The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - November 27, 2016
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5,  Matthew 24:36-44
Sermon Title:
ďA PromiseĒ

The Rev. Robert Vodra


     My great Uncle Dick was an interesting man.  He was a World War II veteran, and was in the same group as Ronald Regan for a short time.  He was a fighter pilot, and flew in the South Pacific, participating in many dog fights.  He even got shot down once, but turns out it was by friendly fire, they could paint their own planes, so he had painted the tail of his plane and one of his squadron did not recognize this new paint until it was too late.  But I still believe he ended up getting a purple heart.  When he got out he broke up with a girl he may have married before he left, may have gotten the marriage annulled.  Was married a few other times, had some daughters, after several marriages he just decided it was not worth officially doing the marriage thing again.  All those marriages and relationships made writing his obituary difficult.  He was an inventor, invented the panic bar that you see variations of today on many doors, and invented the rubber that was, and perhaps still is used on mud flaps.  He also invented a house built with hinges, it would be built on the ground, and then pulled up with a crane and secured.  Some of his inventions were great, others never quite caught on.

     After retirement he was living in Florida in his hinge house, but also loved to travel.  Had one of those vans you could sleep in.  So he loaded up his van just before thanksgiving one year and drove North with one of his daughters and current girlfriend.  They ended up In Connecticut on Thanksgiving, I guess figured that my mother would probably have cooked a turkey, and as no family ever runs out of turkey on Thanksgiving would stop in and visit.  We had, if I remember right, already invited an uncle and aunt, so their 4 bedroom house was suddenly very full.  I remember sleeping on the floor in my parents room, and remember my sister ended up in our sort of finished basement on an old bed.  In the 47 years my parents have owned that house, I think she was the only one who has ever slept in the basement, but at least she had a mattress. 

     We still talk about that Thanksgiving when everyone showed up.  But I guess thanksgiving is often like that for us, full of unexpected surprises.  Most of you remember just a few years ago when we had the big snow storm the night before Thanksgiving.  I was supposed to be leading a worship service with another minister in Brookline, NH.  Our two churches got together and would share a few services such as that one.  I was watching the weather, as I always do.  I have a 4 wheel drive and donít like to cancel events, but about 2:00 that afternoon I talked to the minister of the church that would be hosting the service.  I knew that I could get down there, but it would be sloppy especially coming home.  We decided that it was not worth it, and canceled the service.  Later that night it did get sloppy and we lost power before I would have made it home.  We have a little decorative stove in our living room that actually puts out a lot more heat than I imagined it would.  We also have a generator and a gas cook-top.  Our oven was electric, so turkey would not be cooked that year, but you can do a lot on a stovetop.  We were warm, fed, I even was able to run the generator extension cords into basement and hook up the water heater, so we had hot showers.

     Life is full of the unexpected, and this is hard for me.  I donít mind change, but I do like to have a plan.  Perhaps this is why this passage is hard for me.  We are starting advent this week, and we have plans.  We know that there are 3 more Sundayís after this one until Christmas eve.  Some of us have put up a tree and decorated our houses, others of us are planning to do that next weekend.  Some of us have a few Christmas gifts tucked away, others will need to do their Christmas shopping, but most of us either have lists of things are planning to get, or at least a list of people who we need to buy things for.  And donít throw any wrenches into my plans. 

     But in the longer term, our plans can be messed up often in bad ways.  I think back on the Boston Marathon a few years ago.  I do not run, unless something is chasing me, but in talking to those who actually like to run, marathons are hard to get into.  You donít just pay your money and show up, but you train and train, and then you start running marathons.  You might start with some smaller fun runs, and then get into some smaller half marathons, moving up to a smaller full marathon.  By the time you get good enough to compete in the Boston Marathon or other big marathon you have run many and put in a lot of time training.  It is a time and a financial commitment, it is not an inexpensive sport if you are serious about it.  And we all know what happened at the finish line.  One bomb and three people died.  264 were injured.  Imagine training and training and training, only to have your life changed in seconds.  Going from being a runner to a wheel chair. 

     We do what we can to insulate ourselves from the bad things that can happen.  We have health insurance and life insurance to hopefully insulate ourselves or our family from financial hardship.  We also cut our dreams short.  A friend of mine from High school opened a store in Virginia a few years ago.  He is a bit different, is into that prepping stuff, where you prepare for a disaster and how you are going to survive whatever that disaster is.  So his store sold things like food that would last for 50 years without going bad.  Weapons to protect yourself and your stash if needed, and everything you might need should something like this happen.  A lot of stuff like that can also be used for camping, so some of the store was less prepping and more camping things.  The store was open for about 3 years.  He started it because he said that he hated his job.  He was only working there to support his family.  So he took the plunge, opened the store.  After two years he said that he looked it.  If he was making money after paying his rent and salaries, and other expenses he would stay open.  If he was not making a profit, he would close this store.  Just before Halloween he announced that his store was closing.  All comments that appeared on his facebook page after that.  What are you going to do now?  How are you going to pay your mortgage?  How are you going to survive?  I guess he does now have a great supply of food that will last for 50 years, but on a more serious level, it is going to be tough for him. 

     I donít want to go through that.  Luckily I have a job that I enjoy.  My salary pays for my mortgage and health insurance.  Keri works so we have enough to live on.  But we all have dreams, maybe opening a store, or traveling, or anything else that we donít do and might never do because we donít want to take that risk.  And just like my friend, often those dreams, when followed, do not work out.  Why would we even risk it? 

     It is strange that this passage about the second coming of Christ occurs at the start of Advent.  At the root of both of the passage this week is the theme of promise.  The Lord promises, through Isiahís words, that one day the Lordís temple will be the tallest mountain, and all will come to it seeking the Lord.  Jesusí promise is that he will return.  But beyond that promise of return is the promise that Jesus will never leave us.  This morning we lit our first advent candle, a start of the reminder that Jesus, light of the world, has come into our world.  We no longer need to walk in darkness, the light has come. 

     And it is often in our times of darkness that we find ourselves closest to God.  When we are grieving, either for ourselves or others, we see small reminders that we are not alone.  I think it is sometimes easier to remember that we are not alone when times are hard, even though we may feel it more.  But God is also there in times of joy.  I think we sometimes forget that God is there when we donít feel like we need God.  And God is there in times when our world is turned upside down, for a moment or an event which changes the direction of our lives. 

     I will leave you this week with a prayer written by David Lose, who was president of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.

Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths untrodden, through perils unknown.  Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.