The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire



Sermon - July 8, 2018
Scripture Reading: Mark 6:1-13   
Sermon Title: “Who will hear?”

The Rev. Robert Vodra


     It is hard to go home.  No doubt many of you have experienced this. You go off to college, or the military, or a job, and after a few weeks or months or longer, you come home.  Of course in your own mind you have changed, you are an adult.  You have been managing your own affairs, eating, sleeping, doing your work, but when you get home you suddenly feel like a little kid again. 

     And for me, it didn’t get any better when I went to church.  In the United Church of Christ, when you are thinking about seminary, or in seminary, you are supposed to be “in care” of an Association.  In order for that to happen, you must be a member of a church within that Association.  When I started to consider going to seminary, I talked to my minister, and got in touch with the Association and went in care.  And then through your seminary, you meet with your in care advisor, and your minister.  When I was home on a Sunday, I attended church.  I was often asked to read, or pray, or do something in worship, but I was never the future “Reverend Robert Vodra.” I was always Larry and Nancy’s son.

     And truth be told, this has not changed.  Last October I went down to Connecticut, on the weekend this church had their church fair.  This is a big deal for them.  Picture Spring Fling, Holly Berry fair and rummage sale all rolled into one day.  They have every classroom in the church filled with plants, gift items, quilts, knitted items, baskets they raffle off, a few different places to get food, an old parsonage filled with just clothing, a cottage filled with antiques, and a whole barn filled with everything else, spilling out onto the lawns around.  Add in games for kids, even a magic show, and you have this church fair.  As Keri and I walked around with Glenn and Collin, I saw several people who were members there 30 years ago when I left for college.   While I did visit through college and seminary, in the past 20 years I have only been able to visit once or twice on a Sunday.  So I got several longer stares, “You look familiar, do I know you?”  I said, yes, probably, my name is Robert Vodra.  That was always followed with “Oh, Larry and Nancy’s son.”

     While I am certainly no prophet, it is not that far from what Jesus probably felt.  Hey, aren’t you that carpenter, Mary’s son?  Mark lists Jesus’s  brothers and sisters, but leaves out Joseph as Jesus’s biological father. 

     And Jesus could not do anything there.  Well he did cure some people, but aside from those little acts, he could do nothing.  Why this reaction?  One idea is that in Jesus’s time there was a culture of shame and honor.  Honor was something limited, so if you were to honor someone else, it would take away some of your honor.  That is still true today.  Why do bullies act in the way they do?  They put down someone else, which increases their status.  We all have a desire to be “better” than someone else.

     Another idea is that the crowds knew Jesus, knew his mother, knew his family, and how could this boy turn into anything.  This was the boy who someone found napping under a tree when he should have been working, or maybe the one who threw the rock that damaged someone’s house.  Jesus was a young boy at some point, and probably did some of the same things that boys do today.

     There is something about this scene that makes me uncomfortable.  When Jesus is considered a man, this all makes sense, but if Jesus really is God, then these human things should not take away his power, his authority.   Mark suggests that Jesus’s reception affects his ability to do his work. 

     The problem is that we believe that God does not need us.  God did not need us when God created all this around us.  My faith, or lack of faith, really does not matter when it comes to God accomplishing God’s purposes. 

     This is the central idea of “justification by grace.”  It is all up to God, it is only up to God.  It is only by grace that we are justified, saved, forgiven.  It is not our work, it is grace.  And our faith is a reaction to that grace and trust in what God has already done, and will do. 

     While I believe that it is true that it is all up to God, maybe Mark is inviting us to consider our role in the bringing about of God’s kingdom.  This is a tricky thing.  I believe that God will bring about God’s kingdom with our actions or in spite of our actions.  We have the choice to either see “This is the way I can experience and make known God’s work” or choose not to see.  And in the end, we are justified by grace. 

     You are here because you know that being part of that community that does good work isn’t about being in search of grace but because of grace. 

     A few months ago a fellow firefighter and I were chatting.  He worked for the town department of public works, so great benefits, horrible pay.  He works hard, mows grass, plows snow, picks up trash, but after rent and utilities there was little left over.  His girlfriend got sick, went to the doctor and got a prescription.  Even though they were living together, since they are not married, she didn’t have health insurance through his work, she didn’t get insurance through her work.  Her paycheck went to food and auto insurance and other bills.  They didn’t have $25 to get the prescription filled.  He was not asking for money, just sharing with me, but I pulled out my wallet, only had $20 in there, so I gave him the money.  He thanked me - “I get paid next Friday, I will pay you back.”  No, don’t worry about it, this is a gift not a loan. 

     I think that was a good deed, but will not lead to my salvation.  I have been blessed, I had $20 in my wallet I did not need.  Knowing that I have been blessed, I was able to share that with him.

     If Mark is inviting us to consider what we might be invited to participate in, what is it that you already do?  Sometimes you do big things.  You may help with the food pantry, or Gramma’s Table, teach Sunday school, or help with another program through the church.  Maybe you do things outside of the church, Habitat for Humanity, or 101 Nights Program in Keene.  Many of you do less visible, but equally important work.  You make a pledge to the church and put money in the offering plate.  I heard a rumor that there was a small group here last Wednesday, the 4th of July, who vacuumed and polished and did some of the extra deep cleaning that needs to be done from time to time in any building.  Not because our custodian cannot do this, but because they love their church and want to make it shine.  Many of you showed up two Sundays ago, I got to see pictures of all the hard work that was being done as part of our worship.  None of these things will lead to your salvation, but hopefully you are doing these things out of gratitude.  And each one helps, in some small way, to help God bring about God’s kingdom.

     But there are also things we do that do not help bring about God’s kingdom.  Often, at least in my case, this is not intentional, but inaction.  And sometimes this action, or lack of action, is caused by fear, or grudges, or regret, or hurt or anger.

     I want to take a few minutes this morning in silent prayer, to contemplate those places we feel we may be resisting God's activity in our lives. Is there some area -- some regret we can't get over, some grudge we can't let go, some hurt that has come to define us, some addiction that imprisons us, some anger that has taken hold of us, some fear we have -- that we are having difficulty entrusting to God? Similarly, is there some opportunity we feel God might be inviting us to or some challenge God may be setting for us that we find difficult to embrace or entertain.

** Time for prayer **

     I want to end this morning reminding us that it is not through these actions or deeds that we find salvation. Our God loves us just as we are.  We are justified by Grace.  But these actions and deeds are about the character of our Christian life, they are a response to the grace we have already received.

It mattered how Jesus was received, and while God can do anything without us, it is never a bad idea to consider how we can show others about the wonderful things God can do with and through us.