The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - January 15, 2017
Scripture Reading: John 1:29-42
Sermon Title:
ďThe First DisciplesĒ

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     There are 4 gospels which each tell the story of Jesus.  Three, Matthew, Mark and Luke are what we call Synoptic gospels.  Optic is eye, seeing, and syn is the same, so these three gospels are seen from the same eyes, or the same viewpoint.  It appears that the same sources were available to them, sometimes the same story is contained, almost word for word between the gospels.  John is not from the same viewpoint, not from the same set of eyes.  So the reading this morning starts with the baptism of Jesus, but we donít actually hear about the baptism.  We do hear about the spirit descending like a dove and resting on Jesus.  And then John tells about what he has seen and experienced.

     We have been marked by the Jehovahís Witnesses.  Back when I was young they came to my parentís house, they were going through the neighborhood.  After my mother told them that we were members of a church, I went out to ride my bike around the neighborhood and caught up with them.  One was a young guy, nice white shirt and tie, and we chatted.  I was only probably 10 or 12.  He said that they went into a neighborhood and tried to make contact with every family who lived there.  So he was walking up and down the street, if someone was not home, they would come back later or another day.  Had a whole sheet of house numbers and notes.  Today they have become much more advanced.  Today they show up with a cell phone or tablet, and the notes are entered into some computer system someplace.  I have not seen the program, but apparently they have a note on every house they have visited, if they made contact, if they left something there, and what the response was.  And from what I understand, this program is not just the houses they have visited, but all the houses anyone has visited.  As a Jehovahís witness member, you can access this program, come into my neighborhood and it will tell you the last time my house was visited, what was left for me, what my response was.  I have also heard, but cannot confirm, that it also contains information about if I am married or not, how many children I have, and stuff like that.

     Before I moved to New Hampshire I ignored them.  In Michigan and North Carolina they only visited once or twice.  I would see nicely dressed people coming up to my house, just knew what they were there for, so they would ring the doorbell, and I would just avoid the windows until they were gone.  We have all done that, havenít we?  They would leave their little tracts and go on their way.  I guess I made a mistake when they came here, I talked to them.  It was a nice day, so we just chatted for about 10 minutes.  They didnít ask what I did for a living, just wanted to tell me about God, so I listened and smiled.  They gave me a bunch of little pamphlets when I said that I had something important to do and had to go.  I donít remember what was important, probably after 10 minutes it was brushing my teeth, or weeding my garden, starting the laundry, one of those important things that cannot wait, basically a way to politely excuse myself. 

     But since I didnít shut the door fast enough, they came back, and they kept coming back.  They would show up with a few friends, one day it was this guy with his wife and kids.  As I was getting kind of tired of seeing them so often I admitted that I was a minister, and really would not be joining their church, but that didnít seem to faze them, just kept telling me what the Kingdom of Heaven would be like.

     I admire their persistence.  I donít agree with everything they believe, or at least what I know about their beliefs.  There is only one correct answer to the questions they ask.  Do you believe that the lion will lay down with the lamb?  Well, or course I do.  Good, thenÖ  But even beyond Jehovahís witnesses, there are plenty of others who will ask you those questions you know the correct answer to.  Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior?  Well, if I say yes, perhaps there will not be a follow-up, but if I say no, I will hear about how I can achieve eternal salvation.  Many of us will answer yes, just hoping that the subject will change.

     Johnís gospel tells us a very different story about finding those first disciples.  John does not go knocking on doors, asking questions, or anything like that.  John first recognizes that there is something special about this Jesus.  The spirit of God came down like a dove and rested on him.  Then he told others and then he invited others to follow Jesus.  John attracted these new followers of Jesus in three steps.  Notice, share and invite, and I believe that the same model can be useful for us today.  Not in a ďgo out and knock on doorsĒ type of way, but in our regular interactions. 

     One of the favorite questions of seminary professors, when I was in seminary was ďWhere is God?Ē  Normally this question is asked after someone shares a story about something they experienced in their church or ministry setting.  In my 3 years of seminary we were all assigned to a church or ministry setting.  Once a week we would gather in groups with other students and their supervisors.  Each person had a week where they told about something that happened, that they wanted feedback on.  ďI just preached a sermon last week and at least half the members told me it was the worst sermon they ever heard.Ē  Now I, at least when I entered seminary, and I believe even today, look for solutions.  OK, so you preached a bad sermon, we probably have all done that.  So lets see, did you spend enough time on it?  Did you have the resources you needed?  Was is a preachable text, some texts just are impossible to pull things out of.  Did you relate it to something like your life or something that people can grasp onto?  There are solutions to everything, and my first few weeks, I was looking for how to solve those problems.  But pretty soon I realized that we were not looking for solutions.  The professor who met with us would always ask ďAnd where was God?Ē  The idea was not to solve the problems, the idea was to recognize God in all parts of our lives.  Maybe after that sermon God was seen in the woman who said ďDonít worry, I have heard worse.Ē  That is the notice part. 

     After seeing God in Jesus, John didnít hold it inside.  When Jesus was walking by John said ďLook, here is the Lamb of God.Ē  He openly shared what he saw with those around him.  I think this is the hardest part of this 3-part approach to attracting others to follow Jesus.  We are not great about talking about our faith.  We do well at telling others what we do.  We have a food pantry, we had members who worked on a Habitat house last fall, we have our Friendly Kitchen meals.  But why do we attend church on Sunday, or even harder, why do we follow Jesus?  What is it about Christianity?  Certainly, there are plenty of other religious groups, at least in towns near Marlborough.  Why are you not Jewish, or Muslim, or any other religion?  You donít have to be a Christian to be a part of a group that does good things.  Some of you are part of Lions.  Great group, does lots of good things.  Marl-Harris Ambulance, even though they do not respond to calls anymore, they apparently are still active in promoting safety and emergency services in town.  For me, I experience God through the words and actions of Jesus.  When I read a story about what Jesus does, it points me to believe things about who God is.  Others may find God in other ways, but for me, I am a Christian because I believe that Jesus is part of a triune God, and through Jesusí life I learn how to live.  Those are my words, not why you have decided to be a part of this church, although some of our thoughts maybe the same.

     The last part is to invite.  This is probably the easiest of the three, but we are not good at it either.  Unfortunately, religion has gotten a bad name.  It is something that we keep to ourselves because we donít want to be like ďthoseĒ people.  You know who those people are.  But I do believe that people are looking for someplace to gather with people who believe similar to the way that they do, to pray, to celebrate, to share, to listen and learn.  But, imagine for a minute how you would feel entering an unknown place.  Perhaps a small restaurant, with no windows.  You have heard that there is entertainment, but donít really know what it will be.  You think they will ask for money, but donít know how much.  And you donít know if you will know anyone there.  What happens if you donít know anyone there?  What if there is no room?  What if you get handed a basket to put money in, but you donít know how much.  What do you wear, if you are dressed casual and everyone else is dressed up?  Or you are the only one dressed up and everyone else is casual.   In the same way people see the church, Sunday morning comes around and you know what?  It is Sunday morning, the newspaper is here, my spouse is sleeping in, the house is quiet, just made a pot of coffee, it is easier just to stay home.  I have things that need to be done anyway.

     But if a friend invites you to the same restaurant.  She tells you to dress casual, blue jeans are fine, but if you want to put on something a little nicer that is fine also, really does not matter.  She tells you that they will pass a plate, but you donít have to put anything in it.  She will sit with you, and she knows that there will be a spot for you to sit.  In fact, she will not meet you there, she will swing by and pick you up, she knows where to park.  Now just change that to a church. 

     We all know people who donít attend church, and maybe you have never invited them.  Maybe they want to see what goes on here.  It is not a secret club, the doors are open.  There is no commitment after the first worship service.  Sure, if you want to get involved there are many ways, but if you just want to worship with us, that is fine also.  But it is very hard to walk into a church alone, or even with someone else, for the first time. 

     Sometimes I like to end my sermon with something to think about or something to do.  So this week I would challenge you to recognize where God is in your life.  When you are going about your daily business, think of where God is in each part of your day.  Second thing is to think about why you are a Christian, and tell someone.  This does not have to be your neighbor, someone you meet on the street, it could be a spouse, partner, friend, someone you already know and who knows you.  The third thing I would challenge you to do is to invite someone to church.  Not only invite them, but offer them a ride, or tell them that you will meet them in the parking lot so you can sit together.  We, just like John did, can notice, share and invite and continue Johnís work of finding and building disciples for Christ.