The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - July 9, 2017
Scripture Reading: Romans 7:13-25 
Sermon Title:  Laws, Laws, Laws

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     Paul was facing a similar struggle as I have been the past two weeks.  Let me back up for a minute. Paul was a Jew who lived about the same time as Jesus.  Jesus was killed, but early Christians were still talking about him.  There was something special about this guy.  And the Jewish authorities didnít like this, it was threatening their power.  So Paul, in an effort to help keep the power with the temple, with the Jewish, persecuted Christians.  This probably meant that he was one that would have Christians arrested. 

     This letter was written to the church or churches in Rome.  Paul had become a Christian at this point, an early church leader and the authority, or at least one of the authorities about how to be a Christian.  Now if you want to be Jewish at that time, probably your parents were Jewish, and you knew the laws.  Go back and look thorough the first 5 books of the Bible, they are all in there.  Now life was quite a bit different when those books were written, shortly after Jesus lived, and today.  The laws are still there, but they have been interpreted into todayís world.  No temple today, so even an Orthodox Jew does not have to go and sacrifice an animal at the temple when a child is born.  But for Orthodox Jews, those that follow the law as best as they are able today, they have at least two sets of pots and pans, because you cannot cook meat and dairy in the same pots.  You have different dishes for the same reason.  If you happen to be a rich Orthodox Jew, you probably just have two separate kitchens, easier that way.  You do not work on the sabbath, Saturday.  Flipping a light switch is work, striking a match is work, pushing a button is work, but some work is permitted, just as opening a door and some things necessary for survival that cannot wait until the next day.  You have the first 5 books of the Bible and then you have interpretations on those Jewish laws.  And if you have a question you ask the Pharisees, or today you would probably ask your Rabbi in your local synagogue or Google it. 

     There are rules for everything you are likely to encounter.  I donít want to suggest that the actual following of the rules is easy.  Probably even remembering them is difficult, but they are clear. At Cub Scout camp two weeks ago we had rules.  Sunday night, just before I arrived, they had a camp tour.  Every area had rules.  They went over the BB gun range rules, the Archery range rules, rules for the sports fields.  Then that night they went over rules for the whole camp, followed by going to the waterfront for waterfront rules.  And each time we went to any area, before the activity started, they had a quick review of the rules for that area before that activity started.  And they were all good rules, all safety based.  Listen to instructions, donít run, and have fun.  We also clarified rules as the week went on.  The first morning we woke up to children playing tag about 5:15 in the morning.  OK, rule clarification, or maybe addition, you donít leave your tent until you hear reveille. At 6:30.

     Paul knew the Jewish rules, and had followed them, perhaps even was still following them.  You see, Jewish rules were there so that you could remain close to God.  I define sin as anything that separates us from the love of God.  As a Christian, we donít have books of laws that we must follow to remain close to God, but we believe that we are able to judge decisions when they arise.  Is murder sin?  Of course it is, how can we remain close to God when we are hurting another of Godís children?  But it starts to get gray when that murder is for protection. 

     Paul also realized that we might know what is right, but it is harder to do what is right then to know what is right.  I know that I should be giving away 10% of my income, but that is hard to do.  I like to be caught up on my bills, I like to splurge sometimes and spend money on things like going out to dinner.  I know what is right, but to actually do it is difficult.  You can use any example you want in your own life, there is something that you know is not what you should be doing or should be doing, but do the opposite.  We are all sinners, all do things which separate us from the love of God.

     Last week I went to General Synod of the United Church of Christ in Baltimore, Maryland.  I have to admit that when I was nominated as an alternate delegate, the normal, I was told, is that you are an alternate the first year, donít attend, and then two years later you get moved up to a delegate and get to attend.  In 2019, two years from now, the next General Synod is in Wisconsin.  I have not spent much time in Wisconsin, but picture cows and cheese.  Baltimore, I picture a city with extremely high murder rates.  I like cows.  I like cheese.  I think Wisconsin would be lovely to visit.  Baltimore was someplace I had never really even considered visiting for pleasure.

     General Synod, in our UCC, is the place where decisions are made.  Quick information about the UCC, the structure is upside down.  The top of the structure is the local congregation, you.  You elect people to represent you on different committees and boards to the New Hampshire Conference.  The New Hampshire Conference elects people to represent them on the national setting through boards, committees, and as delegates to the General Synod.  Glenn and I ended up both nominated as delegates. 

     As a delegate, you get assigned a resolution to work on.  A resolution comes from a congregation, to a conference, then to General Synod, or the UCC board who does the work of the general synod when it is not in session.  But these resolutions do not really have any teeth.  If a congregation says ďWe do not agree with the resolution, we are not going to follow itĒ they are not going to get kicked out of the UCC or anything like that.  But since they have come up from local congregations, through conferences, to the General Synod, then modified and edited, and voted on by delegates, if they pass they are normally pretty good guides for local congregations. 

     Now at the actual Synod there are rules.  All the plenary sessions follow Robertís Rules of Order, or as I like to joke My Rules of Order.  Some votes need a majority, some need a 2/3 vote, and there is not one, but two parliamentarians to make sure everything is done right.  One of them was a judge, so this was serious stuff.  But when it gets to the moment of an important vote, you are following what you feel is best.  Some of the resolutions passed by huge margins.  There was an emergency resolution on climate change, means that it was just introduced a few months before Synod.  One of the guests said that his village was going to be underwater soon.  When you ask yourself about what sin is, the answer I must vote is clear.  I cannot continue my ways of overconsumption and not care about that manís village.  If I truly love my neighbor the answer is clear and it passed with 97 or 98% of the vote.

     But then there were resolutions we thought would be easier, but turned out not to be.  One of the resolutions had to do with aid in dying.  This resolution called for adults, who could make decisions for themselves, had been diagnosed with a terminal illness with less than 6 months to live, be supported in their decision, if they wanted, to end their life.   Certainly, if I were in that situation, I would want to be allowed and supported in that decision.  And if a member of a congregation, a family member, or even a friend came to me with that issue, I would want to offer support.  Yet, I voted against it.  One delegate got up, and in less than his 60 seconds said insurance companies exist to make money.  Hospitals, even nonprofit hospitals have to pay their bills.  A single shot or cup of something to drink is a lot less expensive than a $100,000 treatment that may extend their life for a time.  Insurance companies already tell us what prescriptions we can get, what tests we can have done, what operations they will cover.  From a strictly financial picture, the cost savings of assisting someone with dying are very appealing. 

     The Jews of Jesusí time didnít have it easy, but they had clear rules.  The United Church of Christ has spent the last few years working on their goals and vision, and came up with a new vision.  It is the 3 Great Loves, Love of Children, Love of Neighbor and Love of the Environment.  And we were asked to keep those in our minds in all that we did this week.  Is supporting the boycott of Wendyís appropriate?  They have chosen not to pay 1 cent more a pound of the tomatoes they use, which would support those in Florida who pick those tomatoes.  Would 1 cent a pound really help? Apparently it would.  Using the Love of Neighbor, it is appropriate.  Supporting a $15 an hour minimum wage, Love of Neighbor and Love of Children, it fits. 

     I wanted to end with the thoughts of Rev. William Barber.  Dr. Barber is a minister in the Disciples of Christ, which has been, and continues to be in dialog with the United Church of Christ.  Still two denominations, but our beliefs are very similar, and we have been able to combine a lot of our national missionsí work.  Dr. Barber gave a workshop that I went to.  He sees many of the problems of today as a moral failure.  He laid out a moral agenda which included the right for every citizen to have a voice and one vote in elections.  It included that everyone in this country should have access to clean, safe water, those in Flint Michigan and those in every other city and town.  Everyone should have access to health care.  Not insurance for sick care, but making sure children get vaccinations, preventive care, health care.  He said that this agenda was not Hillary or Bernieís platform, it was not Trumpís platform, it was not Republican or Democrat, it was not conservative or liberal, it was not left or right.  It was a human moral agenda.  Is the moral choice a tax cut or giving children water that is safe to drink?  Is the moral choice taking away peopleís right to vote, or is it really seeing if or where there may be problems and addressing those. 

     Sometimes I believe it would be easier to live in Jesus time as a Jew.  You could avoid a lot of those issues because of the rules you followed.  You didnít need to deal with Samaritans, those who were unclean because the Jewish laws were very clear about who you talk to and touch.  They were very clear what you could do when and how it should be done.  Paul was struggling with how to follow God, how to be close to God when those laws were not in place anymore, and the struggle he had between what he wished to do and what he did.  And today, we are called to follow the great 3 loves, love of children, love of neighbor and love of environment.  We are challenged by Dr. Barber to look beyond our political divisions and ask what the moral answer is to todayís problems.  The rules are not clearly written anymore, but it is up to us to choose between sin or a closer relationship with God.