The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - June 26, 2016
Scripture Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-25 & Luke 9:51-62
Sermon Title:
Following Jesus

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     I think it was early June in 1999.  I was living in Michigan and working on the fire department in addition to running the church camp.  When we had severe thunderstorm warning or tornado warning they would set off all the fire pagers in the county, and ask members to leave them in the open position.  Normally you can set the pager so that it only makes noise when your department’s tones are sent out.  In the open position you hear any calls made to any departments, in addition to anyone talking on the radio.  They did this in case they needed to start sending out several departments and did not have time to send out tones for each department.  This morning it was about 5:00 am when we got the page for a severe thunderstorm or maybe tornado warning. 

     During almost every severe thunderstorm or tornado warning in the past, we would get a thunderstorm, and that would be it.  If it came in overnight, I would listen to the pager for a bit, then once it had mostly passed, if I had not fallen back to sleep, I would silence my pager and fall back asleep.  But this particular morning it got louder and louder.  Pretty soon the house was shaking and outside was being lit up very brightly with each bolt of lightning.  Keri and I were both awake by now, so we decided it would probably be safer for us to go into the basement.  We had a family room down there, walk out basement, but safer than being upstairs. 

     This was probably one of the more frightening times of my life.  I had my pager and it was one department after another getting called out.  Thunder was loud, it was almost constant lightning, and I could hear the wind, and see trees bent over when the lightning lit up the back yard.  Of course our power went out, but the sun was almost starting to come up.  Starting to get just a tiny bit lighter.  And then dispatch toned out all departments with the simple instructions, “All Kent County departments, please report to your stations.”  I kissed my wife goodbye, and headed out.  I flipped on my flashing lights on the car, and started my short drive to the station.  Got about a quarter way to the station, there was a big tree across the road.  Went another way, and that road was blocked.  Finally found a way up around a guy’s driveway, down the other side, and then was just dodging smaller branches and trees blocking part of the road to the station.  That morning we cut trees to open the road, fought a huge garage fire, and finally got home sometime in the afternoon. 

     Camp had no power, so got out the generator, and then switching it from one building to another to try to keep our camp food cool, let the summer staff that had arrived take shower and flush toilets.  And keep the food at my house cool and let me make my coffee in the morning.

     After about 3 days I felt that life was out of control for me.  I am used to flipping a switch and having a light come on.  It is summer, it is hot, I am used to flipping on a fan.  By that point our phones had died.  This was before most people had cell phones, so even our hard wired phones that don’t require electricity to work, actually do require electricity to work.  They will work on batteries the phone company has in its switching stations, but at least at that point, those stations did not have generators, so about 48 hours after the power went out, you had no phone. 

     I guess it is human nature, we like to be in control of our lives, and have control over those things we think we should have control over.  Unfortunately, life always seems to barge in, when we don’t want or expect it.  Illness, a job loss, the loss of a relationship, even the death of a loved one. 

     There are three sets of reactions in this morning gospel reading worth noting. The first is that of the Samaritans, who recognize that Jesus “has set his face to go to Jerusalem” and will not receive him. They apparently recognize that Jesus is on a mission … and they want nothing to do with it. Or perhaps they believe that because Jesus is set on reaching Jerusalem he will have no time for them, no time to discuss or heal or whatever they may have hoped. In either case, they have expectations of Jesus that he is not meeting and when his resolution to march toward the cross upsets their plans, they reject him.

     The disciples, in turn, react to this rejection with a surprising – and frankly rather alarming – request: they want to call down fire from heaven to devour the Samaritans. Well, perhaps it’s not as surprising as we’d like to think. Jews and Samaritans did not get along with each other. Jesus’ disciples do not like to be thwarted in their plans. They were there to see that Jesus made it to Jerusalem so fire from heaven to keep them on their mission is OK with them. 

     Others also have made plans. Yes, they’ll follow Jesus, as soon as they’ve buried loved ones or made appropriate farewells. And who can blame them? These seem like reasonable requests. Yet Jesus expects them to drop all their plans and follow him. Why? Because what he is doing makes a difference. And anyone who can’t see that enough to allow their plans and hopes and dreams to be upset doesn’t have what it takes to be a disciple.

     This is upsetting to me.  When I graduated from college I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.  I had my degree in forestry, but the job market was not very good.  In fact, many of the companies looking for employees had requirements such as having at least a 3.0 GPA to apply.  Without going into my college grades, let’s just say that I didn’t quite meet that requirement.  So I will do something for a while.  When I decided to apply to seminary, I was not 100% sure what I wanted to do.  Eden seminary has traditionally been a place where people go in order to become parish ministers.  Used to be that the day after graduation you would get on a train and go to your first church, assigned to you.  When you arrived at the station in whatever town you were sent to you met a nice girl, who they expected you would get along with, and hopefully would fairly quickly marry.  3-4 years and then you could move on with your wife, and perhaps children, to your next church, and a new minister would arrive from Eden. 

     Obviously the part about being sent on a train and meeting a nice girl was no longer part of the deal, but they still expected that most of their students would go to a church upon graduating.  Their required classes were based on that assumption.  Preaching, pastoral care, and all your theology classes.  And just to be sure, your first year you were sent to a non-church setting to do ministry, and then your second and third year you were sent to a church for your field education.  Saying, in a way, that non-church ministry could be done by anyone, even a first year student within weeks of arriving, but to do real ministry, in a church, requires a lot more. 

     But I didn’t think I wanted to work in a church.  Yes, I will follow where Jesus is leading me, as long as it is either a really good church, or a non-church setting that sounded really good.  So I applied to many churches, interviewed, sent out applications and video tapes.  You see I wanted to control my destiny.   Or to put it another way: Does the grace, mercy, and love of God made incarnate in Jesus trump our plans and shape our lives, or do we shape our faith to fit the lives we’ve already planned?

     I would like to suggest that we have very little control over our lives.  As much as we try, and sometimes believe that we have complete control, the majority of our plans do not go as we planned them.  If we try to live our lives as if we plan them, and try to fit God into those plans, we are not really following Jesus. 
As tempting as it might sound, I’m not sure that the passage this morning invites the choice between us being in control or Jesus being in control. Jesus doesn’t go to Jerusalem to assume command or take charge. Rather, he goes to Jerusalem to thrust himself fully and completely into our out-of-control lives and comes out the other side.

     So perhaps that’s the promise of the Gospel – not that we can be in control, or even that God is in control, but rather that God in Jesus joins us in our out-of-controlness, holds onto us, and brings us to the other side.

     That may not always seem like all that much of a promise, but after a few days without power … or a few months on chemo … or a few years of addiction … at least it sounds real and therefore trustworthy.

     We invest a lot of time, energy, and money in being in control. And plenty of religious folks invite us to invest lots of time, energy, and money to surrender to God’s control. Yet the world is still a terribly chaotic and unsettling place. So what if the deepest calling of a Christian disciples isn’t to be in control but rather to give up the illusion, to take some risks, and to throw ourselves into this turbulent life and world God loves so much, trusting that God will join us in the adventure, hold onto us through all the ups and downs, and brings us in time to the other side?