The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - December 11, 2016
Scripture Reading: Matthew 11:2-11
Sermon Title:
ďAre you the one?Ē

The Rev. Robert Vodra


     Letís start this morning by setting the stage.  I have mentioned before that each of the 4 gospels is a full story of Jesusí life.  Not all 4 tell everything the same way, but if you take any one of the 4 and read it you will see what one person wrote as the life of Jesus. Each is a separate book.  Matthew, who we read from this morning starts with a genealogy of Jesus, going all the way back to Abraham.  The second part of Chapter 1 is very familiar to us, Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant, wants to divorce her quietly, but an angel appears to him and tells him not to get a divorce, that she will bear a son who shall be called Immanuel, God with us.   We are getting closer to Christmas, that would be a great scripture for this week.  We are just a few weeks out from Christmas, Mary is obviously showing at this point, they are probably headed toward Bethlehem, or at least in the final planning stages.  It is about 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  And Mary is ready to have this baby, very pregnant.  Hopefully Jesus let her ride on a donkey, but still 90 miles is a long journey, add being almost 9 months along, going to be at least a week of traveling. 

     So the second half of Matthew 1 would be a logical passage for this week, but the lectionary jumps forward to Matthew 11.  They are 28 chapters in Matthew, so just knowing that we have a good solid story of Jesusí life, we are not still going to be talking about Jesusí birth when we get to chapter 11.  At Chapter 11 we go back to John the Baptist.  Jesus has been born about 30 years ago when this story happens, John and Jesus were just about the same age, and probably knew each other before Jesus went out to be baptized by John.  But by now Jesusí ministry is well underway, and John is in prison.  This story a bit confusing because we have two Herodís.  The first was ruler when Jesus was born, Herod the Great.  When we get to this story Herod Antipas (A -tee- Pas) was ruler of Galilee.  He was a son of Herod the Great.  Now Herod Antipas got married then divorced and then hooked up with his brotherís wife.  John the Baptist was a little too vocal about this strange love triangle thing and so he was arrested and thrown in jail.  Just to finish the story John the Baptist ends up getting beheaded because Herodís brotherís wifeís daughter, who after the affair and possible remarriage became his niece and daughter, was a great dancer.  Herod got a little tipsy one night, bit too much wine, offered this daughter/ niece anything she wanted, up to half his kingdom.  She talked to her mother, who was now with Herod, and ended up saying that she wanted John the Baptistís head delivered to her on a platter.  Herod promised anything, so he had him beheaded and his head delivered to her.  If you have some spare time, it is a kind of an interesting story of where his head went after that, it was not buried with his body and traveled quite a bit after his death. 

     But before he loses his head, he is in prison we have this story.  I am not sure what prisons were like at that time.  I did spend some time visiting a man in prison in Concord, and today they are very unpleasant.  If you go to the prison in Concord, you have to have a reason to get into the visiting room.  You are required to leave everything outside, coats, hats, wallet, car keys.  You give your driverís license or some kind of ID to the staff, they walk you through a metal detector, and then through two heavy locked doors, that slam behind you.  I always bought the man I was visiting fruit out of the vending machines.  You cannot bring in any food, but they do have vending machines and when you were lucky you might find an orange in one of them.  They also had one of those coffee machines, some of the worst coffee I ever had, but always got him a big cup since he said it was a lot better than what he could get outside of the visiting room.  I asked him about what kind of food they served him and so he sent me a menu.  They had one choice per meal.  I guess if there is only one thing your choice is to eat it or not, not really a choice.  And out of the month he sent me I saw salad on there twice.  When they had pizza, which he said were just like the school square pizzas, they would get a little bit of iceberg lettuce.  On good months, they might have some purple cabbage or shredded carrots in with the iceburg lettuce.  There was no fresh fruit that month, I think they did have a vegetable most nights with dinner, but he said that it was something that came out of a can and was cooked until it was mush. 

     And I imagine that Johnís experience was worse.  Probably dark, dank, no sanitation, and the food was worse than it is today.  And John was being punished.  Today they hope that in addition to punishment prison will reform a person.  In Johnís day, it was purely punishment.  And really John didnít do anything illegal.  He didnít kill or hurt anyone, didnít steel anything, but he spoke too loudly about something he saw as wrong. 

     Certainly at this point John was discouraged.  Remember last week, we read about Johnís fire and brimstone preaching.  The one who comes after me with gather up the grain and throw the chaff into a fire.  Those trees that do not produce good fruit will be cut down and burned.  So Jesus has been around for a while now, started his ministry after his baptism, gathered some disciples, probably had other followers.  John has been waiting for this new kingdom to start, he wants to see this fire, but he is locked up by the authorities.  And he begins to have his doubts.  Maybe, just maybe, it is not Jesus.  Sure, Jesus has done some good things, but he is also hanging out with the wrong people.  He is concerned about the lepers, the sick, the lame, the poor, even the dead. 

     Of course we know that the only way to really make change is to be in with the right people.  Want to address homelessness?  Well, you can meet with your local officials, mayor, board of selectmen, whatever your town has.  Maybe talk to some state reps, try to get the governorís ear for a few minutes.  You donít hang out at the homeless shelter.  Concerned about opiate addiction?  Again, you go up the ladder, you certainly donít go to a drug rehab place to solve the problem.

     John knew that Jesus was going about it all wrong, and maybe John had made a mistake.  So he sends off a question to Jesus.  Are you the one, or should we be waiting for another? 

     This is a hard time of the year for many.  If you look at studies, you will see that this season is the time of the year when suicides go up, admittances to mental health centers, requests for counseling all go up.  Of course a lot of this has to do with the fact that the world is telling us to be full of joy and spend a lot of money.  That equation of joy equaling the amount you spend is wrong, we know that, but if you are told something enough you start to believe it. 

     I think another reason for these hard times during this season is that we, like John, are wondering.  We leave the church on Christmas eve singing ďJoy to the World, the Lord has come.Ē We go to bed with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts, for some that joy will last through Christmas day, but then we wake up on December 26.  Refugees are still trying to escape the violence in Syria.  There is still fighting in the middle east.  Closer to home people are shot and killed.  A house catches fire, the family escapes but has lost everything except the clothes on their back.  A young man shoots his heroin, he stops breathing, he dies.  It is the same stories that happened on December 23rd.  Is this the one we are waiting for, or is there someone else?

     ďJesus told me to tell you that the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at him.Ē

     John, sitting in his dark, dank prison cell knows how all those people Jesus has been with feel.  John, once powerful, in a way, having followers, is now alone.  John, who once ate locusts and wild honey, is now utterly dependent upon anyone who will bring him bread or water, anything to eat or drink. 

     And we too hide in our big houses, behind those fancy clothes, but we too know that we are close to that desperation.  One word can bring it all home to us.  Cancer, divorce, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job.  One word, one event, and we find ourselves with John in that prison cell asking if Jesus is the one.  And at that moment we hear Jesus telling us that he understands, that he is there with us.

     You see, Jesus came to change the world, but not by going to the powerful.  That is our idea of how to change the world, not Godís.  And Jesus came not for the movers and the shakers, but for the lame, the blind, the poor.  Jesus came for me, and you, and all of us. 

     Oh, we still have our doubts, at least I do.   We pray for Godís kingdom to come, we believe that Jesus will come again, but then we find ourselves in our own dark prison cells, either through our own making or because of others, normally at least a little of each.  And it is in those times that we ask, Jesus are you the one we have been waiting for.  When we are at our weakest, when we are dependent upon the grace of God, that is when Jesus comes.

     In this season, it is not unusual to feel all those feelings, to have that doubt.  The world maybe singing ďJoy to the WorldĒ and you may not feel like it is time to sing along.  But there is another familiar hymn, O Little town of Bethlehem.  The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

     We do believe that Jesus will come again, maybe separating the grain from the chaff, maybe cutting down the trees that do not produce good fruit.  Maybe bringing about the Kingdom of heaven on earth.  And Jesus will not start with the leaders, with those we call powerful.  We will find Jesus in the homeless shelters, in the hospitals, living on the street.  Jesus will not be in the White House or Congress, or even our statehouse or governorís office. 

     ďJesus told me to tell you that the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at him.Ē  I think that John heard that message, will we?