The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


  

    




Sermon - November 26, 2017
Christ the King Sunday
Scripture Reading:
Matthew 25:31-46 
Sermon Title: ďThe Reign of ChristĒ



The Rev. Robert Vodra


     In the late summer of 1992 I went to volunteer at a place called Shannondale Community Center, in Shannon County, Missouri.  To get there, from St. Louis you went down I-44 to Cuba, Missouri, then headed South on Highway 19.  You pass through the little town of Steelville, which in 1992 was the mean center of U.S. population.  About 45 minutes later you get to the little town of Salem.  Continue south on Highway 19 about 25 miles and you will be in the community of Timber.  I use the term community loosely. They used to have a school, but it closed down well before 1990.  They used to have a restaurant, but that had been closed and converted to a house years ago.  By 1992 the community of Timber was a telephone exchange, had a different 3 numbers after the area code than the areas around it.  Long distance call to anyone outside of Timber.


     With a lack of population, there came a lack of services.  The state police drove down highway 19 every few days.  There was no fire department or ambulance; perhaps you could get one to come from Salem, but with the drive of well over half an hour, probably not going to do a lot of good.  Quickly you discovered that you relied on yourself and your neighbors. 


     It was also, and probably still is, a very poor county.  Heard the poorest in Missouri, and I would believe it.  Of course the poverty was hidden well.  On highway 19 there were no nice houses, but any you could see from the road were at least fairly well maintained.  But as you got off the highway, it was rougher.  A good friend of mine lived in a two car garage.  No house attached to it, just the garage.  She had an outhouse and carried water in for cooking and washing.  Had purchased a hot plate and little fridge she called her kitchen. The lease ran out on her two car garage, so I went with her one night to check out where she would be moving, a one car garage, honestly in much rougher shape than the previous garage.  Made the garage by the parsonage look like a mansion. 


     She was better off than many people who lived in the area.  Through the Community Center we tried to help.  We had a program where we would hire anyone who came to us, to cut firewood.  For each rank, which is roughly half a cord, we would pay $30.  They cut wood from our land, so it was just the labor to cut and split.  They would deliver that to a man who would bring truck loads up to St. Louis, where it was handed out to people who needed it to heat their homes.  We had purchased the old school, and used it for many community events, much like our Community House.  There was a church on the property, and we had services there every week.  We ran a van down every month to the county seat where people could get their government commodities, about a 2 hour round trip. 


     The biggest thing I learned down there is how, in each program we offered, I saw Jesus.  We had to look out for each other.  There were many times in which I would get a call asking for something, and many times I had to make that call also.  Now, I had looked for Jesus before.  I was lucky when I was younger, I got to visit  Israel, Greece and Italy.  I saw cathedrals, the Vatican, the spot where we think Jesus was born, many religious sites where Jesus may have walked and prayed and been. 


     Now God could easily be at the Vatican, or one of the Holy sites or cathedrals I saw, and really that is where we often picture Jesus.  The parable sets it up that way.  When the Son of Man comes to sit on his throne, attended by angels.  And let me be honest, I want my God to be on a throne.  Sure, I want my God approachable, so not snobbish, but certainly want my God to have it together.  And that is the way we often learn about Jesus, blond hair, blued eyed, very light skin, much more like us than Jesus probably was.  And talk about self sufficient, remember that story of feeding the 5,000?  If he can multiply the loaves and fishes, or have everyone share what they have, both are miracles, and all, including him, were fed; food was not an issue.  Never hear about Jesus being sick, he was healing others, and never afraid of catching a disease, would touch those who were sick without worry. 


     And all those things we believe about God.  Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, feed into that image for us.  So no wonder the disciples were confused when Jesus said ďwhen you did this to the least of these, you did it to me.Ē  Son of Man, sitting on a throne, not hungry, not naked, not in need.  But that is not where Jesus is.  Jesus is in those hollows of the Ozarks, where we rely on each other. 


     I found Jesus both in those hills when I was helping others, but also when I was in need.  The week before I started working here I caught the norovirus.  Apparently before I started my shift on the ambulance they transported someone with the norovirus to the hospital.  They wiped off everything, but not as well as they should have.  When I got home from my shift I was feeling a little off.  Started to feel a little nauseous.  The next 12 hours were horrible.  I will not share the details, but felt like I was in serious trouble.  I even thought about calling 911, but I am one of those guys who does not call the ambulance.  Keri would check on me every few hours, and would bring in big cups full of ice, and small bottles of Gatorade.  It was strange to be in that position. I get colds and junk, but rarely am too sick to get up and do things.  It is in both the giving and receiving that we experience Jesus. 


     And really it should not surprise us.  In a few weeks we will celebrate Jesusí birth.  Jesus didnít arrive as a King coming down from heaven as a ruler, Jesus came to us as a baby, born in a stable.  And although we donít know much about Jesusí childhood, I imagine that he was a pretty normal child in most ways.  He probably helped out around the household when asked by Mary.  We think he may have had some younger brothers and maybe sisters, so probably they looked up to their oldest brother, but imagine they got into arguments, maybe even fought with each other. 


     And this is God.  God could have become the chief priest, or at least worked in the temple.  Jesus could have become a king, or an emperor, or any other ruler.  But Jesus chose to be with the hungry, the sick, the outcasts.  And notice when separating the sheep from the goats, it is based on what they did for others.  They didnít know if they were sheep or goats.  It is also important to note that there were no religious tests for that judgment. Just happened. 


     But we have to be honest, none of us are as good as we can or should be.   This is an easy time for us to be doing what we should be doing.  Our church just made up Thanksgiving baskets to give out.  For those who donít know, much of that food we purchase through the New Hampshire Food Bank.  Since much of it is donated to them, we just pay to have it delivered, sometimes here to the church, or somewhere in the area where we can pick it up.  The money for shipping comes right out of the offerings we give to our church, along with interest off money given in the past and donations we have received in various ways.  But as the year wears on, our food pantry will still be operating, and we tend not to think of it as much as we should.  Nobody does Fourth of July baskets.


     And this is where grace comes in.  I donít think our salvation comes from just how many hungry we feed, or naked we clothe, or people we visit.  Letís be honest, heaven would be pretty empty.  God wants to be in relationship with us, God knows our intention in addition to our actions. 


     But it is hard.  We are comfortable with people who are the same as us.  When I was living in Missouri, there were places I went where I was not comfortable.  One night I was invited to a fish and squirrel supper.  It was really a community meal, but doubt most would have called it that.  Those with guns went out that morning to gather squirrel.  That night, at sunset many had these Jon boats, flat bottomed boats with jet ski type motors on the back, a generator with big lights in the front.  They would jet up the river, through the rapids, and then you would float down, two people standing on the bow of the boat with big spears.  When you saw a fish you were supposed to stab it with the spear.  It was a good thing they were not relying on my talent for food; didnít hunt squirrel, and tried the stabbing of fish but failed to catch a single one.  Yet, when we got back to the landing, there were cases of cold beer and huge bowls of fried fish and squirrel.  But I will admit that I was not comfortable.  I am not used to hanging out on a riverbank, drinking beer and eating squirrel and fish.


     Some people may not be comfortable in a building like this one.  Of course God calls us to make our building welcoming, and we have done some good things.  But no matter what we do, when we stay in our safe spaces, with people like us, we are not doing what God calls us to do. 


     Jesus is very clear in the passage this week about who will be part of the kingdom and who will not.  Realize that Matthew, much like last week, offers a threat if we donít follow Jesusí words.  We donít know if that is exactly what Jesus said. Other gospel writers do not stress eternal fire like Matthew does, but it is clear that Jesus is calling us to be with others who are different.


     A few years ago South Church in Concord was running an emergency cold weather shelter for the homeless.  I had the privilege of volunteering there a couple nights.  We opened up about 7:00, and would gather with other volunteer for the night and a shelter director.  You would then drive over to First Congregational Church where those needing shelter checked in.  As they checked in, they could request to go to South Church if they wanted.   First church was really one big room with cots; South church had air mattresses in smaller rooms, tended to be quieter.  You would drive them over to South Church and give them a while to get settled into their rooms.  As people got settled in, there was normally some time before we turned off the lights around 11:00.  So we had coffee, often some fruit or snacks, and chatted.  I realized that really they were not that different than any of us.  One had to get up a bit earlier in the morning. He had to ride his bike to the YMCA, get a shower, and then had an 8:00 am college class. He was a full time student, but could not afford a place to stay, so slept in a tent most nights, and came to the shelter when it was too cold to sleep outside.  We put him in a room with another man who had to get up a bit earlier as his shift at work started at 7:00.  Even though I realized how similar they were to me, I still admit I was not totally comfortable.


     In the end I donít think Jesus wants us to be comfortable.  There are so many things in Jesusí life that should make us uncomfortable.  Our savior coming as a helpless baby, preaching about things that we donít want to hear, and ending up being tortured and killed.  With that in mind, I can live with being a little uncomfortable.  I can live with people who look different than I do, who talk differently than I do, who act differently than I do, as it is those who are different in whom I see Jesus. 


     I often tell people I donít know where I am going to end up.  If you have heard my life story so far, I have bounced around between the Midwest and East Coast.  In each place I have lived I have felt uncomfortable at times, especially at times in Missouri.  But it is those times when I am in need, or I am able to help others in need, in which I experience Jesus. 


     We donít know which side of Jesus we will be on, if we will be with the sheep and the goats, but through all of Jesus stories and teachings, I hear a call to act, and a need for grace when we donít go far enough.  Today I pray that where I have fallen short, Godís grace will fill in. 


Amen


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