The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire

Sermon  December 6, 2015
Scripture Reading: 3:1-6

The Rev. Robert Vodra

      Did you catch all those names in the scripture today?  We have an emperor, governor, rulers of different regions, and even the High Priests.  It should be noted that High Priests were appointed positions by the government, there was really no idea of separation of church and state at this point.  If you look back on Luke you will see that this is the third time he has listed the important people in power to set the scene for these events.  If Luke wanted to set the time frame, he could have just listed the ruler.
     It would be similar to me writing about an event that happened in Keene last year, starting out when Barack Obama was president, Maggie Hassan was Governor, and Kendell Lane was Mayor of Keene.  It would be kind of silly.  Something that happens in Keene probably does not involve Hassan or Obama, and certainly not an event like is being announced in this passage.  John, son of Zachariah is preaching out in the wilderness. 

     I always thought John was an interesting guy.  He was born just about the same time as Jesus, so he is only about 30 years old, but always pictured him in my mind closer to 60.  Big gray beard, long gray hair, lived out in the wilderness, so must be big and rough.  Wearing clothes that he made himself.  No family, no friends, but of course most of those are probably not true.  And what he was doing was not really that unusual.  He was quoting Isaiah. Just a short verse, if he was Jewish, which we believe he was, it is possible that he had heard this verse many times before.
     And he was baptizing people.  For our view of baptism today, you get baptized once.  It is symbolic, and a way of welcoming that person into the community of faith.  In ancient Jewish times, John was probably performing a ritual cleaning.  There are records that suggest this was a fairly common practice. 

     So why date a guy who is living out in the wilderness, can quote a bit of scripture, and is performing a ceremonial cleansing bath.  Of course we know that he will baptize Jesus, the heavens will open, a voice will announce that Jesus is the son of God.  We think that happens pretty soon after John starts doing this stuff, but if we have Jesusí life dates, who cares about who was governor, and emperor, and the whole government structure.
     I believe that Luke was using history, not as we use it today, but to say that what John is doing is actually more important than all that other information.
     This, I believe, is a mustard seed story.  You have all heard the parable of the mustard seed, something that starts really, really small, but grows into a great tree that provides homes for all sorts of animals.  Or starts really small, but really is a weed that spreads into every corner of your field and is almost impossible to get rid of.  John is a little mustard seed.  His life, and the one he predicted coming, is going to be more important than emperors, and rulers and governors and even chief priests.  And that message is also going to spread like the mustard seed into all those places, and will be almost impossible to get rid of.
     Isnít that a lot like how God works?  I think back on my own calling.  I did mostly OK in school, but was not a straight A student.  I would get an occasional A, but mostly Bís and Cís.  I was good enough to get accepted into college, and did mostly OK there.  Again, occasionally got an A, lots of Bís, lots of Cís, and a solid D in Calculus, which they considered passing and I promised would be the last math class I ever took.  When I graduated I had no solid plans, I knew I would be going to Missouri later that summer, maybe through December or so.  They were going to give me housing and food, and $50 a month.  Certainly not leading toward a solid future, no start of a career.
     And then I had this crazy idea that I should go to seminary.  Well, it was kind of surprising that I got into a decent college.  I did OK, I proved that I could pass the classes, but now I want to go on for a masterís degree.  I enjoy reading, I donít enjoy studying or taking tests.  What was God going to do with me?  I applied to two seminaries, just like college was not sure if I would get into either, and both accepted me and offered me a full scholarship.
     I went to Eden because I thought their field education was a bit wider focused.  I was not sure if God was calling me to be in a church.  Today, people go to seminary all the time who have no intention of serving in a church.  I heard an interview of the president of Yale, who said that half of the students in their Master of Divinity program had already said that they have no intention of serving a church, but in the early 1990ís, most of the students were getting their degree to become a parish minister.
     And frankly the idea of writing a sermon every week did not thrill me.  I took my preaching classes in seminary, and we had to write a few sermons during the class, we would preach to the class, and they would evaluate you.  But I also had the chance to work as a hospital chaplain, which was really interesting to me.  I worked at a camp one summer, which I loved.  I served two churches, the first of which had their pastor leave after I had been there about a month, so we went through a short time without a minister and then I worked with the interim.  I spent another summer in a hospital.
     God had plans for me.  In each setting I have worked, I think that I left things better than how I found them.  Each setting had a deficit budget when I arrived, and a balanced budget when I left.  I hopefully have left a mark by the things that I said or did, and I have grown from the people that I have worked with.  While I can see some things that I have done, I also trust God to guide me into the future.
     A few weeks ago I had a Cub Scout leader meeting.  These are all the adults who run the dens, and we were planning out things like scouting for food, and pack meetings.  At the end of the meeting they started joking with me.  You know Robert, the church right here we are meeting in, is looking for an interim minister, you could have come here and walked to church rather than driving all the way to Marlborough.  Why did you go there, what are you going to do there that you cannot do here?  Since they were joking, I told them that I had always wanted to be a Marlborough Man, but didnít like smoking.  But the real reason I donít know.
     But this is how I see Godís Kingdom.  How do you describe yourself?  You live in Marlborough, or Keene, or one of the other towns, state of New Hampshire, in the United States, in North America, on earth.  But I believe that Godís Kingdom is upside down.  Rather than looking up, bigger and bigger, or down, smaller and smaller, God sees us all equally.  By Luke listing emperors, and governors and leaders, he is staying that this itinerant preacher from the wilderness is just as important as those who have power given to them by people, or government.

     And isnít this shown in what we are waiting for?  Jesus comes into the world, not on a cloud, not as a ruler, but as a baby.  Have all of you had some experience with little babies?  Not the cute ones when they at least a month old, but a little one, maybe a week or less.  When Glenn was born, I bought him a little rattle.  I had never seen a baby that little before, so was thinking at that point he would at least be able to hold and shake something, or at least watch it while I shook it.