The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - October 16, 2016
Scripture Reading: Luke 1:1-8
Sermon Title:
ďThe Last JudgeĒ

The Rev. Robert Vodra


     A few weeks ago I was at the Congregational Church in Pembroke waiting for one Cub Scout meeting to end, so the next one could start.  Boy Scouts, the older ones, were in a different room finishing up their meeting, when a friend came in to pick up his son.  I have known Jamie about 7 years now.  We donít hang out together, but one of his sons is the same age as Glenn, and both have been involved in Scouts as long as they could. 

     Jamie is a guy who is totally down to earth.  He works as a fisherman, has a boat in Massachusetts I believe, and then plows snow and does other jobs when he is not fishing.  I believe his wife is a nurse.  I am sure that you know someone like him.  When the time came in Cub Scouts for the kids to build anything, he just would say ďI got it.Ē  The next week he would come in with wood all measured and cut, with the pieces sorted out so building a bird house simply required you to nail the pieces together.  With 7 or 8 year old kids, that was plenty for an evening.  Although his kids are no longer in Cub Scouts some of the things he built are still there and used.  He built those boards with ropes that two kids stand on, and you have to move your feet at the same time.  He built a kind of jousting game, with two platforms that tip, and then big cushioned pushing sticks, so you have to push your opponent off the platform.  When the kids crossed over from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, he made each boy a big plaque with their name, the arrow of light symbol and Pack 270, all routed out, painted and covered in many coats of a hard clear overcoat.  That will last forever.

     But Jamie is also a Republican.  Actually he does not claim a party affiliation, but made it clear that was voting for Trump this election.  It was interesting in listening to him.  His two arguments were first that it was only 4 years, what could go wrong in 4 years.  His second was that if Hillary got elected she would replace the Supreme Court Justices with far left leaning judges, and that court would be way too liberal for many, many years into the future.  I pointed out that if Trump were elected he would nominate judges that many would consider far right leaning, and the court would be far too conservative for many, many years into the future. 

     I presented many arguments against Trump and he presented arguments against Hillary.  While there were a few significant things we disagreed on, there were also things that we did agree on.  About that point the Cub Scout meeting and Boy Scout meeting were ending.  We agreed that we were still friends, and while we might disagree on some political issues, we both respected the others ideas.  He said that he still had a few weeks before the election and perhaps he would convince me that Trump should be our next president before we voted. 

     Have you ever had those discussions where you know you are not going to win?  I have them with my kids from time to time.  For maybe two years Collin wanted to get that Minecraft game.  It is a video game where you dig up materials, and then use those to build houses or other buildings, and then as you walk around in this video world you come across things that you need to fight, and also things like animals that will give you meat to eat.  I admit to playing once.  I walked around this video world for a bit, dug some holes, when it started to get dark I went into a cave for protection from those things that wander around at night, one of those things came into the cave and I died.  It lasted about 5 minutes.  On the other hand, the boys have built an amusement park, with roller coasters and all sorts of games and rides.  I had heard, once, that there was some educational piece to it, and perhaps when you get to build things like rollercoasters it might teach you something. 

     But Collin wanted this game, for probably 2 years now.  Both the boys were given Kindles by their grandparents.  These are little e-readers that in addition to reading on, you can play games on.  Every day, or at least it seemed like every day he would ask me.  And I put it off.  I made him write down, with a paper and pencil why he wanted it.  Eventually I gave in.  We are pretty strict on what we will get them, and they donít get everything that they want.  It is important for them to realize that they will not get everything in life they ask for, no matter how much they ask.  But talking to other adults who might have had kids, or at least dealt with kids, there are some things that you are just not up to arguing about.  Having chocolate cake for breakfast once or twice is not good, but I will admit that it has happened in my house. 

     You have to pick your battles to survive in this life.  I am pretty sure that at least some members of this church are on some of the same email mailing lists that I am.  Every day, it seems, I get invited to sign on line petitions, sometimes several if a day.  And 99% of them I agree with.  As I was writing this sermon it was one to ask the NFL to speak out against so called ďLocker room talk.Ē  There was another asking some network to release the unedited tapes of The Apprentice, Donald Trumpís reality show.  Tell Congress it is time to pass the Disclose Act.  I donít sign them all, there are too many and I do wonder if they do any good.

     We donít know what the widow was asking for.  We know that in the Bible, widows are given a special place.  They are often prophetic, highly regarded, and respected, despite what society at that time had to say about them, or the way others treated them.  So we assume that it was of great importance. 

     In my role as your interim pastor I have a fine line that I get to dance on.  In my personal life, outside of the church, I will argue for this or that.  Jamie and I will spend half an hour discussing the strengths and weaknesses of who we are voting for.  But when I am in the role of pastor, I am always asking myself if what I am fighting for is worth it.  I have a special relationship with you.  By your allowing me to come here almost every week, stand up here and preach, I have a certain authority.  Now I realize that each of you have experienced things that I have not, and I have more to learn from you than you do from me.  But for at least the time that I am giving my sermon, it is a one-way street.  I hope that I also do provide a balance.  I will often say that this is what I believe, this is the way that I interpret this scripture.  And I hope that gives you the authority to read it differently, to hear it differently.  But I often will ask myself if what I am presenting is my own idea, or what I am reading in the Bible, and trying to put into a framework that we can think and talk about it.  I avoid preaching only about things that I may fight for in my personal life.

     I am blessed because in our tradition, we donít take the pastorís words as the only words spoken.  There are many churches in which you donít argue with the pastor because they have some kind of special connection to God.  I hope that we all have a special connection to God and the way you read something might be correct, and mine might be wrong.  But because of that authority, I can overstep and read into something that Jesus said as meaning something for today that it might not really mean.  I also can back off and not say something that may need to be said because I am worried about turning off people.  This is the line that I am always dancing.  I donít want to be like the widow, harping on the same issue over and over until you are so sick of it that you just give in.  On the other hand, there are some issues that are so important today that I have a hard time not talking about. 

     But what does this scripture say about God?  Is our God like the unjust judge?  Is our God one that we need to bring the same issue to over and over and over again, until God is so sick of hearing us that God just gives in to our requests? 

     I believe that there are three ways to read this.  The first is that God is not like the unjust judge.  The way it is set up, even if the unjust judge gets badgered, gets bothered too much, then even he will give in.  So, therefore our God, not being the unjust judge, but the good judge, will listen to the widow and anyone else, and will listen the first time.  The great thing about reading it this way is that it encourages me to pray all the time.  If you are on the church office email list, and I am a bit embarrassed to say I donít know who this goes to, but I get a list every week of those who we should keep in our prayers.  And I do pray for them.  I open up that email and there are names on there I recognize, and new names.  There are some who I know are dealing with something in particular, and some who I donít know why they are on the list.  But I pray for them.  That same list is found on the office door, so when I am down during the week, I will see the list and pray for them.  Now, as the ideal minister, I should probably be praying for them each and every day.  Some weeks I do, but there are other weeks where I just donít get to do that.  But I know that God has heard my prayers, and while I am sure it does not hurt to pray for them more, my God does not have a check sheet, well this person only got 3 prayers this week, guess they will be ill for another week.  My God hears each prayer, if it is once or 1,000 times.  It also gives me encouragement to pray all the time.  God thank you for that tree outside my bedroom window that is now yellow and red.  Yes, I know scientifically how it happens, but in your great plan, you could have had leaves turn brown and fall off, or no leaves turn and fall off, just stay green through the winter.  God thank you for the blue sky today, it is much deeper blue than I often notice it.  God thank you for the sun that is coming in through the window and falling on my back, it feels so warm and good.  God, I just heard that two Boston police officers got shot, please be with them in their surgery and recovery, and help us, as a nation learn the value of all life.  My God does not get tired of hearing my thanks and praise and petitions. 

     We can also read this as God is still a just God, but as it took a while for the unjust judge to give in, sometimes Godís time is not our time.  When one prayer is not answered, we should not give up, but continue to pray.  I have an admiration for Monks who spend hours in prayer.  In Seminary we were encouraged to take time to pray.  I gave it an honest try.  First day I remember sitting on my bed, pretty soon heard people walking by, talking, and my mind suddenly went to all the homework that I had.  Prayer was done in about 3 minutes.  Next day I picked up some of those nature sound CDís, and I tried it again.  First 5 minutes went well, and then again my mind started to wander.  Probably made it about 6 minutes before my mind went to all the other things I had to do.  I tried all semester, and never got beyond maybe 15 minutes.  Some of those prayers were answered, some were not.  But each day I tried that time again.  Our prayer is important, and if it is just quick prayers through the day, or a period of prayer, if our prayers are answered, or if the outcome we ask for is not what we did, that should not prevent us from praying.  Our God is a just God.

     A third and maybe important reading for today is that perhaps the world is more like the unjust judge.  There are issues that we, as a church or individuals should stand up and speak for or against.  Today, after church we will be voting on our Open, Affirming and Reconciling statement.  Jesus clearly tells us to love one another as I have loved you.  And then Jesus shows his love by hanging around widows, perhaps prostitutes, those dirty Samaritans.  Jesus talks to lepers, eats with tax collectors.  Jesus calls out the Romanís when they are not acting like they should.  Jesus speaks many times about the problems with money.  Jesus never mentions sexual orientation, that we know about, in his life.  Jesus certainly didnít tell us to exclude those who are different than we are, Jesus welcomed them in, as I believe that we are called to do. 

     And maybe this scripture is calling us to talk about those issues, act on those issues, persist like the widow.  Some people make decisions based on moral ground, but unfortunately in politics, not always, but often, you do what you need to do to get reelected.  We can write our elected officials, we can send emails, we can make phone calls.  This last year the funding for 911 responders had run out and was being held up in congress.  This is not reward money or anything special, this is the money that is being used to pay for the cancer and other diseases that those who responded to New York City on 9/11 got, most likely as a direct result of their dedication to hopefully save a life.  We hired these firefighters and first responders, and asked them to put their lives on the line anytime we need it.  Now they are getting cancers and other diseases at a very high rate, and congress didnít feel it was necessary to stand behind them.  I called all of our representativeís offices in Washington DC, as thousands and thousands of others were encouraged to do.  As you can tell, this is something I feel very strongly about.  If New Hampshire or the United States should decide to no longer stand up for our GLBT brothers and sisters, based on our action today, I would have no problem standing up and saying ďThis is wrong.Ē  And when enough people say that, politicians listen.  We perhaps are called to be like the widow. 

     There are issues that are not clear cut.  There are issues that we will disagree on.  We know that persistence does sometimes work on people, but is not necessary for God.  Our God listens to our prayers, if they are prayed once or hundreds of times.  God answers our prayers, not always as we think they should be, but God does answer them in Godís time.  And maybe even God is calling us to be like the widow, being persistent in our requests for justice.