The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - October 30, 2016
Scripture Reading: Luke 19:1-10
Sermon Title:

The Rev. Robert Vodra


     It was just over 4 years ago when I got an email saying that Barrack Obama and Bill Clinton were going to be speaking in Concord.  Obama was seeking re-election, so they were coming together for a rally.  I thought “When am I ever going to have the chance to see a current president and a former president together on one stage, in the town next to where I live.  I signed up on line, and was sent a ticket.  I had read that the gates were going to open at 8:00 am, I think, so I arrived about an hour before that.  I wanted a good spot in line, and a good spot to see what was going on.  I parked up on a back road off Pleasant street.  For those of you who don’t know Concord, it is about 8 or 10 blocks between Pleasant street to the capitol.  When I got down to the end of Pleasant street, the line was turning up Pleasant street.  Main street was closed to traffic, and there was a line of people 8 or 10 blocks long, I thought, in front of me.  I had a ticket, just like everyone else in line.  By about 9:30 the line started to slowly move.  While there were a lot of people in front of me, there was also a very long line behind me.  When I got closer to the capitol, I could see that the line doubled back, you walked down to the capitol and then back up Main street a block or two before you go to security.  I didn’t look at my watch, but it was probably 10:30 or 11:00 before I got in.  I looked in the same direction as everyone else was looking, and about two blocks away there was a stage set up, backed by a flag and I could see bleachers to the right of the stage.  And then we waited, and waited, and waited. 

     Finally, some important people came out.  They were introduced, and gave some little talks, and then finally they announced Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.  I happened to be standing next to a curb.  Now I am not the shortest guy, but I could not see anything.  But if I got one foot up on the curb and stood up as tall as I could, I could see.  There was a white dot and a black dot walking out onto stage.  I knew that Obama has black hair and Bill Clinton has white hair, so guessed that it was them.  But certainly could not get close to making out any facial features.  I had a camera, so I held it up and took some pictures.  Later I blew them up on my computer, and when I got them big enough I could see that it was indeed the two of them. 

     As I was listening to them speak, I wondered how many in the crowd were going to vote for Obama.  That was, of course, the reason that they were there, but I also suspect that there were a few, like me, who were looking for the opportunity to see a current and former president in person.  If either George Bush and even Trump were to come to Concord, if I were invited, I would seriously consider attending.  So I suspect that at least some part of that huge crowd was there just to see it. 

     And I suspect that Zacchaeus was probably feeling the way that I felt that morning, or perhaps more accurately, someone who was not planning on voting for Obama, but at that event anyway.  It is natural to want to see well known people.  I took both my kids out of school and brought them to Concord when Bernie Sanders signed the papers to run for president, he gave a little wave to my kids.  I attended the Fourth of July parade in Wolfeboro in 2014, snapped a picture of Mitt Romney.  I guess in New Hampshire we get to see more political people then other well know people. 

     Zacchaeus probably wanted to see Jesus, because at that point in his ministry he is getting pretty well know.  Zacchaeus was not well liked in his town.  You see tax collectors worked for the Romans.  They would collect taxes, and then send on some to Rome.  To pay their salary, they kept some for themselves.  Now I am sure that there were honest tax collectors out there, but even if Zacchaeus was honest, only collected exactly what he should, and send everything on that he should have, but nobody likes to pay taxes, especially for things they don’t see.  How many of us like to pay our taxes and have it used to buy an airplane that the military does not want or need.  Or you can fill in the blank.  Big oil subsidies, breaks for companies that move jobs to other countries, or anything in the government you feel is wasteful.  And if someone came to your door every few months to collect for those things, plus a few good things, plus his or her own salary, you probably would not be too happy to see them coming.  Certainly would not invite them in for a cup of coffee.

     But Zacchaeus had a problem, he was short.  Actually the way the text reads the word short can be attributed to either Jesus or Zacchaeus, but since Jesus height was not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible, we think that it was probably Zacchaeus who was short.  And just like me that morning, he could not see anything.  He probably stood on his toes, but it was no use.  Finally he saw a tree and climbed up into it.  And Jesus came over and asked Zacchaeus to let him stay at his house that night.  Zacchaeus was not expecting Jesus to see him, he just wanted to catch a glimpse of Jesus going by.  And certainly not expecting Jesus to come over, talk to him and ask him for lodging for the night. 

     I often wonder if Zacchaeus is anything like us.  I think back on my days in college.  My first year I lived in a dorm, and then moved into the campus ministry building just off campus.  My second year in college our campus minister had left, and we were searching for a new campus minister.  The board asked me if I would be willing to join them on the search committee.  After over 100 applicant’s materials had been collected, we interviewed 4 and all agreed on one applicant.  The next two years I was even more involved.  We had been holding worship services on campus, but moved them out to the campus ministry building.  We moved them from Sunday morning to Sunday night, and we started to serve dinner, normally just soup and bread.  Then we would have worship.  During the week, we started a few small group discussions.  Just because I was living there, when I left for class in the morning, if I was the first one out, I would unlock the front door to the building.  In the evening, after everything was done for the night, I would lock the front door.  If it was snowy, I would grab a shovel and shovel off the walkway.  If sand and salt got tracked in, I would clean it up. 

     Looking back at that time, I think I was looking for God.  I think I would have been involved to some extent even if I was not living in that building with the people who were there with me.  But I was looking for some kind of sign, some indication of what I should do with my life.  I was getting a degree, pretty sure I would graduate and since so many of my classes were based on that degree, it was unlikely I would change it.  But, like many of my generation, a college degree does not dictate what you will do for a career.  As I talked to others at that time, I realized that God calls us in so many different ways, and you can serve God in so many different ways.  Maybe I should do some kind of work with youth, maybe I should do something medical to help others, maybe go into the Peace Corp or something like that. The possibilities were wide open, but nothing quite felt quite right.

     Of course I did finally see Jesus, at least I think that was Jesus.  I did hear God directing me toward ministry.  I remember asking for references for seminary, and all my references replied with “it is about time.  We knew you were going in this direction, just didn’t know how long it would take you to figure out.”  So apparently everyone else saw God calling me, but I just didn’t see it yet. 

     I wonder what we can do to see God better.  Zacchaeus probably was not looking to be called upon, but it happened.  I guess that would be a risk if we try too hard to see God, if we are willing to climb up a tree.  While we might see God, God may also pick us out to do something, to call on us.  It is easier to stay on the ground. 

     In my interim ministry group we often talk about change.  After all, that is what we do.  Some interim ministers come in and quickly decide what change needs to happen.  Most of us will help the church decide what change needs to happen and move with them and guide them as best they are able.  This can be something like the Open and Affirming process that we just went through, or maybe a construction project, for many it is opening up the church in some way to be more inviting.  One of the churches currently in the interim process is North Church in Portsmouth, NH.  If you have been to Portsmouth, you have probably seen their church, big old church, right in the center of town.  Even if you have never been to Portsmouth, but seen pictures, this is the church that is in everyone’s pictures.  And the church is pretty well known, North Church, that is that big one in the center of town.  But what many don’t know is that the big church in the center of town in their summer worship facility.  About a mile down the road, off a side road, there is a non-descript 1960’s style building with a little sign that says “North Church, Portsmouth.”  It is in that building that members gather for the other three seasons to worship.  That is where the church offices and Sunday school rooms are located.  So one of their big tasks is to connect those two buildings.  And they are working hard to open the downtown building a lot more, and also direct people to the church building they worship in most of the year.  They are trying to change the way people in town see their buildings.

     This is a way that they are climbing the tree.  Hopefully to see what they are called to be, and maybe even to be called upon.  This is hard work.  It would be so much easier just to close up their big church in the fall, go out to their 3 season building, and hope people find them.  It would be easier to not go through the Open and Affirming process.  It would be easier to not do the building project that the church needs.  It is easier to stand on the ground.  But on the ground it is easier to have Jesus walk by without us seeing anything.  We want to climb that tree, we want to see what we are called to do, we are willing to do the work that is needed to follow God. 

     I encourage you to climb a tree this week.  Not literally, there are already to many broken bones in this church.  But I believe by standing up for something you believe in, you also will be looking for God and maybe called upon to do something.  We each need to climb our own tree, so I will not tell you which one to climb, but maybe it is a political tree, which might allow you to see what God is calling you to do.  Maybe it is a social justice tree, maybe it is defending the rights of others tree, maybe it is an environmental tree.  Each must find the tree they are comfortable climbing, and if you cannot see Jesus from that tree, get down and climb another.  In one of these trees you will eventually see Jesus and hear God calling you to do something.