The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire

Sermon  January 24, 2016
Scripture Reading: Luke 4:14-21
                                                                           1 Corinthians 12:12-31

The Rev. Robert Vodra



     This passage, from the letter to the church at Corinth, is one that I would often chose when I started to think about training a summer staff for a camp.  You see, I had to hire kids to do unglamorous jobs.  When kids were over 18, I could hire them to be summer camp counselors.  This was not a bad deal, you got to play games with the kids, do arts and crafts, do some Bible Study, go swimming, hiking and canoeing.  At night, you read them a story, they all went to bed and you got a good night sleep.  Well they didnít always go to bed right away, but with most groups, at least by the second night they were tired enough to get to sleep pretty quickly.

     But every summer I had a few of those 16 and 17 year old kids, who really, really wanted to be on staff but were not old enough to be counselors yet.  Since they were under 18 they could not run any machinery yet, so could not hire them to do lawn maintenance.  There were, however, no laws against them using chemicals and running a dishwasher, so I would hire them to wash dishes and clean bathrooms. 

     The other big issue is that I could not pay them much.  Counselors, in my 20 years of directing camps, earned between $125 and $150 a week.  This never really went up, as I was earning about that in 1988 and paying that in 2012.  But for my dishwashers and bathroom cleaning crew, they normally only made about $100 a week, plus room and board.


     So one of the first nights of staff training, I would read that passage, and talk to them about the parts of staff.  We certainly cannot eat off dirty dishes, swim without a lifeguard, or let the kids run around with no supervision.  We are all important to the running of the camp.  Many of these kids, over the years, were church kids.  They grew up attending church, going to Sunday School, so they had some basic knowledge, but many had stopped going after confirmation.  Some were not really strong on attending church even before confirmation. 

     It was not only them, but many of our young people, including myself at that age, just didnít really know a lot of the Bible.  They may have memorized a passage or two, know some of the stories, but when they hear something they like, they grip onto it.  So, if I used that passage during staff training, it would appear almost every week during a campfire or evening worship service.

     Because you all know the story, I wanted to take a slightly different slant on it this week. 

I think that these passages have to do with power.
  Clearly the passage from Luke says that Jesus was filled with the power of the Spirit.  But what does that have to do with Paul describing the church as parts of the body?

     Although this illustration was only used in the Bible once, it was not Paulís original thought.  Apparently during the time Paul was writing his letters the idea of using the body to describe a community was used by others.  Clearly, in other instances, it was used to support the traditional view of power.  For every community you need a head.  You need someone leading the way, doing the thinking.  You need hands, those who do the work required in the community, and you need feet to move the community forward.  And one conventional reading of this passage is that Jesus is the head of the church, we are the arms and feet. 

     But one thing I have always learned to do when looking at the Bible is to see what is different.  Jesusí words always tend to turn around our conventional thoughts.  The first shall be last, the last shall be first, Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth, do not hinder the children for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.

     This last year I took a motorcycle riding class.  I had ridden bicycles since I was very young, and many years ago my father gave me a little Honda he had used when the gas crisis was happening.  I rode this around camp some, but never really ran well and was not registered, so never took it out on the area roads.  Before I took the class, one of my staff had gone through it and said ďGet the smallest bike they have.Ē  The class is mostly outside.  It is a two full day and one evening class.  So the first night you are inside, talk about safety and things like that.  The next morning you go outside and they have about 14 motorcycles lined up.  They talk a little about size and then ask you to go over and stand next to a motorcycle.  This was my chance, small bike, easy to ride through all the exercises.  Apparently several others heard the same thing, and the smaller bikes were all gone, grabbed by the smaller women in our class.  So I ended up with one of the larger bikes. 

     I was doing fine, and then we got to the ďU turnĒ part of the class.  They set these exercises up as they would be on the final exam, so it was a box that you had to ride as a figure 8, so two U turns.  I heard that this was the hardest part of the class the time when that little bike was what you wanted.  The idea was that you would ride through it, without putting your foot down, or going outside the lines.  First time, not only one foot went down, but both, several times.  Second time, donít know how I did it, but ended up making the first one, then riding straight out of the end of the box, never made the second turn.  The instructors were very good about working with you when you could get something.  So the instructor came over and talked with me.  I was trying to use my arms, but the key was using your whole body.

     You have to lean the bike over into the turn, and slide a little bit to keep your body upright, and then you turn your head and look at where you want to go.  Once I realized how you used your whole body, it was possible.  A lot more practice and I was able to pass that part of the exam, without losing a single point for putting down my feet or going out of the lines.  And I have heard the same thing is true about golf.  When you swing your club, you have to put your whole body into it, swing all the way around, the follow through is as important as the swing.  Since I donít play golf, you who play golf can correct me after the service if that is not right. 

     So it was not just that all the parts are important, but how they work together is important.  When I was trying to turn the motorcycle with just my arms, it didnít work.  When I realized leaning, turning and looking all went together I could do it.

     And this model is great for the church.
  If the stewardship and finance committee didnít do a stewardship campaign and develop a budget, the trustees would not know what the endowments could support, the property committee could not prioritize what repairs need to be done and how to pay for all of them, and the missions committee could not talk about what missions the church does.  Without a worship committee, I would just be doing whatever I wanted, and I might not know if it works for you or does not.  The SPRC gives me support and works as a bridge between the congregation and the staff.  And even just showing up for worship is important.  Last week I was listening to NPR and they ended by saying ďWe know your time is important, and we thank you for taking time out of your week to listen.Ē  But here at church, while I certainly do thank you for your hour out of the week, you are also supporting others here.  I am totally a realist, there are some weeks were I hope you will get something out of worship, but there probably will be some weeks during my time where the sermon does not speak to you, the hymns are your least favorite, and the prayers just donít do it.  But you return, in hopes that other weeks will be better, will touch you in some way, and because your presence is important.  If everyone dropped off after hearing one bad sermon, the church would be empty in less than a month.  But we support each other, those weeks that donít touch you may touch someone else.  After church you may have just the right words to say to someone who needs to hear those words.  In passing of the peace, you may wish to peace of Christ to someone who really needs the peace of Christ in their lives this week.

     So what about the appendix?  You know that little 4-inch-long tube that sits between your large and small intestines.  The one that gets infected, and many people are rushed into the hospital to have it removed.  Has no apparent purpose, does no good that we know about, and probably causes more problems than any benefit it may have.  Tonsils are almost as bad.  Some of you may have had yours removed when you were younger, they just get in the way.  No harm is caused by removing them, and although they are not routinely removed today, doctors donít hesitate to pull them out if they cause you any problems. 

     Does the church still have its appendix?
  I donít have the answer to that, but I do raise the question.  Is there something that was maybe left over from evolution that maybe served a purpose at one time, but does not anymore? 

     Listen carefully to the words of Paul: the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.

     God sees us differently than we see ourselves.
  Godís order is different than our order.  The inferior members get greater honor.  In our world, who are the inferior members?

     If you have flipped on a TV in the last year you have seen ďBlack lives matter.Ē  As a white person, and hopefully mostly color blind, I was thinking well yes, Black lives matter, and white lives matter, and childrenís lives matter, all lives matter.  But in reading this scripture and preparing for this week, I read a bit on what this really means. 

     If your neighborís house is on fire, the best thing to do is call 911, and then go out to the end of the road.
  When the first trucks arrive you can point to the house that is burning.  At that moment, that house is all that matters to those firefighters.  Yes, or course, all houses on that street matter, but at that moment the house that is on fire matters a lot more than any other house.  Last year, in 2015, there were 1,134 people were killed by police in the United States.  If you are black you are 9 times more likely to die by police than if you are white.  9 times.  There are times where police have to use lethal force, but is a black person 9 times more likely to hurt someone, when lethal force must be used?  A minister friend of mine is black, is married, has 2 sons and one daughter, beautiful family.  He has taught his sons, who are not even old enough to drive yet, that when they get pulled over by police, they have to be very careful.  Pull over immediately, hands stay on the wheel, do not reach for your license or the car registration until you are told to do so.  Every answer gets a ďsirĒ after it, yes sir, no sir. 

     When I got pulled over, several years ago, while I was waiting for the officer to come over, I got out my wallet out of my back pocket, got out my driverís license, then was searching through the glove box for my registration.
  I never worried about any problem, and I had it all out before he came over.  I answered his questions, treated him with respect, but donít remember calling him sir.  I never even though about problems bigger than maybe getting a traffic ticket.


     So today in this country, Black lives matter, because their house is on fire.  As Christians, those members who are being mistreated for whatever reason need us to stand up with them.  And there are plenty more examples of members of our body, no matter how large we define our body that we need to treat with greater respect.  The homeless, our Veterans, those displaced by war, victims of natural or man-made disaster.  Many members that need greater respect.

     When we begin to see Godís order as different than our order, we start to see what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like.  A place where dishwashers are just as important as the head cook. A place where power does not mean authority over, but rather authority within.  A place where all parts matter, how they work together matters, some need more respect, some donít need that at this point.  And maybe even in this kingdom there is a place for the appendix, I donít know.