Saturday, December 24, 2011

Jesus: God’s Persistent Invitation to the World by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    So when my 9 year old son is watching TV or playing a video game, and I need to ask him a question, I might as well be talking to a brick wall. We have had his hearing checked on a regular basis. His hearing is just fine. But when he is focused on electronics, he cannot hear me talking.

    (move lips but don’t make sound): It’s as if I am speaking but no sound is coming out of my mouth.  (REPEAT quietly): It’s as if I am speaking but no sound is coming out of my mouth. (SHOUT):IT’S AS IF I AM SPEAKING BUT NO SOUND IS COMING OUT OF MY MOUTH.  Any other parents experiencing this?

    Sometimes I will walk over to him and get between him and the TV or the video game and say, “Are you listening to me?” And then I will give him whatever message I want to convey.  Now, this can be somewhat amusing if I’m trying to say, “It’s time to empty the trash.” We can laugh that he’s just trying to get out of doing his chores.

    Sometimes it still gets old.  This happens in much more serious conversations all the time. You need to talk with your significant other, about some concerns you are having in your relationship. You are not happy. Perhaps you have a problem, for example, about the different values you have about spending money and you think it’s time to have a serious talk. Your partner just brushes you off, in much the same way a 9 year old brushes off Mom saying it’s time to do your chores. We don’t want to have the “money talk.” It’s too stressful. And it will point to other underlying values clashes in our relationship.

    And gradually, we just shut down, and stop communicating about just about everything. They just don’t deal with things.  This breakdown in communication is what happens between God and human beings every day. Did you hear me?  Can you hear me now?

    Think about it. God is our creator, our parent, our loving Mom or Dad. God wants to be right in there, in the thick of our lives. Yes God is like a nosey parent who wants to know our business. It’s because God really does know what’s best; because God made the world and everything in it. God gives us life. God give us opportunities, and God gives us free will to make choices: good ones and bad ones.
Then God watches as we do what we will do.

    And we make mistakes. We make some dooo-zies! But We do some good things with the skills and the resources God gives us too. Some incredible wonderful things that transform our world for the better.  But this is what often happens in our life cycle. We get cut off from God.

    In the days of Mary and Joseph, lots of the people had lost their way. I imagine God feeling like a frazzled Mom at the end of the worst day, when a child won’t pull his attention away from the electronics for ANYTHING – NOT EVEN his favorite dinner and a big old hug from the mama he loves. (And most 9 year old boys really do still love hugs from their mom, don’t let them tell you they don’t.) I imagine God feeling like that with a whole planet full of children.

    In the days of Mary and Joseph, I imagine God being like someone who is living in the house with a partner but they have not felt joy together in years. They are just sharing space. They are not communicating; they are not growing old together. They are just getting old. And God is living like that in a house with a billion people.

    So about 2000 plus years ago, in the time of Mary and Joseph, and King Herod, and all those folks, God said, “Enough!”  “I have got to do something.” “I love these people. These are my children. When they listen to me, I can guide them. I can help them find peace and joy. I am their Creator; I gave them life. They are so unhappy, so lost. How did this happen? How did this happen?   You have been in a relationship before and asked that.

    “When I was working through Moses and led the people into the Promised Land those were good times. My people were finally listening to me after all those years in the wilderness. I thought we were on the right track. I felt such a connection. But now look at them. Leaders have taken over that have lost their way.”  They just don’t get it.

    And so God formed a plan.  “I will start over again with them. God specializes in new starts.  I will send my own child down there – my Son. I’ll send a baby – no one can resist loving a baby! At least not until they need a diaper change, get cranky, etc.   And in time, He will show them. He will be so gentle and wise, and so radical in His love and so clear in His call for justice that they will see me – they will remember me.”   And so that is just what God did.  God sent Jesus.

    Today, we gather, and light the “Christ Candle”  to give thanks to God, for sending Jesus to our world. We give thanks that God Jesus to Mary and Joseph and to the shepherds and the Wise Men. Because God sent Jesus to those first disciples, to those fishermen who were not always that smart: Peter, James and John, to Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus, God’s message got passed through to them, and filtered down through the ages to us. From that part of the world to ours.

    Now it’s up to us. So on this Christmas, we pause and marvel at this amazing gift of God’s child, born in the midst of humanity. Can we pause, before we go open the gifts and eat too much food and watch sports, and just let this gift soak in to us?
You see this gift proves that God really wants to love us and be the guiding force in our lives. God wants to cut through the noise, and the distractions. God wants to cut through our fears and our resistance and be in relationship with us.

    Will we listen? Will we turn down whatever video games and TV’s, or other material distractions we hold onto? Will we let go of whatever bad choices we know we make that keep us from saying “yes” to God’s path for us?  You see, today, is the day.  God gives us Jesus, to change our lives.  Jesus is the only gift that matters.
All the rest is just icing on the Christmas cake.

    Will you pray with me now? And open your heart to receive God’s gift of Jesus?
God, you did your part to come to us. And now God, we are going to do our part.  We are here, ready, ready to receive your gift of Jesus.  You love made flesh in the world.  We open our hearts to receive your love in the world.

Amen.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advent: Resting in God’s Possibilities by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    A long, long, long time ago, an angel came to a young unmarried girl, who was part of a family that lived a simple life. They were not wealthy. They were not kings and queens. They were not part of the elite class. They were not special in any way.   The angel said, “You’re going to have a baby, and your baby will bring hope and salvation to the world. Are you ready Mary?”

    Mary was confused, she was stunned,  she was not married and was not doing the things that caused the usual human being to get pregnant. The angel explained that God would intervene in a miraculous way, and God would be the father of this one of a kind child. “How about that? Are you ready for that Mary?”  God is going to be the father of your baby.

    With a sense of calm and obedience well beyond her years, Mary said to the angel, “Here I am, your servant, let it be according to your word,”, what strength and trust.  Just like that great Beatles’ song says. LET IT BE.  There is such a sense of calm and peace to that song, isn’t there? LET IT BE.
When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
When the broken hearted people
Living in the world agree,
There will be an answer, let it be.

    Somehow, miraculously, Mary, knew. Mary knew in her heart, that everything would be alright. She is told that her cousin Elizabeth, who is well beyond her child bearing years, is also pregnant. Her child will grow up to be John the Baptist, the one who preaches and prepares the way for Jesus and his ministry. The angel says, such an old woman can have a baby, and Mary, can have a baby without being with a man – and here’s why, NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD.

    That’s the message of this whole story: NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD. And so, in this season, we are invited to lean into that wonderful promise.  Are you ready for that?

    Are you ready to rest in God’s possibilities? And to trust God?  Can we say to God, “Let it be”? Can we say to God to take our lives and mold them for your purposes.  Say “do something outrageous with our lives? Something we never dreamed we could do without God’s help?”

    Now, there may be something you believe God wants to do with your life individually. You may be praying, and you may hear God speaking to you about some big change God is making in your life. And if so, I encourage you to trust God, to listen to God, and to rest in God’s possibilities, and to be like Mary and put your future in God’s hands.

    But there can be more than one Christmas miracle. There can be lots of individual miracles.  As I ponder this scripture and consider the impossibilities before us, I believe God is doing something amazing with The Village right now. Right before our eyes. Right here at Christmas.

    I believe the power of God’s spirit is being born anew within us. It’s like we are a pregnant woman, just waiting to give birth.  I can give you some examples, ministry teams, a ministry plan, some new financial, unexpected support, a new band leader and new location, all signs of how we are getting ready for our ministry to be stronger, but there is something more than that.  Something intangible.   A God thing. The power of God.  The Spirit of God moving among us.

    I believe this is the question God is asking us today: will we be God’s vessels of incarnational love in the way that Mary was?  Will we be carriers of God’s love brought into the world?  You see, Mary brought Jesus into the world. Mary brought God into the world. And as she gave birth to Jesus, she brought to the world, God’s love and hope, God’s mercy and compassion.

    Now, I believe God is asking us, to give birth to Jesus in our little part of the world. WE are to bring God into the world. It’s our job now. WE are to give birth to God’s love and hope, to God’s mercy and compassion in whatever way we can right here in our little corner of the world.

    We are all God has in the world.  We are what God has to be God’s representatives We may not feel worthy. But Mary did not really feel worthy either.  She was probably about 12-13 years old, she didn’t feel ready.  And yet, in humility she stepped up to the task and said, “Here I am, let it be with me according to your word.”

    And so this is God’s question to us, as we walk through this last week of Advent, in preparation for Christmas.  I don’t care how many shopping days are left.  Here’s God’s question, Are we ready?  Are we ready to give birth to Jesus? Are we ready to represent Jesus in the world?

    Are we ready to be The Village Church in Northwest Ohio? To get out there and stretch ourselves to show God’s love through community service and to invite more people to be part of our church?  We can’t just sit at our new location and wait for God to come to us.   Jesus didn’t do that.  There are hurting people out there who need to hear the word of hope for hurting people.  We know that there are hurting people because we are them.  There are the things we need to do, in order to expand the reach of our ministry: Community service and inviting other people to try The Village. We can’t just sit here and wait for them to come to us. We have to get out there and look for them. Because they are hurting, and they need God’s healing love. You know they do.
Everyone here can be part of what seems to be impossible. We want to double our impact between Christmas and Easter. Because we know that there are more people who need a community like this. The task seems impossible. But what seems impossible for humans, is always possible with God.

    You will be hearing more about the opportunities to be part of the various ministry teams. And if you want to join one, today I invite you to take out a yellow Connection Card and just put your name on it and sign up for a Ministry Team. If you want to help with community service and outreach to new people then just write Outreach on the card and we’ll direct you to Kurt and Patrick.

    Most of all, let’s pray about the possibilities. Will you pray in this last week of Advent? Let’s try this: every time we hear a Christmas song this week, let’s invite God to use us, in the way God used Mary – to bring Jesus into the world.

    I know it’s a humbling thought. But it was humbling to Mary too. So let’s pray that God will use each one of us, through the Village Church.  I think it’s easier to think about doing it together. Every time we hear a Christmas song this week, let’s pray that God will use each one of us, together, to bring Jesus into the world, Jesus’ message love and hope, mercy and compassion. We are not Mary.  But think about how scary it was for Mary.  Let’s join Mary and offer our lives to God, “Here we are God, your servants, Let it be, according to your word.” Let’s bring Jesus’ message of love and hope, compassion and mercy into a world that desperately needs it. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

“Advent: An Invitation to Come Home” By Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

     What do you want for Christmas? Maybe you have made a Christmas list for your family, because that’s what you do. You let people know about some material “stuff” that you would enjoy having, because that’s our Christmas tradition. We buy one another “stuff” on Jesus’ birthday. It’s kind of an odd tradition if you think about it. God sends God’s own child into the world and we celebrate by buying one another lots of stuff. Occasionally we buy ourselves a little something as well.  Kind of an odd tradition if you think about it. 

       Now, at places like The Village, we try to balance all that consumerism by inviting folks to keep the gift buying manageable and to remember to buy for folks who are truly in need. So we give food and money to help people who economically poor, with our Christmas Fund for the AIDS Resource Center. This seems to be compassionate way to honor the birth of God’s own son.

       But honestly, what would you really LOVE to have for Christmas? I think if I really got to the heart of the matter with many of you – you would say something like this: peace on earth, harmony in your family or relationships, to not have to live with so much worry about whatever you worry about, when you go to bed at night, when you can’t sleep. How about that? 

     Underneath all of that, we want peace for ourselves and those we love.  We want to know everything is going to be ok. I would call that “home.” We want to be in that comfortable place, where we can be ourselves, take off our shoes, sit our comfy chair, and just be ourselves, and our mom and dad will love us.   In that best home, the idealized version of home.

       That’s what that song is about – “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” The person just wants to be home, where everything is happy and comfortable and good. They are separated from family for some reason. The song was recorded in 1943 by Bing Crosby during WWII and was very popular during WW II. It reflected the story of a young soldier who wanted to be home for Christmas, if only in his dreams.

     That image is powerful in itself is powerful enough. We are all seeing the stories all over the news of the soldiers coming home from Iraq. At least those soldiers will be home this year for Christmas.  And it makes us feel good.   But the song, and the idea of the song, is about more that. You see, at Christmas, many of us get to spend some time with our birth family, or our chosen family. We take some time off work and spend time with people we love. This is Christmas at its best.

     Now let me just pause here to acknowledge that I know Christmas is not like that for everyone. Christmas is not picture perfect for many of us. It is depressing and stressful for many of us, because we don’t have those families that we want to see. Or we feel like we have to spend time with folks that we really don’t want to see. I understand that. But we’ll have to deal with that another day. But I do want to acknowledge that.

      But here is the thing.  We can all be at home with Jesus on Christmas Day. We can choose to be home with Jesus for Christmas.  In that first Christmas scene.  Jesus had humble beginnings.  Born in a barn in the back of an inn.

      In our scripture for today, Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist is preaching to the crowds. You see, he started his preaching ministry a few months or so, before Jesus started his ministry.  John the Baptist, started baptizing people with water and telling them to repent and turn away from their sins. But he said to them, “I’m just the opening act.” “The headliner,” meaning Jesus, “is on the way.”  The one who is coming, “He is the LIGHT. He is the one you are really waiting for.”

      John was telling them, that when Jesus comes, we can find our home with him. We can find our way to God, when we know Jesus. We can find our HOME in God, when we know Jesus. So we need to get to know this Jesus. Jesus is the one.  Where you will find that sense of peace, that place you are longing for. That sense of belonging in a family. 

       So every year at Christmas time, we have this big celebration, in order to re-tell this important story, of the baby, with humble beginnings, who would grow up to love the unlovable, and speak the truth to power, and overcome death with resurrection. That’s the baby we can be at home with. That’s the baby we want to love with our Christmas celebrations.   We want to remember Jesus to remember the one who loved the unlovable like us, who would speak to power, so we can too, the one to overcome death, so we can too.  This is why it is important to celebrate it that way, every year.

      It is now 14 days until Christmas. Yes, we can view it as 14 shopping days left. We can view it as 14 days left to cram in parties, and home decorating. And some of that stuff is fun.  I like Christmas parties and lights, and giving presents.  I would invite us, however, to consider, 14 days left to be still, and ponder the gift of Jesus – Emmanuel – God present in the world – to come into our home and live with us.

       And I would challenge us to consider how we will honor Jesus’ birthday, gift from God of Jesus. We will come and worship with our church family on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Will we take time to pray that week, and open our hearts to receive Jesus anew? What does the birth of this child, your child to me, mean this year? 

       Will we give some time during Christmas week, or in the new year, to help others through some ministry of compassion – actually trusting God to change us and use us as servants?   To change ourselves through servant ministry.  Will we designate some money to help those who are even poorer than us? Because there are people in our community and our world who are poorer than us, even in Toledo, Ohio where we are pretty poor right now. And will we realize that in these acts, we are making a home with Jesus?  You see, Jesus wants to be at home in our lives. That’s why Jesus came to live on this Earth, Why God sent Jesus to live with us.

    You see, we will be home for Christmas. Our home, is with Jesus. God is sending Jesus to live with us and in us, and Jesus wants to be with us. Christmas is God’s gift to us every year – to let us receive the gift of Jesus once again. So let’s get ready. We only have two weeks left. Let’s get ready to be home for Christmas.

     Do you have your way home for Christmas?  There are lots of places to get on that journey.  If you need one, and are near Central & Monroe in Toledo, or Conant Street & the Anthony Wayne Trail this Spring, come join us at the Village.  We’re remembering an incredible gift, given to us about 2,000 years ago.  We’re gathering as a church family, where all are welcome.  Come join us, or another church family this season. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

ADVENT PROMISES by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    Back in 1997, not long after Kurt and I got married, we made a trip to Texas, my home. It was Kurt’s first trip to West Texas. His third trip West of the Mississippi River. We went to DeLeon, (don’t say it French, it’s DEE LEON) TX, population 2,433, also the smallest town Kurt says he has ever spent a night in (it’s 1/10 of the size of the prior champion in that category). He is a Big City Boy. But the trip there was the most frightening part. The flight down was not so bad. We flew from Detroit Metro to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. As I recall, that flight was uneventful. We rented a car to make the drive out Interstate 20 to my dad’s home town, where my grandparents had been living for more than seventy years. Kurt was driving and I was navigating. I grew up in West Texas. I know I-20 like an Ohioan knows the Ohio Turnpike. It all came back to me. This was my highway. I told him to slow down at Ranger hill, because it’s a speed trap. We laughed about the Dairy Queens at every exit.

    But to Kurt, this was unfamiliar territory. It was a dark, cold, rainy night. Texas was foreign soil to him. He was going to some tiny town, to meet my relatives, because my grandfather had died. He was feeling protective of his new wife and he just wanted to reach our destination. When we got to the exit for DeLeon, we turned off the Interstate and headed south, and I kid you not, the little state highway turned to dirt road. It started raining harder, and Kurt thought he had gone to the ends of the earth. “Are all the state highways in Texas dirt roads?” he asked me. It was as if he thought we were in some sort of horror movie, or gone to Hell. Remember, he’s a city boy. He had no idea where we were. He tried not to show it. But he had all these disaster scenarios playing in his head, because everything was out of his control. He was in the wilderness of small rural West Texas.

    Well of course, we got there, just fine. We got to my grandparents’ house. My aunt and uncle were there waiting for us. We had something to eat and got a warm bed to sleep in. I reminisced about all the fun summer vacations I had in that house, visiting my grandparents, and the Christmases there with family. This was the house my dad grew up in. The next day we went to the United Methodist Church where my grandmother had played the organ and my granddad was the song leader every Sunday night. I showed Kurt the pulpit where my dad preached his first sermon, and where I preached one of my first sermons. That was cool. This was home for me.

    Kurt relaxed and we had a good visit. You see, DeLeon was a home with family and with God for me. But it was wilderness for Kurt. It’s all a matter of perspective. He had never been there. He had never been there, it was far outside his familiar turf, and the road there was scary for him – literally! So he had to go there with someone he loved, and he had to have a tour of a new place, and be told, that it had good people, and that God lived there too.

    Well, this is my simple story, to help us to today’s Bible story Isaiah. You see, if you are not a Biblical scholar, then the text that was read for us today, might be pretty unfamiliar to you.  It’s poetry, written by a prophet, from another time and place. It takes some translating to make sense to us. But it’s a beautiful piece of writing and it speaks to us today, once we unpack it.

    This is the context. The people of Israel, who are God’s chosen people, have been defeated in a war. They have been taken from their country to a far off land and they are living in exile in Babylon. The prophet Isaiah is giving words of hope, because they are living in what is the wilderness to them. Listen to some of the words from Isaiah 40 again in this context:
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

3A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 6A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. 7The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

9Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
You see there is a promise that God stands forever. And that a highway will be made across that desert that will lead them out of exile in Babylon and back home to Israel.   Anyone been lost in the wilderness lately?  Anyone felt a little down, a little cut off from God’s love?  Feel like you are not going to get back on that highway back home?

    Highways were important in Israel. They are important to us now, but we take them for granted because they are usually so readily available. (Except for that night in West Texas, when by the way, the state highway turned to dirt because it was under construction.) Highways in Israel, back in the days that this text was written, were important trade routes between the East and the West. One particular road, The King’s Highway, connected modern Damascus to Cairo, and put Israel on the map for trading. It was a really important highway.

    These people wanted a highway back home.  They wanted a highway back to God, because they were feeling abandoned by God. I wanted a highway back home to my family because I had lost my grandfather.  They were lost. They had lost everything: their land, their homes, their culture, and their centers of religious practice. They thought that God had forgotten them. Many of you have told me you have felt like God has forgotten you. The prophet Isaiah comes to remind them: God has not forgotten you. God is coming back for you. God will care for you like a shepherd cares for his flock.

    We read these texts during Advent, because they point to Jesus. In fact, over in the New Testament, when John the Baptist is getting the people ready for Jesus, he quotes this passage from Isaiah 40 and he says that he, John, is preparing a way for Jesus.

     You see, scripture is full of God’s promises to God’s people. When we go through any of these wilderness times, and we will go through wilderness times, God reminds us that others have been there too. But God will make a highway, so that we can find our way back to God.

    When I went back to DeLeon, Texas, it was a sad time because my grandfather had died, but it was also a good time, because I connected with my family roots. My grandparents and their son, my father, loved God, and raised me to love God, and I am a pastor today, because of them. That little church in that tiny little town of 2,433 produced several pastors that went on to reach many more people in many more places. People like Kurt, who is a city boy and will never live in a town that small, are still touched by the legacy of the people in that little United Methodist Church. Going to that town was going to the wilderness for Kurt but it was going home to connect with God for me.
    Which kind of place are you in today? Are you in a wilderness time in your life? Are you looking for a highway to connect God to your life? Or are you feeling cozy and warm and right at home with God? We need some people who are at that place on the journey.  Or are you somewhere in between?  Wherever you are, remember that the promises of God are for you.  “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever” (Is. 40:8)

    Today, we are going to celebrate the promises of God in the lives of some more people. We are going to receive some new members into the community of The Village. We are going to baptize one. And then we are going to have the opportunity for all of us to remember our baptism. It’s a good way to take a step out of that wilderness if you are feeling you have been there, and take a step toward God. Because, you see, God is always ready to reconnect with us. That is a promise. God wants to be in relationship with us. Whether it’s a dirt road, or a super highway, God always wants to receive us. 

    We are going to be claiming one person today as God’s and we are going to give us all a chance to remember our baptisms.  If you are feeling alone in the wilderness, remember that God is there with you.  God never truly leaves us and God will be there if we need God. 

    If you need a place to remind you, that you are not alone in the wilderness, come join us at the Village.  We’re at the cross roads of Central & Monroe in Toledo on Sundays and coming Spring 2012 to the corner of the Anthony Wayne Trail and Conant Street in Maumee.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

“Advent: Be Ready!” by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    My kids think I have eyes in the back of my head. It’s a mom thing, a sixth sense. I just know when they are up to something. When they were really little, they thought they could break a household rule and not get caught. But mom always knows what is going on. Am I right? Was your mom like that? Yesterday, they were decorating a gingerbread house with their Gram. I walked in right after one had taken the frosting and squeezed a big gob of it right into their mouth. They smiled and tried to hide it from me. I knew exactly what they had done. They got that innocent look on their face, and then burst out laughing when I said, “We both know you have a mouth full of frosting, young one.” MAMA SEES EVERYTHING!

    From the time a child is crawling, we must establish this truth, because when they become teen-agers, we want this feeling ingrained in their psyches. We hope and pray it will keep them out of trouble when they are out there in the big bad world, driving, and at parties with other teen-agers being tempted by all sorts of evil things. Am I right? You see your Mama could not protect you from everything out there.  We all make mistakes, can I get an Amen?

    You see, we want our children to learn to make good choices for themselves. We want them to develop their own internal conscience for making good decisions. We help them when they are younger, but eventually they are outside our homes, and outside our influence. They are on their own. And they will have to live with the consequences. And eventually the consequences out there get really big. Am I right?

    Well, today’s scripture is about ultimate choices and ultimate consequences, BIG ONES. Today is the first Sunday in the church calendar, the church year, the first Sunday in Advent. There is a suggested plan of scripture readings for the church year called a lectionary, and every year on the first Sunday of Advent, and every year we get this really scary text, about what it will look like at what we call the “Second Coming” of Jesus.  It’s not my favourite thing to preach on. 
    Now, when Jesus was here the first time, and he talked about his return, and these conversations got recorded in the Bible, the assumption was by some people, that this “second coming” was right around the corner. That was 2000 years ago, so it seems that the folks that were listening to Jesus misheard something. Because he also said that no one will know the time or the place, (which makes all these predictions about the date of the second coming kind of silly, to me, but we won’t go there today).

    This is the gist of what Jesus was saying to his followers: always be ready to come face to face with God. This mysterious Second Coming could be at any time, but we never know when the time for the final judgment of the world will come. You never know when your own time will come. So live as a person ready to die, and face God. I think that’s pretty good advice. Always live ready to face God. (Always live as if your Mama can see what you are doing. As a mother, I like that one.  I think it would keep lots of us out of trouble. Maybe it’s not such good theology – but I think it could make the world a better place, don’t you think.

    Well, we read part of Mark’s gospel, chapter 13 for you today. Listen to some of the part that comes earlier in chapter 13:

 11"When they bring you, betrayed, into court, don't worry about what you'll say. When the time comes, say what's on your heart—the Holy Spirit will make his witness in and through you.
 12-13"It's going to be brother killing brother, father killing child, children killing parents. There's no telling who will hate you because of me.
   "Stay with it—that's what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won't be sorry; you'll be saved.

 14-18"But be ready to run for it when you see the monster of desecration set up where it should never be. You who can read, make sure you understand what I'm talking about. If you're living in Judea at the time, run for the hills; if you're working in the yard, don't go back to the house to get anything; if you're out in the field, don't go back to get your coat. Pregnant and nursing mothers will have it especially hard. Hope and pray this won't happen in the middle of winter.

 19-20"These are going to be hard days—nothing like it from the time God made the world right up to the present. And there'll be nothing like it again. If he let the days of trouble run their course, nobody would make it. But because of God's chosen people, those he personally chose, he has already intervened.

Then we get to the part Kristen read today in our worship celebration:

But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven's angels, not even the Son. Only the Father. So keep a sharp lookout, for you don't know the timetable. It's like a man who takes a trip, leaving home and putting his servants in charge, each assigned a task, and commanding the gatekeeper to stand watch. So, stay at your post, watching. You have no idea when the homeowner is returning, whether evening, midnight, cockcrow, or morning. You don't want him showing up unannounced, with you asleep on the job. I say it to you, and I'm saying it to all: Stay at your post. Keep watch."

Those last two words are why these texts are used today, as we begin this season of Advent and prepare our hearts to celebrate Christmas. “Keep watch” for God to give us the gift of Jesus.   Every year we get this amazing gift from God.

    We are in a time of watching and waiting for Jesus. No matter what anyone else tries to tell you, these next 28 days are a season of watching for Jesus. We can decorate our houses, send out cards, buy presents, cook a special meal, but we need to ask ourselves one question. Are we living in such a way, that when Jesus comes, we will bring him joy? Will our lives bring him joy?

    Yes I could put it this way: I could say, Jesus is coming to judge us. I could get all scary like and say, when Jesus comes again – is he going to judge you worthy to live with him in paradise or is he going to condemn you to hell? I could.  But here is the thing. If we have chosen hell, we are already living there. Hell is right here on earth when we choose to live apart from God.   We don’t need Jesus to tell us we’re going to hell, we’ve visited.

    Another way to put it is this: are we living our lives for Jesus now? When he gets here, would he recognize we are living that way?  Are we crafting our lives and forming our lives in a way that would give Jesus joy, with every decision we make? Are we choosing friends that build us up and encourage us to live in the ways of Jesus? Are we making choices about how we use our time and spend our money that help us live out the values of Jesus? Or are we following someone else’s way?   If Jesus were standing beside us every day, would he be filled with joy at the way we treat our neighbors, our friends, our loved ones, the strangers we meet, even our enemies? Because, here is the thing: Jesus is standing beside us every day, because he lives inside those neighbors and strangers and even our enemies.

    In four weeks we will celebrate the birth of Jesus again. In the newspaper, on the TV and on the net, they will soon start a countdown, sadly of shopping days until Christmas.  Now, I’m not totally anti-shopping, but that’s a silly way to countdown to Christmas.  I love Christmas. It is my favorite day of the year. Because we get to remember that God comes to the world just like us, a vulnerable little child, helpless and fragile.   Born of average parents, in a barn, without a home.

    For now, Jesus calls us to watch for him. Jesus calls us to take a look at our own lives and consider this: Will we be ready to have Jesus take a close look at our lives with us? And if not, it’s not too late. We can make some changes today. With God’s help, we can carefully move ourselves back into line, be ready. Will you do it? Will you ask God to show you the changes to you need to make?  And will we make them?  And will you be ready?

    Do you need a place where you can get ready for God’s greatest gift?  A tiny baby who would show us the way.  A “king” born not in a palace, but homeless in a barn, with a feed trough as a crib.  A leader who changed the world, not with military might, but with love.  If not, consider stopping by the corner of Monroe & Central in Toledo, we are here Sundays at 11 AM, and soon at the Maumee Indoor Theater (where the Anthony Wayne Trail and Conant Street).  We are getting ready for Jesus.

Monday, November 21, 2011

HELPING HANDS - FEEDING THE MASSES by Kurt Young & Bryan Simon

    If you’re like me (Kurt) and love God’s wondrous diversity and the variety God has created, this week at the Village was a feast. First, we had a group of students from Toledo Campus Ministry (TCM), from the University of Toledo providing our music, an incredible variety of music from around the globe.

     If you’ve never heard of TCM, it is an incredible, and vital, campus ministry.  Dee Baker, the Campus Minister has been voted the best campus minister in the country, and they got that one right.  Kurt has taken classes out there and enjoyed the incredible gathering of different cultures and viewpoints that make up the tapestry of that program.  Then we had Bryan Simon, a Villager and a seminary graduate waiting for his first call, preach at the Village for the first time.  Bringing yet another voice to our pulpit.  

    Bryan grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota.  When he was growing up, his home church started a Wednesday night meal for their community and beyond.  The idea was to encourage people to participate in various activities at the church and provide some food and community.  They planned for 30-50 people, but they got 90. Of course, the food ran out.  Unlike Jesus, thought,though they were unable to feed the masses with two pans of lasagne and five loves of bread.   But you know what happened?  Something amazing happened. Despite the food running out, there was fellowship and friendship, conversation and community.

    That’s what kind of kind of what what happened in our Bible story from worship today, Matthew 14: 13-21 for those of you following along on the internet.  Jesus and his followers had just learned that John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and friend, had just been executed, on a whim.  Jesus was looking to go away and mourn, but so were the masses that followed Jesus and so Jesus did what he always did, he taught. 

    Like the flash mobs of today, people flocked to where Jesus was.  No text messages, no internet, but it happened. Somehow word just got out.  And Jesus did what Jesus always did, he brought comfort and teaching to the masses.

    But, no one had food, no one had supplies, and there was no town right there, no inns. At that point, they’ve got 5,000-10,000 people to feed and no way they can do it.  Sure they were fishermen, but not with enough time to catch enough fish to feed that many.  So, the disciples wanted Jesus to dismiss the crowd.  But someone had planned ahead.  They brought two fish and five loaves of bread.

    Now it’s possible that the(delete) Jesus supernaturally caused the food to multiply.  And that would be incredible in of itself.  But it’s also possible something else happened.  People may have found things to share, things they were holding back, in case.  They may have only taken a very little when the baskets, in which the five loaves and two fish got broken up into, came around , they may have decided to be happy with nothing.  Who knows exactly how that worked, but somehow it worked.

    In their grief at the lost of John, in their fear, but in their fellowship, they got a spirit to share.  And they spread that food, and maybe others, around and took care of each other.  Truly a miracle any way you look at it.

    But we experience it here each week.  Each week we have a multitude of people who share what they have.  Every Sunday here at the Village; our worship is made possible by a cadre of helpers, people who make & run power point presentations, musicians, coffee makers, food preparers, all make our experiences better, more complete.  We jump weekly into this story.

    We pass the spiritual food of learning and feeding our soul, as we pass we nourish each other.  Faith begins the size of a mustard seed, and brothers and sisters, it is bigger now than it was five minutes ago.  That is the Sunday Miracle, that people across the country and around the world, stand up in front of other people and share with them their piece of faith.  No matter what of the above roles, others like Bryan or Cheri sharing their words. Everyone adds their part to the baskets, putting their contributions in, and together, we are feeding each other.  We’re feeding what was planned for as 50 today, but swelled closer to 80.  When we leave here, in half an hour, do we sit on our hands and keep this to ourselves.  Do we? 

    NO!  We take our nourishment and we go out and we nourish our world.  It is how we can begin to understand how 5,000+ could be fed.  We, at the Village are here, as our mission statement says to “follow Jesus and Change the World” and we believe we can.  Some of us will give money to the Village to support (not it's) its ministries, some our time and talents, some our mere presence at events.  But that is how the gifts of 100 or so dedicated followers can feed 5,000 and more.  That is how a little church in Toledo is going to expand beyond and start a service in a few months in Maumee and begin feeding Maumee and Perrysburg and beyond, and isn’t that something.          

    Just like on a Wednesday Night in September in St. Paul, Minnesota, when a church decided it needed to offer a fellowship opportunity and food to encourage (not it's) its members to participate, we have a challenge in front of us now, here at the Village. A challenge to reach out to our communities, and as a regional church we are in many communities, across Toledo, and into Michigan, in Bowling Green and Maumee, Springfield, Perrysburg and Oregon.

    Where can each of us step up.  What fish and bread do we have to offer our brothers and sisters?  If everyone adds a little to the baskets, it won’t take long before we are feeding Toledo, Maumee, Perrysburg, and anywhere else we go.  We are followers of Jesus and we CAN change the world, and that, that is where we can meet the story of the feeding of the 5,000, not necessarily with food that we magically multiply, but with teaching, learning and fellowship.   We too are sitting on the lakeshore, and we here and now, can make miracles happen, because, both today, like yesterday needs miracles and even miracles need a helping hand.   

Sunday, November 13, 2011

THE TRUTH WILL MAKE YOU FREE by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    Wednesday night, my niece’s husband, Fletcher posted five words on Facebook: “Saddest day of my life.”  I knew exactly what he was talking about because the day before he had posted his reflection on the events that were unfolding at Penn State. I read many accounts of what were going on, but Fletcher’s reflection was one of the most poignant.  He wrote:

As far back as I can remember I have been a Penn State fan like my father. Every year I could hardly wait for fall to watch Joe take a run at the national championship. This team, this coach, and what it stood for was a part of me. Work hard, have respect for yourself and others, show class and pride in what you do and who you are, don't be a show boat, and no member of the team is more important than the other are just few of the things that this team embodied and represented to me. I love football and I love this team. My heart goes out to everyone who suffered from the actions of one selfish and twisted individual. I can't imagine what they are going through and how hard this must be for them. For me....its hollow. Penn State football stood for something. Something in me and all of the PSU nation. Now that's gone and it is heartbreaking. It is just a game and the sun will rise tomorrow, and what is most important is that these boys get their justice. However, as I sit here now my pride is gone. I still love Joe. I wish he had done more, I wish he could do more. I wish this had never happened. I wish my pride was not gone.

    I don’t get all wrapped up in football the way others do.  I had to go to several of you to understand the importance of the Penn State program to football.

    When the beloved coach Joe Paterno got fired the next day, along with the President of the University, for not doing more when they were told that Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky was allegedly sexually abusing boys while he running a summer sports camp at Penn State, all while he was a coach at Penn State, the students rioted. It was mayhem on Wednesday night.

    People everywhere across the country were talking about it. We all have our opinions. Thankfully, by the next day, the students moved on to a better place and put together a prayer vigil for the victims of the abuse. For all of us, the primary energy needs to go toward prayer and compassion for the victims of the abuse.

    And of course, the children and the families originally affected by the perpetrators of violence are the ones most deeply affected by any kind of abuse. Their lives are forever marked by the experience. Far too many of you know that first hand.

    But here is the thing, when there is a cover up of an incident like this, the circle of victims, grows wider and wider and wider. Those students became a part of the circle of the victims.  The University by not acting quickly and instead acting quietly added to the circle of victims.

    Jesus said to some of his first followers, “If you continue in my word, [or my way], then you are my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” You see, I believe this means that when we walk in the way of Jesus, then we will see the truth, and we will speak the truth, even when it is inconvenient, and ugly, because the truth sets us free.  The truth sets us free from our sin.

    When Jesus made this statement to his followers, they said, “We have never been slaves. We are descendants of Abraham, we are not slaves.” Jesus said, “Everyone who commits a sin is a slave to that sin. But the Son sets you free from that sin.”

    We are all sinners. Remember I told you last week, that we are all saints, but guess what, we are all sinners too? There it is! We are all slaves to sin. But Jesus sets us free. Jesus’ way is the way of truth. When invite Jesus into our lives, Jesus comes like a big spotlight that shines a light on all our sin. We can’t hide it, it’s always there. But that’s good because it’s no good trying to hide our sin. We know we can’t hide from our sin. It’s always there, eating away at us.

    Well here is the thing. Penn State University, it appears, had a big old sin. Now Jerry Sandusky has not been convicted, so this could be a big mistake. But there are at least 40 charges, so it appears that he has a problem of being a child molester. And the University let him keep on working there. They may have made him move his sports camp off campus, but that is not protecting the child, that is just trying to protect their sports program. That is like moving a pastor who is a child molester from one parish to another. That is just plain wrong. We have learned that that is a big mistake.

    When the University officials failed to call the police and take this seriously, they allowed there to be more child victims, but they also allowed all their students to become victims of this whole cover up. They were trying to protect the reputation of their football program. We get that don’t we?  Institutions don’t like scandals to come out.  Well, that did not work out so well for them, did it?

    Because look at these students now. Coach Joe Paterno was an icon. He was a hero. He probably would have retired this year one of the most beloved men on the planet. He had been nominated for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And now he has been fired. As best we can tell, he probably did legally what he was supposed to do. He did report to the University. But when they covered it up, he apparently stood by. Because that’s what “good old boys” do in these sorts of systems. It’s been going on for eons. We protect the institution, rather than screaming the truth at the top of our lungs.  Joe Paterno is now a victim as well for not doing that.

    I think those students were rioting on Wednesday night because their hero had fallen. If you can’t trust Joe Paterno to do the right thing then who can you trust? The University could not possible fire him! The world is turning upside down if even Joe is falling from grace.  I imagine Joe is doing some soul searching this week. From what I hear, he’s a really good man. I’m sure he wants to be someone those students can look up to. He wanted to retire with grace. It’s a shame that his career had to end like this. It all happened because of another man’s sin, and an institution’s decision to cover it up and hope it would just go away, rather than face the truth and deal with the consequences.

    Well there is plenty of sin to go around at Penn State this week. However, before we stand here judging them too harshly, let’s confess that we all do it. It’s easy for us to stand here in Toledo, far away from that situation and say, we would have done it differently. It’s pretty easy for us from here.  Jesus says, we are all slaves to sin. We all participate in moral dilemmas every day, and we walk right on by. We probably can’t scold every parent we see hitting a child in the supermarket. We probably can’t challenge every one of our friends who is struggling with health issues and still smoking, or question every friend about whether or not they are practicing safe sex. No one wants to be judged all the time by someone else.   We can’t be the moral police all of the time.

    Perhaps we can start with our own lives. Jesus says that we are all slaves to our own sin. But when we walk in the way of Jesus, he will shine a big light on our lives for ourselves.  Jesus says we need to shine that light on our lives. Because we when we know his truth and that truth will set us free. For just a moment, let’s not focus on the sins of the Jerry Sandusky’s of the world, or the intuitions like Penn State and various churches and denominations. That’s too easy.

    What is the thing in your life that keeps you tied up in knots? That binds you and keeps you from walking in the truth that you belong to Jesus and that God loves you without question? Is it some habit, some negative thought? A Tape that keeps going over and over in your head, holding Something you have done that you need to let go of? Whatever it is I’m going to invite you into this ritual.

    Cross your arms like they are tied together as a slave or a prisoner with heavy rope. Clench your fists. Focus on that sin.  Dwell on it, experience it.  Then say the words of Jesus, “I am free.” And let go and open your hands. Feel the freedom in the truth that you belong to God and you are not a slave to your sin.

    Jesus says when we walk in the way of Jesus, we will be free.  God wants us to be free. Free to live the lives that God wants for us.  A full life of love and pass that love onto others.  Take a minute to really appreciate that you are bound.  But then let God set you free by accepting that truth.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Live Simply, Find Joy and Never Quit!" by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    The Scripture for our worship celebration this week starts “[t]he fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living” (Hebrews Chapters 11 & 12 from the Message translation for those following along on the net).  I love that,  “Trust in God” is the foundation that makes life worth living.

    Nov 1 was “All Saints” day: the day we honor saints, living and dead.  We remember the saints that have given us spiritual strength when we don’t have it for ourselves.

    Years ago, when I was a seminary student in Atlanta, my pastor and teacher Claiborne Jones taught me about community: we say the statements of faith for each other. We show up when we feel strong and when we feel weak, and we say that we trust in God. And when I don’t believe it, you say it for me, and when you don’t believe it I say it for you. That’s what it means to be part of the community of saints together. We are strong for each other.  One day we mumble through, without the strength to believe them.  Other days we say them with vigor and provide the energy the person sitting next to us mumbling needs.

    This scripture for today talks about that. When you get home, take out your Bible and Read Hebrews 11 and 12. We did not read all of it, but here’s some of the best of it:

 8-10By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God's call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going. By an act of faith he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents. Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise. Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations—the City designed and built by God.
  29By an act of faith, Israel walked through the Red Sea on dry ground. The Egyptians tried it and drowned.
 30By faith, the Israelites marched around the walls of Jericho for seven days, and the walls fell flat.

These were all saints, our ancestors in the faith, the pioneers who blazed the way, the veterans who never quit– who trusted God. Their strength, is our strength. Hebrews Chapter 11 goes on and on with more stories.

There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better: resurrection. Others braved abuse and whips, and, yes, chains and dungeons. We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless—the world didn't deserve them!—making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world.

Chapter 12 1-3Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit!


    On All Saints Day in the church, we remember that “great cloud of witnesses, “all those pioneers who blazed the way.  We give thanks for saints, living and dead who trusted God through the ups and downs of life and never quit. They are the ones who created communities of faith to welcome us. There would be no churches without those saints. We would not have found our way to Jesus without the saints that have gone before us, telling the story and showing the way. Today we give thanks for the saints. Pause for just a minute and picture that great cloud of witnesses in your own life – the people who have touched your life and encouraged you to trust God. By their lives, and their trust in God, they gave you hope that you could trust in God too.

    Two of my saints are up on the screen today: my mom, Betty, and our friend, Rock. I asked their permission to talk about them today. I warned them I was going to call them saints, and of course they both laughed about that. But then they each said: “Well we are all saints.” They have good theology and get it. We’re all sinners too, they get that too, but that’s another sermon for another day.

    Now I don’t think it’s hard for any of you to imagine my mom as a saint. After all she’s become the grandmother of The Village church. She goes on Facebook every day and checks in on folks. It used to be that the older caring women and men of the church would call and check up on folks, but my mom knows how to keep up with the times so she has adapted to social media quite well; remarkably for a woman of 81!  My mom knows how to check up and be the grandmother.  It’s not hard to picture her as a saint of the church.

    But Rock, well, we must admit that when you look at her, according to the standards of most churches, folks would not immediately jump to the word “saint” when describing her. Do saints have that many tattoos? But those of you who are in recovery and know that Rock has 14 years clean, and . . .well, you call her a saint for that alone, don’t you? And she will tell you that it is trust in God that gets her through every single day. All of those programs out there and groups,they work, but they too rely on trust in God.

    I am going to tell you a bit more about my mom and Rock today, because here is the thing. We admire saints because they trust God. They seem to have a deeper faith than we feel like we have. We want what they have. But remember, we are really all saints. All of us in this room, who are trying faithfully to follow Jesus and change the world, we are all called to be saints. If it makes you feel better, you can consider yourself a “Saint-in-Training”. I believe All Saints Day, in addition to being the day we give thanks for the special saints in our own life, is also a day when God calls us to step it up. You see there are other people coming along, who need US to be saints for THEM. That’s how this thing of Christian community works. We can’t just be on the receiving end of the gifts of God; we are called to give as well.  Others have given to us and now God calls us to give to others.

    So, there are many characteristics that might qualify one to be called a saint, but I have chosen 3 to talk briefly about today:

·    1.  Saints are contagious in their care for others. They are not selfish.
·    When Rock came to this church, she had not been in town long and she did not have many friends, she busy chasing two grand kids around. . .

·    My Mom  called her. . .
·  
·    Rock told us that simple phone call meant so much. . .

·    Mom notices when folks are not here, and she sends you notes on FB or gives you a call. Who has gotten one of those notes? She cares and connected Rock to the Village.  

·    Rock really cares about helping people in recovery. Because she has 14 years of sobriety and being clean from drugs, she wants to give encouragement to other addicts and alcoholics who are in recovery. She can do what I can’t do.  She can reach people I can never reach.
·  
Saints are contagious in their care for others. They are not selfish.
·    2.  Saints are hard-working for their church community:
·  
·    In her lifetime, I can’t think of a volunteer job my mom did not hold in the church. You see saints understand that a church needs leaders, and team members. She taught 5th grade Sunday school, she chaired the board, and she even cleaned the church!  She understands a church needs leaders and workers.
·  
·    Rock had only been attending here a few weeks when she asked what she could do to help. She told me she likes to fix things and keep her hands busy.  I said “Thank You Jesus, and I gave her a list, and she did it.   I began telling everyone how blessed we were to have a head of our facilities team.
·  
·    My vision for The Village all along has been that we are a church where everyone has a ministry. A few churches have enough money that they pay staff to do much of the ministry, or at least that’s what the members want them to do. Well, we don’t have that money, and to be honest, even if we did, I don’t want us to be that kind of church. I don’t think that’s what Jesus has in mind. And it’s just no fun when a few people do all the work and the rest just coast. The few get tired, and the rest, well, they don’t really feel part of the community; they feel like spectators.
·  
            Saints are contagious in their care for others.

            Saints are hard-working for their church community.

·    3.  Saints are generous:
·  
·    My mom was one of the first people who started giving money to The Village. In fact, I think she donated the first $100 at a little Christmas Eve service we had 2007 (two years before we opened here!) As soon as we set up on-line giving, my Mom started giving every month and whenever we have a special need she gives to that. She is not a wealthy woman, she lives in Social Security and her pension from being a retired social worker in Texas. But she loves this church. She loves all of you, and most of all she loves God. And so she is generous and faithful in her giving to this church.
·  
·    Rock also gives generously and faithfully to this church. She also set up on line giving to The Village every month. When I asked her why she did it she said, because she was always taught that Christians are supposed to tithe. She also knows that it costs money to run a church. I like Rock. She calls it the way she sees it. It’s not hard to look around and see that this ministry costs money. And so she gives.
·  
·    Together, these two women give at least $200 a month to the Village – EVERY MONTH.  $200 electronically that we can count on, plus whatever extra money they give to special offerings. That’s $2400 a year. And mom is retired, and Rock lives on disability.  That is generous giving.

As the pastor of this church, I am thankful for saints like Rock and Betty, who sacrifice some other pleasures they might enjoy in life, so that The Village is here for the next generation of people who need a church like this.

       Saints are contagious in their care for others.

       Saints are hard-working for their church community.

       Saints are generous.

Finally, saints never quit in any of their faithfulness. That’s what our scripture says for today. They are the ones who hold it together when everyone else falls apart. Because you see, all along, the saints have trusted in God. They have maintained the practices of contagious care, hard-work for the community and generosity. And so when the world throws tragedy to the saint, well, the saint just keeps moving forward, trusting God.
That’s why we need saints. That’s why we admire saints. That’s why we look up to saints. And that’s why some more of us need to be like the people that we call saints. Because the world needs more saints. The world needs people with a deep foundation of trust in God – who will never quit trusting in God.

So, today, let’s give thanks for the saints in your life. And ask God to give you the strength to take YOUR trust in God to be the next level. Someone in your life needs to look to you for help and hope. Someone needs you to be an example. Someone needs you to be the one who never quits. Accept the challenge on this All Saints Day. Be one of the Saints of God. Amen.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

“Live Simply, Find Joy, and Have a Plan” by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    If you’ve ever attended church for more than a few Sundays you have probably heard a message or two on the story of the Prodigal Son (it’s Luke Chapter 15 for those following along on the internet). It’s a story that makes us feel good, because it’s a story about God’s forgiving love. God is like the father in the story who always lets us come back home when we run away and do stupid things and then we want to come back and get a fresh start. God welcomes us back, and throws us a party and all is forgiven. We love this story. And it’s a great story of how much God does truly love us.  I’ve been there, how about you?  No matter what, God love us.

    But there is another message in this story that I want to us have a look at today, and that’s the story of the prodigal himself. You see, he is the wild one, the one who does not want to be tied down, he wants to be free. He does not want to be practical, and plan for the future. He does not want to settle. There is a bit of the prodigal in each one of us, myself included, at some point in our lives. We want to be free!

     Did you know, by the way, that the word prodigal does not mean someone who wanders away or is lost? Prodigal literally means “one who wastes money.”  Because, you see, that is what the story is about. In the story, the two sons are due an inheritance. They will both get some land, and that is their future stability. With that land, they can plant crops, earn money, and provide for themselves and their family. The inheritance of land is like a full time, job security, and a 401K all rolled into one! The father is going to give this land to each son. But the one son, the one we know as the Prodigal, sells his. He sells his future security. He goes to the big city, spends all his money having fun. He goes to the casino, finds beautiful women to impress, false friends, etc. And when he comes home he has nothing!

    How many young adults, and middle aged adults, find themselves in just this situation today? Filing for bankruptcy! Buried in debt because we have lived the American dream built on consumerism, credit card debt, rent to own, 90 days same as cash, second mortgages, payday loans, playing the lottery, going to the casinos, and all sort of instant gratification. Gone are the days of saving, and waiting to buy something until we have the money, setting aside money for our retirement, rather than counting on Social Security to be enough to provide for us.  The Sears Catalog not only did not take credit, it even had the Biblical warnings about borrowing.

    And now we are experiencing the worst economic meltdown of our lives. Something has gone terribly wrong. I asked you a couple of weeks to tell me if you are worried about money. Most of you said yes. You are worried about your health, and a few other things. But overwhelmingly, we are worried about how we are going to pay our bills, and what our country is going to do to get out of this economic mess.

    We need a plan. The prodigal son did not have a plan. His plan was no plan. I have heard this phrase over and over again lately: “A failure to plan, is a plan to fail.”

    Those people who are good at managing their finances will say this to those of us who are not so good at managing our finances all the time: we need a budget. We need to track our spending. Before the month begins, we need to decide how we are going to spend every dollar. You thought you were going to hear a sermon about God’s love and grace.  No, today’s is about practical things, how to have a budget. 

    THAT is how we have enough money to GIVE to change the world; and that is how we SAVE so we can be ready for the emergencies that WILL come along. We plan. We all want to have money to GIVE. We all want to have money in savings. We all want to have money for retirement and those with kids want our kids to go to college if we want. We don’t want to have credit card debt.

    Well, my friends, it’s not rocket science. I am taking Dave Ramsey’s class, it’s the one everyone raves about. I have read Adam Hamilton’s book and Mike Slaughter’s book. I have talked to a financial advisor. They all say the same thing. ARE YOU READY FOR THE BIG SECRET OF FINANCIAL PEACE & STABILITY? ARE YOU REALLY READY?  HERE IT IS: Create a budget at the beginning of the month, and then LIVE BY IT.

    You see, God loves us so much, God does not want us to live in crisis. God gives us so much. Too often, we fail to just stop and look at what we have. That’s why I asked you a couple of weeks ago to stop and take pictures of the abundant joy in your life, and to send them in to me. We are putting these up on our website, so keep sending them and looking at our website. We are so blessed and we take the most simple blessings for granted. Yes, we’ve got bad things going on.  As I look around this room I know we are dealing with lost jobs, divorce, lost relationships, physical problems.  But we are truly blessed compared to the rest of the world. And we fail to give God thanks. We forget that everything we have comes from God.

    So I have read several of these books on how to have a plan to get our finances in order, and not to worry so much about money, and they are all good. They all have something to teach us. And today I’m going to suggest a plan.  Now, All of these plans take time. 

    Dave Ramsey says that making our future into what we want, financially is not microwave work; it’s crock pot work. It takes some time.

    But we have to plan. Otherwise we’ll be like that prodigal son and we’ll just waste our money away and look back on life and wonder, where did it go.

So here are some steps to take.
·    Pray. Give thanks to God.

·    Plan to give first. Give your tithe back to God. Give money to your church, or wherever you are going to give money to do God’s work in the world. Everything we have comes from God, and when we love God, we start by giving money back to God every week. It’s that simple. If we are going to have a plan and order our lives with God, then we need to make God a priority.

·    Simplify your lifestyle. Take a look at everything in your life and see what is truly essential. What brings you joy?

·    Save next. You have to have an emergency fund. Dave Ramsey says everyone needs an emergency fund of $1000. (or $500 if your income is less than $20,000 a year). Do whatever it takes to get that emergency fund. Have a garage sale. Eat at home. Shovel snow, Mow lawns. Baby sit.  Sell something on Ebay or at a garage sale.

·    Pay off your debts (except your house). Figure out what you owe (it may not be as bad as you think).  Start with the little ones first, Dave Ramsey calls it the Debt Snowball.  Or with the highest interest rate ones first.  Either way, it WORKS.

·    At the same time: BUDGET - create a budget of your income and expenses and live by it every month. This is your plan. Those of us in the Financial Peace class are doing this right now, and we will start Nov 1. Every dollar has a name before the month starts. For those of us that have a partner we have to agree with our partner what every dollar of income will be designated toward. Some things will go toward bills that are paid automatically like the mortgage and utilities. For other things we will get cash and put it in envelopes marked: groceries, eating out, and “blow money” because we know there has to be a category for money we will just blow on stuff. But there will also be money to pay off debt and to build up emergency savings. And the credit cards will be cut up so we won’t add to the debt anymore.

·    After the debt is paid off - establish long term savings and investments for retirement, college funds and larger purchases like cars. We are learning to pay cash for our cars and not see car payments as a necessary way of life.

This is the plan.  I am not a planner by nature. I am a free spirit. But I know that in order to reach certain goals I need a plan.   The trend in the US right now, is to have no plan for financial security. According to a CNN Money study in 2007, about 50% of American had less than $25,000 in savings for retirement. So half of us are probably in that boat, with no plan.

    But, you see being a follower of Jesus has always meant that we are radical. We know that.  We are not people who go with the status quo. We are change makers.  God is inviting us to be radical today, to start over today, to set a trend. As followers of Jesus, we are invited to start a new trend, the trend of finding joy in living simply and having a plan.

    Now we have already started the Financial Peace class for this session, but if you are interested in doing another such class, let me know. Or feel free to talk to one of the folks in the class. We can find other ways to help you, if you need help with getting on a budget and getting your personal finances in order.

    But this is the bottom line. God does not want us to worry about money. Worry does not add a day to anyone’s life. God blesses each one of us with so much. We all have resources, and whatever we have, that is where we start. When we have a plan, we can live simply and find joy.   Let’s do it, let’s live with Joy. 

    If you need a place where you can find peace and joy, come join the followers of Jesus.  We are many places in this world.  If you find yourself at the corner of Monroe & Central in Toledo, or very soon in Maumee, come join us.  We’re living simply with a plan that provides for us and others and allows us to find our joy.
   
There are many resources by Christian writers on this subject, here are just a small few examples:
Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity by Adam Hamilton

Financial Peace Revisited  by Dave Ramsey

Upside Down Living in a Downside Economy by Mike Slaughter

Sunday, October 23, 2011

"Live Simply, Find Joy and Be Generous!" by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)


    Our scripture for today in our worship celebration, Acts 4:32-35 from the Message translation for those following along via the web:

33The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn't even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, "That's mine; you can't have it." They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.

 34-35And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person's need.

    According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the definition of one political system, communism, is this: “a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed.” In pure theory, this sounds like a good system.

     In practice, it never really works, because human beings, for the most part, do not seem capable of being completely fair and objective. So we do not share the resources fairly. But at our best, in smaller systems and communities, we can try.

    In my lifetime, I have not seen any evidence, that a large system, like a country, or a government can really make communal living work.  But we’re not here today to talk about politics, or how to solve the global economic meltdown, or even how to deal with the United States debt and unemployment crisis. Those are big problems that affect all of us.

    They are important.   They have to be dealt with.  Clearly our country has gone too long without finding adequate ways for the people and the leaders to work together to solve our big economic problems together.

    But just for today, we’re going to take this down to the micro level. What does communal
 living, or generous living, look like in a small community like a local church called The Village?
You see way back when this Christian movement started, back at the time of those early followers of Jesus, the ones that were there right after he was resurrected into heaven, and that big Spirit of wind and power came over them, this is what church looked like, let me read it to you again:

33The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn't even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, "That's mine; you can't have it." They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.
 34-35And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person's need.

    You see, they trusted one another to do those things: to share, according to their need. I like to think they did not have any quarrels about it. Maybe they did – but at their best, I hope they did not. At least this is the VISION of God’s community: PEOPLE ARE GENEROUS AND THEY SHARE, according to their means and according to their need.
Sounds like a little bit of heaven on Earth, doesn’t it?   Now if we could just count on everyone to do their share of the work, and if we could believe that everyone would be taken care of in a fair and just way, wouldn’t that be heaven?

    Well, you can call me na├»ve if you want, but I say, we can decide to live that way. Let’s choose to live simply, find joy, and BE GENEROUS.  It’s a vision, it’s not practical. 
Everyone giving, everyone receiving according to our needs, everyone cared for.

    Here’s how we do it. In this community, here at the Village, in the context of Toledo, Ohio, with this horrible unemployment rate, and rotten economy, we just take some baby steps to live into God’s vision.   Let’s just do it anyway.

    Let’s just live simply, find joy, and BE GENEROUS.  I’m going to show you how we are already doing it. Some of you know we have a fund here called the Good Samaritan Fund. Let’s call it Good Sam, for short. It’s named after the person in the Bible who helped a stranger. The Samaritans were not the heroes of the time of Jesus.  In fact, think of a group you look down on.  We are all guilty of having someone we don’t like.  Imagine them doing wonderful things for a person in need. (who was, by the way, an enemy).

    We use our fund to help our friends here at The Village.  I’m going to ask our friend, Sam (not her real name), to come up here and she and I are going to share a bit of her story with you. 

    She is a medical transcriptionist with fibormyalgia, along with major depression, and other help problems. I am applying for disability, but it’s a long, drawn out process. I can not make enough money to pay my bills.  I’ve moved several times to try to get cheaper housing, etc.

    When the Village first opened up, I found it through the newspaper article about the Village.  I checked it out on Facebook and other places and finally came.  And I love the Village.  I found community there.  If I had not come to the Village, I would be more depressed, and maybe homeless. 

    For over five minutes, people in the congregation shared about how Sam has affected their lives, made their lives, etc.  How their lives are enriched by Sam and how having Sam makes them better people.

    This is what it means to BE church, to be community.  This is the lesson I have learned from Sam, she finds joy in giving.  She doesn’t have money, but she has time and love to give. 

    You see, we live in a world, where there is a great deal of focus on what we do not have. We talked about this last week. We focus on scarcity. Everyone out there will tell us what we don’t have and what we need in order to be beautiful and successful and popular.

    But the call to the early Christian community turns that upside down. It says, this is the way to follow Jesus – give up what you have – be generous – in sharing – and you will find joy!

    Help others – look for someone in need, and see if you have within your resources, something you can share with them. See if by living more simply, that you can supply the simple needs of someone else. In this act of self sacrifice – you will find joy.

    There are folks in this church who have given to our Good Samaritan Fund over the past year. I know Kurt and I probably gave up going out to eat so that we could give to that fund. That was not a big sacrifice for us. Another person might have given up buying some new clothes, so they could give to the fund. Maybe someone car-pooled to work to save money, and gave that money to help someone get their car fixed and get to work, or find a job. Maybe someone had a garage sale and used that money to help a single parent buy diapers.

    And if we don’t have money, we have time and other gifts.  You have other resources, then be generous with your time, to help those who could use some help right now. One of the things we could use help with at The Village right now is help with cleaning our building, and trimming the grass around the edges of the parking lot. We can’t afford to hire a custodian or a maintenance crew so we have to rely on ourselves to do this. Kristen and I cleaned the church yesterday. Kristen and Rock clean the church most of the time, but Rock is having some health issues. I didn’t mind taking a turn, but if you would like to help, we can use some more folks on the facilities team. There are many ways to be generous with your time and your resources, in order to be part of this community.

    It’s tough out there right now.  I don’t know how to fix the trillions of dollar debt that the US government has. Somebody needs to figure it out. A group of people smarter than me needs to be working hard on that problem.  I’m not seeing a lot of evidence of this happening, but it took a long time to get into this mess and it’s going to take a long time to get out of this mess.

    But I do know this. I do know what it means to follow Jesus and live in community. I see it right here, every week with all of you. We can take the baby steps we need to take, to care for one another.

    And we will get through this economic downturn, together, one day at a time. The early Christians gave us the instructions for how to do it. So I hope you will think about how you can share what you have to help others around here.  It is so easy to get overwhelmed by the big problems we are facing

    So you see, we can become overwhelmed by the big problems in the world. Or we can focus on the smaller picture for now. We can look to this community and what we are to one another. We can find our joy. We can create our joy. I think we can do it. And I think it will make all the difference. Let’s live by these words: live simply, find joy, and be Generous.

    If you need a community like this, where you can share your gifts, look hard, they are out there.  We’re at the corner of Monroe & Central in Toledo and soon in Maumee.  Come join a fellowship of believers getting each other through a dark time and waiting for that day we can dance into the light of God. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

LIVE SIMPLY, FIND JOY by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

Are you someone who doesn’t worry?  Then I want to study at your feet.  You are more centered than I am.  Right now, one of the biggest sources of worry for most people is money and debt. We all have issues we need to address money, debt and finances.  But, we spent time during worship writing down what we are worried about when it comes to money.

Some of us at the Village have started a class called Financial Peace University.  Author and financial advisor Dave Ramsey’s advice in this class is pretty simple and common sense.  Put $1,000 in an emergency fund right away.  If you make less than $20,000 per year, then $500 will do. Next, pay off all your debts.   Then 3-6 months of expenses in savings.   The more advanced stuff comes after you get these in order.  We are still working on step one and a half.

Now I know there are some folks in this room who have been out of work for quite a while, and there are others who are disabled and living on Social security. There are others who, especially in this economy, are what we call, “under employed.” You are not making as much money as you were few years ago. So saving money seems really hard, really hard.

Many of us wish we had started saving a long time ago, when things were different in our lives, or when the economy was different. But here’s the thing,  it is what it is.   His point is this: We’ll feel more secure when we have some money in an emergency savings fund. I don’t think anyone would argue with that.
And unless we are homeless, and destitute, we can all save something. In the class we are learning some tips and we are supporting one another as how to do it. Because you just have to start where you are, even if we are in the worst economy since the Great Depression.   But here is the thing. Some money in savings will give us some sense of material security, and it will help us have less stress when those absolutely predictable life emergencies come along. Because they WILL come. Your car will break down, your house or apartment will cost you something for repairs or replacements.

But I think even Dave Ramsey, who is a Christian, would agree with me, that ultimately, you can’t serve God and wealth. At least that’s what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount.   “You can’t serve God and wealth. No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.”  Mt 6:24

Now, of course, we need money in order to function in this world. But it’s a matter of where our first loyalty is. Where do we put our trust?  In God, or in wealth?  Wealth is just a tool. It is something we use while we are living here on this earth. That is all it is. And so we need to be good stewards of the resources that God gives us. We need to manage our money instead of letting it manage us.
In fact, when we take control of our money, we have more of it to give away, to make the world a better place for others. Wouldn’t you just love to be able to write a big check every month to support the causes that you believe in? Wouldn’t that make you feel great?

I don’t think God does allows us to have jobs and other sources of income and resources, and then watches with pleasure when we worry about money and live paycheck to paycheck. I don’t think that’s what God has in mind.  Seventy percent of us live paycheck to check. I don’t think that’s what God wants for us.

So, let’s look at what Jesus said: “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Mt 6:25-26)

Jesus tells us not to worry.  Well I wish Jesus would come to Toledo, OH in 2011 because our economy is in bad shape. I heard this week that we are in the top 10, or maybe I should say, the bottom 10 cities in the country, in terms of how hard we have been hit by this economic recession.  And Jesus says: Don’t worry. You are of value to God, and God will provide for your needs. Really?  Does it feel like that?  Really?

Don’t worry, Jesus says, God will provide.  It’s really a matter of which world view we are going to adopt.  One world view centers on the attitude of scarcity. There is never enough. So we need more. Just watch the ads on TV for one hour and they will tell you. You are not good enough, beautiful enough, happy enough, popular enough, but if you will just buy these products, THEN things will be better.

It’s a marketing plan based on scarcity. You don’t have what you need but we will sell it to you. Of course, the problem is, there is no end to our scarcity and need, so they continue to create more products that we need to buy. And so we live with a feeling of emptiness, and fear and scarcity.
The fear comes because we spend more than we have, and we run ourselves in debt, and then a real need comes along, like a health crisis in our family, or necessary maintenance on our homes, or sending the kids to college. (It comes to us as a surprise, even though we have 18 years to prepare for it!) And the worries just pile up.

This world view of scarcity is strong in our culture and we buy into it.  But there is another world view, one that Jesus invites us into, and that is the idea of abundance. Jesus says33”But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:33-34 in the New Revised Standard Version for those reading along on the web)


We have enough! Focus on loving God, and TRUSTING God. You see, God’s love is infinite. There is always enough of God. Jesus invites us into a relationship with God; that will sustain us and fill us in the ways that wealth building will never do.

You see, when Jesus was here on the earth, the powers of the world, were focused on scarcity and fear. They wanted to keep the people down. When people are afraid and think there is not enough, then they will do what the political forces tell them to do. But Jesus gave a message of abundance which is a message of freedom, there is freedom. When we trust God we have courage, and we don’t worry about not having enough. We know God will see us through any economic downturn.

Jesus showed the human forces of his day, that their ways were not the most powerful. Because you see, they killed him. But God resurrected him. David Lose writes that “when you think about it [the resurrection], is the ultimate act of abundance: creating something, once again, out of nothing, drawing light from darkness, giving life to the dead.” (Source:http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=458)

I don’t know about you, but I could use some of that resurrection power right now. I could use some light in the darkness. We could use some life to this dead economy in Toledo, Ohio, right now. We can use some hope right here, right now.  We need some joy, Jesus.

Friends, we can choose abundance. We can choose to trust God. We can choose to believe we have enough, and make it enough. We can choose to live more simply, we can save money rather than spend so much. We can choose to live with courage rather than fear. We can choose all these things, when we center our lives on and in God.
So I have an idea, an invitation, a challenge. Let’s look for abundance, and take some pictures. Where do you find joy in this life God has given you? Are there some ways that you are living more simply, by choice or by necessity, and are you seeing abundance in living more simply? Kurt and I like to go to dinner and a movie for date night and last week we replaced the movie with a walk. We got some well-needed exercise, we got to TALK, and we saw the beauty of God’s creation. It was lovely.

Where do you find yourself experiencing joy and see others trusting God? Where do you see abundant living rather than scarcity? Over the next couple of weeks, would you snap a picture of something that brings you joy? And e mail those pics to me? We’d like to put them on a page on our web site so we can all see them. It will be on a page called “Live Simply, Find Joy.” We need some pictures that remind us that we are a people who trust God, live simply and find joy.


This will be our reminder to live simply, to experience joy and not give into this lousy economy, this miserable situation.  We need to live out of joy and trust, rather than scarcity.  Let’s share those moments with each other.  Let’s live simply and trust God and find our joy. Come join us at the corner of Monroe & Central (or soon in Maumee) as we share our joy and shed our fear and doubt and scarcity.