The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


  

    
Sermon - October 9, 2016
Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 & Luke 17:11-19
Sermon Title:
ďBlessingsĒ



The Rev. Robert Vodra

    

Did any of you see the vice president candidateís debate this last week?  How about the Presidential one the week before?  We donít talk much about politics in my parentís house, and even in emails and phone calls, rarely bring that up.  But for the primary I asked my father, a registered Republican, who he was going to vote for, and he said that by the time Connecticut got to vote, Kasich was the only sane one left.  We know how that turned out.  I think the biggest problem with this election is that very few people are excited about any candidate.  If you think back on previous elections, there was excitement about at least some of the candidates.  This year, for most people I have talked to, they are voting for the one that will do the least damage, or against the one that they really donít like.  And that does not matter if you are planning to vote for Trump or Clinton, both supporters have plenty of negative to say about the other, and usually much less good to say about their own candidate.


     And the debates have not helped much.  Huge number of people watched the presidential debate because we wanted to see Trump say something crazy.  Come on, be honest, if you watched it, it was for entertainment not to decide who you were going to vote for.  Less people, but still a lot watched the vice presidential debate, because 6 months ago nobody outside of Illinois or Virginia knew who Pence or Kaine were.  90 minutes and I learned that neither of them are good listeners.  I donít think either of them answered a question asked by the moderator all night long, and for most of those 90 minutes they were both talking over each other. 


     There is plenty to be worried about, no matter what happens in the next few months.  Apart from the election, there are plenty of other things going on to cause concern.  You may have heard about a pipeline being built across North and South Dakota, which caused an Indian burial ground to be bulldozed.  In the next few months a determination will be made if it can be completed.  As I was writing the sermon a hurricane had almost hit Florida, causing a lot of damage it its path.  Even in our town they have asked us to limit all unnecessary water use as, despite a few days of rain, everything is still really dry.  And even down to our personal lives we have things going on.  I just got a letter from my health insurance company telling me that they will not be offering policies in New Hampshire next year, so between November first and December 31st I have to shop for and find a new health insurance policy.  One more thing added to my list that I didnít need. 


     I think we have a need today for Thanksgiving.  It is often hard to determine if something is good or bad at the time it happens.  Perhaps all events which appear bad at the time, have the potential to turn into good things worthy of thanksgiving.  While some may choose to lament or gather others to help them fight whatever they are fighting, often our reaction guides our feelings.  If we can try to see everything as something that might have a positive outcome, we can begin to give thanks for so much more in our lives. 


     In todayís reading Jesus is out in the border area between Samaria and Galilee when he is approached by 10 lepers.  Now lepers at that time may not have had leprosy, but at least had some bad skin disease.  Because of this they were outcasts.  Nobody wanted to go near them, they were dirty and certainly if you touched them or even got too close, you might catch what they had, which would make you unclean.  And of course in the ancient Jewish thought process, unclean means you cannot enter the temple, cannot perform sacrifices, and there is no way for you to get close to God.   Getting too close or touching would put you into their unfortunate position.  Now most of that time, and even today if you look at the unclean, maybe homeless, in our society, you walk by.  Maybe avoid looking too closely, you walk on the other side of the street.  Today we know that by talking to a homeless person we will not become homeless, but sometimes we act that way. 


     But in Jesusí time there probably was a real danger.  These ten are instructed by Jesus to go and show themselves to the local priest.  They were cured of their disease, and 9 of them went on their way.  Now we may tend to look down on those 9.  But really they didnít do anything wrong, Jesus told them to go see the local priest, and they did.  They kind of act like we do most of the time.  If you stop and ask for directions, you donít go back to try to find the person who gave you the directions and thank them.  If you tell someone where a good restaurant is, or where you go to get your hair cut, most of the time you donít think twice about it.  They may report back to you that they ate there, and enjoyed it, but you certainly are not expecting it.


     But this one cured leper returns to Jesus, praising him, giving him thanks.  But for this one, Jesus gives a second blessing to.  He was already cured of his disease, what is the second blessing?  Jesus says get up and go, your faith has made you well. The root of the word used at the end of this line is σoζω (sod-zo).  ďWellĒ is probably the best translation we have, but it is not just physically well, but also physically and mentally whole, perhaps even saved, your faith has made you whole, and cured, and saved.  Because of your faith, you can now reenter this community that has excluded you.


     This is a second blessing that goes beyond a physical healing.  And it is powerful when we are able to receive a blessing, give thanks, and often that will lead to even more blessing. 


     I shared recently in a meeting that Keri and I went to Prince Edward Island for our wedding honeymoon.  I will give thanks today to say that in 3 days we will celebrate 20 years of marriage.  So 4 days less than 20 years ago we went to Prince Edward Island.  This was before the bridge was built, so we had to take the ferry over.  At that time the island population dropped in the fall.  Since this was Mid-October, many people had left for the winter.  Many restaurants were closed up.  It was cold and windy, probably not the best time to be there.  But honestly it didnít matter to us.  We just put on our winter coats before walking on the beach.  We ignored the sand blowing everywhere.  We stayed in a little hotel for a few days, and then I had booked a room in the most expensive hotel on the island for one or two nights.  When we arrived at that second hotel, we found that there was some group protesting in front of the hotel.  Now normally I am very sympathetic to picket lines, but this was my honeymoon. 


     The blessing was going on the beach, or going to a really nice hotel, but by naming those blessings, telling my new wife how great it was, that blessing was multiplied.  I have been on 100ís of beaches before that, and since then.  But by naming it, I shared the blessing and was blessed more. 


     That is what Thanksgiving is. It springs from perception -- our ability to recognize blessing -- and articulation -- giving expression, no matter how inadequate it may seem at the time, of our gratitude for that blessing. And every time these two are combined -- sight and word -- giving thanks actually grants a second blessing.


     We do not show gratitude nearly as much as I think we should.  Gratitude draws us out of ourselves into something larger, bigger, and grander than we could imagine.  Maybe, gratitude is also the most powerful emotion, as it frees us from fear, releases us from anxiety, and emboldens us to do more and dare more than we'd ever imagined.  That is what the other nine healed lepers in this passage missed. 


     So letís look at our world again.  The upcoming election, the problems we face as a nation, as a state, in our towns, the problems we face in our individual lives.  Filled with troubles? Yes. But also filled with blessing. Families that care for each other, colleagues who work hard, schools where teachers care about their students and students are eager to learn, a form of government that is far from perfect yet strives to honor its citizens by conveying a level of freedom and opportunity rarely imagined, relief agencies that tend the afflicted, service people who regularly put their lives on the line at home and abroad, good neighbors who support one another, a community of faith where the word is preached and the life of faith nourished, and more. 


     In the passage from Jeremiah this morning, the story is based in the time that the Israelites were in exile in Babylon.  Remember that temple history.  First temple is destroyed and almost everyone in the city is forced to leave.  While people went in many different directions, many went into exile in Babylon.  They were there for about 40 years.  They are instructed to marry, build houses, plant crops, do all the things that you did before.  Those 40 years were certainly hard, but I am sure that there were also times of joy.  Even in the worst of circumstances, there is still joy.  Even when you look around and nothing seems to be right, there are still parts of your life in which you can see the good, and show gratitude. 


     Often in bad times it is especially hard to see any good in a situation.  After 9/11, after a mass shooting, when a hurricane rips through a country and we see the devastation left behind.  I may have heard it growing up, but after one of more recent events I saw a quote by Fred Rogers, of Mr. Rogerís Neighborhood, who if you didnít know was an ordained Presbyterian minister.   He said: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers Ė so many caring people in this world.Ē


     And since that time I have realized it is true.  Of course today we get to see disasters in real time on TV, but if you look at almost any video of a disaster, right after it happens people rush in to help.   And that is one way to look at something tragic and see the good that comes out of it. 


     Just over a week ago, I saw a facebook post from a minister friend of mine.  She said ďmy church is on fire, not in a good way, like really on fire.Ē  This was a Friday.  Everyone made it out of the church, it went to 4 or 5 alarms, one of the wings of the church appears to be totally destroyed, where their classrooms and offices were.  The fire went into the attic over the sanctuary, but apart from water and smoke, there was little damage in the actual sanctuary.  Initial estimates are about 2 million in damage.  A few hours after that post, she sent a message to the congregation.  Yes, this wing of the church is destroyed, but we will be worshipping at a church right across the street from their church at 2:00 the next afternoon.  The minister of that church showed up, while she was watching the fire and told her that they could have their church all of Sunday afternoon.  She reported Saturday that friends had called and emailed from around town and all over the country.  They had offered her vestments, worship supplies, anything she may need that might have been in her office or that wing of the building.  Within a day or two of the fire there was a chalk A-frame in front of their building thanking the firefighters.  All of her notes since that time have expressed gratitude for the fire fighters, for the local ministers, for the church across the street, for her church members.  In one of the most difficult situations, there are still plenty of things to give thanks for, and that church by showing gratitude has been blessed.  


     I encourage you to look for the good in any situation you are faced with this week, and never be afraid to show gratitude, as the one healed leper did, those in exile in Babylon did, as our brothers and sisters in Berkeley, California did, so that you also may receive blessing. 


Amen. 


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