The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - August 14, 2016
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 12:1-12:2
Sermon Title:

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     A few years ago I was working at a camp that wanted to become certified by the American Camping Association.  This is a voluntary set of standards, if you meet enough of them, plus all the mandatory ones, you can say that you are certified by this association.  If you miss too many, or any of the mandatory ones, you either do not get the certification or get it taken away if you had it. 

     This is a big deal.  Before the summers starts you get a letter in the mail, or an email from your visitor, they call those who look at your standards visitors rather than inspectors, asking for some dates that would work for you.  Then they get in touch with the other visitor, and pick a date that works for all three of you.  They tell you that they will arrive about 8:00 in the morning, and you should be done by dinner time.  Most of this accreditation has to do with planning and supervision.  If you have an archery program, what are the goals of that program, why are you doing it?  Who is running the program, are your instructors trained.  Who is supervising the instructors, do they have enough training to supervise others?  What are the rules that followed, how are evaluations done, what happens if something goes wrong?  So for an archery program, you might spend half a day developing all the written parts of it, and then some time implementing it.  Typically this is nothing that you were not doing before, you hired someone to run the program who is certified, had them inspect all the equipment and set up the archery range, then you let them teach those staff they would be working with during your staff training. 

     But that is one small area of camp.  While a group is doing archery, your pool is open, you are maybe giving swimming lessons in addition to open swimming, your waterfront is open, you are teaching kids how to sail, your arts and crafts area is open, they are doing some kind of metal work that week, with sharp edges on the metal.  All that is covered in the Program section of the standards.  You also have health care, food, transportation, trips and operations.  What do you do if the guy who mows the lawns spills some gas, and where do you store that gas when he is not filling up the mower?  And that only covers summer, what if you rent the camp to any group, do you have policies for all those groups, and how are they instructed to follow them.   And everything has to be in writing. 

     So long before the summer starts you get a little 1 inch three ring binder in the mail.  You pull all the pages out of that, and throw the binder away, get the biggest binder you can find, 4 or 5 inches, I normally picked up a second 2 or 3 inch one, since the 4 or 5 would not normally hold all the paperwork you needed.  And then you start pulling things together.  Do you have a policy for your archery program?  Do you have all the rules, qualifications of the instructors and supervisors, an example of an evaluation form the supervisor would use to evaluate an instructor, and an incident report form that would be filled out should any incidents occur?

     This was probably one of the most stressful weeks of my life.  Of course I started this early in the year, but I didn’t know who my staff were going to be yet.  I don’t want to say that my pool director is going to be a Water Safety Instructor, since I may not be able to find one, they may just have their lifeguarding certification.  And I created drafts of most of the forms before the summer started.  But the week before I still had a page of standards I had not dealt with yet.  Keri, Glenn and Collin went away.  I told my staff that they could reach me on the radio, but I only wanted to know if the camp was burning down.  And I went to work.  I would grab snacks from time to time, drank pot after pot of coffee.  I would go talk to one staff member and remind them that they needed to fill out this evaluation form on this staff member, today.  And then everything went into those binders in the proper place.  A few hours before the visitors were scheduled to arrive, I had done everything that I could.  I knew that there were 3 things we would be taking a “no” on, but they were not mandatories, and they were spread out in different sections, I was pretty sure we were going to pass.  But it was not until about midnight that night before that I felt like we would do it. 

     Have you ever been in that kind of situation?  That stress can come in many ways.  Perhaps you have sat in a hospital waiting room while a loved one is having surgery, perhaps you have followed an ambulance to the hospital.  Perhaps you were called into your boss’s office for an unscheduled evaluation, knowing that you had a few projects that were not completed yet, or that you had not met a quota for that quarter yet.  Maybe it is something more personal, perhaps you said something to someone that you probably should not have said, and you are lying in bed replaying those words in your mind over and over again, unable to fall asleep. 

     Today’s scripture has to be taken in context.  Jesus was stressed out.  This passage occurs just before Jesus heads to Jerusalem.  Jesus knows that very soon he will be nailed to a cross, baptized with fire if you will, and will endure a painful death.  So what Jesus says about families makes sense when you realize he is pretty stressed out.

     How many of us live or lived in the perfect family situation?  Two loving adults in the household, some kids, maybe 2 or 3.  The parents always get along, never a harsh word is said by either.  And the kids are angels, at every age, even as their peers are having disagreements with their parents, these kids are always home by curfew, go to bed without even having to be asked, kiss both parents before going to bed, even thanking them for the wonderful day they just had.  And are up and dressed, ready for the bus before it is time, ate a great breakfast prepared by one of the adults, or maybe one of them.  At school homework is all done ready to be turned in, and all those tests are easy, normally get every question right. 

     I admit it, not my household.  We try, and we do pretty well at discussing issues rather than using harsh words.  Getting kids to bed is never easy, and even when we have spent the day trying to do something special for the kids, rarely hear a Thank you from either of them.  Mornings, well, mornings can get a little tense.  We drop off the kids at school, or Glenn can walk if he wants, his school is pretty close to the house.  We do insist they eat breakfast, but often that is a bowl of cold cereal they poured themselves.  More than once I have pulled into the elementary school after the teachers have stopped meeting the kids outside.  This means that you have to park, or just leave your car in the fire lane, it is closer and you are not really parking, and walk your child into the office.  The secretary buzzes your child in and gives you that look.  You know that look, “And just why didn’t you get your child here on time?”  It only happens once or twice a year. 

     Jesus speaks the truth.  Our family is not perfect.  I would guess that none of our families are, or were that way.  There are days when we deal with each other, and that is about all we can hope for.  I am not going to say anything today that will upset more than one other person in our household. 

     If we are talking about family, can we extend that out to our church family?  Certainly we don’t like to admit it, but I would venture to say that each of us have people in our church family we really enjoy spending time with.  Oh, this person is going to be working at Gramma’s table, I will work with them.  Oh, this person is going to be doing something for the Holly Berry Fair, I will help them with that.  They are fun to work with.  And probably there are those who you might not enjoy working with as much.  Oh, she is working that day, perhaps something else I have to do is more important.  Last time I worked with them, I got stuck doing this or that, which I didn’t enjoy.  We certainly don’t like to talk about division in the church, but it happens. 

     When I was working in Mascoutah Illinois, my second year in seminary, the minister left about a month after I had arrived as a student intern.  The church hired an interim, and when this interim arrived, one of the first things she did was clean out a closet.  There was a lot of stuff in there, old candle holders, old offering plates.  Almost everything was either engraved or had a brass plaque on it.  Many of the names were not familiar to me, so I started to ask around.  In church on Sunday there were two families.  One sat on the right side of the church, the other on the left side of the church.  Of course there were some other members, who sat on one side of the other, but these two families were the largest in the church, and it was pretty obvious that each had their own side.  I didn’t really think much about it, growing up we always sat on one side of the church.  Even in this church, many of you sit in the same pews, or very close to the same pews every week.  But in researching the names, I found out that these two families were not two families, but one.  There was something that happened, never really found out exactly what it was, but there was something.  Half of the family moved to the other side of the church.  And it continued that way.  This riff happened, I believe, in the generation before the grandparents who still attended.  So nobody knew, or at least talked about what happened.  Unfortunately, things like do happen. 

     The other piece of context to remember about this passage is that it was written about 40 years after Jesus was crucified.  It is hard to imagine today, but in the time this was written, Christianity was not accepted as part of the society like it is today.  Today, when someone says they are going to church, nobody blinks.  Not everyone attends, but it is still accepted that many choose that.  But in the time that this was written, the idea of following Jesus did divide families.  Christianity was still in its earliest forms, but these churches that were being formed accepted everyone.  So you had Jewish and non-Jewish.  You had those that followed Jewish laws, and those that did not.  The clean and unclean.  So for many the choice to follow Jesus did not sit well with other members of your family.   

     Now Gospel is supposed to mean good news.  Jesus is speaking a truth, so where is the good news.  “You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”  OK, a little harsh, but perhaps this is pointing to the good news.  Things are not always going to be great, or even good.  There are real stresses in life, and there are real divisions, both in the church, in our families and in our society.  But Jesus knows that he is going to be killed on the cross for each of us.  His death is going to take away our sins.  And after all this strife and stress and division, perhaps there will be a peace that passes understanding. 

     I have known stress; I have known some of the stresses that many of us have experienced.  Jesus also understands stress; I am not knowingly walking toward my death.  I also know that there is division in all areas of our life, in our families, in our community, in our world.  That is the truth that Jesus speaks.  But I also know that there is a promise of something better.  We have instruction about how to help bring that Kingdom into being and it is our responsibility to work toward that.