Today we are celebrating four years of our life together as the Village Church. We have left behind those toddler years, for those who have cared for children you know this time, where we are not even sure if we can stand. But we are still young. We are still exploring what it means to be church.
Do you remember what it was like to be a pre-schooler? Lots of experimenting. Trying to do something for yourself. “I can do it, I can do it myself.” Only to find out, we are not so sure how to do some things, when we are four going on five. Thankfully, there is a guiding principle in church planting these days: “If you are not making any mistakes you are not taking enough risks.” Those are good words for a four to five year old – in a safe environment. Because a four year old needs to explore the world and learn how to be an older child, then a teenager and then a well balanced adult who can nurture more children.
In our life together as a church, it’s kind of helpful for us to think about these life cycles. Because at every life stage human beings have something to contribute. Think about it, we know that children have much to give us. They teach us how to be creative and playful. And new church starts teach 100 year old churches how to consider being church in new ways. We challenge older churches into doing things in new ways. Sometimes we may run headstrong into something without understanding all the possible pitfalls ahead of us. That can be both a good thing and a bad thing. We see that with children too. You have seen a child run joyfully into a pile of leaves or a pool of water – or mud – without any thought of risk. Right? And sometimes, don’t you just want to do it with them. Don’t you just want to be one?
Children also know how to give. I will never forget the story that my friend Marion tells. She was a young single mother pastor of twins. She had preached a sermon and read the scripture that says: if you have two coats give one of them away. Her son came home from school on day without his brand new coat. When she asked him where it was he said, yep, you guessed it: “I gave it away.”
Here at The Village I see people give every day. It is a value we share. Our stated value is compassion for people living in poverty and on the margins. But I see you give to one another in so many other ways too. You give each other rides to the grocery and to the doctor when you are sick. You help one another with your kids. You give to our community.
Last January, at our annual planning retreat, we starting talking about how we wanted to reach out and give this year. We have some folks who have been talking since we opened about helping with a project with some sort of agency that rehabs houses for people in need. Some of us were sitting around a table: Rock and Beth, Kelly and Jodi and some others and we discovered that all of them really like to do that stuff. Jodi comes from a family of contractors. I happened to know that Rock and Beth were living in a mobile home that Beth had purchased for a tiny amount of money and the two of them were trying to rehab the home while living in it. They don’t have much money so it was going to be a REALLY SLOW project. Rock really wanted to help us work on some other church project but was not going to have much time until she finished her house. Suddenly, it came to us. Duh! Why not make Rock and Beth’s house our first project!
Now, looking back, that was the point where another group of people, perhaps more prudent business folks might look at our resources and be more cautious. We are a small church, we had no cash on hand, some skilled volunteers, but not an army of volunteers. We might then have listed out all the things needed to be done at the house and looked logically at it and said: this is probably more project than a church this size should take on for a first project. Because you know, we were a three year old church at the time. Three year olds don’t really think through these things. And anyway we had a secret weapon. We had God on our side. We were dreaming big. So we jumped right in and worked on a plan.
The first work weekend was set. A web site and brochure was made to recruit volunteers. Jodi took the lead on supervising the Saturday work crews and Kelly and I worked on recruiting some other churches to help us. Rock and Beth on site – literally. And we were off.
The project launched on Feb 23. That was 8 months ago. Jodi hoped we would be done by June, that was the plan. We are still not done. It was a bigger job than we expected. It was harder to get volunteers than we expected. It was harder to raise money than we expected. On the plus side, we have raised $4,487. Including the work team from King Ave United Methodist in Columbus that came last weekend we have had a total of 82 Volunteers for at least 617 hours. That is amazing. Many people have given time, energy, money and other resources to this project.
But I want to tell you a bit more about one person: Jodi Haney. You see, Jodi has been over at Rock and Beth’s house Saturday after Saturday. She has been there on week days doing prep work so that other volunteers could do work on a Saturday. She has been on the phone with Rock and Beth to talk about what needs to be purchased at Lowe’s so the work can be done. She brought many of her friends several weekends to do the work, so that we could include people beyond just folks from The Village on this project. She gave her money too. There were days when she might have preferred to be with her family. There were days when she probably didn’t feel good and just wanted to stay home, but she made a commitment and just kept showing up. Jodi gave her all to this project. She was sacrificial.
Like any generous giver, she did not really want me to stand up here and shout her praises. But I asked her permission because it’s important to lift up examples among us of people who are leaders in sacrificial giving. Many of us gave, but it’s important to point out sacrificial givers from time to time.
You see Jesus was teaching his followers once. As the story goes in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 21:1-4 from the Message paraphrase for those following along on the net), it says that Jesus: “looked up and saw the rich people dropping offerings in the collection plate. Then he saw a poor widow put in two pennies. He said, “The plain truth is that this widow has given by far the largest offering today. All these others made offerings that they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all!” The widow gave, like Jodi gave. She gave everything.
You see, I asked a couple of well to do business people to make financial donations to our project to fix Rock and Beth’s house. One of them said they would make a gift. It was someone who makes donations, admittedly, in part, to get some buzz for their business, and probably for a tax write off. We won’t turn down a good gift. But Jesus says, that sort of gift is not a sacrifice. The rich people in the temple did not even miss what they were giving.
But Jesus says that the woman who didn’t have very much, and gave all she had – well, she was the generous giver. She was the one who Jesus lifted up as an example of what it means to be sacrificial.
You see, I think Jesus wants us to give in a way that is a stretch for us. If we are giving our time, or our money, out of our abundance, and just giving the leftovers, well it is still giving. But we don’t really miss it. We don’t get as much joy of giving.
But if we really have to make an effort to give, if we have to give up something to give, or if we have to really plan in order to make room in our budget of time or money to give – well, then, Jesus says – it will really mean something to us.
I am sure there were times when Jodi, and others, got home from Rock and Beth’s house and looked at the things that were undone in our our homes and thought, gosh, I wish I had an extra day this weekend. But then when we look at the fact that we are almost done and that together, we are helping Rock and Beth have a warm, dry, more energy efficient home – then really, I don’t think any of us can regret what we have given.
So that brings us to our response to Jesus today. As we move into year five as The Village people – how will we give? What do you personally want to do to give of yourself to make our community stronger and better? Our vision is to follow Jesus and change the world and we do that by giving our resources.
We do still have some work left to do on Rock and Beth’s house. Jodi would like to organize a couple more work days to finish the flooring and the back porch so if you can help with that, please talk with one of them. And yes, we can still use money. Make checks out to The Village and put “R and B in the note line.”
In January, we will have our planning retreat for next year. In the next few weeks, I would love to hear from you about how you want to give to our community next year. One way of thinking about it is this. What breaks your heart? You see, chances are, if it breaks your heart, can be pretty sure it breaks God’s heart too. And if it breaks your heart, then you can probably find 4 or 5 more people who also care about the same thing. And then, guess what? You have the start of a team that can come together to do something to change the world.
I know this. We have big hearts here at The Village. We have dreams and with God’s help, we can make them happen. For four years we have been giving. You know, most new churches, like most start up businesses, fail. They don’t make it to the four year mark. But here we are. We are like a strong little pre-schooler who holds up a piece of art and says: “Look what I did!”
Rock and Beth’s house is a piece of our art. This community is our piece of art. The way we dare to welcome all people is our piece of art. Our ability to give all that we have, like the widow in the temple, is our piece of art, look what we do.
We watched some photos to celebrate our first four years, watch the video on our website or You Tube channel, we’ll get it posted as soon as we can. As you watch and celebrate all the people who have made us what we are, I invite you to ponder how they have given, and consider how you want to give to our community in the next year. We already following Jesus & changing the world, but we’ve got so much more to do. Come, join us.