“Christianity’s Contradiction”

Mark 12:38-44

11 November 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Prayer.

 

Christianity is full of contradictions.

If you haven’t noticed,

You haven’t been paying attention.

 

I recall a seminary professor teaching our class that

A church building is a reflection

Of the God the people worship.

 

A modest building would reflect a simple, unpretentious God.

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

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

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

A stone-cold building,

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

Reflects a distant, unapproachable God.

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

Or it may mean class and clergy privilege.

A building in disrepair, cluttered, or not clean communicates

That we’ve surrendered to apathy,

We’ve thrown in the towel, and

We’ve just given up believing in our God.

 

What does our building say about the God

In whom we place our faith?

 

I believe in a majestic, powerful, awesome God,

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

And building homes for the homeless

Than buying a pipe organ or installing Tiffany stained glass.

 

I believe in a loving God of mercy and grace,

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

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

Making disciples of Jesus Christ

For the transformation of the world.

 

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

God loves them and we love them, too.

 

But, winter is coming.

Our sanctuary has to be heated.

 

Christianity is full of contradictions.

Disciples of Jesus have to make choices.

Often those choices are hard, sacrificial, sometimes contradictory.

 

The choices we make

Communicates the priorities we make in life

And the God in whom we believe.

 

I choose to wear long robes when leading worship.

It was a decision I made years ago;

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

Unlike the scribes,

I chose to wear liturgical clothes when leading worship,

Not to draw attention to me,

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

Yes, the money used to pay for this stole

Could have been used for the poor;

Instead, I made the intentional choice

To purchase these robes, stole, and cincture

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

 

The question that must be addressed is

Who benefits; myself or God?

Let there be no misunderstanding,

These robes are not meant for your benefit or mine.

These robes are solely meant to benefit the Lord.

 

The choices we make

Communicates the priorities we establish

And the God in whom we believe.

 

It is my choice to talk about money and giving.

Stop complaining that all you hear from going to church

Is begging for money.

I choose to address money and giving because

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

(Pulpit Resources, 2003)

I address money and giving because

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

I address money and giving because Jesus teaches

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

 

Money and giving is called stewardship;

And it is Gospel.

 

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

To tithe to the church.

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

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

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

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

 

Allow me to be crystal clear;

I’m not boasting.

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

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

We don’t contribute out of obligation.

 

We tithe because

Our trust is in the Lord,

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

 

We tithe because

The grace and love of God needs to be shared,

The Gospel needs to be propagated,

Jesus Christ must be glorified.

 

We tithe because

God’s kingdom must be spread,

For this generation,

And for generations to come.

 

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

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

Who give to the tithe, and beyond.

 

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

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

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

And it is a kingdom of

Love and grace,

Justice and peace

Forgiveness and salvation.

 

Disciples of Jesus are asked to make choices;

Choices that are sometimes hard, sacrificial, or contradictory.

 

Our choices have meaning.

Our choices mean something.

Our choices communicate what we value,

What we believe,

In whom we place our faith.

 

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

Where would her next meal come from?

That was not her concern.

She had no need to trust in her own resourcefulness.

Her trust was in the Lord.

She believed the Lord would continue to provide

She was confident that she would be fed.

She gave everything.

And so can we.

Amen.

"All Things Are Possible"

Mark 10:17-31

October 14, 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Mark 10:17-31 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=406368106)

 


 

Prayer.

 

I’m not getting in.

You’re not getting in, either.

 

If

It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle

Than

For someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,

Just as Jesus proclaims,

Then, we,

Like the original disciples,

Are doomed.

 

We are doomed.

Everyone go home.

Last one out, turn out the lights and lock the doors.

 

Scaring potential disciples away with a message of impossibility

Wouldn’t make Jesus a good United Methodist.

 

When approaching the Gospel of Mark

The best strategy is complete honesty.

 


 

The Gospel cannot be managed,

Despite the fact that

This is our first inclination.

Here is a sample of some of the classic attempts at managing Jesus,

Most often employed by

Snake oil preachers

Slinging a prosperity gospel:

·        The rich man became rich because he followed the law, therefore, follow the law and get rich

·        Nobody can actually keep the law, therefore, nobody can give up everything, either

·        Giving up everything was a command only to this man, not to us

·        This command only applies to the rich, and we all can think of someone more wealthy than we are

·        Give it up, but know that God intends to reward you a hundred-fold later

Some would call this “weasel exegesis.”

Others would call this “hermeneutical contortions.”

I’ll simply call it “dishonest.”

 

Don’t manage the Gospel

No mater how painful it might bite.

Just own it.

 


 

 

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (10:17)

The problem is in the question.

The man’s question implies that there is something he can do

To inherit eternal life.

If there was something he could do

Everyone would be doing it,

And we wouldn’t need Jesus.

There is nothing he could do.

Likewise, there is nothing we can do

To inherit eternal life.

The only means to inherit eternal life

Is to believe in the saving action of Jesus –

Being resurrected from the dead.

 

….

 

The Gospel truth can be found in our Lord’s response.

 


 

Jesus response is based on the man calling him Good Teacher.

Only God is good, Jesus points out.

Humankind is stained with temptation and sin.

We are a broken people when measured up to the law.

Everyone is.

Everyone fails, no exceptions.

Point One: Only God is good.

 


 

Jesus looked at him and loved him.

In fact, this is the only person in the Gospel of Mark

Who is identified as one whom Jesus loved.

Jesus loved the one who walked away.

 

We don’t know what happens to him,

For we never hear from him again.

It doesn’t mean

He doesn’t make his way back into the life of Jesus.

Quite frankly, I believe he would have,

Perhaps as one at the foot of the cross,

As one who looked in the empty tomb,

Or as one of 3,000 baptized by Peter

In the second chapter of Acts. (Acts 2:41)

 

One way or another,

This man would find himself before Jesus once again.

Standing before the eternal judge,

Jesus still loved him.

Jesus loved him enough to die for him.

Jesus loved him enough to win victory over the grave for him.

Point Two: Jesus loves even those who walk away.

 


 

“You lack one thing,” Jesus tells him.

One thing.

The one thing wasn’t rigid righteousness following the Ten Commandments.

One thing was lacking.

“Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.” (10:21)

This was the ONE THING:

Place the needs of the poor before your own needs.

If a neighbor is hungry and you’ve got food;

Share it!

If a neighbor can’t afford to fix a hole in their roof;

Pay for it!

If neighbors are poor because of systemic injustice;

Fix it!

If our neighbors are poor;

Give it.

 

Loving our neighbor is a higher priority than our wealth and accumulations.

Let’s get our priorities straight, Jesus is telling us.

Are we content with the presence of poverty

To the extent that

We are willing to walk away from Jesus?

I’m not; and I don’t think you are, either.

Point Three: The needs of the poor, the last in this world, are a priority over mine.

 


 

Of course, it’s impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

Just as it impossible for any of us to do anything to enter the kingdom of God.

Good works isn’t an entry pass.

However, this is God’s kingdom and God makes the rules.

If God wants you in the kingdom, you’re in,

“for God all things are possible.” (10:27)

 

Know this to be true:

Throughout history and throughout scripture,

God has demonstrated time and time again,

That God wants you in his kingdom.

God longs for you.

God desires a relationship with you.

 

“God so loved the world.”

“God sent his only beloved Son.”

“God doesn’t want the world condemned.”

“God wants the world to be saved.” (John 3:16-17)

Point Four: God loves you and wants you in God’s eternal kingdom.

 


 

Jesus carefully observes that “for God all things are possible.” (10:27)

He doesn’t say that all our petitions will be granted.

That would relegate God to the status of a dog fetching a stick.

We are no master.

God is the master,

And the sooner we learn our place in the God / human relationship,

The sooner we can come to peace with suffering and evil.

The cosmos and all that is in it are God’s own creation.

Thankfully, our God is loving and generous.

Point Five: God is capable of all things and acts according to God’s own plan.

 


 

It’s almost as if Peter is whining;

Because he is.

It would be great to hear a recording of his complaint!

“Look, we have left everything and followed you.” (10:28)

When Jesus begins with “Truly I tell you,”

The TRULY means it’s the honest truth

What he’s about to say.

Listen up!

 

Sacrifice family or vocation

For the sake of Jesus or

For the sake of the Good News

And your needs will be taken care of …

… in abundance.

Even our desire for eternal life will be satisfied.

 

Jesus makes a promise;

Our response is simply to take him at his word.

That’s called faith.

Point Six: Have faith; Jesus will support us and Jesus will save us.

 

There you have it;

The honest, unmanaged truth about the Gospel.

 

….

 

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Only God is good;

Even still, do your best to follow God’s laws

And know that only God can save us.

 

Jesus loves even those who walk away;

And so should we, too.

Our love for another this day

May become a seed that takes root and bears fruit some day in the future.

 

Place the needs of the world,

Specifically, the needs of the poor,

Before our needs.

Serve, without the expectation of being served in return.

 

God loves you

And is looking forward to spending an eternity with you.

 

God is capable of all things.

God always acts in God’s historical interest;

Which is

His love for creation and humankind.

Therefore, expect great things!

 

Place your faith in Jesus.

You are loved.

In the end, there will be no end.

Your table will overflow.

All will be abundantly satisfied.

Everything will be okay.

 

This is God’s kingdom.

We are members of it.

And it goes on forever.

Amen.

“Deny the Self, Take Up the Cross, Follow Jesus”

Mark 8:27-38

16 September 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist churches

 

Mark 8:27-38 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=403758914)

 

Prayer.

 

Good theater has three acts.

A great sermon has three points.

Jesus teaching the crowd with his disciples,

 

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“If any want to become my followers,

Let them deny themselves

And take up their cross

And follow me,”

Is pure gold. (8:34)

 

Jesus is using a technique called an If-Then Statement,

He states a hypotheses and follows it with a conclusion.

This is also known as a Conditional Statement.

As if casting a wide net in search of volunteers he says

IF any want to become my followers,

THEN deny self, take up their cross, and follow me.

 

This approach is the foundation for classical logic and geometry,

Legislation, law making and interpretation.

Today, If-Then conditional statements are

Even an essential skill for computer science and programming.

Using If-Then Statements are fundamental for constructing an Excel spreadsheet.

 

Teaching with this technique is bold.

It’s also revealing.

 

This approach reveals an inner self-confidence

In who Jesus is,

What he intends to do,

And how he will change the world.

 

Let’s connect the dots.

Let’s connect the hypotheses with the conclusion.

I. Deny the Self

“Who do people say that I am?” (8:27)

Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” (8:29)

 

Jesus reveals that he is the Messiah,

Not the Messiah the world had been waiting for,

But the Messiah which God poured into the world

For the world’s forgiveness and salvation.

 

Denying myself is all about

Assuming my God appointed role

In my relationship with God and with my neighbors.

Denying the self is all about eating some humble pie,

Checking the ego and pride,

And putting words to action.

 

Loving neighbors means serving them;

Assisting them to meet their needs before my own.

Denying myself is all about

Authentic, servant leadership;

Service before self.

 

Loving God means serving God;

Assisting God to spread the Gospel and Kingdom to all the world.

Denying myself is all about making

Loving God and

Serving God a higher priority

For my time, talent, and treasure

Than anything else of this world.

My challenge to you is this in the coming week:

Make a list of every time you’ve intentionally placed service before self,

Service to God and service to our neighbors,

Before serving your own self-interest.

Make a list and post it on your refrigerator.

It will help keep you accountable.

It will help keep you following Jesus.

II. Take Up the Cross

Jesus underwent great suffering and rejection.

He was killed and three days later he rose again,

Just as he predicted and taught. (8:31)

 

A common denominator of the human experience is suffering.

Suffering works its way around to everyone, given time.

It’s painful to see the suffering of others,

To experience our own aging, frailty, and pain,

And finally, to endure unto death.

 

It’s hard to put a positive spin on suffering.

 

What Jesus is suggesting in the conditional teaching

About his predicted suffering is that

Suffering affords followers of Jesus

An opportunity to make a connection

Between our suffering

And the suffering of Jesus

During his passion and death.

 

That terrible left shoulder pain I’m going through

Makes me wonder how much Jesus’ shoulders must have ached

As he hung on the cross.

The mourning and grief I feel after my loved one died

Must have been like that of Mary, the mother of Jesus, at the foot of the cross.

The finality of death

Made real during funeral planning

Must have been brought home

When the body of Jesus was taken from the cross

And cleaned and prepared for burial.

 

Associating our suffering with the suffering of Jesus

Is a special kind of divine invitation

Into a deeply personal relationship

Between Jesus and yourself.

Through this lens,

Jesus is teaching us that even suffering

Is a gift of God’s grace and love for the world.

III. Follow Jesus

Lose your life for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel

And your life will be saved. (8:35)

 

Priorities matter.

I’ll not be the one to judge

Where you place your priorities,

But God will.

 

I’m not perfect, though I’m striving for perfection.

Come, let us strive together

For a more noble purpose;

To follow Jesus,

Share his love,

And to spread his Gospel.

 

In my life,

Following Jesus and his teaching is more important than:

1. Hanging out with friends

2. Watching the Bills game

3. My supervisors, my supporters, and my detractors

4. Buying a new car or house

5. Moving up in my career or taking a new job

6. Perfect attendance at school or scoring a 100 on a test

7. Good health and a long life

8. Retiring early

 

How about you?

 

Can you make a list of your priorities?

Where you like to spend most of your time?

Where you are willing to spend most of your money?

 

What can you de-prioritize in your life

And substitute in Jesus in its place?

 

Are you willing to sacrifice everything,

Even your very own life,

All for Jesus,

All for his Gospel?

Priorities matter.

Beloved members and friends

Make Jesus first.

Keep Jesus first.

Promote Jesus first.

That’s what it means to follow Jesus.

That’s the path forward.

 

Amen.

“Many Turned Back”

John 6:56-72

August 26, 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist churches

 

John 6:56-72 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=401940671)

 

Prayer.

 

Sickening.

Disbelief.

Disappointment.

Betrayal.

Each are characteristics of living a life abiding in Christ

And inviting Jesus Christ to abide in us.

 

Ironic, isn’t it?

That the Gospel is called Good News?

 

There is a mistaken perception that the Christian life

Is free from worry, pain, sin, and evil;

That, once one accepts by faith

That Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior

Life becomes filled with love, peace, abundance,

And dancing unicorns.

 

The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John

Is like a bucket of ice water thrown into our face.

It just doesn’t work that way.

 

Many will make the claim that

God blesses the faithful with abundance wealth.

Therefore, if you aren’t wealthy, you must not be faithful.

You’re just not doing it right.

 

Many will claim that

God spares Christians from famine, disease, poverty, and suffering.

Therefore, if you suffer, it must be due to your own sinfulness.

And, we all know

Sinners are destined to hell.

 

This is delusional,

And just plain wrong.

 

 

Beware of those who preach a gospel of prosperity, excess, greed, or fear;

For their gospel is not the Gospel.

Guarantees of prosperity or fear of damnation is not the Good News

God has given to his faithful.

 

The pessimist might observe that

It is almost as if the Gospel removes all incentives

For following Jesus,

Pulling the rug right out from under our feet.

 

The faithful share a different reality,

as conveyed so eloquently in the Gospel of John:

 

 

God loves the world.

God sent us his Son, Jesus.

Everyone who believes in Jesus is saved. (3:16)

 

I like the label theologians have applied:

John lays out for all the world to see

“The Scandal of Grace.”

 

It is scandalous to the principalities of this world

That God loves everyone, without exclusion or exception.

 

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Prior history doesn’t matter.

Current circumstances aren’t relevant.

Future potential isn’t of any concern.

Belief is the only metric upon which

Scripture teaches us God places judgment.

This, my friends, is a pretty low bar

For laying claim to God’s gift of grace.

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It is scandalous to the economies of this world

That salvation is God’s gift to all.

Eternal life is the grand equalizer of the caste system.

The Lazarus’ of this world are lifted up by angels

(See Luke 16:19-31).

The mountains of social status, pride, pedigree, and wealth are made low.

The valleys of the last, least, and lost

Are raised,

To make plain and straight

A highway for our God.

 

 

Grace is amazing when we apply it to ourselves,

But scandalous when applied to others.

 

Please pray for me

That I can get over myself

And overcome my propensity for judgment,

For my tendency to marginalize and complain about others,

And I’ll pray for you, too.

 

….

 

What really caught my attention

In this sixth installment from the sixth chapter of John

Is the fact that

So many followers of Jesus

Don’t believe.

So many who follow Jesus

Walk away.

Many of his disciples

“turned back and no longer went about with him.” (6:66)

 

Apparently, they were having a hard time stomaching

The scandal of God’s grace, too.

 

 

“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” many disciples complained. (6:60)

“Does this offend you?” Jesus replies. (6:61)

These Jewish born and raised

Bandwagon fans of Jesus,

… Multitudes miraculously fed with

Five loaves and two fish just days earlier …

Have made their way with Jesus

Back to the synagogue at Capernaum

Where they listened to him teach.

 

At this time

Christ’s followers had no experience of Eucharist,

So they understood his words literally.

When they hear Jesus speaking about

Eating his flesh and drinking his blood

They are thinking cannibalism.

Sickening.

 

Their superficial assumption

Was that Jesus was teaching in violation of Jewish law.

They also assumed

That Jesus was demeaning and dismissive of Moses

Whose miracle of manna from heaven

Provided sustenance for the day,

But, was a mile short of providing for eternal life.

 

Like their (and our) ancestors

Newly freed from Egyptian captivity

And wondering in the wilderness,

Many grumbled.

 

Sadly, the disappointed and unbelieving Jews

In the audience at the synagogue in Capernaum

Didn’t have the benefit of hindsight like

The early Christian communities had

In the developing years following Christ’s ascension.

 

The early Church knew the narrative of the Upper Room

And faithfully practiced the sacrament of Holy Communion

Whenever they gathered

In remembrance of Jesus.

First Century disciples of Jesus

Could understand more deeply the distinction between

Life in the Spirit verses Death in the Flesh.

 

 

Grumbling appears to be a common thread

In human DNA.

When it comes to churches

I have yet to serve one that doesn’t have

Some level of conflict amongst members and friends;

Some more, some less.

Grumbling is as common as two farmers talking about the weather.

 

Complaining members of a parish are to a pastor

Like dulling an axe by using it to cut rocks.

Grumbling members of the clergy are to a bishop

Like one hanging a rug over a close line and beating it clean of dirt.

 

Grumbling members of Christ’s Church demonstrate

A lack of trust that God provides for today,

And will provide for tomorrow.

Grumbling turns a community of faith inward

At the expense of loving our neighbors.

Complaining disciples of Jesus

Are scandalized by God’s grace

And are the first to tell anyone and everyone about it.

 

 

If left to fester too long,

Like a cancerous tumor,

Complaining becomes the new normal,

Faith begins to wane,

Belief withers,

And many disciples turn back

And no longer go about with him. (6:66)

 

Why would anyone chose Death by Flesh

Over Life,

Eternal Life, in the Spirit?

 

It is easy to condemn Judas, son of Simon Iscariot,

For his betrayal of Jesus.

His betrayal cost Jesus his life.

Then, he had the audacity to take his own life.

What a “Feckless Pud”!

(As one of my Twitter followers is prone to say)

Why would Judas chose Flesh and Death over Eternal Life?

 

It is also easy to look down our noses

At the followers of Jesus who jumped on his bandwagon

Only for a free lunch.

When the prospect of future charity fizzled,

They bailed faster than a sailor on a sinking ship.

By turning their backs on Jesus and walking away,

They no less betrayed Jesus than did Judas.

 

Yet, the Gospel presents us with a warning about

Our own moral condescension.

Consider two dangers.

 

 

First, think about the temptation for a community of faith to bail on Jesus.

When a Christian community fails to place Christ in the center of all things,

When it simply becomes a service organization,

Or worse yet,

When a church becomes an inward focused relic

Gasping for its own survival,

Is it any more of a betrayal of Jesus

Than the betrayal of Judas,

Or of the followers who lost their belief,

Turned and walked away?

 

Let us keep our eyes upon Jesus!

 

 

Secondly, think about the temptation to personally walk away from Jesus.

There is a difference between faith and certainty.

None of us can claim certainty when it comes to knowledge of God.

To do so would be idolatrous,

Placing ourselves as God’s equal.

But all of us have faith,

Some grand and expansive and deep.

Others have faith that is small like a mustard seed.

When it comes to faith,

Size doesn’t matter.

 

“To whom can we go?” Simon Peter speaking to Jesus correctly observes.

“You have the words of eternal life.” (6:68)

 

Indeed, we can run,

But we have no place to escape from the love and grace of God.

Once claimed,

Forever claimed.

There is no other place to go

Than into the loving arms of our Lord.

 

Let us encourage each other.

Keep your eyes upon Jesus,

And I’ll do the same.

 

….

 

 

The one who eats this bread will live forever.

That’s a promise.

We call that grace.

The fact that the table is open to all,

Without reservation, precondition, or barrier

Is, indeed, scandalous.

 

I constantly have to remind myself

That the bread from heaven,

The Eucharist,

Isn’t about Todd,

Or whoever is serving as the celebrant.

The bread from heaven is about Jesus;

The Body of Christ.

The scandal is that there is a place at the table for me.

The scandal is that there is a place at the table for you.

 

Dearly beloved,

Keep your complaints to yourself.

Ask God for the guidance and strength to resolve disputes,

Then follow through with words and deeds.

 

Grumbling distracts.

Complaints tempt us to walk away,

To take our eyes off Jesus.

So, just don’t do it.

 

Instead, our Gospel encourages us,

Collectively and individually,

To abide in Christ,

Keep your eyes on Christ,

And to allow Christ to abide in us.

Chose life;

Eternal life.

Eat this bread and live.

Amen.  

“We Want Signs and Direction!”

5 August 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

John 6:24-35 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=400125113)

 

Prayer.

 

“Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.” (Exodus 16:9)

 

The Gospel draws deep from our ancestral roots.

To understand Jesus,

To see Jesus as he is revealed,

Is to return to the Passover narrative of our Hebrew ancestors,

Released from Egyptian slavery,

Miraculously saved with the parting of the Red Sea,

Liberated and forever free.

 

Their future lay in the land promised,

A land flowing milk and honey;

If only they could make their way across the Sinai desert.

The journey would take 40 years,

A full generation,

The completeness of the life of Moses.

 

 

It is important to recognize in the Exodus story

That it is God doing the acting.

Moses is God’s proxy,

God’s mouthpiece,

God’s servant.

 

In the first of ten plagues

To soften Pharaoh’s heart

God tells Moses to stretch his hand over the waters of Egypt.

When he does, God turns the water into blood

Throughout the whole land. (Exodus 7:19)

After ten plagues, Pharaoh nearly had enough.

God’s action reveals his tenacious, unrelenting desire for his children to be free.

 

 

God directs,

Moses complies,

God acts.

 

God directed Moses how to celebrate Passover

As a perpetual ordinance,

To avoid the destroyer,

Striking down the Egyptians but sparing our own. (Exodus 12:27)

Moses complies,

God acts,

The ensuing grief caused Pharaoh to cry out pain

For not a house in Egypt could be found without someone dead.

 

Pharaoh reached the end of his rope.

He gave in and set our ancestors free.

God’s action reveals the depth and breath of his faithfulness

To the eternal covenant with Abraham:

God is our God, and we will be his children.

The Lord’s blessing upon us will continue

From generation to generation.

 

God directs,

Moses complies,

God acts.

Each time in the Exodus narrative,

Revealing something new about our Heavenly Father.

 

Likewise, for the festival of unleavened bread.

Likewise, for crossing the Red Sea.

Likewise, for Mana from Heaven (Exodus 16)

 

 

Twelve days in the desert with no food or water would make anyone complain.

“Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.” (Exodus 16:9)

 

The Lord directed Moses to speak

“At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread;

Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” (Exodus 16:12)

 

Moses did as he was told.

In the evening God acted: sent quails up and covered the camp.

Quail for dinner, every night, staving off the hunger.

In the morning God acted: the dew lifted to reveal bread,

That all might be fed.

Bread for breakfast, every day, sustenance for every living day.

God’s action reveals the fact that

 

 

God intends

That all God’s children be abundantly nourished.

 

…………

 

Jesus is not the second coming of Moses.

Intermediaries are gone; the age of prophets is over.

The Prophetic Age has ended;

With Jesus,

The Messianic Age began.

 

Jesus is the Son of God.

God decides direct intervention,

Becoming human and stepping into humanity,

Is necessary.

 

 

Divine intervention is the only way forward

To forgive and save the world.

It is critically important to understand that

Jesus and our Heavenly Father are one and the same God.

 

Pay attention to the actions of Jesus in the Gospel of John.

When Jesus acts,

Similar to the actions of God in the Exodus narrative,

Something new is revealed about our God,

In context of the new, unfolding incarnation of Jesus Christ.

 

 

After miraculously feeding 5,000 would be followers

With 5 loaves and 2 fish,

Jesus and his disciples give them the slip,

Probably during their after-dinner siesta.

 

The disciples,

As we heard last Sunday,

Sail away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee,

Only to be caught up in a storm.

Jesus walks on water,

Identifies himself,

And tells them “do not be afraid.” (6:20)

The boat safely reached the land toward which they were going.

Two miracles, or, two signs, in one day.

Not bad, for the God of creation.

 

 

Funny thing about hunger:

It keeps coming around,

Reoccurring every few hours.

Food perishes, hunger returns, everyone needs to eat.

 

5,000 people come searching for Jesus

Because their hunger returned.

5,000 people find him.

Jesus observes,

They came searching for him because their hunger returned,

Not because they were witnesses to the sign Jesus performed

Of multiplying bread and fish.

Their bellies were empty.

 

Pay attention to what Jesus does:

 

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He commands them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (6:27)

 

In other words,

I gave you …

… Past tense …

Bread and fish,

And now you’re hungry again.

I, the Son of Man, will give you …

… Future tense …

Food that endures for eternal life.

 

Boom!

God pulls back the veil and reveals something new about himself,

Through the context, words, and actions of Jesus:

 

 

That which Jesus provides is sufficient for eternal life.

That’s it.

There is no need for anything else.

There is no need for anything other than Jesus.

 

No need for a fountain of youth,

So, stop searching for it.

Tax cuts might put a little more money into your account,

But, as they say, ‘you can’t take it with you.’

Border walls won’t save you any more than universal health care will.

Democrats won’t save you; and, neither will Republicans.

Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, first responders may save you in the moment, but, you’ll live to die another day.

That gun you’re carrying won’t save you; and neither will going whole-hog vegan, organic, or South Beach.

 

Stop with the idol worship!

 

Simply put, there is nothing that offers salvation other than

Belief in Jesus Christ.

Everything else are mere idols;

Temptations that threaten to steal our attention,

To divert our eyes from Jesus.

Money, healthcare, patriotism, policy, politics …

All offer false promises of salvation.

Nothing of this earth can add one day, or one breath, to life.

In 80 years each of our bodies will be dead;

Yet, for those who believe in Christ?

We will be sustained,

We will endure for eternal life.

 

 

It is God who reveals to the children of Abraham

That salvation only comes through belief in Jesus Christ.

 

Whining must be in our DNA.

Our ancestors whined to Moses about their hunger.

The crowd of 5,000 whined to Jesus that they needed a sign,

A miracle,

Anything, that would confirm their belief in him.

 

“We want a sign.”

“Moses gave us a sign,” they complained: “bread from heaven.”

That was a pretty good miracle.

What can you do for us to make us believe?

 

Like Simon Cowell on America’s Got Talent,

“Show us your act.”

 

Well, it really wasn’t Moses who acted,

Who performed the miracle;

It was God.

Moses was simply the faithful go-between prophet.

 

 

It is God who provided mana from heaven.

It is God who multiplied 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed 5,000.

It is God who provides for our daily nourishment today.

 

“What about this multiplication didn’t you see?”

“Were you blind,” Jesus was probably thinking to himself,

“Were you too busy eating to notice?”

 

The sign is the miracle of multiplication.

 

 

What God reveals through this sign

Is God’s deepest desire for us to believe in Jesus,

To abide in Christ,

To take up residence wholly and solely in his life.

 

Eat bread, fish, or quail,

Fill your stomachs;

and you’ll be satisfied for about 6 hours, max.

Believe in Jesus,

Abide in him;

and you’ll be satisfied for eternity.

Those who come to Christ will never hunger or thirst.

Those who come to Jesus, and abide in him, will have eternal life.

 

…….

 

 

The Gospel of John is difficult to understand.

I get that.

Some have likened it to getting stuck in a briar patch,

Entangled in multiple, deeply woven messages of essential, divine truth.

Scholars find it nearly impossible to map out a helpful outline.

Many wade into the Gospel of John quickly,

Only to find the waters too deep to navigate, never to return.  

 

With the blessing of hindsight,

It is easy to laugh at the disciples of Jesus for their failure to understand.

Yet, it is a common characteristic of the Gospel of John

That just as Jesus reveals something about himself

There is a misunderstanding.

Think of the woman at the well

“But you have no bucket.”

Think about Nicodemus

making the mistaken conclusion that Jesus was talking about entering the womb a second time.

Think about Jesus speaking about the destruction of the Temple

And about him turning water into wine.

 

Understanding John is hard for everyone.

Our careful attention to the Gospel is not just about intellectual understanding.

 

 

For understanding, imperfect as we may be,

Searching for God’s message, leads to abiding.

Understanding always leads to abiding.

Abide in Christ.

Take up residence in him.

 

This is why I so passionately love the Gospel.

The quest always leads us back to Jesus.

 

Our search for understanding today

Has revealed much about our God

And our relationship with him:

God wants us to be free.

God is faithful to the covenants made between us.

God wants all God’s children to be nourished, both physically and spiritually.

God wants all to believe in Jesus;

For Christ alone endures, satisfies, and gives life, eternal life, to the world.

Amen.