus,

As built upon Peter, the rock.

 

Let me start the conversation

About what makes #ChurchStrong,

And I look forward to reading from you this afternoon and in the coming days

Your thoughts, your beliefs,

About what makes Church Strong.

 

 

1. #ChurchStrong

Live an honest, authentic life.

Live humbly.

Live righteously.

Follow the rules.

Nothing undermines the Christian message or the messenger more than hypocrisy.

Purge hypocrisy right out of your life.

 

 

2. #ChurchStong

Love God.

Love neighbors.

Lead with your heart.

Be kind in every circumstance,

Especially when the spiritual forces of wickedness attack you.

Be passionate in your love of God and neighbors.

Few things undermines the integrity of the Christian life than casual indifference.

 

 

3. #ChurchStrong

Speak and act with conviction.

Make a commitment, and keep it.

Introduce a friend to Jesus and let God warm their heart.

Study together with others the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Testify how God is at work in your life

And celebrate how God is at work in the lives of others.

Take a stand for that which is just, honorable, and true.

 

 

4. #ChurchStrong

Praise God.

Praise God in your waking and when you go to bed.

Praise God in your prayers and in your devotions.

Praise God in your work and in your relaxation.

Praise God at home and together in weekly worship.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Never stop praising God.

 

 

5. #ChurchStrong

Doesn’t mean big, or rich, or powerful by any measures of this world.

Being Church Strong doesn’t mean taking a seat at the head table,

But giving up your VIP seat for someone more deserving.

Being Church Strong means being the compassionate hands of Jesus

Reaching out to the last, the least, the lost, the left behind of this world.

Being Church Strong means encouraging all to become servant leaders for the transformation of the world.

 

Church of Peter,

Be #ChurchStrong.

Body of Christ,

Testify to who Jesus is:

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

Tell the world why God has sent us His Son:

 

13.JPG

 

Just as Peter had a personal encounter with Jesus,

God would like to have a personal, loving relationship with you, too.

Be #ChurchStrong.

Amen.

“Five Loaves and Two Fish”

Matthew 14:13-21

6 August 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

 

Prayer.

 

The day began as if

 

it was a Game of Throneskind of day.

 

Over the past six weeks, or so,

I’ve been watching the HBO series, Game of Thrones.

This seven-season fictional story is not for children,

For woven into an interesting plot and story line

Is an orgy of sex and endless violence.

Every episode results in treachery, assassinations, and beheadings.

This is television for

Mature audience ONLY!

 

Set in a medieval environment,

This fantasy is about seven kingdoms, blood lines, and families

Vying to claim the throne

or fighting for independence from the throne.

The narrative reminds us of power and its temptation,

Ambition and its danger,

Wealth and its abuse.

Do not read the books or watch the series if you are one bit squeamish!

 

The day began for Jesus as if it was a Game of Throneskind of day.

 

Jesus had been rejected by his own family.

He had returned to his hometown of Nazareth

Where he had taught in the synagogue.

But those in attendance,

Family, friends, and neighbors

Challenged the upstart.

They probably remember his childhood,

Growing up in the village,

Drawing water from the common well,

Working as a common laborer with Joseph.

 

Where would a hired hand or a day laborer gain wisdom

To teach in the synagogue?

Was wisdom to be found in the common well’s leaky bucket?

What could a carpenter’s nail teach him?

What could a stone mason teach him that could be proclaimed in a synagogue?

It’s one thing to come from one of the esteemed rabbinic schools in Jerusalem,

But it’s something altogether different

To espouse knowledge you do not have

And wisdom you have yet to achieve.

 

So they took offense, rejected him,

And according to Luke 4,

The crowd took Jesus to the brow of a cliff outside of town

With homicidal intentions.

Jesus miraculously walks through their midst,

And simply leaves,

Never to return home again.

 

It was a Game of Throneskind of day for Jesus.

 

At that same time,

The Gospel of Matthew reports (14:1)

King Herod is entertaining his own birthday party.

It was a feast for the nobles, the lords, and ladies;

The elite of the elite,

The top one percenters.

Herod’s self-thrown party was

An orgy of food,

An excess of alcohol,

Puffed up pride,

Exaggerated entitlement,

Topped off with a dab of testosterone

A dollop of estrogen,

And a whole lot of unmentionable behavior.

Oh, and the room was certainly filled

With guards, soldiers, and an excess of weapons.

 

What could possibly go wrong?

 

To satisfy his drunken, sexual fantasy

And . seduce his brother’s daughter,

Herod agreed to kill John the Baptist

And deliver his head to her on a platter.

 

Jesus and John the Baptist had been close.

John prepared the way for Jesus, God’s Son, the Messiah, to come.

John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River,

Giving Jesus the start of his earthly mission.

John had encouraged his disciples to ally themselves

And become disciples of Jesus.

Their lives were tightly woven together in the fabric

Of God’s unfolding will and salvation history.

 

In a Game of Throneskind of setting,

John was beheaded,

And the tragic news had reached Jesus.

 

Be patient.

There is a reason for me to lay this foundation

Of a Game of Throneslike background for today’s Gospel passage.

 

One can only imagine the grief and mourning

That descended upon Jesus;

When Jesus withdrew from there in a boat

To a deserted place by himself.  (14:13)

 

But the crowd would not allow Jesus to find solitude or to mourn.

One can only assume this crowd

Was the crowd

Who Jesus had been teaching parables from a boat

As they crowded the seashore.

The crowd’s needs were too great.

They wanted to know more.

Their sick needed to be cured.

What a contrast with the crowd

Jesus had just left back home in Nazareth.

 

They followed Jesus along the shore

Until Jesus looked upon the crowd and had compassion. (14:14)

This is a common characteristic of Jesus;

When he looks upon a crowd,

It draws out and wells up his compassion.

 

Pause for a moment to compare and contrast

The guests at Herod’s orgy

With the crowd of five-thousand men, besides them women and children:

The few, the elite, the rich, the powerful, the full

… in Herod’s palatial estate …

Verses

The many, the poor, the needy, the hungry

… in a field, in the wild, overlooking the lake.

The kingdom of this  earth,

The kingdom of Herod

Could not be more opposed

To the kingdom where God’s compassion flows.

 

It is nearly impossible for us Western Americans today

To understand the depth and complexity of food, nutrition, and eating

In the life and times of Jesus.

We are accustomed to eating until we are full

At every meal, usually three times a day.

 

 

The National Institue of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Estimates that 68.8 percent of adults are overweight or obese,

35.7 percent of adults are considered to be obese,

And 6.3 percent of American adults are extremely obese.

(https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/overweight-obesity)

Almost everyone eats until we are full.

Given my history, no; I’m not fat shaming anyone.

I’m simply observing …

As a people we eat until we are full;

And at the first sign of being less than full

We go in search of snacks.

 

To find a meaningful comparison with our world today,

One only needs to look to Telica, Nicaragua,

The second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere,

Where we’d serve a roll and sugar water to children at the conclusion of daily Vacation Bible School,

Knowing full well that

For many of them

A roll and sugar water would be their only meal that day.

 

One only needs to look to Tecpan, Guatemala,

Where it is not unusual for single mothers

To boil leaves and serve it to their children

As their lunch;

Their only food for the day.

Yes, there is hunger and homelessness around us,

But nothing nearby is on the scale or in the same universe

As the malnutrition and hunger of families and children

Our neighbors,

Just south of our boarder.

Nothing in our modern experience can compare

To the everyday hunger in the population

In the life and times of Jesus.

 

Herod, and those attending his birthday party,

Were the few who ate until they were full.

The rest of the population,

Like the ten or fifteen thousand in the crowd with Jesus

Never ate until they were full.

They lived in a constant, chronic state of hunger.

 

“And all ate and were filled.” (14:20a)

 

When a populist community leader feeds ten or fifteen thousand

Hungry, lower and middle-class people

It draws the attention of the power at hand.

It makes a political statement.

It demonstrates a rising threat that cannot be ignored.

The eye of Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome would be watching.

 

What Herod failed to see or understand

Was the deeper theological statement that Jesus is making

When he miraculously feeds this huge crowd of people.

Multiplying five loaves and two fish

Into a feast of abundant quantity sends a statement

To the crowd, and to us today,

That God sees our needs,

Has compassion for us when we are in need,

And responds with creative, overwhelming abundance.

This is God’s nature.

 

The God of creation

Holds nothing back.

God’s covenant blessing

To Abraham and all of us descendants continue to multiply.

Jesus feeding the crowds gathered in hunger

Was a means of communicating the fact

That God’s people can trust in God’s presence

Even in times of scarcity.

 

God’s grace and compassion is abundant.

I can imagine the twelve disciples working clean-up

Thinking to themselves,

“What a coincidence.

There are 12 baskets.

There are 12 of us.

Each basket is filled to overflowing with leftovers!

What a God!”

 

Indeed, what a God!

 

The feeding of the five thousand

Convinces me of my foundational belief,

That God gives us all that we need, and more.

Therefore, when there is anyone in want or need,

The problem isn’t with God.

The problem is with us.

 

We are a trusting, faithful people;

But only so far.

We save for a rainy day.

We set aside capital or contingency reserves.

We establish trusts, foundations, and development departments.

 

God has supplied us with all the resources necessary,

Yet, we continue to want to hoard our earthly treasures.

The first sign of unfaithfulness

Is when one person goes to bed hungry.

 

Let us be resolved to be good stewards of God’s wonderful blessings!

Let us be generous;

Trusting that God will provide for today and in the future.

Let us be compassionate like Jesus;

Trusting that it is God’s intent that all might have their needs met.

Let us work miracles like Jesus.

God gives us the power

To multiply better than compound interest,

To extend the prosperity of our table

To every family and every table in creation.

 

The feast is a part of our roots, our culture, our DNA.

It comes to us from before time and is illustrated abundantly

In our Hebrew scriptures;

In our Old Testament Bible.

Today, it manifests itself in dish-to-pass dinners,

Church picnics,

Wedding receptions,

Funeral receptions,

Pre / post worship coffee and cookies hospitality.

 

The feast is when people can come together and bless each other.

The feast is when people gather and are blessed by a loving God.

The feast is one that is an open invitation;

Everyone is invited,

All are welcome,

No one is to be excluded.

Eat until you want to more.

 

The feast of this altar table harkens back to that Upper Room feast,

A memorial, no doubt, of the love that

Led Jesus Christ to the cross,

To die for

The forgiveness of our sins

And to rise for

The salvation of the world.

At the same time,

The feast of this Eucharistic table becomes more fertile ground

When it causes us to reflect back even further,

To that rural hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee

When Jesus was filled with compassion,

And fed thousands with only five loaves and two fish.

 

Yeah.

What a God.

This is the God I follow.

This is the God who I will love.

This is a God whose love never quits, never ends, never runs out.

Come and feast at the table of our God.

Amen.

“Parables of the Kingdom”

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

30 July 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church

 

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

 

Prayer.

 

This thirteenth chapter of Matthew is truly

One of the wonders of the world!

 

Two weeks ago we heard the parable of the sower;

Three out of four sewn seeds will fail, but …

Seeds that are sewn on good soil produced beyond the wildest imagination.

So too, will those who

“hear the word

(of the kingdom)

and understands it.” (13:19, 23)

 

Yeah! I want to be that guy!

I want to hear the word of the kingdom and understand it.

Tell me more, Jesus …

 

Last week we heard Jesus teaching his parable

Of the weeds among the wheat.

He starts with

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to …” (13:24)

The Son of Man sows the good seed,

Then sends out his angels

To separate all causes of sin and evildoers

In in one fell swoop of final judgment.

 

That’s a fist bumping win for the home team.

Good wins over evil.

The righteous end up shining like the sun.

I want to be that guy;

The righteous one who ends up shining like the sun.

Boo-yah!

 

Jesus teaching in parables

From a boat

To a crowd on the shore

Is like your favorite band playing three hours

And you find yourself swelling with the crowd

Begging for a second encore.

The momentum of the first two parables

Is like an overwhelming surge

That breaks the line of defending enemies.

 

“Jesus,” voices from the crowd cry out,

“Tell us more about the kingdom of heaven!”

We want to know more …

 

In rapid fire succession,

Jesus fills in the details

With today’s five brief parables.

The kingdom of heaven is like …

 

The kingdom of heaven is like

A mustard seed.

Size doesn’t matter!

Let us not forget that the mustard plant

Is invasive as mint,

Fast growing,

And quickly becomes a tree.

From the very modest

Great things will come.

A mustard seed can move mountains,

Jesus teaches in Matthew 17:20.

What is nearly invisible

Can have an overwhelming impact.

Like in the first parable,

One small seed will produce a fantastic yield.

 

Every individual,

Every child of God

Has the potential to be the mustard seed

In the emerging heavenly kingdom.

 

The migrant farmer

will rise up and lead the fight for justice,

Fair wages and appropriate living conditions.

The homeless, single mother

Will rise up and become the leader in the community

That brings nutrition to babies,

Jobs and childcare to mothers,

And affordable housing for every family.

 

That addict who overdosed or was arrested and charged with DWI?

The one who’s family disowned him,

Who society had stigmatized,

And who was left for dead

In that inner-city drug house?

You know, the one

Found, revived, and got their life together?

The one who sobered the disease into remission

And is now making two meetings a day?

Yeah, that guy or gal

Will one day rise up

And become the researcher who finds the

Root cause, deep in the brain, of addiction …

And will find a way to reverse this neurological affliction

That transform every patient

Into a model of health and wellness.

 

Wow.

Even I have a shot!

Tell us more, Jesus!

Can you hear the crowd clamoring for more?

 

The kingdom of heaven is like …

Yeast that makes flour rise.

Without the kingdom of heaven

The kingdoms, empires, and thrones of this world

Are more like unleavened bread;

Dull, flat, and tasteless.

But when the kingdom of heaven comes ripping in

Three measures, or nearly 50 bushels of flour,

Will be transformed by teaspoon sized amounts of yeast.

That’s all it will take to change everything!

When Jesus steps in,

Through the portal that links heaven and earth,

This world is transformed and lifted up.

Jesus empowers all God’s children

To rise above life’s circumstances,

To become more than ever imagined, dreamt, or hoped to be.

 

The presence of Jesus in your life

Is more than just that well-meaning pep-talk from a childhood coach.

Jesus Christ is the power surging in your veins,

Blood of His blood, blood of our blood.

Jesus Christ gives life, health, and goodness.  

 

Wow!

Jesus, we can rise above all this.

Even I can be transformed into something worthwhile!

Tell us more about the kingdom of heaven …

 

The kingdom of heaven is like unbounded, exuberant joy!

Imagine, finding unclaimed treasure;

Chests of gold, diamonds, and jewels.

Keep it a secret until you can legally lay claim to it.

That joy, that inner desire to laugh, that grin you can’t wipe off your face,

Looking forward to the moment you can announce your find to the world?

Yeah,

That joy!

That joy is what the kingdom of heaven is like.

 

There is great joy in the justice that Jesus brings.

Others might call it “Karma”, but I don’t.

The justice of Jesus Christ levels the playing field,

Overturns the wrongs and rights the rights.

The justice of our Lord

Brings down those who hoard the abundance God has provided.

The justice of Jesus redistributes wealth

Such that every mouth is fed,

Every family has a home and every child is clothed.

And everyone who can work has a meaningful job.

 

There is exuberant joy in the peace that Jesus brings.

With peace there is prosperity.

With peace there is security.

Imagine a world without violence, terrorism, or war.

This is what Jesus is pulling through the portal from the kingdom of heaven.

This is the peace that Jesus is sowing across our flawed lands.

The peace that Jesus brings

Gives us joy!

 

Oh. My. God.

I couldn’t be more overjoyed!

Jesus, tell us more about the kingdom of heaven.

 

The kingdom of heaven is like …

A merchant, a common retailer,

Who searches for and finds a valuable treasure,

Like a pearl of great value.

That merchant then is willing to

Sell everything,

Do anything,

To claim it as their own.

 

Obsession should be more than just the name of a perfume.

Obsession is the attitude every person of faith should take

In seeking out and obtaining

Everything Jesus gave his life to offer.

 

Are we obsessed with loving God?

Then why isn’t our sanctuary full?

Are we obsessed with loving our neighbors?

Then why do we continue to make enemies.

Why do we

Nurture unresolved hatred and conflicts

And enjoy watching passively while neighbors suffer?

Are we obsessed with sharing the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus?

Of proclaiming to the world

Good news of God’s grace,

Redemption and salvation for all?

 

Faith without obsession

Is like watering a weed.

 

SNAP!

Sweet Jesus.

The age of passive Christianity needs to be behind us.

We better become obsessed with filling up this sanctuary,

These empty pews / seats.

 

Anything else we need to know about the kingdom of heaven, Jesus?

 

Why yes, there is.

The kingdom of heaven is like …

A net that catches everything.

The time for judgment is coming, and soon will be.

But for now,

The net catches fish of every kind.

 

The kingdom is diverse and inclusive.

You and I don’t have to pick and choose.

Just cast the net and bring them all in!

 

Stop looking for rich prospects

Who we hope will pay our bills.

Stop looking for people who look just like us

Who we hope will share the same values and beliefs.

Stop looking for millennials, x-ers, busters, and boomers.

 

Cast the net and bring them all in.

 

Sweet Jesus,

You’ve given us more than we expected today.

There’s more here about the kingdom of heaven

And our roll in it

Than we ever could have imagined.

 

God created you,

Gave you life,

And now

God calls you and me to spread and grow the kingdom of heaven.

You and I,

We play an important part

In leavening this world;

Transforming it and allowing the kingdom of heaven to rise.

This brings us joy!

This makes us obsessed!

Burn with obsession

Until all are brought in;

Until all love and serve the Lord.

Amen.

“Three Out of Four” or “One-Hundred, Sixty, Thirty?”

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

July 16, 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth; Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

 

 

Prayer.

 

 

“Holy Parables, Batman!”

Buckle in Disciples of Jesus.

We’re in for a lot of ‘em

Coming down the line.

 

Today’s parable of Jesus is the first of three

Over the next three Sundays.

Then, plan on seven more this Fall.

(Yes, I am kind of a liturgy nerd)

 

Some might make the claim that Matthew

Has already introduced some of Jesus’ parables

Earlier during the Sermon on the Mount.

However, many stake the claim that Matthew 13

Is just the beginning of a series of parables

Jesus is intentionally teaching

To a diverse and changing audience.

His method of teaching is intentionally parables.

 

 

Indeed, our parable of the Sower and the Soil this morning

May mark the beginning of Jesus encountering

At least four kinds of people in his future.

Of four nearly identical seeds sown on four different types of soil,

Three seeds are failures.

One seed is sown with unbelievable success.

 

Jesus will bomb with three of four future encounters.

They’re not going to end well,

Especially that one before Pontius Pilate,

Or, that one on Galgotha.

 

 

 

But, ah! That fourth.

That fourth encounter,

That fourth effort for ministry,

That fourth witness to the love and grace of Jesus Christ,

That fourth person;

The persistent woman,

That sightless beggar,

That nauseating leper.

 

 

The results of Jesus sowing ministry with that one-in-four person

Will result in an abundant harvest,

Yielding results beyond our wildest imagination;

Some a hundred-fold, some sixty, others thirty.

 

Intentional, on Matthew’s part?

Is this an intentional literary technique used by the Gospel author

To prepare the audience for Jesus’ future encounters?

I don’t know.

But, you can be certain,

This insight will be in the forefront of my thoughts

As I prepare for upcoming Sundays.

 

Although I have been teaching and preaching

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

For more than 31 years,

I’m always learning something new.

This is what I learned this past week:

 

 

The root of the word “Parable” in Greek is Para Bolē,

Meaning “putting alongside for active comparison.”

Para – put. And Bolē – alongside.

It was a name given

By Greek philosophers

 

 

To an illustration

In the form of

A brief fictional narrative.

An illustration

Used to communicate an essential truth.

Fiction.

Story.

Essential Truth.

 

Teaching in parables did provide Jesus with a sufficient smoke screen

To keep him out of trouble with the Jewish authorities

And out of jail with the Romans.

Fictional stories that communicate a deeper meaning

Are just obscure enough

To leave even the harshest critic

And most passionate district attorney

Frustrated beyond contempt.

 

But there is more to a good parable

Than just keeping out of trouble.

 

I like C.H. Dodd’s observation that

 

 

Jesus taught in parables

“to tease the mind into active thought.”

We experience today’s Gospel of the Sower and the Soil,

And we shout, “Wake up, brain! It’s time to pay attention!”

 

 

Here’s something else I learned this past week about parables.

John D. Niles advanced his theory of oral literature

In a book that came out in 1999 titled

Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral Literature.

In it Niles explores how

Human beings

Shape their world

Through the stories they tell.

Think about the world view of

Pueblo Indian healers,

Ballads sung in Slovenian market squares,

Folktales and legends told by fireside in Italy,

Jokes told at a dinner table in Des Moines,

Parables told by Jesus to crowds

Gathered at his feet or at the water’s edge.

 

Human beings shape their world through the stories they tell.

It is chiefly through storytelling that people possess a past.

Truthfully, we are more a people

Known as Homo Narrans, or storytelling beings,

Than we are Homo Sapiens, or beings of wisdom.

 

Look around.

Where can wisdom be found?

In Washington? In Albany? In Rochester?

Here in church? Standing in this pulpit?

Ah, …

But let me tell you a story:

Three men walk into a bar,

A minister, a rabbi, and a priest …

 

We are storytelling beings,

And so was Jesus.

 

 

The more work required of the listener, the better.

The mind is teased into active thought.

The more the parable is explained, the less effective it becomes;

… which is exactly why I’m not even going to address verses 18 to 23.

These subsequent verses water down the effectiveness of the point

Jesus is making.

Also, it was probably added into the text

A generation or two after

The Gospel of Matthew was

Transformed from oral storytelling to pen on papyrus.

Besides, if I have to explain the punchline to a good joke,

I might as well not tell you the joke

Because it just isn’t funny anymore.  

 

So, in today’s parable,

Let our minds be teased!

What is being compared?

Four identical seeds,

Each being sown in different soils.

Why is it being told?

It might not be as obvious as you or I think.

 

We have the added value of hindsight.

We know that followers of Christ will have a difficult time,

Especially in the first 300 years following Christ’s ascension.

Disciples and Apostles will have trouble

Fulfilling Jesus’ apostolic command

To make disciples of all the world,

Baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit,

Teaching them all that Jesus has taught.

Three out of four efforts to witness would result in

Ruin, persecution, and martyrdom.

 

Our assumption might be that

Jesus is telling this parable to give courage to his followers

Who will face discouraging failure.

Jesus would have known their future, we might assume.

“Chin up,”

We can imagine Jesus encouraging all those who follow him

With a Vince Lombardi styled pep talk,

“Don’t lose hope.”

“Don’t give in.”

 

Yet, our first assumption may be wrong.

 

 

Why is Jesus telling this crowd this parable?

A common tool for teasing the mind when it comes to uncovering the essential truth within a parable

Is to look to the point of exaggeration.

 

 

Where is the embellishment?

Where is the hyperbole?

That’s where the clue can often be found

That unlocks the answer to the question,

“Why is Jesus telling this parable?”

 

The presidential style whopper comes

When Jesus reports

That fourth sown seed yields a hundred-fold!

Some of those fourth seeds will yield sixty.

Still others will yield thirty.

To every experienced farmer in the crowd

A one-to-thirty yield was unbelievable.

A one to a hundred yield wasn’t even fathomable in this universe.

 

Here, then is the point!

Is your mind sufficiently teased yet?

 

 

Don’t be distracted by the three out of four failures

The testimony of Christ is sure to generate.

Look at the YIELD of that fourth seed!

Your results will vary, no question about it.

The hyperbole reveals the point:

Look to the YIELD!

 

In spite of the wild inefficiency of the sower,

God’s miraculous activity is apparent.

To those who sow God’s Word

There is a promise that there will be a harvest;

And boy, it’s going to be a whopper!

 

There are many in today’s world,

Some even sitting in our sanctuaries,

Who are wringing their hands,

Overwhelmed with anxiety,

Despondent over the future of the Church.

 

This is what they see:

Declining attendance.

Dwindling participation.

Schism, division, and destruction.

Loss of relevance.

Even open disdain that faith has any helpful contributions to society.

There are many who are terrified

That the Church may not have a future,

That the Church has seen it’s final harvest,

And that the Church’s last harvest

Is fading in our rearview mirror.   

 

Jesus is telling us

 

 

That there will be a harvest in our future

And, watch out, because it’s going to be great!

It’s going to be great,

Not because you or I are in control,

But because

This world is God’s world.

The master Creator is in control

And He assures us,

The future is fantastic!

 

You and I don’t know,

We can’t see,

We can’t even begin to understand

The nature and place of each human heart

Or what God has planned for the future.

We are so easily distracted by the pessimist

Who want us to focus on our three out of four failures.

We tried this, and it didn’t work.

We tried different fundraisers, and nobody came.

We tried that, and we just couldn’t get a commitment.

 

Enough already!

 

 

Look to the YIELD!

The abundant harvest is coming

Because God is in control.

The abundant harvest is coming

And our future is fantastic

Because this is

God’s seed and God’s soil.

This is

God’s Church,

God’s plan,

God’s will,

God’s creation,

And God is in control.

 

Beloved members and friends,

Let us take our place in telling Salvation’s story,

Of doing our part to shape the world

Simply by the stories we tell.

Sow seeds.

Tell the Gospel story.

Tell the parables of Jesus;

There is no need to come up with new ones.

Tell the parables Jesus taught us.

Don’t worry if some will not get it,

If some will not understand;

Expect that

Three out of four will miss the point completely.

Jesus was comfortable leaving interpretation up to his faithful.

So should we.

 

Let your mind be teased.

 

 

Look to the YIELD.

Take part in sharing the story,

Telling the story,

That will shape this world

Into God’s perfected kingdom.

The future looks fantastic!

Amen.

“Rest”

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

9 July 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

 

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

 

 

Prayer.

 

This, then, is the preacher’s dilemma:

For the past few Sundays the Gospel has reported that

Jesus is preparing his disciples for his imminent absence.

Directly, and indirectly,

Jesus has promised persecution to those

Who take up their own cross and follow him.

 

 

Taking up your own cross means

You are willing to be crucified next to Jesus.

Crucified.

The misery begins much earlier:

Families will be set against families.

Some families will even try to throw you off a cliff.

Towns that don’t kill you; might turn you away.

Trials, persecution, and death await everyone who follows Jesus.

Last Sunday it was observed, discipleship is dirty work.

And here today, Jesus tells us:

“My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 

OK Jesus, you’ve got our attention.

What gives?

 

On the surface,

Jesus intended

Our Gospel lesson for this morning for the have not’s of the world.

In the time of Jesus,

only a select few controlled wealth, wielded power, and exercised authority.

 

 

The majority of people generated wealth for the top one percent.

Wealth was created by the hard labor of the poor,

Paid in taxes to the government and tithes to the Temple,

Landing in the hands of Rome and the Temple priests and authorities.

People suffered in slavery, or virtual slavery,

With tax rates and Temple tithes so exorbitant

Most of Jesus’ intended audience lived in squalor.

 

People suffered with

Outrageously high infant mortality rates,

Malnutrition and starvation,

back breaking work from sun up to sun down every day,

contagious, infectious disease and disability.

Of those who made it to adulthood,

most never made it to their thirties or forties.

 

When Jesus earlier said, “Blessed are the poor” and

“Blessed are the persecuted”

These are the people he was talking about.

When Jesus says today, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light,”

He is speaking to the majority of serfs and slaves

Who have never heard of a God,

Let alone a God who loves them,

Who redeems them,

Who saves them.

Compared to their daily existence,

Yes, Jesus’ yoke was easy and his burden was light.

 

Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of wealth

With this back hand chastisement of the powerful;

Priest, scribes, and Pharisees.

 

 

"They tie up heavy burdens (fortion), hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them" (23:4).

 

The focus of those with power

Is to remain in power;

To pass more laws,

More restrictions,

To tie people up with suffocating, burdensome, outrageous, intolerable policies and procedures, statutes, ordinances, and codes.

 

The goal of the powerful

Is to divert attention away from the big issues of the day

And lead people to believe small issues are important.

This is true in government.

This is true in organized religion.

This was true then.

This is true today.

 

Compared to government,

Politics,

Organized religion,

Where one must make moral and ethical concessions just to survive,

 

 

“My yoke is easy and my burden is light,” Jesus proclaims.

In a life connected with Jesus,

Grace trumps Law ten out of ten times.

Love becomes the goal of righteousness.

And resurrection defeats death.

 

On another level, Jesus’ use of yoke

Causes one to think of what an ox would wear

In order to get work done.

The metaphor may work because

Everyone in Jesus’ audience would have known about oxen, yokes, and agricultural life.

Some yokes worked better than others.

Some were cushioned, while others bit into the flesh.

 

Pulling with the same force would have been easier with some yokes than for others.

Pulling for Rome would have been painful;

The tax collector would be labeled as a traitor, a collaborator, or the enemy.

It’s hard work to pull the yoke of Rome.

Pulling for Judaism,

Organized religion of the day,

Would have been a lifestyle of laws about what you can’t do:

Diet,

Cleanliness,

Morality.

The yoke of the Temple was

Obligation,

Separation,

Damnation.

It’s hard work to pull the yoke of ancient, Conservative Judaism.

 

With Jesus, work still needs to be done,

Let there be no misunderstanding;

 

 

But the work of witness, love, forgiveness, and salvation

Is far easier than pulling for the other competing principalities of this world.

 

The same is true today.

 

 

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,

and I will give you rest. 

My yoke is easy and my burden is light,” Jesus proclaims.

 

At the core, a yoke is what binds each of us together

- new Christian, maturing Christian, old Christian alike.

It is what binds us

To one another, to Christ, and to the Father.

This is where rest is found.

There is no Body of Christ in isolation.

Personal Christianity is an oxymoron.

The notion that I can believe in God on my own

Is Pantheism.

It isn’t Christian discipleship.

 

To be the Body of Christ,

We must join together.

We must pull together.

We must be as one.

The yoke of Christ is what makes it so.

 

 

In oneness

is where rest is found.

 

When we are connected to one another and bound to Christ

We are ultimately bound to the Father.

Now, I will not allow this homily to descend into dogma or Trinitarian theology.

That being said,

Being bound to the Father,

The Creator of all there was, all there is, all there ever will be,

Is the perfection that John Wesley spoke about.

It is the pinnacle, the goal, of the Christian life.

 

Our heavenly Father

Is the Covenant maker:

“I will be your God; you will be my people.”

 

 

The Father chose us,

And when we choose to bind ourselves to the Father,

True rest can be found.

 

Our heavenly Father

Is the Law maker.

When we live according to the Law,

Not by obligation, but because of our choice, our faith,

True righteousness can be found,

And that is the place of rest.

 

Our heavenly Father

Is the loving father of Jesus;

Who loves the world so much

He gave us Jesus;

A love so profound

He allowed his son to die

To take away our sins.

The Father’s love is so eternal

Love rose Jesus from the grave,

And, so too, wins us victory over our grave

Granting us eternal life.

 

 

In our Father’s love

Is our place of rest.

 

Dearly beloved,

I invite you this this table

To taste and see the love that comes from the Father,

The love that is of the Son,

The love that will never let you go.

Come to the table

And find your rest.

Amen.

“Straight Talk from Jesus”

Matthew 9:35-10:23

18 June 2017, Pentecost +2

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 9:35-10:23

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

 

Prayer.

 

I’m going out on a limb here.

So, I’m asking for a little bit of leeway.

I’m going to speak about the unspeakable from the pulpit.

Hang on to your rotten vegetables until the end,

Then, if you want to throw them at me,

Go ahead.

 

Have you ever had a bad church experience?

I know some of you have.

I’m guessing some of you haven’t.

Let’s see, by a shake of your heads.

Yes? No?

 

When I’m talking about a bad church experience,

I’m talking about fighting and arguing,

Ultimatums and demands,

Broken trust and fractured relationships,

Scandals, accusations, and innuendoes,

And, let me include the all too frequent, the

Mass exodus for the doors.

 

If you haven’t experienced a bad church experience,

You are blessed.

I pray that you never do.

I pray that you, and every member of any flock I’m privileged to shepherd,

Only experience our community of faith

As a people of grace,

Filled with God’s love,

Following in the footsteps of Jesus.

 

Reality check.

Most church buildings in America,

Especially in the North East,

Are mostly three-quarters empty on Sunday mornings.

Pews and chairs are filled with ghosts and memories

Of former members and friends

Who have made the intentional decision

That sleeping in, catching a lazy breakfast, and reading the Sunday paper

Is more important that attending worship.

 

The desire to offer praise and thanksgiving to God still exists.

But it is smothered with post-traumatic stress

And memories of bad church experiences,

Broken relationships,

And betrayed trusts.

 

We live in an era of hyper-competition in the workplace,

Partisan politics ripping apart our social fabric,

And we are sinking in a quagmire of technology driven social media distraction.

Why would anyone want the additional headache of taking part

In a worshipping community that might burn you all over again?

Go to church, get burned once, okay.

Maybe I’ll give it another chance.

Burn me twice;

I’m done.

Our young adult children see this, and they’re done, too.

I get it.

I really do.

 

In a similar tone as that of Jesus speaking this morning,

I’d like to refer to non-attending members and former friends from church as

“The lost sheep of the house of Jesus.”

Let me bring this closer to home, if I might be so bold,

And at risk of that rotten tomato clutched in your hand.

I’ll refer to them as

“The lost sheep of the East Rochester / West Walworth: Zion

United Methodist Church.”

 

Bad church experiences aren’t anything new.

I’ve lived through and survived a few myself.

I’ve seen enough in local churches throughout the region

To write a best seller.

Division has taken place

Locally, in parishes, and

Globally, in denominational schisms,

Since the very beginning of Christendom.

 

Some Biblical scholars suggest that Matthew’s early Church community

Must have gone through some really tough periods

Based upon its tenor and tone.

When one compares today’s Gospel lesson with its parallel from Luke 10

(the sending out of 70 disciples),

The contrast is striking.

Luke is graceful and sows hospitality.

Matthew is harsh and pragmatic.

Luke is pastoral and flowing.

Matthew is industrial and steampunk.

 

In the last paragraph from today’s Gospel,

Jesus tells his disciples they are

Going like sheep into the midst of wolves.

They are going to be arrested, flogged, and interrogated.

They will be betrayed by family members, even unto death.

These words betray the tone of Gospel authors and editors

Who have survived, barely,

A bad church experience.

 

“The world is hard, sonny boy.

You’ve got to be hard, too;

Or else it will eat you alive.“

That’s the Gospel of Matthew’s approach.

 

If you want Gospel smack,

Turn to Matthew.

Here, you’ll get straight talk about unspeakable topics

Right from the mouth of Jesus.

This is exactly what we experience today.

 

Cut to the chase.

This is the mission and these are the rules,

Jesus instructs his identified twelve student interns:

WHO? – go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, who are the unclean and kicked-to-the-curb Jews who have had a bad church experience (10:5-6)

WHAT? – proclaim Good News that God’s kingdom is near, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons (10:7-8)

HOW? – on the authority of Jesus (10:1)

HOW? – God will provide for your every need; therefore, take no money, don’t pack a bag, and there’s no need to bring food (10:8b-10). The Holy Spirit will also speak through you at your interrogation (10:19-20)

WHERE? – don’t go to the Gentiles or Samaritans (Hindsight informs us that the commission to go to all nations would come later) (10:5)

 

The mission is one and the same

As what Jesus had been modeling in the first two verses:

“Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” – Matthew 9:35-36

 

Jesus grants authority to his newly called disciples

To engage in the same mission that he was already doing:

Reaching out to the harassed and helpless,

Reaching out to those who are wondering without direction,

Reaching out to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

WHY? – because he had compassion for them (10:36)

 

Connect the dots with me

As we try to apply the Gospel to our lives today.

 

I believe Jesus straight up gives us a mandate

To reach out to those who have left the church because of a bad experience.

The harvest is plentiful, Jesus tells us,

And the laborers are few. (9:37)

Indeed, three-quarters of our church have left,

Leaving only a quarter of us left behind

To bring in the harvest.

Am I right, or am I right?

 

The greatest harvest isn’t found

By cold calling,

Preaching from street corners,

Or by following mega-church evangelism programs;

Most of which give church growth advice

To NOT go after those who have previously left our ranks.

 

Jesus, however, teaches otherwise.

He tells us that

The greatest harvest is found

By seeking out those who have left,

Who might be wondering aimlessly without a shepherd,

Who still have that burning desire to return to God praise and thanksgiving.

 

The greatest harvest is found

With those who have broken from the Body of Christ,

With those who have left the church broken.

There are a lot of people who have left us in the past,

Many times fleeing from a bad church experience,

Leaving us both hurt and injured.

They probably walked away and thought they were done with God

and all His Jesus freaks.

We’ve probably tried to put that bad memory behind us

And just move on.

 

Just as God isn’t done with us,

God isn’t done with former member and friends, either.

There isn’t anything that can separate anyone from the love of God.

(Have you ever heard that before?)

 

Today, God comes a knocking,

And He needs our hands and feet to do his work.

The Great Commission

To make disciples of all the world

Doesn’t get done

With you or me sitting passively on the sidelines.

The Great Commission

To make disciples of all the world

Gets done when we suck up our wounded pride

And go in search of the one who walked away and who are now lost.

 

What this requires is a whole bunch of humility and repentance on our part.

Jesus is asking us to go to people who have

Intentionally made a decision to leave the Body of Christ.

He is asking us to reach out to people who have been hurt and wounded

By organized religion.

Cure them, he says.

Clean ‘em up.

Raise them from the dead.

Cast out the demons from their midst.

Don’t worry about the devils that won’t receive you.

Move on.

It will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for those demons. (10:15)

 

I know this is hard.

It evokes the thought of the “wounded healer.”

You and I have our own wounds from organized religion;

Even though we’ve stuck with it

And, to date, we have been able to ride out the storm.

We have our own PTSD to contend with.

And here,

Jesus wants us to go back

To the lost sheep of East Rochester / West Walworth

United Methodist Church.

 

Some are gone,

Moved away or pushing up poseys.

But many are not.

They’re still living right here

In our community.

 

Hum.

Yeah.

Humility and repentance will be required.

Sounds to me

Jesus has thrown down the gauntlet

And it’s time for me to

Suck it up, buttercup.

How about you?

 

It is important to recognize

The role compassion plays in the life of Jesus

And the role he wants it to play in our life and outreach.

He is motivated by compassion ;

Compassion for the harassed and helpless,

And for those who follow him

Who will be abused because of their faith.

Of course, Christ’s compassion is exemplified by the cross and death,

By the empty tomb and his ascension.

 

Our God, whose words and actions

Model a new kind of leadership for his followers

Informs us that

When we reach out to the lost sheep of our parish,

When we engage in this incredibly difficult and humbling task of healing,

We do so with the compassionate heart of Jesus,

We do so with the power of the Holy Spirit,

We do so treading on sacred ground.  

 

Do we have the courage to do it?

I don’t know.

It gives me a lump in my throat.

The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few,

I remind myself.

 

I will vow to try.

I will vow to try to replace the ghosts and memories

Filling these empty chairs / pews

With living, redeemed, and restored disciples of Jesus Christ.

Together, let us reach out to the lost sheep of East Rochester / Zion,

Knowing, full well,

It might be a rough ride for some of us.

I’m in.

How about you?

Amen.

“Going Where God Is”

Matthew 28:16-20

Trinity Sunday – Confirmation – June 11, 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 28:16-20

 

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

 

Prayer.

 

In a very famous interview

The greatest hockey player of all time,

Wayne Gretsky,

Was asked by a sports reporter

What it was that made him such a terrific hockey player.

 

 

His response was this:

“A good hockey player plays where the puck is.

A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

 

 

To be become

Means there is a willingness and ability

To go where opportunity presents.

Willingness.

Ability.

Mobility.

 

This past week

I traveled with Pastor Lida and Ray Swartz from our confirmation class

 

 

To the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability in California.

It was a great conference where

Research was shared,

Best practices were presented,

And, most importantly,

Friends were made and

Conversations were held long into the evening.

The limitations of an abled world were removed

Enabling each of us to share, listen, and speak

With refreshing freedom,

Without the need for justification, qualification, or regret.

Grace abounded,

And God was there. 

 

 

To be become

Means there is a willingness and ability

To go where God is present.

Willingness.

Ability.

Mobility.

 

My sermon today

Is really a message for three individuals:

Grace, Trystan, and Ray …

… each members of our Confirmation class,

Who have demonstrated this past year

A willingness, ability, and desire to move …

… each willing to become one

Who is intentionally on the journey that leads towards God.

 

The rest of you are welcome to listen in, if you’d like;

But on this Trinity Sunday,

God’s Word, and my interpretation of God’s Word,

Are for you three.

 

Grace, Trystan, and Ray,

I’m confident that

Once this stage of your journey is complete

You might be wondering

 

 

“What does God have in store for me next?”

This is a great question.

It should be one that is revisited frequently.

What does God have planned for me

Today, tomorrow, and for the rest of my life?

 

You are in good company if you are asking this question.

I ask God this question nearly every day,

And I suspect many others assembled here today

Ask this same question, too.

 

Some thoughts,

Deeply rooted in our Gospel for today …

 

On this Trinity Sunday

 

 

We are reminded that we are children

Of God’s Creation.

The Lord, and Father of us all,

Made each of us out of the chaos of the cosmos,

Filled us with love,

And set us forth to care for his creation.

 

God is present

In all of creation;

In the world and oceans,

In the forest and the waterfalls,

In animals and the fish of the seas,

In water, fire, wind, and earth

In this congregation, and in the next.

 

When you or I might find ourselves

In a place where doubt overwhelms,

Or we perceive God is absent,

Creation is waiting

For your visit.

God is there,

Searching for you to come to Him,

Looking for your stewardship,

Longing for you to care.

 

I encourage you to express a willingness

To care for God’s creation.

You have been given the gift of ability

To speak and act on behalf of God’s natural order.

The same Spirit that blew across the waters

When the earth was formed

Grants to you all the mobility you need

To make a positive difference

In caring for this beautiful world.

 

You will find the face of God

When you care deeply and passionately for what God has made;

The land,

The creatures,

And all God’s people.

 

 

To be become

Means there is a willingness and ability

To go where God is present.

Willingness.

Ability.

Mobility.

 

On this Trinity Sunday

We are reminded that

 

 

we are disciples of the living Christ

And that we have been given the inheritance,

As God’s beloved children,

Of God’s amazing grace

And eternal love.

 

When you or I might find ourselves

In a place where we perceive God is absent

Turn to Jesus

Because God is there.

Like we hear in the Gospel message today

The original disciples

Went as instructed to where Jesus was

And experienced his directive,

His claim on their lives,

Even as he ascended into heaven.

 

When we go to Jesus,

We drink in the water of our mutual baptism,

We share the bread and cup of his Last Supper

With every generation of Christians who have come and gone before us

And who now join us at the table.

When we go to Jesus,

We are able to experience forgiveness.

We relieve ourselves

Of the burdens of our regrets

Enabling ourselves

To make a fresh start in life.

When we come to Christ

We are able to bathe ourselves in the promise

Of a world that is being transformed into a kingdom

Just as it is in heaven.

At the same time

We uncork the bottle

That leads to eternal life.

 

Come to Jesus every Sabbath day.

Listen for him to speak through the proclamation of the Word.

Jesus, like the puck,

Waits for us to join him,

Both in worship on Sunday, and

Every hour of every day

In the mission field beyond our doors.

 

A willingness to seek Jesus

Comes from both within, and from God.

Confirmation has given you the ability

To seek the resurrected Christ.

You have the ability.

You’ve been gifted this ability.

Sometimes all it takes

Is the power of prayer;

For prayer gives everyone the mobility necessary

To reach out and touch the face of God.

 

 

To be become

Means there is a willingness and ability

To go where God is present.

Willingness.

Ability.

Mobility.

 

On this Trinity Sunday,

We pause to remember

 

 

And we breathe deeply to experience

The presence of God

In and through the Holy Spirit.

 

I remember long ago a famous theologian,

A seminary academic,

Who expounded extensively about the absence of God.

In the thirty-five years since then,

I have come to reject his thesis.

 

God does not leave us.

We leave God, or we think we do.

You or I might go wandering far afield of the river of faith.

Like some of the disciples in our Gospel lesson for today,

There may be times of doubt.

We may abandon the journey towards God.

Yet, it is the gift of God’s Holy Spirit

That follows us where ever we go and whatever we do.

There is no place in heaven above

Or in hell beneath

Where one can escape the presence or love of God.

 

God loves you so much

You were created in God’s very own image!

God loves you so much

You were given God’s Son to forgive you and save you.

God loves you so much

You’ve been given the gift of eternity

In the love and presence of God.

 

When you feel like letting go,

Be willing to hang on.

The Spirit is with you.

When you feel like you can’t,

You can,

Because the Holy Spirit has given you the power and ability.

When you feel like you’re stuck,

You’re not,

Because the Holy Spirit

Brings liberation and freedom and new life.

 

 

To be become

Means there is a willingness and ability

To go where God is present.

Willingness.

Ability.

Mobility.

 

Grace, Trystan, and Ray,

Go where God is

This day,

And every day of your life.

This is God’s plan;

The answer to your question about where you go from here.

 

 

Go where God is.

This is God’s deepest desire.

For you are God’s greatest love.

Amen.

“The Interview”

Luke 24:44-53

28 May 2017 – Ascension of the Lord

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Luke 24:44-53

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

 

 

Prayer.

 

Hello.

My name is Pastor Todd.

You can call me Todd.

It’s nice to meet you.

Have a seat.

 

 

Thank you for coming in for this interview.

And I thank you for dressing professionally;

It says a lot about the character of a person.

As you probably know,

There are an unlimited number of positions

That we are looking to fill.

 

One detail I forgot to ask

When we exchanged emails to set up this interview:

Have you been baptized?

If you haven’t, that’s okay.

I can make all the arrangements;

Baptism can be scheduled for a future Sunday.

 

What baptism does is to join us all together

In a common relationship with Jesus Christ and with each other.

Once you’ve been baptized,

One can be legally considered a Christian.

Becoming a Christian is a lot

Like joining a Facebook group,

Except once in the group,

You’re there for good.

If you have been baptized;

Great! We are good to go.

 

Let’s see.

Let’s give the job description a review, shall we?

 

 

 

 

JOB DESCRIPTION

Position Title: Witness. Also known as Disciple, Apostle, Brother, or Sister.

 

This is considered a Full-Time, Exempt position (Exempt means you are a salaried profession and your Divine supervisor may ask you to work as much as is necessary to complete the assigned task.)

 

Hours of Duty: The appropriate candidate will need to be prepared to work every conscious moment, be called all hours of the day or night, regardless of location. There is work to be done holidays, weekends, 24/7/365.

 

Location: Some travel is required. For example, it is expected that you will travel to and from weekly worship. Most employment related work is community based and is not to be conducted at the church building.

 

 

Educational requirements: none.

·        A history of Bible study is helpful, but not necessary. Bible study may be personal, community based, or academic. Study may include a history of Sunday School achievement, Vacation Bible School participation, regular worship attendance, and singing in the choir.

·        A general awareness of the Bible is helpful, but not required. If you do not have a Bible, one will be provided.

·        Ongoing continuing education is expected of all witnesses.

 

Orientation and training for the right candidate will be conducted free of charge. Advancement is expected. Credentialing and licensure is provided personally by the Divine supervisor.

Supervisor: God; though often times God will work through His Spirit to provide guidance through the words and actions of other Witnesses.

 

 

Primary Responsibilities (as outlined at the ascension of Jesus)

·        Testify to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah – the one sent by God to save all God’s people. This witness will be passed on to you during your orientation. It comes from a two-thousand year history of being passed from one generation to the next. Witnesses will only receive certified witnesses from previous generations. Deviations from, or additions to these essentials will render the witness null and void.

·        Testify to the fact that Jesus suffered, died, was resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven. Hundreds of people witnessed both his execution, resurrection, and ascension. These initial events, and subsequent events recording the explosive propagation of Christianity will be taught to you over your entire life span. This witness is certified and substantiated.

·        Testify to the fact that Jesus seeks the repentance of sin from all people (present company included). Repentance is to be conducted on a cyclical basis. Instructional methods and techniques will be taught to all successful candidates, and will be repeated on a recurrent three-year lectionary cycle.

·        The witness is expected to grant forgiveness of sins, in the name of Jesus, to all who repent from sinning.

 

 

 

Start Date: The Witness will not start work until empowered by the Supervisor’s Holy Spirit. The empowerment of the Holy Spirit will be self-evident. Return here next Sunday, June 4, 2017, and gather with other new hires in this sanctuary at 11:00 am.

 

 

Important notes:

·        All Witnesses are encouraged to work in pairs or small groups.

·        A righteous lifestyle (as defined by adherence to the Ten Commandments and to the commandments of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels), with regular attention to repentance and attendance in worship, is expected of all Witness.

·        Witnesses are to refrain from passing judgment upon others, both those in the program and those being recruited into the program. The position of “Judge” has already been filled. Repress the urge to force others to adapt to your personal values and cultural beliefs.

·        Witnesses are expected to be image conscious. How we dress, act, speak, and conduct our affairs reflects upon God. Therefore, a warm, positive, gracious attitude is expected of all Witnesses.

·        Witnesses are directed to start locally, then, with time and experience, will be directed to work globally.

·        This is considered a “High Risk” position. Many Witnesses have been persecuted, kidnapped, tortured, and killed – referred in the organization as “martyrdom.” Though statistically rare in today’s world, the possibility continues to exist. Such persecution today are often limited to harassment and derision (people making fun of you).

 

Benefits:

·        Pay Scale: No Experience – God will provide for your every need

                   Laity - God will provide for your every need

                   Pastors - God will provide for your every need

·        Forgiveness: all Witnesses will be unconditionally forgive of sins, upon sincere repentance, regardless of circumstances.

·        Salvation: all Witnesses will take part in Club-Salvation. As the world is being transformed into God’s kingdom, individual benefits of eternal life will be granted. This process will include, but not be limited to, the restoration of broken relationships, freedom from disease, sickness, or injury, a reserved table at the heavenly banquet, and Gold Card acceptance into the community of Saints.

 

Does anyone have any questions?

Great!

After worship, feel free to ask me any questions.

 

Thank you for your attendance and participation in this interview.

There is no need for a second interview.

 

 

You’re hired!

Each and every one present is considered hired.

Welcome to the company!

 

Amen.

“A Common Motive”

John 14:15-21

21 May 2017 – The Sixth Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

John 14:15-21

”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

 

Prayer.

 

I drive a lot;

About twenty-thousand miles a year by last count.

To make my time in the driver’s seat as productive as possible,

I listen to podcasts;

Short, recorded shows

Produced by people from all walks of life.

Listening to podcasts is how I stay up to date on technology,

Scientific research,

Economics and public policy,

Religion and theology,

And, yes, even politics.

 

One of my favorite podcasts

Comes from the category of economics and public policy:

“Freakonomics”.

The non-fiction book upon which the podcasts draws its origin

Is described as follows:

“A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything.”

I highly recommend the book “Freakonomics”

And listening to the weekly podcasts.

 

Recently, the show host, Steven Dubner,

Interviewed Seth Stephens-Davidowitz,

Who has been doing extensive, life-long research about

What can be learned about human behavior

From the big data behind internet searches.

 

For example:

Stephen J. DUBNER: Here’s a question: how many men are gay?

Seth STEPHENS-DAVIDOWITZ: About 5 percent.

DUBNER: Does advertising work?

STEPHENS-DAVIDOWITZ: Yes.

DUBNER: Why was American Pharoah a great racehorse?

STEPHENS-DAVIDOWITZ: Big left ventricle.

DUBNER: Is the media biased?

STEPHENS-DAVIDOWITZ: Yeah, it gives you what you want to read.

DUBNER: Are Freudian slips real?

STEPHENS-DAVIDOWITZ: No.

DUBNER: Who cheats on their taxes?

STEPHENS-DAVIDOWITZ: Everybody who knows how to cheat.

(http://freakonomics.com/podcast/)

 

One of his most startling conclusions

Is that people lie.

People lie a lot.

He reports:

“People just are in such a habit of lying in their day-to-day life,

People lie to their partners or their kids or their parents,

That these behaviors carry over to surveys.”

Surveys cannot be trusted.

But the data behind internet searches can.

 

Lying is a problem.

Based on my own behavior and experience,

I intuitively thought that lying was a bigger problem than is publicly acknowledged.

Stephens-Davidowitz research confirms my beliefs.

Rarely have I spoken about this

Because I know I represent bits and pieces of data points,

And doing so amounts to a public confession.

Like the rest of us,

I have no defense.

Repentance is the only life-line I cling to,

Vowing to do better day by day.

 

Lying, of course, is a violation of the Ten Commandments

Handed down by God to his subject, Moses,

Speaking “face to face at the mountain, out of the fire.”

- Deuteronomy 5:4

The eighth commandment reads

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

- Exodus 20:16

It sits right there between thou shall not steal,

And neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife.

Bearing false witness,

Lying,

Is a violation of one of God’s many laws.

We might believe we don’t do it,

But big data suggests otherwise. 

 

Our Gospel lesson for today begins with Jesus

Teaching his disciples,

And by extension, teaching us today, that

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

- John 14:15

Did you just feel the chill sweep across the room?

 

“Well of course we love Jesus!

Why else would we be here?” we protest.

Besides, “just who are you, Pastor Todd, to suggest otherwise?”

(I am nobody,

Other than a plain parish pastor

Calling my people to abide in Jesus Christ)

 

Frankly, I had not considered the revolutionary nature of

Jesus’ farewell discourse, in general,

Or this aspect of it, in specific:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

I had not thought about it much

Up until this past week.

I was content to leave these vital words of Jesus

To be confined to the funeral liturgy,

Where most of us pastors prefer to keep them safely tucked away.

However, this 14th chapter of the Gospel of John

Invites us to consider more deeply

The role of commandments and law

In the lives of the faithful.

 

When it comes to God’s commandments in the Bible,

An easy way to describe them is like this:

There are the Father’s commandments

And there are Jesus’ commandments.

 

Our Father, who created all things,

Commanded Adam not to eat of the apple.

He did anyways,

Ushering sin into the world.

 

To cleanse the world,

God sent the flood and spared Noah and his family,

Leaving the rainbow as a sign of a covenant between God and humankind

That God will never destroy humankind again.

Divine destruction is out.

God loved his children and doesn’t want to see them destroyed.

God was all about making a new plan.

 

To establish his Lordship of all,

God made covenant with Abram,

Who he renamed, Abraham,

Promising him, in short,

“I will be your God and you shall be my everlasting people.”

- see Genesis 17:5b-8

In a sweet deal,

God even promised to set aside land just for Abraham’s offspring.

 

Yet, our ancestors, Abraham’s offspring

Were a grumbling, backsliding sort of rascals,

Like most of us here today.

Divine destruction was off the table,

(remember Noah and the rainbow?)

So instead, the Lord gave to Moses to give to the people,

His laws,

That all might live in peace,

Share in a just society,

And live in love and fidelity with God.

The Ten Commandments

Are deeply rooted in our Father’s love

And His desire for the best for His creation.

 

Yes, there are many other commandments in the Old Testament.

But, let me be crystal clear:

These “lesser commandments” are priestly extrapolations

Of God’s original;

Written, edited, and established over later generations.

You thought following the original ten was hard?

Just add in the following 611.

Go with the genuine;

Stick with the original ten!

 

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Jesus said.

 

Then, there are commands that Jesus compliments

With His Father’s original ten.

Pay close attention to these, for they are directly from the Gospels.

Weigh them carefully,

And follow the words of Jesus

As a direct command from God’s lips to our ears.

 

One. Love the Lord, your God.

- Matthew 22:37

BOOM!

Any explanation needed?

Love God

With all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

Simply love God.

 

Two. Love one another.

- John 13:34

BOOM!

Any explanation needed?

Love your neighbors because

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 – John 13:35

Love your neighbors.

Simply love.

 

Three. As often as you eat and drink together,

Do so in the memory of Jesus.

- 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Holy Communion reminds us that Jesus

Gave his body and blood for us,

That we might proclaim his death, resurrection, and return.

That sacrifice

Is a gift of love.

Eat. Drink. Love.

Simply love.

 

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

 

Do you see a common motive developing here?

Can you see a common theme?

 

John reminds us about God’s love

In the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus:

“For God so love the world that he gave his only Son,

So that everyone who believes in him may not perish

But may have eternal life.”

- John 3:16

God’s punishment, drowning, death, and destruction

Is so Old Testament,

The Book of Genesis is never to be repeated again.

 

The Gospel’s lens

Is about God loving the world,

Giving the world the gift of His Son,

Saving all who believe,

Gifting all eternal life.

Jesus is a gift of love.

Simply love.

 

If it were merely about adherence to God’s commandments

Both the Father’s and the Son’s,

We each fail the righteousness test.

Remember, we all lie?

(Let’s not even think about starting a tally of our sins)

 

The former way to be made righteous

Was to be ceremoniously cleaned

and to make your animal sacrifice at the altar.

But, God is clear as a bell,

Speaking through the prophets Isaiah and Amos

Saying that he has tired of our sacrifices.

He doesn’t want them.

They don’t work anymore.

 

It is the Apostle Paul who wraps up our Gospel for us this morning,

In his letter to the church in Rome, when he writes:

“But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ.”

- Romans 3:21-23

Good behavior has been replaced by Jesus Christ

As the only means of righteousness possible.

Jesus is our righteousness.

He makes our failures right.

He corrects our wrong turns and poor choices.

By his blood,

We are made clean.

 

Righteousness under the law leads to death.

We can never achieve perfection,

And the former ways of righteousness

Just don’t do it for God anymore.

 

God has given us a better way forward.

God has given us Jesus.

 

Jesus is a gift of love.

Simply love.

His love is a sign of the grace

God gives to us

Each and every day.

If you abide in God’s love, then you live in God’s grace.

And grace as a gift from Jesus leads to life.

 

I think about this a lot

As I consider the trajectory of the Church, in general,

And the United Methodist church, in particular.

We are a people organized by the efforts of John Wesley,

An English Rector who spearheaded

An evangelical revival in England and the American colonies.

In the past 300 years,

We have developed a unique Wesleyan culture.

We are Christians who have a great history of leading with grace.

Recognizing God’s love through Jesus Christ

Is the only way any of us can be

Redeemed, perfected, or be made righteous.

 

We can trust in ourselves, and fail.

Or we can place our trust in Jesus Christ,

And be made righteous.

A church anchored by moral adherence,

Is relegated to the rusting junkyard of decline and demise.

But a church anchored by faith

In the grace of God through Jesus Christ,

Is one that places love front and center.

A church anchored by faith

Is one that is filled with life!

Spirit filled life!

Life eternal!

 

Love becomes our common motive.

Love is our DNA.

And there is nothing of this world

That can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ;

God’s gift of righteousness

To you and me.

 

Beloved, friends and neighbors.

Continue to lead with grace.

Love.

Simply love.

And leave the rest up to God.

Amen.

“A Living Stone”

1 Peter 2:2-10

The 5th Sunday of Easter, May 14, 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester and Zion West Walworth United Methodist Churches

 

1 Peter 2:2-10

Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

 

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

 

For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

 

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 

 

Prayer.

 

The concept of past, present, and future is an important one.

It sets us apart from others in the animal kingdom,

allowing us to rise to the top of the cognitive pyramid,

allowing us to employ intelligence to survive more primitive disputes.

When we can remember our past,

learn in the present from our previous successes and failures,

and apply this knowledge when confronted by future challenges

we develop an advantage that few,

if any,

of the other members of the animal kingdom enjoy.

 

It means that wisdom is cumulative.

Every generation builds upon the lessons learned

and passed on

from previous generations.

It also means that,

within the lifespan,

one is always growing wisdom,

which serves as an effective buffer

for many years against the inevitable nature of aging.

One doesn’t have to be the strongest runner to win the marathon;

the folly of youth will burn out inexperienced runners prematurely,

allowing the older and more experienced runner

to pace themselves

and win.

 

 

Past, present, and future;

there are many symbols and metaphors used

to portray this dominant concept:

The circle of life,

seasons of the year,

gems and precious stones.

 

It is this last metaphor

… the stone …

 

 

that the apostles from Peter’s community of faith use

to teach their sisters and brothers through Asia Minor,

that they might endure

personal suffering and religious persecutions.

Peter urges Christ followers to believe,

to be strong,

and to stand firm.

 

 

 “Come to him, a living stone,” Peter writes.

 

Stones are so common,

everyone in the small churches in Asia Minor

who hears this letter read in their home church

would be able to draw an immediate connection.

 

 

Stones are unique,

like people,

such that every unique person

can be compared to a unique stone.

 

In the ancient world,

stones were not divisible into more basic elements.

They were already in their simplest form.

Break them apart and what do you have?

Two stones.

 

Stones are tough.

Even the softest stone can break the skin.

And the toughest,

most dense granite or diamond

will endure forever.

 

In New Testament time,

stones where the substance of all things built;

from the aggregate of a mud plastered hut,

to the foundation of the Roman Forum;

stones are what all things are built of.

 

Stones, especially very large stones,

are recycled over and over again.

The current ancient city walls in Jerusalem

are only 500 years old;

yet, they are made from the same stones

that build numerous, earlier city walls.

 

Past, present, future: stones endure.

They’ve been here long before we came,

and stones will endure long after we leave.

 

 

But here,

Peter encourages disciples of Jesus to become living stones.

We know stones are in-animate objects.

There is no animation, no life, in them.

How can this be?

How can anyone make sense of this apparent contradiction?

 

For Peter,

 

 

life is more than living.

Life is about being Spirit filled;

being filled with the breath of God,

being put to use for God’s greater purpose,

being employed to bring about God’s greater will.

 

So, Peter is encouraging us to be the Spirit filled foundation

upon which God is building the kingdom.

 

 

Be the foundation!

 

Though rejected by everyone else in society,

there is a place for you,

not to be just another anonymous building block for what God is building,

but to be the chief cornerstone,

upon which all else is built.

 

 

Be the common, yet unique;

be the indivisible, yet tough.

Be the substance of all things,

enduring until the end, and then,

make certain your legacy lasts far beyond your earthly days.

Be the living stone upon which God can build His everlasting Kingdom.

 

 

“Like living stones,” Peter continues,

“let yourselves be built into a spiritual house,

to be a holy priesthood,

to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

- 1 Peter 2:5

 

If we are to be living, then we must be growing.

If no other stone is built on top of us,

we’ll remain a cornerstone, all right,

but instead of supporting the spiritual house that God intends,

we’ll be nothing more than a trip hazard on a path

or a plow breaker out in a field.

Peter’s aspiration is that

We become the solid foundation

upon which we recruit and empower

other living stones to be built.

When enough living stones are built together,

we become the spiritual house Peter speaks of.

We will become the edifice through which

the Holy Spirit can dwell, and work, and flow.

 

Fresh in Peter’s memory,

and in the minds of those to whom he is writing,

is the destruction of Jerusalem,

the razing of the Temple,

and the scattering of the oppressive Jewish priesthood,

such that it would never be able to re-emerge.

The priesthood,

as far as the students of that era understood it,

was dead.

 

So here,

Peter is making a bold call to followers of Jesus:

 

 

be the new priesthood,

be the new leaders,

take thou authority

to maintain the current cohort of disciples …

… grow them deep …

and, aggressively grow a new, bigger, bolder, larger community of believers.

 

Be holy, not corrupt like the old priesthood.

Every living stone is to be a member of the new priesthood,

not just those born into privilege.

Make your life become the spiritual sacrifice,

for God had tired of sacrificial animals.

Be prepared to give your life for Jesus sake,

not for personal gain.

Take care of each other.

Do not cause others to trip, fall, or fail.

Lift each other up and let them build upon your shoulders,

on what God has already created.

 

Once we were scattered.

We were dead,

living in darkness,

in such a harsh place that mercy wasn’t even known.

Now, we are called to sacrifice our life of sin and death.

Christ has gathered us,

breathed life into us,

called us into the light of day,

transparent for all to see.

We are called to be the anchoring cornerstone,

one that, once set, is nearly impossible to move.

We are called to build,

such that by our collective lives,

we are to become the eternal dwelling of God’s Holy Spirit.

 

Dearly beloved, this is an exceptionally high, aspirational calling.

It is not enough to go along to get along.

There is no place in the Church where one can hide in a crowd.

More of a sacrifice is required than simply praying about our problems.

We are called to do more

than crossing our fingers

and hoping God will pull us through

for another year.

 

If we are to be the holy priesthood,

the spiritual dwelling for the Holy Spirit,

the living stones upon which all others are built,

then we must take a more active role,

more responsibility,

for the trajectory of

faith in today’s world.

 

 

If we truly believe,

as I’ve heard so many complain,

that the world is going to hell in a hand basket,

then we have none other to blame than ourselves,

because, by our inaction, we’ve allowed it to happen.

 

The same is true today,

as it was in the first century world

to which Peter was writing.

 

We, here at East Rochester / Zion,

may not be able to address the big issues of the world.

We are not going to single-handedly turn around our denomination,

fix our social issues,

or reverse the trends

of plunging membership and worship attendance.

 

But, we can do some things.

Start with making a change

in that which can be changed:

 

 

Let us change ourselves.

 

We can start to make the faithful sacrifices

in our own lives

that Peter is calling.

We can rebuild ourselves the holy priesthood,

the living stones,

the foundation for God’s spiritual house.

And hopefully,

prayerfully,

with our invitation and

by following our example,

 

 

others might come and build.

Amen.

“I am the Gate”

John 10:1-10

May 7, 2017 – The Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion and East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

John 10:1-10


“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

 

 

Prayer.

 

We probably all know that God,

And by extension, Jesus,

Are big fans of the “I Am” statement of self-identification.

“I Am who I Am” God spoke from the burning bush to trembling Moses.

“I Am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus says …

Along with

“I Am the vine, you are the branches”

“I Am the bread of life”

“I Am the light of the world.”

 

The Gospel of John is an exceptionally rich source of “I Am” statements,

Numbering at least seven different titles.

However, they can be found in Matthew and Mark

(“Take heart. I Am. Do not be afraid.” – Matthew 14:27 and Mark 6:50)

And in Luke 21:8

“And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name saying, “I Am!” and ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.”

 

 

Pronounced in the Greek “Ego eimi”

And “’ana” in our Lord’s original Arabic,

And “ehyeh ašer ehyeh” in the original Hebrew,

The use of Jesus’ “I am” statements have been

The source of great theological analysis and debate over the years.

The repeated uses of multiple metaphors

May bring clarity to some,

But to many others,

It muddies the waters.

 

Today, it muddies the waters,

At least, in my humble opinion.

The Gospel says as much:

 

 

“Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them …” – John 10:6-7a

Which is to say,

“Let me say that another way.”

 

I, too, am confused with the “I am” statements in these ten short verses.

It sounds like Jesus is the good shepherd.

Wonderful!

This matches up nicely with our 23rd Psalm at the beginning of our worship.

The sheep know his voice and follow him.

(Had we read one additional verse,

We would have heard Jesus say as much,

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” – John 10:11)

Yet, it also sounds like he is the gatekeeper.

He opens the gate for the shepherd.

And he further piles on,
“I am the gate for the sheep.”

There you have it.

Shepherd, gatekeeper, and gate.

 

 

Sometimes, when it comes to swimming in scripture,

It is important to simply strike a claim and just move forward.

 

Allow me the license to do so.

I’ll filter the muddy water this morning,

And see if we can’t clean it up.

Let’s stake our claim on “I am the gate for the sheep.”

 

Many of us will have in our mind’s eye

The image of a pasture gate,

Through which a shepherd would drive his sheep from one field to the next.

Lovely,

It is the source of many Tiffany era stained glass windows.

Except, this probably isn’t the image that Jesus was trying to project.

This isn’t the metaphor that Jesus had in mind.

 

 

Jesus was teaching inside the walled city of Jerusalem.

He was teaching crowds in the Temple

And responding to an investigation by the Pharisees

Regarding a man born blind

Whom Jesus had given sight.

Jerusalem is the setting.

Jerusalem was, and is, an urban, international city;

Sourced for siege

with underground water springs

and warehouses for food.

The city is ringed by protective walls,

Through which no less than nine gates

At the time of Jesus

Allowed people and commerce to pass.

 

 

I’ve passed through numerous Jerusalem city gates over the years.

Swarms of pedestrians,

People on motorbikes, cars, trucks, and assorted wheeled equipment

All crowd together in a continuous jam of humanity

Flowing in to and out of the city.

 

 

This past trip

I remember an impatient lady in a car

Beeping her horn,

Crowding a man pushing a wheelbarrow

Top heavy with stacked slabs of steel.

The workman was irritated,

As were the rest of us crowding in,

By her impatient honking.

All of a sudden the construction worker

Lost his balance

And dumped his load of steel

Right onto the hood of her car!

Yes, I couldn’t make this up!

 

 

Can you imagine the excitement when a shepherd

Steers a herd of sheep through the gate

Into the city?

Yep.

It still happens today.

 

Major city gates were more than an opening in the wall.

From the outside it was a doorway that could be shut if under attack.

The outer door led to a room where one would have to turn ninety degrees,

Either left or right (in the case of the Jaffa Gate),

To pass through a second pair of defensive doors

That led into the city.

The reason for the abrupt turn

Was not to choke commerce,

As it does quite effectively on a daily basis.

Rather, it was to prevent battering rams

From getting a good run at the doors.

 

Gates were designed for defense.

In a moment’s notice

Defenders could alert the gate keeper

To drop the iron bars,

Close and bar the doors,

Sealing off access in both directions.

The only way in or out

Would be over the top or burrowing under.

Tunneling was impractical.

And 40 foot high walls that average eight and a half feet thick

Were very defensible in a pre-explosives era.

 

I’d suggest these are the gates Jesus had in mind

When he proclaims,

“I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved.”

- John 10:9a

Think of Jerusalem’s gates.

 

 

I am the gate, Jesus said.

Come through me and be saved.

 

Thinking about the qualities and characteristics of ancient city gates

Can give us an insight into what Jesus may have had in mind

And how we can apply his message

In a practical way

To our world, work, family, and classroom.

 

I am the gate.

 

 

Gates bring people together.

If you want to pass,

You need to crowd in tightly together.

You need to all be moving in a common direction.

You all need to learn to get along.

And so, too, does Jesus.

 

Think about how Jesus has brought people into your life.

If it wasn’t for your Savior, we probably wouldn’t have met.

If it wasn’t for my Savior,

I’d be on a beach in the Mediterranean sipping a beverage,

And I know we wouldn’t have met!

 

Just as Christ has brought us together,

There are still others who we have never met,

Who God is intentionally steering into our lives,

Who will be handed over to us

To lead them through the gate.

Watch. Be aware.

Anticipate who God is placing in your life,

Who God is squeezing in with you on your spiritual journey,

And consider how you can help them

Navigate the way.

 

I am the gate.

 

 

Gates slow you down.

City gates are inefficient for commerce.

If tolls, taxes, tariffs, or tithes need to be paid,

This is where the IRS or the church finance committee

Would set up shop.

Lots of people are trying to get through a crooked, narrow passage.

The more people are jammed together,

The slower the line moves.

So, too, is it with Jesus.

 

Jesus slows one down.

There is no fast shortcut to Christ.

High energy, slick marketing, coffee kiosk-ed churches might be fine for some,

But from where I sit,

And from my experience,

The journey with Jesus rarely goes down the fastest pathway,

Or via the link that leads to a Facebook list

Of the top ten ways to increase church attendance or giving.

 

The way to have a relationship with Jesus

Starts with being still.

Put down your smart phone,

Lay aside the calendar,

Give yourself all the time you need, …

Plus an hour more.

 

Slow down the breathing.

Listen in silence.

Be still, and know the I Am.

Let the I Am know you.

 

I am the gate.

 

 

Not only do gates squish people together and slow down the line,

But they also require those who pass

To become acutely aware of the needs of others.

We are pushed together with the needs of the world:

The hungry child whose parents love but can’t afford to feed,

The shoeless elder, who walks all day searching for deposit bottles,

The out of balance construction worker pushing an overloaded wheelbarrow,

Headed to get to his third job on time.

 

A life with Jesus, our gate,

Reveals to us the needs of the world.

His light shines on the darkness within,

And on the burdens that others are carrying.

Passing through Christ

Places us in a unique position of knowing our neighbors

And learning their needs.

Passing through the gate

Requires us to reach out with love and support

To ensure that everyone makes it through,

Everyone navigates the cobblestones without tripping or falling,

That even those who might stumble or fall,

Might be lifted up,

And if necessary,

Carried through to the other side.

This is our call.

 

I am the gate.

 

 

Jesus Christ is God’s gate;

And it’s His to control.

It is the Lord’s desire for everyone to pass.

It is the Lord’s desire to see that it remains open.

It is the Lord’s desire to maintain its strength against any who would assail it,

Against any thief or bandit who would try to circumnavigate it,

Against any force of Darkness that may attempt to defeat it.  

And it is always the Lord’s judgment and will

To properly maintain control.

 

Yes, our God is the gate, and the gatekeeper.

We pass by His will;

That’s called GRACE.

It is his judgment through which all may pass.

If you’re walking with Christ,

There is nothing to fear.

It is His will that you will pass.

But if you’re not walking with Christ,

If you’re opposed to his Way,

If you’re attempting to steal and rob your way into the kingdom by some other way,

Expect to be stopped, judged, and be held accountable.

 

I am the gate.

 

 

The last observation I’d make about Jesus being the gate is this:

Salvation is already prepared.

It waits just on the other side.

Pass through the gate.

Abide in Jesus

And allow Jesus to abide in you,

And you have already received this promise:

“Whoever enters by me will be saved,

And will come in and go out and find pasture.”

- John 10:8

 

Not only one will be saved;

Everyone who passes through the gate will be saved.

Salvation is now.

Salvation is also in the future.

Salvation is personal.

Salvation is also communal.

Salvation is God’s will.

It is God’s desire that all might pass through Jesus.

Salvation is God’s gift

That all might have life, and have it abundantly.

 

Dearly beloved,

Jesus is our gate

For we, His people, are His sheep.

 

 

Come together.

Slow down the pace.

Watch for the needs of others,

And whenever or where ever you can help meet a need,

Do it.

Give thanks for God’s grace;

His gift of salvation

To you, and me, and to our world.

 

It is only by God’s grace that we have a gate,

That we’ve been given Jesus.

Let us live our lives

Aware of this blessing,

Forever returning to God

Our thanks and praise.

Amen.

“Word and Table”

Luke 24:13-35

30 April 2017 – The Third Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

 

Prayer.

 

The older I get

The easier it becomes

For me to understand why it was so hard for the disciples to recognize the resurrected Christ.

I look at a face and think to myself

“What is your name?”

All the while, I’m doing the best I can not to panic,

“How can I keep from being discovered that I can’t remember your first name?”

Lord, save me!

 

I’m trying to supplement my exercise routine

By adding walking to lap swimming.

The water is too cold some days

For me to get a good 45-minute swim in.

So, I walk.

 

 

When I walk with Cynthia around the neighborhood,

With Christian and our dog, Missy,

I walk to keep up.

Both Cynthia and Christian walk at a pace that is nearly double mine.

They can’t seem to slow down,

So I’m always trying to speed up or catch up.

I look down, pump my arms, and try to pour it on.

Which means I walk with my head down.

I could walk right by my other mother and wouldn’t even know it.

On a seven-mile walk, yeah, I can understand

How they might not have recognized Jesus

Right in their midst.

 

Walking in a crowd makes me nervous.

I’m afraid of getting squashed, bumped over, or having my pocket picked.

After a hockey game streaming out of the doors,

I’m worried about being set upon by fans of the other team,

Or, because our family are Sabres fans,

I’m even worried about being set upon by disappointed Buffalo fans

Who tend to wail and khash teeth.

 

 

Post-Passover crowds were streaming out of Jerusalem by Sunday evening.

Everyone was starting a journey tired after a week of meals, celebrations, family visits, and trips to the Temple.

Everyone wanted to return home as quickly and as safely as possible.

Parents try to keep their children close,

Less one strays or gets left behind.

(As Mary and Joseph had learned with the boy Jesus)

Instead of the common image of

Jesus walking with two others on a deserted back country road,

Like modern artists suggest,

Think of how full the Thruway is after a long Fourth of July weekend.

Think of Cleopas, the other disciple, and Jesus

Walking in a crowd spilling forth from the Lion’s gate

Headed due East towards Emmaus.

Let’s face it;

It’s hard to carry on a conversation in a crowd,

Let alone, recognizing one voice out of many

While looking at the ground.

 

Some might protest, “But these two disciples had just spent upwards of three years traveling with and supporting Jesus.

They should have known.”

Granted, this was Cleopas and one of the other disciples,

Who didn’t quite make the cut for the top twelve slots.

They were probably numbered amongst the 70 who Jesus had sent out two-by-two ahead of him.

They weren’t in His inner circle.

Yet, both Cleopas and his traveling partner had obviously been very much tied up in the events of the prior week’s Passion of Jesus.

They were talking about Jesus, the events of Jesus, with Jesus, right to his face.

They should have known.

 

What kept them from recognizing Jesus?

 

To say Cleopas and the other disciple were disappointed

Would be an understatement.

Jesus had underwhelmed them.

He had undershot their expectations.

 

 

“We had hoped …” they confessed,

“that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

You can hear the disappointment in their words.

Their disappointment led them to conclude

That the witness from “some women” was nothing more

Than idle talk from a bunch of pecking chickens.

Imagine that; a woman’s opinion being dismissed …

 

Seeing angels and visions and a revived corpse three-days dead?

Shoot.

Their reports were dismissed

Because others had checked out their story

And they only discovered a missing corpse,

Not a resurrected Christ.

Yes, tired and disappointed,

Their judgment was clouded

And their recognition was impaired.

 

I can find no evidence to conclude that Jesus desired to be unrecognized.

They just weren’t looking for him!

 

 

“You fools!” (I paraphrase Jesus),

“Are you suffering from a poor Biblical education?”

“Let me teach you a thing, or two!”

So, Jesus teaches these two, second-tier disciples

A poignant Bible lesson,

Starting with Moses and the prophets.

Sounding just like he did,

Teaching them repeatedly before he died,

He teaches them that the Messiah should suffer these things

And then enter into His glory.

 

The Messiah should suffer,

Has to suffer,

If the Son of God

Is going to suffer along with the suffering of the world.

 

 

One cannot survive the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Without the cross of Jesus the Christ. 

Likewise, the Messiah should suffer,

Has to suffer,

If the Son of God

Is going to remove the sins of the world.

Sins, like an anchor, are weighing us down,

Forcing our heads underwater,

Drowning us.

 

 

One cannot survive drowning in sin

Without the cross of Jesus the Christ

Saving us (called Justification),

Lifting our heads above water,

And giving us life.  

 

 

We can’t save ourselves;

That’s why we need a Savior.

 

“Stay with us,” becomes their plea.

“Break bread with us,” is my paraphrase.

Like every good Rabbi who teaches in the Synagogue,

The complementary work of worship

Is led by the Jewish mother,

and her family around the dining room table later that evening.

“Let us balance your words with our table,”

Cleopas and the other disciple invite Jesus.

 

 

Abide with us

And allow God’s Word to become the Lord’s Table.

 

Ah,

It is in the act of taking bread,

Blessing bread,

Breaking bread,

Giving bread,

That Christ is made known.

The combination of Word and Table

Just repeated from the prior Thursday evening,

Using scripture to teach His disciples,

Followed by the celebration of the first Holy Communion,

That their eyes were opened.

Repetition, familiarity, and ritual will do that to a person.

They recognized the Christ that was in their midst.

They recognized the resurrected Christ that had

Taught them,

Corrected them, and

Walked with them earlier in the day.

 

 

Word and Table have been the essential elements for Christian worship ever since.

We recognize the risen Christ that has been walking with us this past week;

Through the peaks, and through the deepest, darkest valleys.

It is only through Word and Table worship

That the eyes of our heart are opened

And we can come to see Jesus.

 

When we come together to worship

We build confidence

Knowing that Jesus Christ is right by our side.

He has justified us.

He has saved us.

He has kept us from drowning.

The proclamation of the Word, and the celebration of Holy Communion

Brings us recognition of the resurrected Christ

That wants a life-long journey with us,

Just like His walk with Cleopas and the other disciple on their road to Emmaus.

He desires to draw near you,

Travel with you,

Grow deeper in a relationship as your Divine companion.

 

Lastly, Word and Table takes the pressure off.

Being justified, or being made right with God,

Isn’t some kind of intellectual exercise or test

That one must pass

Before being admitted into the inner circle of Christ’s disciples.

It is impossible to think your way into Jesus’ favor

Or to plan your way into heaven.

 

 

Heaven is in our midst,

And Jesus is already in our presence.

This is what Jesus does to us,

With us,

And for our benefit.

Surrendering our perceived control over our destiny

May be difficult.

But, it is all about trust;

Placing trust in the Resurrected Christ

And His saving grace.

 

Worship is where we do Word and Table.

So, why aren’t people flocking to worship?

In a time and era when so many people are searching for answers,

Seeking a spiritual path forward,

Longing for God to make an appearance in their life,

Why wouldn’t the appeal of this Emmaus story

Be compelling enough to unleash the flood gates

And open the doors for a new era of

Overflowing worship attendance,

Christian vitality, and

Evangelism?

 

Maybe it is.

Maybe it isn’t.

Maybe we don’t know because we can’t see the larger plan God has in store for us.

Maybe our walk to Emmaus is only starting.

It is in this Divine mystery

In which I place my trust.

 

 

Dearly beloved,

As you leave here today,

May you leave this experience of Word and Table,

With your hearts burning within,

Just as it was with Cleopas and the other disciple.

May your hearts BURN

Every time we gather to study, proclaim, and interpret the Word.

May your hearts be CONSUMED by the SPIRIT’S FLAME

Each and every time we break bread

And recognize Jesus in our midst.

 

Dearly beloved,

When the Table has been cleared and the benediction pronounced,

Go tell eleven others

Of how Jesus Christ sets your heart on FIRE

And how He can do the same for them, too.

Amen.