Sunday, August 25, 2013

PAY ATTENTION by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)



This week what could have been another Sandy Hook school shooting massacre was averted, because of the calm presence of one woman, an office worker at the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy just outside Atlanta. Her name is Antoinette Tuff. Yes she is “tough” but she is also cool as a cucumber. She knew that once the young man walked into her office carrying at AK-47 type weapon that she had to keep him in there. If he walked out she knew he was going to kill. He told her so. He said, “I came here today to kill. I’m going to die today.” He said he wanted to die, he had nothing to live for. 

But somehow, Antoinette Tuff had the presence of mind to keep talking to the man.  If you go on to YouTube you can listen to the entire 24 minute 911 call with Antoinette on the phone talking to the dispatcher and relaying her conversation with the gunman, Michael Hill. 

As I listened to the call, she reminded me of an excellent school secretary who deals with children and the stress of a busy elementary school every day. Of course, this was no ordinary day. This was life and death. There was a man standing in her office with an automatic weapon. He had already run outside and fired shots at the police, and then come back inside.  She just kept talking to him: treating him like a human being. 

Do you remember last week’s message? The story of the Samaritan and the man on the side of the road? The story about being a neighbor? Jesus said treat everyone like a neighbor even the man hold an AK-47, as a neighbor. 

Because you see, Michael Hill told Antoinette Tuff, “I should have gone to the mental hospital today. I should not have come here.”  That is when she knew, there was hope. 

I have a hunch that is when this woman, who admitted later that even though she seemed calm, she was terrified. I think that is when she knew if she just kept talking and listening, that maybe she could help bring about a peaceful end to this situation.

Because you see, she was paying attention to this man as a child of God.   She treated him as a human being.   I don’t know if I could have done it.

Everything turned in that moment. He said he wanted to turn himself in and she started working with dispatcher on a plan for him to turn himself in. She even offered to walk out with him so he wouldn’t get shot. 

She told him she knows what it’s like to go through hard times. She said "We're not going to hate you," she told him, saying, "we all go through things in life."

She said she had tried to commit suicide the year before when her husband left but that she got through. She said, “But look at me now I’m working and I am okay.” 

She told ABC's Diane Sawyer that much of her conversation focused not only on trying to understand the gunman, but also on trying to get the gunman to relate to her.  At one point, as he is about to give himself up, she says to him: "It's going to be all right, sweetie, I just want you to know I love you, though, OK? And I'm proud of you. That's a good thing that you're just giving up and don't worry about it. We all go through something in life."

Now, every situation is different. This man said he did not take his meds that day. She was able to talk to him, calmly and help him make a choice not to kill any children, teachers, or police offices. Shots were fired at the police, but thankfully no one died. 

Antoinette had the presence of mind to talk to him. And she listened. She said later: "I give it all to God, I'm not the hero. I was terrified." But Antoinette paid attention to the man because she has paid attention to God all her life. Her life with God is what made her ready to deal with Michael Hill in that school office this week. 

I want to take you back now 2000 years to another story. The scene is Bethany, a village on the East side of Jerusalem in what is today known as part of the West Bank, pretty rough place. Jesus has traveled to there to visit his friends, perhaps to get away from the heart of the city. This is during a time when Jesus is traveling from village to village, telling stories, healing the sick and sharing the good news. Sometimes, as with last week’s story, religious leaders are asking questions and trying to trip him up. “What do I need to do to get eternal life?” 

“Love God and your neighbor,” Jesus says. “And who is my neighbor?” the man says. Jesus tells the story of the Samaritan, the “outsider” who shows compassion, as a way of teaching that his followers will treat EVERYONE as a neighbor. 

So, Jesus goes to visit his friends Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42 from The Message for those following along from afar) who are the sisters of Lazarus. So the story goes, there is quite a contrast in the way the two sisters relate to Jesus in his brief visit in their home. Both welcome him.

But Martha is distracted by working in the kitchen to prepare a nice meal. Mary, sits at the feet of her teacher and “hangs on every word he says.” A bit of sibling rivalry kicks in. (Never heard of that!) Martha calls upon Jesus to scold her sister: “Master, can’t you tell Mary to help me in the kitchen. She has left me to do all the work!”

Jesus looks at Martha and says: “Chill! Relax!!!! You are stressing out about unimportant stuff. It doesn’t matter what we eat. Mary has chosen to pay attention to the main course. This moment will never be taken from her.”

You see Mary had what we call a kairos moment – a moment in time that was an event; a moment when God breaks into our lives. The Celtics call these moments “thin places.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/travel/thin-places-where-we-are-jolted-out-of-old-ways-of-seeing-the-world.html?pagewanted=all&_r=2&). Thin places are those times and places where heaven and earth meet. 

That is a kairos moment, when in an instant, you stop dead in your tracks because God gets your attention. Perhaps you see a person show great compassion. Perhaps you a grieving and you know your life is forever changed and you turn to God. A kairos moment can happen when you see something beautiful, or puzzling, when you are frightened or grateful, and you remember to pay attention to God, and reflect if even for a moment on what God might have to say to you in this moment. 

When Jesus came to see Mary and Martha, Mary was not going to waste one moment of that visit. She was going to drink in every ounce of the experience sitting at Jesus’ feet and drinking in his presence. Poor Martha could not relax and enjoy the kairos moment. She was too tied up in her responsibilities.  And Martha got jealous that Mary was enjoying the moment with Jesus. Jesus invited Martha to choose the moment too.

Sometimes, we have the opportunity of choosing our moment with God. Sometimes, like for Antoinette Tuff, a crisis is thrust upon us. Hopefully in that crisis we will remember to put our trust in God rather than panic and think we can only depend on ourselves. 

You see, I know by the way she handled that gunman that Antoinette Tuff is a deeply spiritual woman. Only a woman who has been through hard times, like she said, and who has put her trust in God, would have had the inner strength to do what she did. Antoinette Tuff is a lot like Mary. I have a hunch she had paid attention to the kairos moments in her life. She has a child with multiple disabilities. Her husband walked out on her after 33 years.  

But when Anderson Cooper interviewed her and said to her “I don’t know how you did it.”  She said, “I don’t either but God. That was nobody but God’s grace and mercy. I was terrified inside.”

But here is the thing. She actually cared about that young man. You could hear it in her voice.  I heard a couple of psychologists interviewed, who talked about how they thought she was able to diffuse the situation. They said: “This was a person who said, I have been through pain. She did not try to escape. She was engaged with him.”

It just makes you wonder how many broken people in the world could be helped, when they are hurting, if one compassionate person, a follower of Jesus, would just pay attention to them? Now I don’t want to be na├»ve. Another gunman could have easily pulled the trigger. But in that situation, Antoinette did not need a gun; she needed the compassion of God.

Now, she did not get that overnight. That woman did not say a quick “Hail Mary” prayer and have the depth of courage and calm to have the right response in that situation. She is a woman of deep faith. I pray none of us ever has to face the kind of test that she faced. I know that deep faith came over a life of deep struggle. 

But what do the stories of Antoinette Tuff and Mary and Martha teach us? To pay attention to God. To listen. To look for opportunities to see Jesus. Antoinette saw a neighbor when she saw that gunman. She saw another hurting human being just like herself who was going through tough times. Jesus told Martha that when you have an opportunity to sit and see God like Mary did that you need to do just that. 

These stories invite us to pay attention: to watch for the thin places in our lives.  This week, look for those places and moments where heaven and earth come close together, to pay attention to the God moments and to savor those moments and to learn from them. 


       We are going to do a little exercise this week at home.  Look at this diagram.  If you have a chance, put it up somewhere you can look at it.  As the week goes on, look for those moments of God’s presence, the thin moments.  I hope it’s not anything as scary as Antoinette’s moment. But at the X moments in your life, stop and feel God’s presence, and let it change you and your life.  Many people had their lives change this week, with that moment, Antoinette, the gunman, the dispatcher, the police, the teachers, and the students.  The question is what new paths will there be.  Look and learn from them and feel God’s presence with you. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

SAVED BY THE OUTSIDER by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Patti Lusher)


My husband makes fun of me because I like to watch deep, intense movies. You know, like Hotel Rawanda and Schindler’s List. He has, for the most part, broken me of the habit of watching them on our date night. We stick to romantic comedies (my choice) and Sci Fi (his choice) on date night. But when the Academy Award list comes out and there are those epic gut wrenching films that show you the depth of human despair and hope, I am all over those movies.

I don’t like war movies. Kurt is the history buff so he is the war movie guy. But this week, I stumbled across a movie about WWII that makes me even want to read the book. Seriously!

The film is the story of Ernest Gordon, a Captain in the The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, an Infantry regiment of the British Army. During WW II, after the fall of Singapore, when the Japanese were the occupying Army in Singapore, Gordon was among many soldiers, both American and British, who were taken prisoner.

Japanese POW camps were awful. They really did not follow the rules of the Geneva Convention about how prisoners were to be treated. The film “To End All Wars” tells the story of life in one prisoner of war camp where the prisoners worked as forced labor on the Siam–Burma Death Railway, a 415 kilometers railway built between Bangkok, Thailand, and Burma.  

The whole film is worth watching because it is filled with stories of men learning about betrayal and forgiveness, despair and hope, sacrifice and redemption. You really see how the human spirit will prevail.

But the scene I want to show you comes near the end of the film. The end of the War is near. The British and American Allies are just about to free the camp, but somehow, by mistake, they bomb the camp, thinking it is an enemy target. The commander of the camp flees. The Sergeant is left with a few of the guards and the prisoners. They have no provisions and they are wandering around not sure what to do. Then a truck rolls into the camp.

Outsiders. They are soldiers from a nearby enemy location that had also been bombed. The Japanese Sergeant calls them dogs because they have abandoned their posts. This is shameful in their Bushido system.  But they are wounded and are coming for help. Captain Ernest Gordon is the one who steps forward.
Let’s watch the clip.

*** Show video clip.

 “Those are wounded, dying human beings. They’re no harm to us.”  

You see, Gordon, even though he’s a soldier, sees all people as human beings. He is a prisoner. His captors could kill him for crossing a line. Trust me, it has happened several times already in the camp.

But the walls suddenly collapse here as the war is ending. They have been doing something else in the camp. They have been reading scripture. They have been having a school of their own, in order to hold onto their humanity. There was another soldier, who I learned in my research was a Methodist, and he modeled for young Ernest Gordon what it means to be Jesus.  Ernest wasn’t a believer before the war.

Ernest Gordon’s story is the story of the Samaritan – outsiders saving outsiders. In that war zone, the Japanese were the enemy of the British. The layers of outsiders just went on and on. But Gordon said, “No. Enough. We are human beings.” He stepped across the line as others followed him.

Did you see that first young Japanese man that went to help? He was the translator in the camp. He was trained at Cambridge. Throughout the film you can see that he does not hate the British and the Americans who are the prisoners of war. Because he has spent time in Britain, he can no longer see these outsiders as strangers. In this moment, he also crosses the line and joins them.

Jesus said: Love your neighbor.

“And who is my neighbor?” someone asked him.

And he told a story.

A man was beaten by thieves and left for dead.

A priest walked by.

A Levite religious man walked by.

And then a Samaritan, an outsider, an enemy to the man who was beaten, walked up, and helped him.  He took him to an inn, paid for a room and food for him and said he would come back and check on him.

And Jesus said: “Which one was the neighbor?”

“The one who treated him with care.”

But, you see, we have watered down this story. We say “Oh, she was a Good Samaritan” when she helped out a friend. We forget that in this story, the Samaritan was the outsider.

It’s as if you are stranded in an unfamiliar neighborhood (one where you don’t feel comfortable), and the person you are most afraid of pulls up and offers to help. Oh yes, and your cell phone has died. Will you accept their help?

Or, how about this? You are driving in your neighborhood and you see someone that you fear, and you are running late, but the person is in danger. Would you stop your car and let them jump in, in order to protect them from harm?

Because here is the thing: Jesus says, “If you follow me then everyone is your neighbor. EVERY. ONE.”

One last example. Perhaps a bit more realistic.

You are at work, and there is this person who, time and time again, puts you down. This person will lie to get ahead. They cheat. They manipulate. They are lazy. And now you find out that person’s child is really sick. It’s not a lie. You know it’s true. And now he has to miss lots of work and the boss asks if you can take on extra work to help out so he can take his child for treatments.

Will you do it?
Darn it.

Jesus says the preacher and the religious teacher would find a way to wiggle out of it, but a neighbor – a Jesus follower – someone who takes this stuff seriously - would say “Yes! Of course! I will help out! What can I do to help?”

So, who is your neighbor this week? Who is the person God is showing you? Who is that outsider to you? The person you really don’t want to help.

Imagine what it would feel like to be in a position to need that person’s help – and to have them help you!

Now imagine that Jesus is asking you to be generous and gracious enough to help that person. Imagine what it meant for a prisoner of war to give aid to the enemy who was injured.

Before the war, Ernest Gordon was not a believer. He became a follower of Jesus in that camp. After the war, Ernest Gordon moved to the United States, got his education, and was for years the Dean of the Chapel of Princeton seminary, until he retired. He just died a few years ago. You see, that kind of horrific experience can prepare you to be someone who can impact many more people for the rest of your life. He was the outsider, but he found his humanity.

He and that young Japanese translator reunited years later at the site of the prison camp. They became friends. He was a neighbor to the enemy. And the enemy became his friend.

After Jesus tells the story of the Samaritan who cared for his neighbor, he asks the person he was talking to, “Who in the story was a neighbor to the man attacked” and the person answered, “the one who showed kindness.”

Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

That is our mission, my friends. Go and show kindness to the outsider. Go, and do likewise. Be a neighbor. Amen.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

THE HAZARDOUS WORK OF A JESUS FOLLOWER by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)



One of the fascinating things about the Jesus story is how far and how fast it spread. The book of Acts, which is the story of the beginning of the church, starts in Jerusalem and ends 1500 miles to the west in Rome. The wild fire called the Christian movement also burned to the east. By the year 635 there were believers as far away as China. A hundred years after that, Syrian believers had spread the gospel to Baghdad, Tibet and India. The apostle Paul alone, traveled 10,000 miles proclaiming the good news of God's love.  And remember that was all on foot. (source: http://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20130701JJ.shtml


Today we marvel at how fast news & information passes on the internet. We use social media to get a story out in an instant. That website change.org is amazing in the way people can tell a story about injustice and put up a petition. You can join tens of thousands of people – or more – in such a short period of time, and really get some attention for your cause from the President,  Congress or the leader of a corporation. 

It took a little longer back in the days of Jesus’ first disciples. But the principles were still the same. Tell people good story and we will listen. Give us living water and we will drink from that well. Invite people to be part of a movement that will change the world, and we will sign up, and we will tell our friends about it. That’s what happened, they invited their friends into their homes and they told the amazing stories of Jesus and about the power of God’s love. People turned to God. They practiced patience, compassion, and forgiveness – just like we do here. They pooled their resources to care for the poor among their community. They were generous and sacrificial. They served one another with servant hearts. They were so grateful for God’s love that they wanted to love their neighbor as if, when they looked at their neighbor, they might just be looking at the face of Jesus. 

You might just want to go home today, and this week and read the Book of Acts. It is a great book, full of some inspiring stories of those early Christians, spreading the message like wildfire around the World..  In today’s scripture passage, from Luke we find the story of Jesus sending out 70 of his followers. The movement has spread now beyond just the 12 disciples. There has been a lot of historical discussion of who these 70 people were. Many scholars believe that among these 70 that we call apostles; there must have finally been some women.  Whoever these people were, they model for us the radical response to the urgent announcement of Jesus.

           Jesus says just one word, "Go!" (Luke 10:3 for those following along via the web). "The harvest is plentiful in a hurting world. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."  Just “GO!”.  

           If you wonder where to start or what to do, these apostles give us some guidance: Go. Do something. Do something rather than nothing. Understand it is risky to follow Jesus. Not everyone will want to hear the message. That is okay. Just keep telling the story anyway, because eventually you will find someone who is ready and ripe for the message. The field is full and ripe for harvest. There are lots of people out there who need God’s love. They don’t have a clue that God loves them. They don’t have any balance in their lives. They don’t have a center. They are wandering around aimlessly like a boat with no rudder.   I’m not a sailor, but I understand if you don’t have a rudder, it’s really hard to get where you need to go.

That is why every Sunday I have been ending the service with some sort of word of invitation to you: who do you know who needs the love of Jesus. How might you invite them to The Village?  You know you are going to run into someone who needs this. 

You see, we are Jesus’ 70 apostles in this little corner of the world. Every week we come here to be fed, to be filled up and encouraged and challenged. And then we are sent out – to do God’s work. The fields out there are ripe. There are lots of people out there who are hurting or who just simply could use some spiritual growth in their lives. We all need to dig deeper in order to be closer to God and to be more of the person God put us on this earth to be.  None of us are there yet.

But a whole lot of people out there do not have a spiritual community. Why? For all of the reasons why you were not part of a community before you came to The Village. You thought there was not a community that was a good fit for you. You thought they were all too boring, too judgmental, too traditional, too ____ you fill in the blank. Do you suppose that there might be some other folks out there like you? We are probably not so unique. We are probably not the only 40 people in this area who need God and who want a community like this. The greater metropolitan area of Toledo has a half a million people in it. I think there are a few more who would love to be part of this church.

What if every one of us invited one person every week? There are about 40 of us today. If we invited 40 people a week times 52 weeks that is 2080 people. If only 5% of the people we invite actually came to a service that would be 104 new visitors to The Village.  That is if only 5% of them came. Maybe more of them would come, many more.

So the question is: how will we find these people and invite them? If you are like most people, the thought of inviting someone to church is a bit intimidating. You don’t to impose your religion on someone else. You don’t want to be “that guy” or “that woman.”  

Jesus had something to say to us when we feel that way. If you go to someone’s house, and they do not welcome you, then say: “I’ll be on my way, but it’s your loss. Because I just came here to show you God’s love and if you reject me you are rejecting God.”  You don’t even have to say it out loud. 

You see, Jesus invites us to treat every human interaction as an opportunity to reveal the love of God to another person. How about that! When I meet my child’s teacher at school, when I meet the person who sells me something in a store, when I meet someone who will clean my house or serve me dinner, or who teaches my class at the gym – all of these interactions are a chance for me to be Jesus. I have the chance to share some kindness and some patience. I have a chance to show an interest in the person. 

When a person waits on you at a restaurant have you ever done this: ask the person – “how are you today?” Say: “My friend and I just came from church and we pray every Sunday for people, is there anything we could pray about for you?” 

What could it hurt? What if you sent an email to your child’s teacher and said: “I am thankful to you for caring for my child. In my daily prayer time I would like to pray for you. Is there any special focus that you would like me to pray for?” For those of you who are teachers. What would that feel like to get a note like that? What would it mean for you?  

I know as a pastor, how much it means to me to get a note from someone saying they are praying for me each week. I can imagine as a teacher who works so very hard it would be such a gift. I might just ask: what church do you go to? If I were looking for a church, I might just visit a church of a parent who offered to pray for me. 

What about a server at a restaurant or someone who works at a store you go to regularly? I have watched folks who make it a practice to ask their servers, if they are not too busy, “How is your day going?” And if they become a regular in a restaurant they get to know a server and ask about their family. They offer to pray for concerns in the server’s life. That becomes an opportunity, then, to invite them to visit The Village. It does not have to be pushy.

When I invite someone I just say, “My church is called The Village, we meet inside the Maumee Indoor Theater over at the Trail and Conant. It’s a very casual atmosphere. We have a great band and good coffee. We would love to have you come some Sunday.” I give them a card and suggest they check out the web site.

Now if you are talking with a friend it is a little different story. Say you are having lunch with a co-worker or a friend and they are going through a rough time. Perhaps a parent has died or they have just gone through a relationship break up. They are struggling. You might share from your own experience using what we call and “I statement.”  For example: “I have found that when I have gone through some really difficult experiences in my own life that being part of a church community has been a source of strength to me. Do you have anything like that?” They may have a community they can tell you about. They may have one in their past that they are disconnected from and you might ask them if they think this is a good time to reconnect. If they don’t want to do that for some reason or if they don’t really have a community then you might offer: “I really love The Village. Going there helps me feel closer to God’s love. I would be happy to pick you up next Sunday and we could go together and then go out for food after church if you want.”  

Bringing someone with you is the best way to help them feel welcome. It is very intimidating to come to church for the first time if you have never been or have not been in a long time. But if you can come with a friend it is so much easier. This is how the early church spread like wildfire.  It’s not really that complicated. 

Ok, yes I know it feels hazardous, you really feel scared doing this.  Jesus, got this, he referred to it as sending lambs into a wolf pack. You may invite someone to church and you may, one day, get an earful about how awful church people are. We are hypocrites and judgmental and anti gay and racist and our priests are pedophiles and we hate women, and on and on. Some people will have issues. That is the risk we take. 

But there is another cost if we don’t take the risk. The other cost, is that we will be this tiny congregation, turning only inward, caring only for ourselves. We will be a closed club. Just like those other churches that we don’t want to be, a country club church. And that is no church at all.

A church of Jesus followers is always about taking risk. We are about doing the hazardous work – and taking risk – because Jesus took a risk for us. A huge risk.  So we are called to get out there and mix it up. We are called to take some chances and look for some hurting people and invite them in to our community.  We’re all broken, we’ve all got our scars too. We will be blessed and they will be blessed. There is plenty of God’s love to go around.

I want to invite you into an exercise.  I want you to consider who you could invite and how.  The easy way, by the way, would be volunteering to help Kurt Young and our outreach team the next few Saturdays at the Maumee Street Fair and Pride.  They will be providing some basic hospitality, giving away water, giving away candy, having sun screen, etc.  You can sign up by calling Kurt Young at 419-215-955 or email him at kmy@kmylaw.com .  Or you can pick a harder way.  Think about it for a bit.  Who can you support, who can you pray for, who can you nudge onto the path we are all on here to a better way of life?