Sunday, December 26, 2010

GOD WANTS YOU TO KNOW by Cheri Holdridge (with assists by Paul Harvey & Kurt Young)

Because I'm a pastor, people come to talk to me, sometimes when life gets really hard. This is one of the most painful statements I hear. It does not happen too often, but it does happen: "Cheri, I just don't know my partner anymore. We've been today for many years, but it's like she's another person. I don't know what happened. But I have no idea who she is anymore. It's more than us just growing apart. She does not seem to have a clue who I am. I feel like I'm talking to a complete stranger."

Have you ever felt like that? It's more lonely, isn't it, than being alone? You know, it's part of the basic human condition, that we want to be known. That's actually one of the best definitions of intimacy that I have ever heard. Intimacy is: "to know someone and to be known." We long for intimacy with other human beings. I believe that God longs for intimacy with us too. God longs to know us, and for us to know God.

That's really what Christmas is about. The gift of Jesus is God's attempt to know humanity. God was not satisfied being far away from God’s creation in Heaven. God wanted to get right here in the nitty gritty of our daily lives, in the flesh and blood of human existence to be with us. That's why God came to Earth in human form. So today, on this day after Christmas, I want to tell you a story, about God's desire to be with us. It's an old story told by Paul Harvey:

The Man and the Birds by Paul Harvey

The man to whom I'm going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn't believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas Time. It just didn't make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn't swallow the Jesus Story, about God coming to Earth as a man.

"I'm truly sorry to distress you," he told his wife, "but I'm not going with you to church this Christmas Eve." He said he'd feel like a hypocrite. That he'd much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.

Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound...Then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud...At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They'd been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.

Well, he couldn't let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them...He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms...Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.

And then, he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me...That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.

"If only I could be a bird," he thought to himself, "and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safe, the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand."

At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells - Adeste Fidelis [Oh Come All Ye Faithful] - listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And he sank to his knees in the snow.

Thank you Paul Harvey for this wonderful story.

You see, that is why God sent Jesus. To be one of us. To lead us to God. Now we don't get to meet Jesus first hand, because we did not live 2000 years ago. We have to trust the stories of our ancestors in the faith. But from generation to generation we have all been touched by someone, who has been touched by someone, who has been touched by someone, who somewhere way back down the line, saw Jesus face to face. And that’s why we are here today.

Because God wants us to live in the warmth and the safety of God's embrace. God does not want us to be out in the cold, shivering and helpless, lost and without hope. God's big barn may not be fancy, but in it, there is warmth, and friendship, plenty of food to go around, and compassion and healing, and forgiveness.

We saw it outside the Main Branch of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library yesterday on Christmas Day. We saw dozens upon dozens of people descend on a place where those in need know they can come on Saturdays for companionship, support, a little food and other items they need to get through a week. For the first time in the event’s existence it was on Christmas. And those giving out help out numbered those in need. We were there, a group from the Village, but we were not alone. A family decided to skip a gift exchange and instead provided hats, and scarves and other items to those who needed them. Others showed up with books and toys for the kids who come. Santa was even there with Fudge for all. It was a little glimpse of what God’s reign on Earth could look like. What we in The Village want to see.

It's a place I believe we all want to live. That's why Jesus came. That's why God sent Jesus to us. God wants to give us a home, because God wants to know us. Like a family member, a partner, a mom or a dad, a sister or a brother who knows us inside and out, God wants to know what's going on with us, and wants to guide us and support us. And because God is the one who made us, God will never fail to understand us.

So you may feel like no one else understands you. But God does. And that is a gift. And on this day after Christmas we give thanks for that gift. We give thanks that God knows us, and wants to know us. And that no matter who we are, and where we are on our faith and life journeys God will always want to know us and love us.

If you don’t know that kind of love, that kind of community, come join us at The Village. We are fellow travelers on that journey, some just starting, others further along on the path. Starting next Sunday, January 2nd, our worship celebrations are at 9:45 & 11:30 AM. Or join us as we live out our faith in the world at one of our small group or outreach events.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Keeping It Real By Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

I love Christmas! I really do. I have a big heart. And I love the simplicity of the story of Jesus’ birth. I love the goodness and the generosity of people at Christmas time. I love all the heart-warming stories of people showing kindness. I love it that Christmas can bring out the best in people.

Yeah, I know it brings out the worst in folks too. I know it has been a hard month for some of you. Your families have been on their “worst” behavior. And yeah I know the traffic is awful. And truth is, you won’t catch me near a shopping mall if I can help it. The rampant over-commercialization of the birthday of our Savior is NOT what I love.

But I love Christmas. And here is why. On Christmas night – God comes down from heaven where everything is wonderful and perfect and beautiful, to live right here on Earth, with us, in the muck and the mess of our everyday human existence. God is keeping it real. Born just like the rest of us – to human parents, in poverty, in humble beginnings, in some no name place called Bethlehem. It would be like being born in Blissfield, or Stony Ridge. Just a little blip on the map.

But God soooo wanted the people to know how much God loved them. (And loves us.) And they just were not getting the message. So God sent Jesus. We call this the INCARNATION – the embodiment of God in human form—God becoming real—flesh and blood. I call it God “keeping it real.”

Here at The Village, you may not know this, but one of our jobs, is to practice what we call “incarnational theology.” That means, we live out our faith in the world; we keep it real. We believe that God’s spirit actually lives in each one of us, and is active in the world in our actions.

Jesus used lots of metaphors, images, to try to help folks understand this “incarnational theology.” He said to his followers: "You are the light of the world. Your light must shine in people's sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to God in heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16).

People NEED to see God in the world. People are experiencing a lot of darkness right now. People have lost their jobs. They are losing their homes. They are frightened, because this is the worst economy many of us have seen in our life- times. We need hope. We need light. We need Jesus.

One of our members, Robyn Georgius and I were talking a couple of months ago about her work with the AIDS Resource Center here in Toledo. She is a case manager. She goes and meets with potential new clients. People who have recently been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, and who make less than $36,000 per year. Her agency can help them get medical exams and treatment, transportation, and sometimes help with food assistance and some other items like personal hygiene items. But recently, as some of you have heard, the Federal Government cut the programs, and Ohio followed suit, and they have been unable to sign up any new clients for the program that helps with the medication, which can cost $2000-3000 per month. They just get put on a waiting list, and so far, since July 1, no one has moved off that waiting list.

I asked Robyn what The Village could do to help, with a Christmas offering, and she said, if we could just help provide Christmas baskets, that would be great. Last year they were only able to provide 20 baskets, and they were very small. She said they would love to be able to provide 75-100 this year. “It would mean so much to our clients”, Robyn said.

But this is the part that made me really sad, and not just a little sad, but angry. She said, “You know, our case-workers are pretty much told, not to bother trying to ask churches for help. There is such a stigma with our clients, having HIV and AIDS, churches don’t want to help us.” I know in my head this is true. I even know why. But I don’t like it. In fact, I HATE IT. And in fact I’m pretty darn sure that Jesus would hate this fact.

Well, you know what happens when your pastor hears about injustice. I am like a mother protecting her children. I get ready for a fight. Let me at ‘em! So I said, “We will raise the money. You will get your food baskets!” And raise the money we have done. We set a goal of $3000 and so far we have raised $3500!”

Last Friday the Case Managers went and bought 75 turkeys. Last year each person just got one of those little Cornish hens. (We like to keep it real, so this year they get REAL turkeys.) On Monday a group of folks went to fill the bags of food. Each person got: potatoes, bread, apples, crackers, canned goods, pancake mix, gloves, mustard, cranberry sauce, stuffing, raumen noddles, homemade cookies and AND a hand-made card from The Village.

I got a thank you note from one person: I am a client of ARC (Aids Resource Center of Ohio) and received a basket overflowing with items this year that you helped to supply. We live in a world where it is so easy to criticize everything but no one takes the time to stop and say Thank I wanted to do just that. I cannot thank you enough that I will be able to have a Christmas dinner thanks to your church. HIV and AIDS seems to fall through the cracks due to the medications on the market....most people are under the understanding that the HIV epidemic is solved.....but when you are living daily with it....and all the side effects from the feels quite different. Organizations like yours that take the time to make a difference are appreciated more then you know.

May God bless you for all that you do, not only at this Holiday Season....but all year long.

You see, we are being the light of Christ for that one person, and for many more. It’s just that simple. But Robyn and the other case managers had been told, “Don’t ask churches, they won’t help us.” Don’t ask the followers of Jesus to do something generous and kind at Christmas time. What the heck? (I wanted to say something else)

I believe have to “keep it real” – we have to keep the message of God’s radical love and Jesus’s radical love real by being the light that shines in the darkness. All we had to do was collect some money and buy some food. So far, we have raised $3500 in less than one month this year. We did that without even breaking a sweat. Next year, we are going to raise $10,000, because we are going to start earlier and get some of our sister churches to help us. We are going to challenge them if need be.

This is what it means to live out an incarnational theology. God is living IN US in the world. Jesus said: "WE are the light of the world. And OUR light must shine in people's sight, so that, seeing OUR good works, they may give praise to God in heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16).

I LOVE Christmas – because there are so many signs of God’s love in the world. There are so many opportunities for us to be generous. Tomorrow morning, my family is going to go downtown to the Library at 10 a.m. and help the folks with Food for Thought give away more food and hygiene items to some folks that need them. We don’t know who will show up on Christmas day, but we will be there. I will be there because my 11 year old has decided SHE wants to be there and she is dragging the rest of us there, quite honestly. It was her idea. Becca is living out incarnational theology. The people there ask for razors each week, so Becca went to COSTCO and bought 52 razors, tied a ribbon to each one, and made a homemade card.

You see, God had a great idea. God said, I’m going to SHOW my love to them, in flesh and blood. It’s the only way. It’s the only way for them to really GET it. God had tried everything else God knew to do. And finally God tried Jesus. A baby. God in human form.

And now God has us. We are the ones that God has in the world to MAKE IT REAL and KEEP IT REAL. So let’s do it. Let’s help God, keep it real. Amen. May the peace and joy of Jesus be on you as we celebrate his birth again.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

WHEN GOD HAS OTHER PLANS - By Kurt Young (with an assist by Cheri Holdridge)

My life was a whirlwind from 2002 to 2003. A firm I had been a part of for about 9 years had come apart at the seams. We had a senior partner who had lost it all in the economic collapse of post September 11, 2001 and was refusing to finish a sale of the firm to a group of us who had worked for years to own it. She did this after draining our resources to keep her family employed during the crash. Add the addition of our son, Jamie, to the mix, and the almost loss of our health insurance thanks to that crash, and well, I thought I knew stress.
But in January 2003 I had joined our closest competitor, who welcomed me with open arms. This meant that all four of the board certified specialists in my area of law, workers’ compensation on the injured workers’ side, in Toledo would be under one roof. They had a reputation for excellence and were considered good to their employees. A great place for me to land and my colleagues were landing safely too elsewhere.
But 2003 did not calm down. In October 2003, after a series of events, all of which could have caused them, I was admitted to the hospital with not one but two blood clots my lungs (pulmonary emboli). Often, this is fatal; it had been for Cheri’s Dad. A series of doctor friends said to me the same thing “Kurt we usually figure this out in the autopsy, not in the hospital." Nine days in hospital and a month off work followed. But I rebounded and charged back into work. I got sued twice due to the collapse of the old firm, but we got through that relatively unscathed. Only to have my brother in law die unexpectedly. But again, God provided for us and our family.
But things were not going well with the new job because of all of that. I was not happy there. While they have similar hearts, they do things differently. I had thought about getting out of there, but I had a wife and two kids and a couple hundred clients who needed a little stability and I decided to put up with it. But in early 2004, God had other plans for me.
I was called into a meeting with the partners of the firm. “Kurt, we can’t keep you on the payroll. The money is not there” we are going to have to let you go. When I left my old firm, my senior partner, who was retiring anyway, fought to keep clients she was not going to help, and stripped 5/6th of my clients. I was given 30 days notice. I would get a few more paychecks, but then I was on my own. In 2010, I would be in very good company, but in 2004 things were not like that.
So What to do now? Try to get hired as a hearing officer (Judge)? That was six months off at best. Move and force my wife into a new job and kids into a new city? Try to get an interview with our next competitor? Actually had it but the competitor cancelled at the last minute (thank God, but not for the reason, the I-280 Bridge Collapse made them too busy). Then a chorus of voices started - start your own firm.
"You’ve got to be kidding me. I don’t have enough clients to make that viable," I thought.
You can do it Kurt.
"I have less than 30 days and no place to set up the office."
But you know the two realtors who handle most of the downtown office space.
"I don’t have time to set up the needed bank accounts."
Hey, Kurt, ask the guy walking down Erie Street next to you, who works for your personal bank.
"I can’t afford the office furniture I keep looking at."
You do know about the used office furniture place in Sylvania, right?
"The office I can afford needs repainted and some of the furniture needs assembled."
You’ve got a church family of handy people and a family with three professional painters (and you can do that yourself too).
"But I need a staff member who can start as a part time secretary but has the skills to be my right hand.
Hey, dummy, remember that great receptionist you were help groom into a paralegal and beyond at the old firm?
"I don’t have enough start up capital to get through the first 3-6 months."
Your Mother has some money.

No matter what my objection, roadblock, etc, God put something in my path to make it happen. So in 30 days, I opened up my own firm. Somehow, I was ready on Day One. And somehow things kept happening to keep me in business. And somehow I have managed to stay going, hire additional people and keep this viable at a time when the clients I represent were getting clobbered. I only get paid when they do, but they don’t get paid much and have lots of needs they can’t pay to address. We do it anyway. God and Cheri long ago convinced me this is my ministry. It pays better than most, but not better than other areas of law. But God has stationed me here for now.

Have you had many of these experiences where you are going along – and then all of a sudden WHAM! Everything changes. The world changes your plans. Or God? We can’t be sure which one. I can never be sure who causes the change. But I am sure of this: once the change occurs, God walks with us through the change. God helps get us through the turmoil, to the other side. God never abandons us.
Which is why, as a Father and husband I can certainly identify with Joseph, the Earthly father of Jesus. During worship at the Village this week, we read the story of Joseph dealing with this kind of "wham moment" as Cheri described it in her sermon. For those reading along at home, we used Matthew (my favorite Gospel) 1: 18-25 from the New Revised Standard Version. If you don’t have it at home, here it is:
8Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Thanks to all I have been through, I have easy time imaging being Joseph. But let me help you get there. You’re engaged to be married to Mary, who you’re very happy with as your wife to be. Wham, she’s pregnant and you two have never been together in that way. This “virgin” is pregnant. You’ve got options now that include leaving her and having her stoned. But, no, you’re a good guy. You would only do it quietly. Then you find out it’s not some other guy’s son, but God’s son. And you get an Angel visit, a scary prospect and good news does not usually follow. The Angel says: Trust God. So, what are you going to do, make a run for it? or stay with Mary, trust that this was not just a dream, and raise the Son of God?

As the scripture says “He took her as his wife." These are six little words that show courage and faithfulness beyond all measure. He trusted God. He stepped out on faith. Mary showed courage first, then Joseph did and because of that, we get Jesus. These two incredible people chose faith and trust in times when that was really hard. During those “WHAM” moments.

I have had to trust God many times in my life. During career decisions, illness, economic anxiety, etc. I could pursue an easier area of law, but God seems to want me where I am. Every time I have had a reason to doubt or fear, God has led me to way to stay or do what I have interpreted as God’s will. But let me assure you that has never been easy. It’s taken me years of prayer.

Joseph also said yes, when the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, stand with Mary.” You see, both Mary AND Joseph were chosen by God. And Joseph’s friends probably thought he was crazy to stay with this young woman who was pregnant. No one would believe she was a virgin. It was outrageous. In fact, it would have been legal for Joseph to have her stoned to death, not just to have quietly called off the engagement, which is what he had resolved to do.
BUT GOD STEPPED IN. GOD HAD OTHER PLANS. GOD SPOKE. AND JOSEPH LISTENED TO GOD. AND JOSEPH SAID YES TO GOD. JOSEPH WAS OBEDIENT. That’s the word Cheri used in her sermon. Obedience is not a word she uses very often. It’s sort of a harsh word. She likes nice words, soft words. She prefers to talk about making choices in life. When we talk about children we talk about helping them to make good choices rather than being so harsh and demanding that they be obedient.
But I’ve got to tell you, there is a little part of me that thinks it’s ok that Joseph and Mary were obedient to God in this situation. After all, this was a big deal. God was asking them to be the earthly parents of God’s own child. This is important. I think this calls for a complete giving over of oneself. Submission. Obedience.
“Yes God. I will do what you ask. No questions asked. You are the boss. You give me the directions, and I will follow.” You know, sometimes I think it would not hurt us to learn just a little bit of obedience and submission when comes to God Almighty Our Creator.
How about you? When life throws you a curve. . . when something just goes WHAM! – are you willing to trust God? Would you be ready to change your life plan in 30 days? Set up your own business and make a go of it? Add a child to your family that you were not planning to have? (You could be asked to take in a child for someone, you know.) Move, go to school, take some new responsibility; break an addiction; learn something new that you know you have to learn but you have been putting off? Deal with having cancer. WHAM! For good or bad. Like I said, I’m not saying they all come from an angel of God. Some of them just happen. BUT, I do believe that when we trust God, God will walk with us through whatever it is. GOD WILL HELP US FIND A WAY THROUGH THE CHAOS.
Looking for that kind of confidence in your faith. The road starts with a faith community that supports you. That will teach you to read the Bible, pray, and listen for God. Join us at the Village Church at the corner of Monroe & Central at 9:45 AM & 11:30 AM Sundays (new times start on January 2nd). We can help you start on this long path.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Do you like to look at Christmas lights? We do. Our family loves to go to the Toledo Zoo every year and look at the Christmas lights, they have over one million lights. Every since Cheri was a little girl she loved to get in the car and go drive around and look at Christmas lights. They fill Cheri with wonder. Kurt loves to sit in our darkened living room and see our brightly lit Christmas tree bathe our Nativity sets in light.

There is something magical about those lights. Cheri’s not crazy about the mechanical displays with all the Santa’s and stuff like that. She is more of a purist, cringing at Kurt’s mechanical Bengals player on the lawn (most years) and the various Star Wars, Star Trek & sports ornaments on the tree. Cheri likes the lights in the trees that fill the night sky. The kind that take your breath away. She loves driving along a dark highway in the winter and coming upon a lone farm house that is covered with Christmas lights, proclaiming the joy of the season. It just kind of sneaks up on us both, and brings a big smile to our faces. Even when we’re tired, driving home at the end of a long trip, it brings us such joy. The word awesome truly describes the moment.

Do you have experiences like this, that take your breath away, and fill you with joy? Moments that truly fill you with awe, joy, and reverence and a sense of something way beyond yourself? There are some experiences in this world that are truly awesome. They are the things that take our breath away. They stop us dead in our tracks, and tell us: yes, there is a God.

Can you think of some examples? Seeing the birth of a child, yours or someone else’s. Experiencing generosity or sincere kindness from a stranger or giving it. Being forgiven for something really bad, when we really don’t feel like we deserve to be forgiven . There are experiences that stop us, and tell us, this world is bigger than me. And in those moments, we are grateful that there is a God, who created this world, and whose love is the most powerful force in the world. It is a power that we cannot control, we cannot explain, but we must simply sit and be awed by. We believe that if we are not awed by the power of God in the world, that we really must not be paying attention.

I love the story in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:46-55 for those reading along on the web) of Mary, who would become the mother of Jesus, because Mary pays attention to God. She is a simple young woman. Mary is unmarried, engaged, and supposedly a virgin and yet somehow, she becomes pregnant. And in the text we read today, Mary was filled with awe, not the terror the world says she should be experiencing, because God sent an angel to tell her she would be the mother of God. And Mary choses to pay attention to that Angel. She could have ignored it. She could have decided she was just having a bad dream. But she saw the sign God gave her. And she held that sign deep in her heart, she visited her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, and she gave her life over to that sign.

Her song, recorded here in scripture, is such an amazing one. We hope you will read her song over and over again this week. It is such a wonderful song. She is filled with awe, and wonder and joy. We believe Mary was filled with joy for one simple reason: She was paying attention. She wanted to be awed by God. Do you want to be awed by God? You see, we will not be awed by God, if we are not paying attention. That is the simple truth.

Cheri got a phone call from a friend the other day. We’ll call him Steve. Steve did some work on our building last year when we were getting ready to open. Steve called me one night a couple of weeks ago and said, “Pastor Cheri, I was driving by your church the other day and I saw that sign you have posted outside.” (Steve was paying attention to the signs, like Mary.) The sign says, “Be like Jesus, embrace the wrong people.”
Steve said to her, “Pastor Cheri, there is the guy in my life, a friend, that I’m really mad at. And I want to stay mad at him, but I saw your sign, and I remembered that Jesus loved the wrong people – the people that no one else loved, and I knew it was a sign for me that I have to stop being mad at this guy. So I just had to call and tell you. Your sign, spoke to me, it worked!” Steve and Cheri both laughed.

Cheri knows, because she and Steve have had some conversations, that Steve has seen some hard times in his life. He has overcome some obstacles. He has been one of those “wrong” people that was grateful for Jesus’ love, and so our sign helped him remember that God calls us to have compassion for other folks, even when they do us wrong. He had lost a friend who helped him through these times to suicide this week.

So Cheri took the conversation a little further and asked Steve how he was doing. Because the last time Cheri talked with him she knew he was kind of drifting between a couple of churches. He said he had broken up with his girlfriend, and he said, “You know I just wish God would show me what God wants me to do with my life.” Ah. A pastor loves to hear this. Steve wants a sign! I love it when people are looking for signs, paying attention like Mary. Then he said, “I’ve been really busy though, I’ve been working two jobs. I wanted to buy a new motorcycle so I took on an extra job. And with the extra job I have not been able to go to church anywhere. But I’ve been thinking I need to get back to church. I’ve even been thinking maybe I might visit your church.”

So Cheri said to Steve, “You know, you just told me that you want to know God’s direction for your life, but you are putting your time into making money for a motorcycle, instead of going to church with other folks who are listening to God. Steve, what are you doing to pay attention to the signs God is giving you? How is God going to show you signs if you don’t give God any time or space in your life to speak to you?” He laughed, and said he got Cheri’s point. “You’ve got a really great church where everyone is welcome”, Steve said.

We put a sign on the front of our building, and it got Steve’s attention. Cheri has more stories of this kind of thing. People who have come because of a sign. But God wants more from us. God wants more attention from us, than what God can get as we are driving down the street. God wants us to see all the signs God puts out there.

Mary paid attention to God. When the angel came, Mary paid attention. When we listen to her song, she talks about all the signs she sees of God’s action in the world. “God’s mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before God. God bared an arm and showed strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. God knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. God embraced the chosen child, Israel; God remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.

It's exactly what God promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.
Cheri & Kurt want to be like Mary in this season leading up to Christmas, don’t you? We want to pay attention and see God all around us. There are signs of God’s action. WHEN WE LOOK. But we have to stop, and look. We see God in the compassion of persons who are giving food to the hungry and clothing and blankets to those who really need it. Kurt and Becca saw it this weekend at Food for Thought (a program that gives out food for the homeless on Saturdays at the Toledo Lucas County Public Library’s Main Branch) and at the Christmas Party for Berry’s Landing (a homeless shelter for veterans, sadly very over represented in the community of those without a roof over their heads on a regular basis).

Becca is so moved by the community that has gathered at the Main Branch Library (it’s now a carnival for those without a home and now includes multiple groups giving out food, clothes, hygiene items, etc) that she wants to go down on Christmas morning to help. An 11 year old wants to leave her warm home, her family and new toys and share some joy with those who have none. That’s awe inspiring. Kurt, whose dealing with a lot of stress at work trying to help those who society is casting out these days was feeling pretty down while he was there, but putting on a brave face for those who have real worries. But one of the people in line saw his angst and took the time to check in on Kurt. Now, that's the presence of God. Jen Black, who goes down each week there and gives out hugs was given a Christmas gift by someone who has nothing. That's awe inspiring.

We see God in folks who are making acts of reconciliation with family members and friends that they have been in conflict with, trying to find a way to make peace. Any place where we see hope, and joy, and reconciliation, that is a sign of God’s presence. We can see the signs, if we will pay attention. And then, we can be like Mary, singing and dancing for joy. So, let’s pay attention, let’s sing for joy. Christmas is almost here.

If you want a place where you might find a little job and awe this holiday season, join us here at the Village if you can or any number of our sister churches around this world. There is a gift waiting for you, if you want it, the awe of total love and acceptance by God. Join us Sundays at 10:30 AM & 12:30 AM or Christmas Eve @ 6:30 PM. Come and be part of the joy, even if you don’t feel like you deserve it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Rediscover Christmas: Getting Ready for a Changed Life by Cheri Holdridge & Kurt Young

This week, Cheri visited a home of a family that lives very simply. It’s a value
for them. Some of it is necessity because there are two adults and one child living on one parent’s income; but they are not poor. The dad is a professional. But Cheri was struck by one thing: there was no clutter in the house. They have a child and there was no clutter.

By comparison, we will confess, to those of you who may never have seen our house, we have some clutter (ok, lots of clutter says Kurt, the producer of lots of it). Cheri is kind of a pack rat and Kurt is not exactly Mr. Clean himself. Neither of us think of ourselves as materialistic. We drive middle of the road, albeit newer cars. Neither of us like to shop. You won’t see us at the mall except to go to the movies, the bookstore, or people watching at Kurt’s suggestion for something to do, hardly at all.

We will tell you that living simply is one of Cheri’s values, instilled into Kurt throughout our lives together. We live in the Old West End (for those out of town, a beautiful historic district of Edwardian, Victorian and Arts & Crafts Homes) in a sort of medium sized house for the Old West End (the neighborhood is absolutely teeming with large homes, some mansions) and the rooms just seem to fill up with stuff. We wish we could tell you that Cheri or Kurt are one of those Moms or Dads that keeps up with that annual practice of thinning out our own clothes, our kids' closets and helping them sort out the toys and giving away the ones they don’t play with. Every holiday break - Easter, Summer, Thanksgiving or Christmas we start out with the same intent. We’re going to do it. And every year, something, friends, family, illness, work, etc intervenes before the job is done.

LIVING SIMPLY! It’s what we want to do. It’s what we believe Jesus wants us to do. But we don’t feel like we’re keeping up with it. So lately, We have been trying to make some course corrections. As Kurt, the sailor (and son of US Navy Sailor) will tell you, the further away from danger you are, the smaller the correction you need to make; gradually, over time, your course will change greatly with a little turn of the tiller or wheel.

Because here is the other thing. We feel better when we live in a home that has less clutter, but we don’t keep up with our own clutter. Despite what we’ve accomplished in our lives, we’re not very disciplined persons. It does not come naturally for either of us. So Cheri has a dresser that is piled with stuff. Kurt’s was just cleaned up last weekend for the first time in the Village’s worshiping existence (not an exaggeration, he found a receipt from the week we started cleaning up our worship space for the first time). And we have a desk in the kitchen that is piled with stuff (mostly kids stuff). And a table in the living room, by the chair where Cheri prays, that gets cluttered with stuff. Cheri has some file drawers over at The Village offices that are piled with stuff that needs to be sorted through. Kurt’s office, save one area, is very organized, but that’s a job requirement and he has a staff to help. We need some order.

And when we think about people in this world that have nothing. And then we look at all the stuff in our house, that we can’t keep organized, we feel like a failure. Kurt is so out of control, he has a coat to give to homeless man but he couldn’t get it together to bring it to church on Sunday. Pathetic! Who are we, to have all this stuff that we don’t even need and we can’t even manage, when other people have nothing? Other people could benefit from our excess, but we have to get it to them.

It makes us crazy! We cry out to God and ask God to please help us find a way out of this mess. Well here is the thing. Advent is a time, for course correction. It’s a time for self evaluation. It’s a time to make changes. FROM THE INSIDE OUT. BIG
CHANGES. OR GRADUAL ONES that will result in big changes over time. Some of
us have to take baby steps, because when you make big changes too fast, you can’t
stick with them, and you end up failing. Ever been there?

In our scripture story from worship this week (Matthew 3:1-12 from The Message for those reading along at home), we have this “bigger-than-life-character named John. He was Jesus’ cousin. He was a wild man. They tell us “John was dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild field honey.”

Here is what it says in Matthew, chapter 3:
7-10When John realized that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees were showing up for
a baptismal experience because it was becoming the popular thing to do, he
exploded: "Brood of snakes! What do you think you're doing slithering down here
to the river? Do you think a little water on your snake skins is going to make any
difference? It's your life that must change, not your skin! And don't think you can
pull rank by claiming Abraham as father. Being a descendant of Abraham is neither
here nor there. Descendants of Abraham are a dime a dozen. What counts is your
life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it's deadwood, it goes on the fire.
11-12"I'm baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life.
The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him
I'm a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the
Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He's going to clean
house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He'll place everything true in its proper
place before God; everything false he'll put out with the trash to be burned."

John was a preacher that was pointing the way for Jesus, getting folks ready for
Jesus. He was SERIOUS! He did not want them to waste any time. It was time to

So, you see, that’s what this season is for us. It’s a season of changing gears, and making corrections in the course of our lives. A new year is coming in January, and many of us like to get a fresh start in January. But even before that turning point
on the world’s calendar – God’s calendar has this world changing event happening
and we get to celebrate it again every year. On Christmas, we relive the Holy Night
of Jesus coming to us as the Infant Christ.

So, what does it mean for to celebrate the birth of Jesus, to receive God’s gift of Jesus? What difference does Jesus make to us? God sent Jesus to change the world. God sent Jesus to tell us that we CAN make changes in our lives. Little ones – and little ones that turn into big ones.

Now getting a hold of the clutter in our home and our office may seem like a little
thing. But it represents our values. It represents the feeling that our life is spinning out of control; and that we can’t keep up with things. Having too much stuff also goes against our Jesus-values of generosity and giving stuff away. So when we see all that stuff, it works against our core values of simplicity and generosity. So you see, having a plan and being disciplined to clear out the clutter is essential to us living out our Jesus values. Becca was terrified yesterday when she and Kurt were sent, after feeding and giving things like clothes and hygiene items to the homeless, to the library to check out a book on celebrating holidays more simply. She asked Cheri to please order her Christmas gifts on line first and then read the book.

But making changes demands a plan and commitment. And we cannot do it alone. And neither can you. We need God to give us the strength to do what we cannot do alone. When those people came down to the water to John to be baptized, they said they wanted to be changed. But he did not believe them. He said, “You just want to do the trendy thing. All your friends are getting baptized so you are coming down here too. But baptism is not about getting a little water on your outside skin – it’s about a change inside.”

Baptism – and the choice to accept the gift of baptism and say – “I want to belong to God” – is a willingness to be changed from the inside out. In our two worship services on Sunday, we had a baptism and a renewal of our baptism. But before we did that, we invited each of the people present (and you reading along at home) to consider a question. What is one big change you want to make in your life, that you know you can’t make without God’s help?

We took a slip of paper to write that change on and asked people to put it
in a basket, but you can do it at home. Maybe you need help with a relationship, or with getting out of financial debt. What is the one thing that keeps up at night with worry more than any other thing? Because here is the thing, that’s the thing you need to give to God, and we believe you need to ask God to help you with.

John the Baptist told the people to get ready for Jesus. He said that it was time
for them to make some changes in their lives. That’s what this season of Advent is
for us. A time to make some changes. Pick one. Pick one change you want to work
on, starting today. And ask God to help you.

If you need a community to help you do this, a place where no one is perfect, where we ALL have something to work on, then come join us at the Village Church. We are imperfect people who make mistakes, but we know God loves us; and with God’s help, we are going to follow Jesus and change the world. Starting each Sunday at the corner of Monroe & Central Avenue in Toledo, and branching out to the rest of Toledo, Northwest Ohio, the United States and the world. Peace and may the joy of Advent and the coming of God’s greatest gift, fill you.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Have you read the whole Bible? I have. Ok, I might have skimmed through a few bits. But I’ve read pretty much all of it – a couple of times. Some of it lots of times. And let’s be honest-- there are some parts I would be happy just to skip right over. How about you?

Some other day, we’ll talk about Biblical interpretation, and the authority of scripture, and why we believe it’s ok here at the Village to give some parts of the Bible more authority than other parts of the Bible.

But today, I have another point to make. The whole Bible is our book as Christians. On some level, the whole thing belongs to us, and we have to deal the whole thing, in some way. So a long time ago, the church fathers (I’d like to say the mothers and the fathers, but it was probably just the fathers back then), the fathers created a three year plan for us to read through most of the Bible in worship, four scriptures a week, so that we would have some discipline about reading the WHOLE THING, and not just our favorite parts. The plan is called the Common Lectionary, and it’s used by the Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, United Methodists, United Church of Christ and several other denominations.

Now, actually, here at The Village we don’t follow all the church traditions all the time, so we don’t follow that three year plan for our worship all the time, but for the next few weeks we’re going to. You see, it’s important to be in community with the wider church, to connect our tradition, and to stretch ourselves to read some of those parts of the Bible that Pastor Cheri might not choose to preach on if someone else didn’t give me a little shove, to do so.

Being part of a larger church tradition also gives us seasons on what we call the Christian calendar. Now I’m sure we all know about the two big days on the Church calendar: Christmas and Easter. But there are lots of other days and seasons on the Christian Church calendar and it all starts today with Advent, the four weeks leading up to the birth of Jesus, which we call the four Sundays of Advent. (I already touched on this with the children earlier in the service when we talked about the tradition of the advent candles and the advent wreath.)

Advent is an amazing time of waiting, and watching, preparing and making room in our hearts and in our lives for the gift of God’s love born into our world. In some ways, Advent should be a busy time of cleaning house and getting our lives in order, ready to receive Jesus. But we have turned it into a busy time filled with lots of stuff that does not always resemble a celebration that honors the birth of God’s child. It seems more like a celebration of consumption and over-indulgence.
So, here at The Village our theme for these four weeks of Advent is to Rediscover Christmas, especially the CHRIST in Christmas – to remember that Christmas is about Jesus, not about Santa, (even though that can be fun), and not about buying or receiving the best gifts (even though that’s fun too). Christmas, at its center, is about God’s love bursting into the world.

And every Sunday in Advent, we are given a Bible passage, as a part of that three year plan, called the lectionary. And these Bible passages are meant to challenge us to think about the story of Jesus in a way we might never have thought of it before. This week’s scripture is the MOST challenging. It’s one of those scary texts that I, for one, would be just as happy to ignore. Honestly! I’ve never gone to one of those churches where they focus on the “Last Days” and the Second Coming of Jesus. Maybe some of you have. Maybe you should be up here preaching today. I say, I have enough to worry about, without worrying about when Jesus is going to come back to Earth.

BUT, this WHOLE Bible, belongs to us, my friends. And today, THIS is the scripture we are given to ponder. In today’s reading, Jesus is still here on Earth, with his disciples. It’s nearing the end of his life and ministry. And he starts to talk about what it will be like when he returns. He’s talking about his own “Second Coming.” And this is what he says:
36"But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven's angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows.
37-39"The Arrival of the Son of Man will take place in times like Noah's. Before the great flood everyone was carrying on as usual, having a good time right up to the day Noah boarded the ark. They knew nothing—until the flood hit and swept everything away.
39-44"The Son of Man's Arrival will be like that: Two men will be working in the field—one will be taken, one left behind; two women will be grinding at the mill—one will be taken, one left behind. So stay awake, alert. You have no idea what day your Master will show up. But you do know this: You know that if the homeowner had known what time of night the burglar would arrive, he would have been there with his dogs to prevent the break-in. Be vigilant just like that. You have no idea when the Son of Man is going to show up. (Matthew 24)

What on Earth? That’s harsh isn’t it? That’s not the sweet gentle Jesus we usually talk about, is it? Well it’s right here in our Bible. Jesus was complex. I guess, like us, he had more than one side to his personality. Things were getting serious now. He needed to get their attention. He knew he would not be with them much longer.
WHY? Why would he resort to fear as a motivator? I’m not so sure he was using fear, as much as he was using URGENCY. NOW. NOW, my friends. Now is the time, Jesus was saying. I have been here with you for awhile. I have given you a glimpse of what it means to live in my Way, in God’s Way, in the Way of Love. Now is the time to make your choice. Are you going to live for God, or not? It’s a clear and simple choice.
Are we going to follow Jesus or not? That’s what these scary texts about the Second Coming of Jesus invite us to ask ourselves. Are we ready? Are we living our lives TODAY, the way God wants us to live them? And if not, what are we waiting for? Are we waiting for Jesus to come? Well, ok, in just 4 weeks, on Christmas we will celebrate the coming of the baby Jesus one more time. This season of Advent is our time to prepare ourselves. It’s time to clean the houses of our souls.
And so I want to close with a story and an invitation. It’s a story about urgency, and making a choice about how we are going to live our lives. A friend told me that he knew, in his heart that he was gay. But in his church tradition it was not ok to be gay, so he prayed he would be straight. During this time, his father, who was healthy, and not that old, died suddenly. At his father’s funeral, when my friend spoke, he talked about how we all never know how much time we have and we should make the most of our lives. From that moment, my friend, came to terms with being gay. He concluded that God must be ok with him being gay since God had not answered his prayer to make him straight. He talked to some trusted friends, and said, he had decided to be true to who God made him, and come out as a gay man. But he had to leave his church.
In time he found his way here to The Village church. He found a home where he could be gay and Christian, where he can be whole. He is able to be authentic in his life, honest in his relationships, AND serve God here at The Village. My friend has never felt so free. There is nothing more important than being free – and in being the person God created us to be, so we can serve God in the world, and make the world a better place for others.
That’s why God sent Jesus. To love us, and to set us free. Is there something in your life that you need to let go of? Something that is keeping you from being the person God put you on this earth to be? Something that is keeping you from living the wonderful life God wants you to live? Is there something that is keeping you from being ready to receive the gift of God’s love that we celebrate at Christmas? What is it?
I hope you will use these weeks of Advent as a time of listening to God, and a time of watching and waiting. Make room in your daily routine and in your home, for an advent prayer space. Listen and watch for the coming of God. Let’s get ready for Jesus.
One final note for those who are joining us via the internet. We are going to try to do something special this Christmas with your help. Federal and state resources for the medical needs and housing for those living with HIV/AIDS have been cut substantially. Now, only those with the most critical cases are able to get help for the cost of their very expensive medications. Services that were once provided by vouchers, like transportation to doctor's appointments and other living needs are not available to the folks who need them to help maintain their health. So, this Christmas, The Village and The AIDS Resource Center of Ohio (ARC) are teaming up to bring Christmas baskets to area men and women who are living with HIV/AIDS. There are several ways that you can be of service in this ministry:

1. Financial Donation: Our goal is to raise $3000 for ARC to help purchase food, toiletries, laundry and other cleaning supplies. Checks can be made out to the Village with ARC on the memo line. We will have a special offering box available to collect cash donations.
2. Help us make blankets for the baskets: We have the capability. We have the room. We have the music. We even have the popcorn machine. All we need is fleece, scissors, and many hands to tie the blankets together.
3. Donations: Regular sized household supplies, toiletries, blanket material, reusable (99 cent) grocery bags, time, love (ARC will be purchasing food from the Food Bank)
4. People to help pack the baskets: ARC will need hands and arms and backs to help put all of this together In the days before Christmas (time to be announced.)
This ministry is one that can involve the whole family and will bring comfort and joy a friend we don't even know yet.
Please be in touch with Leslie Eppler at 419-350-0242; or e mail Leslie at

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jesus Freak - Let's Follow Jesus and Change the World by Cheri Holdridge & Kurt Young

Jesus Freak - Let's Follow Jesus and Change the World by Cheri Holdridge & Kurt Young

Cheri has been thinking for awhile about getting a tattoo (don’t tell her but if it were not for the cost and the fact that I would be disqualified from giving blood for a year, me too). Mine is going to be the Japanese symbol or Kanji for samurai (we serve is the translation to English). She has been thinking about getting the words “Jesus Freak”. She’s just not sure it’s the right words. Since this is something for life, she wants to make sure it will last.

Sara Miles, the author of the book Jesus Freak, the book we have been basing this series on, says "There's often a moment when I'm hanging out with a group of Christians—usually liberal Christians, the kind who care about global warming and inclusive language—and I see them glance at me as if I'm a total freak. I've embarrassed them by talking too much about Jesus. As if he were real." She is a Jesus Freak and so are we.

Jesus is real to Sara. Jesus is real to us at the Village. Jesus is real in the world – when his followers, really follow him and live in his Way, we make Jesus alive in this world, real for people we meet.

About a month ago, Cheri stood on the stage at the Village and challenged us to do something. She gave us until the end of November, so you still have time if you’re reading this in the last week of November. She talked about how she had taken some time to go help with our work with Family Promise, serving food and providing shelter to families that are temporarily homeless. Cheri said it was a bit inconvenient for her in the midst of a busy Saturday night (especially with me off on a trip, leaving her with two wonderful, busy kids) to do that. But then, as she said, she realized that being homeless is REALLY inconvenient.

Then Cheri asked each of us to participate in one of our ministries of serving, and coming FACE TO FACE with folks who are hungry or homeless, sometime before the end of November. As a part of worship this Sunday, Cheri asked Jennifer Black, one of our newer members of the Village community here, to come up on the stage and share her experience with doing that.

Cheri asked Jennifer about whether she was eager to do that, or did she have any hesitation. Jennifer’s response was that before she stepped through the doors of the Village she had been touched by a homeless person and was really looking forward to a chance to connect with homeless people through Food For Thought.

Jennifer then told us about her experience. She thought it would be a safe way to start helping the homeless. The group goes downtown Saturday mornings at the Main Library and hands out lunches that were prepared by them the night before. Standing there handing out food was not enough for Jennifer. So she took out an apron she had prepared with the words “Free Hugs” on it and did just that, she offered free hugs. She has been back every week since. The people down there say they may not have been hugged in years or talked to all week.

Cheri next asked how the overall experience was. Jennifer’s response was that she feels kind of selfish , she gets as much out of it if not more as the people there. She loves it. She explained how people come back and do it every single week, handing out not just food, but clothing, toiletries, socks, etc. It’s great almost party.

Cheri also talked about how she took some Girl Scouts, including Rebecca down to "Food for Thought" yesterday and they had a great time. The girls want to go right back. They talked with Steve North who is one of the pastors who is there every week. He told the girls that it's not really even about the food, or the toiletries, or the hot coffee. He said it's about the community.

He said some homeless people can go for days without anyone wanting to talk to them. People walk past them and avert their eyes, and avoid them. Down there at the library, it was like a family picnic with people laughing and talking. People just want to be treated with kindness and compassion and that's what happens there every Saturday morning.

Pastor Steve told a story, with tears in his eyes. He said, one Saturday in 2009 it was bitter cold. One man showed up, and said he did not need any food that day. He just came because he wondered if the people who come with food would really show up on such a cold day. They were there. Fifty Two Saturdays a year, they are there. Any of us can be there too. If you want to help, Jennifer or Cheri or or I or Rebecca can tell you more about it.

This is one place to serve. There are many other places. We started out this series on Jesus Freak by praying over some marbles in two large containers at the front of our worship space. Cheri invited us to pray over a marble, and let it be an invitation to God, to show us a direction where God wants us to serve in the world. You see, we believe Jesus gives each one of us a passion and a place of service in the world. There is plenty of suffering going around, and so there are plenty of different places of service to go around.

For example, soon we're going to tell you more about our Christmas project to provide food and blankets for people living with HIV/AIDS. Over the next few months, Ashley is going to be working on a Congregational Care program, so that we can work to reach out to members of our own Village community when there is a need. The opportunities are endless.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Baggage, forgiveness, mercy, compassion; big words. To understand them fully, we need to follow Jesus’ lead. This week in worship we read the story from John of Jesus and a woman being brought before him for judgement. We’ll talk more about the whole story later in the blog. But at the outset of the story, Jesus got centered by being apart, away from others. How many of us take the time to do that? So that we know what those big words are? If you think I do, well I need some of these words from you.

Jesus took the time to be apart from others and be with God. We should too, because if we don’t we may not know these words for ourselves, let alone for others. Otherwise, we may not know that forgiveness is to let go or give up resentments, feelings of being indignant or insulted. We don’t know compassion, a sympathetic consciousness of others. We may not know justice (fairness) or mercy (refraining from enforcing something that really isn’t fair).

The woman in our Bible story this week, John 8: 1-11 for those of you following along at home, was drug in front of Jesus by the religious right of Jesus time (the Pharisees and Sadducees) for engaging in adultery. Interesting it was only the woman. As our guest speaker this week said “interesting, cause it takes two to tango”, but there was just the woman.

The “religious scholars” were trying to trap Jesus in an un-winnable situation. The law of Moses, the accepted “right” of the time, was clear, she was to be stoned to death. That was the punishment for adultery, clearly laid out. They thought they had Jesus on this one. The perfect trap it was. He would have to chose between his compassion or following the law. If he chose compassion, he was throwing the law out and not a good Jew. If he chose The Law, where was his famous compassion for the wrong people.

But Jesus didn’t react at first, instead he squatted down in the dirt and drew with his finger. We’re not sure what he wrote. Our speaker asked us to imagine what, as the Bible doesn’t say. There were some great answers at the Village: Their Sins?, Forgiveness? Mercy? Or was it just doodles. Regardless he got up and said to them, the one of you without sin can cast the first stone. Now he had them. None could claim to have no sin.

Jesus squatted down again, and drew again. He gave them another chance. Once again, no stones were thrown. Slowly, but surely the group slithered away, defeated. No one dared condemn or judge her. Jesus turned to her and said they don’t condemn you and neither do I. How often to we judge others? But Jesus didn’t judge, he simply told the woman to try and not sin anymore.

In the book Jesus Freak, Sara Miles writes about how the truth is that suffering can become the foundation of faith, if we are willing to touch the sore places with love. If we don’t hide ourselves away in fear, but allow God to get close enough to feel God’s breath. To let God in to our pain, our shame, our anger, our fear.

We started that process for some us at The Village this week. Each of us was given a strip of tissue paper. I thought it was too long until our speaker told us what for. She asked us to write, only with our fingers, what we would ask Jesus to forgive. You can do it at home if you like. Find something you can burn, and only with your finger, God knows these things so you don’t need to write them in ink, you just need to let it go. Then, crumple it up, and with reverence burn it, destroy it, in other words let it go. We burned ours to ashes & let them go here at The Village. Let them go for yourself. Let go what you need to let go of so you can feel the breath of God on your skin.

Now that you’ve starting the process of letting go, feel the breath of God. Don’t worry, God knows these things. The freedom of Jesus’ forgiveness is yours. Embrace it. It’s not easy, I admit, I constantly struggle to believe God could forgive me these multitude of sins. If you can do that, you can take the next step and TRY to sin no more. Notice the TRY word. God has been one of us in the form of Jesus. He said try because God knows the struggle.

If you need help getting to the point where you can pull apart from others, let go of the hurts and sins, and feel God’s love, then find a place where you can. The Village is truly not the only place this happens weekly. There are thousands of places out there. Find one. We’re at the corner of Monroe & Central in Toledo, OH. We here various times throughout the week, especially Sundays at 10:30 AM & 12:30 PM. When you’re ready to begin the journey from letting go to receiving the love God offers us all, there is no wrong time and there’s always room in our circle for new travelers on the journey.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

JESUS FREAK – WEEK FOUR - RAISING THE DEAD by Cheri Holdridge & Kurt Young

When Cheri was in college, she got her first slap in the face with death. One of her fellow students dropped dead. One of those undiagnosed heart ailments. He and Cheri had been in a dance aerobics class together, a required PE class. On a Thursday, they had agreed to meet on Sunday afternoon to work on a class assignment, they had to make up their own dance.

He dropped dead the next day, and literally on Sunday afternoon when they would have been meeting in her living room, listening to music and dancing, Cheri was at his black Baptist church attending his funeral. Cheri did not know this young man very well at all. She cannot remember his name. Cheri had asked him to be in her group for the class project because she picked him out as someone in the class that did not have anyone else in the class to work with. He was a big muscular, athletic looking guy. Not the type that took dance aerobics to get his required PE credit. (That was Cheri.)

So, something compelled Cheri to drive to the other side of town, to go to this black Baptist church and attend his funeral. Cheri, and the friend she drug there with her, were two of the only white folks there, but they were made to feel quite welcome. It was a LONG funeral. But it was a CELEBRATION. They Holy Spirit was in the HOUSE that day. Sure, there was weeping, for those left behind, for a life cut short. But there was no doubt that he had moved on to his eternal home with God – and that is a GOOD thing!

Cheri was a young Christian at the time, and she had not attended many funerals. Cheri had not come face to face with death much in her young life. It made a big impression on her that these followers of Jesus were clear: physical death on this earth is not the end. We have the gift of eternal life. Our time on this earth is but a passing moment.

Kurt had that experience early too. His father, James Young, died when Kurt was only 15, and he was only 40. He was Christmas shopping on his lunch hour and got into a head-on car accident. After years of serving his country in dangerous situations, receiving multiple purple hearts, he died shopping. It was a blow to Kurt’s entire family. But he received a gift from that time too.

We had multiple celebrations of Jim Young’s life. At one, a group of Vietnam Veterans, celebrated his life as a Navy Medic patching up Marines on the battlefields of Vietnam. The thing is, they never met him. But their descriptions of what he did and who he was were dead on. And they freed a group of us to join that celebration of what he had done for us all. A series of fun stories and touching remembrances followed. A true celebration of a life, like Cheri’s friend, cut way too short on this Earth, but not ended.

Now of course, we are human, and some days it’s hard for us to live in that promise. But it IS the promise. We have the promise of eternal life. St. Therese of Lisieux put it this way: “What a treasure this life is! Every second belongs to eternity.” Can you imagine if lived life like that every day. Singer songwriter Tim McGraw, more recently, sang these words: "Some day, I hope you get the chance, To live like you were dyin'."

In worship today, one of our music leaders Ashley performed a song she wrote. That’s what Ashley’s song is about: “Consume Me.” It’s about someone who wants her whole life to be an offering to God, her whole life to be consumed and set on fire by the Spirit of God. Don’t you want to live life like that? On fire to do what God put you on Earth to be? Don’t you love it when you meet someone who knows what their mission on Earth is and are living it?

In our scripture for today, John 6: 35-40 from the Message for those playing along at home. Jesus offers these promises:

35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37Everything that God gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of the One who sent me. 39And this is the will of the One who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that God has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40This is indeed the will of God, that all who see me and believe me may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

Now here is the tricky part. In another place in scripture, we read that Jesus sends out the twelve disciples “with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.’” (Again, Matthew 10 5-8 for those reading along at home).

In her book, Jesus Freak, Sara Miles has a chapter on “Raising the Dead.” She points out that it is one thing for Jesus to expect us, as Christians in the 21st century to feed the poor and to forgive one another, but it’s another thing to expect that WE can “raise the dead.” This is actually one of Cheri’s favorite chapters in the book. Of course Sara Miles does not believe we can physically bring dead people back to life. But she talks about the natural cycle of life, death, and resurrection. And she writes about how our lives continue, even after we move on from our physical life on this earth, into eternal life with God, in the lives we have touched and left behind. We all leave legacies behind (good or bad—that is our choice). Kurt hopes that his life is remembered as one where even one life has breathed easier because he has lived.

Sara Miles tells the story of Laura, her son Gabriel, and her partner Gloria. Laura is dying. And she calls Sara to come see her and to help her prepare to die. She actually reads about a program on their church’s website, which she reads about incorrectly, it’s called “Sacred Dying” – a program to help folks prepare with end of life issues; but she reads it “Scared Dying.” Laura says, “I’m dying and I’m scared.” Over time Sara and some of her colleagues at the church visit Laura and Gabriel and Gloria who is an immigrant with no legal authority to take care of Gabriel once Laura dies, and that is what she is worried about. Sara helps her find an attorney to help try to make a way to ensure a safe future for the boy. In the telling of the story, we learn that Laura is one of those amazing people, having overcome addiction, but still living in poverty in the barrio, and how she touches people’s lives. Here is what Sara Miles writes:

“The narrative of recovery tends to focus on the one moment in which the addict sees the light or hits bottom or becomes ‘saved.’ After Gabriel was born, Laura was dragged to an AA-NA meeting by a friend, but what seems to have saved her was the vision of herself as someone who could save others. She became a fierce warrior, wading into the rushing waters of junkie life to pull her comrades out. ‘I’d stay up with them, I’d find someone who could get them fake papers, I’d take away their guns when they threatened to shoot themselves.’
“And she decided to become the kind of mother she had yearned for: a toucher, a kisser, a talker. She went to community college and became a peer counselor for alcoholics; went to church and became, to the limits of her strength, a forgiver.” (p. 151)

Sara follows the story in this chapter of her book, through Laura’s illness and eventual death. When Laura died, Gabriel made a little sign to put on the altar of the church for her funeral. It said, “Even though we are apart, your spirit it with in me” (sic). And Sara said, this was quite literally true. She could see Laura alive in Gabriel and in another friend Yolanda and some men from AA, “whose lives she’d saved with her bossiness and generosity. I could see Laura in myself, as I received the gift of her family—a gift she’s handed to me, a stranger to love. And I could see Laura alive in Gloria, in whose small, dark unremarkable body she looked, uncannily, like Jesus.”

At the close of Laura’s funeral, Gloria thanked people with some simple words: “’In Laura’s name, I thank you for the lessons you gave to her, to me and to each other.’ Gloria said. ‘Life is very short. What can we do? Well, love one another.’” (p. 161)

This was the simple, powerful legacy that Laura left with everyone who knew her – to love generously. And so her life is eternal. Those who knew her, trust that she is with God, without a doubt. Of course they grieve that they no longer get to see her. But they cannot be sad for her—because she is eternally with God. And she still lives in them. And for this we give thanks. The same as the people in the Black Baptist Church Cheri went to and the funeral home where Kurt and his friends and family came to remember his Dad.

This is what it means to be a resurrection people – a people who claim the power of life over death (a people who raise the dead). So this is what it means to follow Jesus and feed the hungry and raise the dead: We find people who are walking around like they are dead—and we give them a message of hope and love—because someone else gave us that message.

We are here, because other saints have gone before us. They have pointed us to God’s healing love. And now it’s our turn. At times when we felt spiritually dead, someone else reached out to us, and pointed us to God, and reminded us, that God loves us. They reminded us that we have eternal life, and this world is just a stopping place. Do you see those people in your mind right now? And now it is our turn, to point others to that love. But first, we are going to stop and give thanks for some of those saints who are gone from us.

Tomorrow, Nov 1, is All Saints Day, the day in the Church year when we give remember those who have died and gone to their eternal home with God. We are going to give you an opportunity now (even at home, you’ve got a candle somewhere. We had dozens on the altar in the front of our worship space, but you’ve got one somewhere) to light a candle in remembrance of those you love who have died and say your silent prayer, giving thanks for the ways they have touched your life.

Now, recalling that legacy, isn’t it time we do something to honor that path we have been shown. There is a world of hurting people out there. Look around in your life and find someone who is hurting, like you are or have been in the past. Show them the path to that love that shows you life and joy, even in death. If you can, you will be raising the dead yourself.

JESUS FREAK – WEEK THREE - Giving Changes Everything by Cheri Holdridge

Last night I stopped by St. Paul’s United Methodist Church downtown where The Village was serving the evening meal for Family Promise. This is a ministry where homeless families sleep in classrooms in churches at night, and then go to a Day Center during the day, where a case manager works with them to help them get back on their feet, working to help them find employment, job training, housing, life skills, or whatever they need to get back on track. Each week they stay at a different church in a network of about 8 host churches. Then there are another 8 to 12 support churches like ours that help the host churches by providing extra volunteers. It’s quite an elaborate system, but efficient, because it uses existing buildings that would otherwise be empty during the week to give a temporary home to men, women and children.

Last night, I gave about an hour of my time to sit and have a dinner that four of our Village folks had prepared. I held a four week old fussy baby so her mom and dad could have a short break. (It was the least I could do.) I sat and chatted with the folks, pretty much like I would sit and chat with friends over my own dinner table at home. Except that we all knew they were homeless. I would go back to my nice comfy home, and they would be sleeping on blow up beds on a church floor. One of them who has been in the program for a couple of months now, looked at a house yesterday and is hoping to rent it on Monday. Another talked about what life was like back when she had a home.

After awhile, I was relieved, from my shift, by Pat, a Village member, who came to spend the night. I went to pick up my daughter at her school dance, and went back to my busy life of privilege.

I went back to my life. However, Family Promise cannot provide housing for homeless families without the 6 of us that night, multiplied by countless others on all the other nights of the year. And that is just for one network in Toledo. It takes a lot of Villages to provide emergency shelter for all the homeless people, especially in this economy. It was inconvenient for me to rearrange my schedule to be there on Saturday night. But, I guess being homeless is pretty inconvenient too.

I ran into Val and Maria, who are members of The Village, earlier in the afternoon. They were buying catsup to go with the meatloaf Maria was making, because they did not have any catsup at home. I guess they might have preferred to be doing something else with their Saturday afternoon.

But here is the thing: Feeding hungry people, and providing housing to homeless people, although it’s inconvenient, well. . . it’s what Jesus would do. Here at The Village, we follow Jesus and change the world. And actually, when we do it, it gives meaning to our lives.

I felt more human after going and spending some time with the families at Family Promise that night that were making a temporary home in some Sunday School rooms in a church. Because I sat and had a conversation with them, and I cared, and I knew that I was making a tiny difference in their lives. It was not a huge thing. But it was something I could do. (It did not matter that I was a pastor, in fact they had no clue that I was a pastor.) This one little thing I could do, put together with all the other little things lots of other folks can do, makes a difference in the short term so that hopefully in the long term, these folks can get their lives back together.

Sometimes, the world’s problems seem so big, don’t they? But they don’t have to be. We can break them down into small pieces. If each of us would give a couple hours of time, or prepare one part of a meal for about 15 people for Family Promise, it really DOES make a difference. If by the end of this year, everyone in this room gave just 2 hours of time or helped prepare one meal, it would make a HUGE difference for Family Promise. Could we do that? Because here is the thing: I believe that as followers of Jesus we want to stay connected to some of the most basic human needs in our community. Those needs for families are food and shelter.

Jesus said: Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. . .Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself.” (Matthew 16:24-26 The Message Bible)

In Sara Miles’ book Jesus Freak, she talks about the feeding ministry at her church. At St. Gregory of Nyssa they have a food pantry where every Friday they give away groceries to hundreds of people. Many of the volunteers at the pantry are folks who started out as folks who needed food from the pantry.

Her book is full of inspiring stories of real people whose lives have been transformed by their work at that food pantry. Here are a couple of those stories from the book.

“A tall Latino boy with a gold tooth was piling up tall, symmetrical pyramids of granola bars when I stopped by his table. He’d been working for hours, and his area was meticulously neat. ‘Nice job,’ I said. He looked at me shyly. ‘It feels really good to give food away,’ he said.

“That was the consensus: giving food away changed everything. . . .” (p. 33)

“Giving was the basis for authority in the pantry: people became leaders because they worked hard and took care of others. As far as I knew Michael had never in his life quoted Jesus—the greatest among you must be servant of all—but an ethic of service permeated the pantry he ran. . . . I tried to work as hard as [all the volunteers] did, but could barely manage to walk thought the church with a mop in my hand before someone grabbed it. ‘Sara,’ the volunteer would scold. ‘Let me do that for you.’ Bruce, a canny ex-Navy guy shook his head watching us. ‘Everywhere else I’ve ever been, people try to avoid work,’ he said, ‘But here, it’s like people are running toward the work.” (p. 34)

Giving changes everything. That is the message that I read over and over in the stories in Sara Miles’ book. I believe we want The Village to be a giving church. So I am going to make a challenge. Before the end of November, will you give your time to feeding someone who is hungry through one of our outreach projects? We have several opportunities planned:

- Last Sunday of October and November, there is a Community Meal at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in the Old West End. We help serve a hot meal to hungry people; prepare the meal from 2-4 or serve from 4-6.

- Family Promise, last week of November and early December we’ll be helping with this project again.

- Nov 6 at 10 a.m. we’ll be working with Food for Thought at the Downtown Library, outside in the courtyard, to pass out sandwiches, other food, and hygiene items to people in need.

We also starting working on plans this week, to provide food at Christmas time for persons living with AIDS across NW Ohio in cooperation with the AIDS Resource Center, for our Christmas Outreach project. I’m very excited about this opportunity.

I keep coming back to the stories in Sara Miles book about the volunteers in her feeding ministry. Over and over again, they talk about how giving to others helps them find healing in their own broken lives. “Giving changes everything,” they say. I know in my own life this is true, many of you have told me the same thing. I’m inviting us to follow Jesus in one of the most basic acts of Christian outreach, offering food to someone who is hungry. Before the end of November, will you carve out the time to volunteer in one of our feeding programs? If we are really going to be church that changes the world, I believe we all need to be engaged every now and then in this basic work of seeing hungry people face to face and giving them something to eat in the name of Jesus.

In our weekly e mail list and on our web site there will be information about our outreach opportunities to feed hungry people. Or if you want more information, e mail me, Cheri(at)Villageohio(dot)org.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

JESUS FREAK Week Two Conversation

On 10/17/10 Cheri gave the message about "God's Radical Love" based on the chapter "Come and See" in Sara Miles' book, Jesus Freak. Sara writes about Jesus "embracing the wrong people." In her message, Cheri talked about Jesus turning upside down the world's barriers of who are the insiders and outsiders; and this is what we try to do in our community of The Village Church. What would it look like for a church to be a model of truly following Jesus in embracing the wrong people and loving in a way in which there are no outsiders? What do you think God is challenging us to do in a new way, as a church?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

JESUS FREAK - WEEK TWO - GOD'S RADICAL LOVE by Kurt Young & Cheri Holdridge

If you have played the game "telephone" before, you know that stories can morph and change. Each time it is repeated, it can change, so by the end, it’s a whole new story. But, if the same message is repeated over and over again, it stays the same and gains significance and relevance. Like a favorite book, movie, or TV episode that are worth repeating over and over again, Sara Miles says reading the Bible is like that too. The more you do it, the more significance and relevance you get.

There is power in these stories from the Bible- they give us the strength to BE LIKE JESUS, something we are supposed to be into as followers of Jesus. Sara Miles writes: "In stories . . . Jesus tells his disciples to live by the upside down values of God's kingdom. . . he tells us that we, too, are called to follow him in breaking down all worldly divisions that get in the way of carrying out his instructions. . . .So do it God's way instead, Jesus teaches. Say yes. Jump right in. Come and see. Embrace the wrong people. Don't idolize religion. Have mercy." (p. 3 Jesus Freak).

In “insider church.” a.k.a. theological language, we have a phrase: in Jesus, the word of God was made flesh. This is fancy theological language for the fact that it was not good enough for God to just be God. God wanted to be real to us. And guess what God chose to do when God became one of us? God embraced the wrong people - the outsiders. We love that. Because who does not feel like the outsider at one time or another? No one at the Village was willing to say they were never the outsiders, not at either service.

Have you ever watched “It Takes a Thief” on the Discovery Channel? This is not the movie or dramatic TV show. This is a reality TV show where a group of ex-cons help a family secure their house better. The thieves try breaking into the house to show where the vulnerabilities are. (Frighteningly, our kids love it. Thankfully, we don’t think they’re getting ready for a career in crime). Ultimately, the premise is that they are trying to show you how to get the best security system so your house will be safe.

Cheri & I imagine that we are like those people, except rather protect our belongings, we are trying to keep our differentness hidden from God. Whatever it is what we don't like about ourselves, or that makes us feel bad (our lack of discipline about eating, praying, working out, etc for Kurt), we are trying to hide it from the world and God. It's like we're trying to make our life a secure house so no one can get it. And God is like that security-system company, always trying to find a way in, because God loves us - and God knows that hiding is no good. God wants to be inside our house living with us. So God is trying every open window and every open door.

Jesus says, every need we have is an opportunity for God to step into our lives. That's what he was trying to tell folks with this story that read from John's Gospel today (John 9: 1-3 for those of you who are following along at home). In the story, as Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him.
The people wanted to blame someone for the man being blind, sadly something people still do today, as if it was a result of sin. Seems to us that Jesus was saying - No one sinned, some people are just born blind. But because he was born blind, God's works can be revealed in him. Hmmm. . . what might those works be? Perhaps a miraculous physical healing, or perhaps compassion of others around him. Maybe the story of a man overcoming a great challenge in life, to show the rest of us, that we too, can overcome the challenges in our lives that are not so obvious a physical blindness.

Have you ever known someone who has faced a great obstacle in life, maybe a physical illness or disability, and became stronger because of it? Now, don't go down that path of thinking that God causes bad things to happen so that then God can heal us. Neither of us believes that. Bad things just happen, because of natural forces, human sin, and for reasons we can't explain. But we don't believe God causes bad things to happen to teach us a lesson. (Another sermon for another day Cheri says). But there ARE bad things in the world. Like the blind man. And the people, well they wanted to BLAME someone.

You see, it seems to be the human condition that we draw lines. We need to make insiders and outsiders. Because if we can point to someone that is outside, then we get to define ourselves as inside and then we can feel good about ourselves. It is a stupid human game we play. But Jesus he just kept coming along, saying, "enough of that." His was such a radical love. He kept coming and hanging out with the outsiders and making them insiders and soon no one could keep up anymore with who was "in" and who was "out" because Jesus said, "In God's family everyone is in."

Jesus said, those things that make us feel like an outsider, are opportunities for God to find us - because God is like that person trying to find an open door or window into our closed up house. The Bible is full of stories of Jesus going to the person who was the outsider and saying: I want to be with you. And that means God wants to be with each one of us. Each one of us matters to God.

What we are creating here at The Village is that kind of Christian community - where we reminding folks that everyone matters to God -- the kind of community where we RUN TOWARD anyone who is being cast out. We STAND UP for anyone who is being beaten down. ANYONE.

We're going to do something important this week. You've all seen the news reports. We are finally getting some public attention to the problem that has been there all along. Gay teens and those perceived to be gay, have been committing suicide because they are being harassed by other children and adults. It's been happening for a very long time. Finally, it's getting the world's attention. Someone, it is believed that this started with one young woman, invited us all to wear purple on Wednesday October 20th to show we care. And it’s spreading like wildfire, more than 1 million people have signed up on the internet that they will do so. Even Kurt’s office came to him with the idea of wearing purple on Wednesday.

We are going to host a rally and prayer vigil right here at the Village at 6 p.m. We hope you will be here. We hope the news media will be here. Because you just don't know what gay teen or adult might see that - and see it as a sign of hope - that a group of followers of Jesus took the time to say "enough." STOP THE HATE. We are going to pray for an end to the hate and we are going to stand up and be public right here on a busy street corner and bear witness that God loves some folks that have felt very unloved. I hope you will make every effort to be here and bring lots of your friends with you. There is power in numbers.

We invite you to pray about what next steps The Village might take. We are looking at reviving the PFLAG Chapter in Toledo. PFLAG is Parents & Friends of Lesbians and Gays. It is a support group for the loved ones of adult GLBTQ persons. We have a very thriving Rainbow Area Youth (RAY) group in Toledo. We could and should support them more. We could do more to help Equality Toledo with its Safe Schools project. Members of the Village are already working in Bowling Green on the One Bowling Green election effort, to maintain anti-discrimination laws in Bowling Green.

Finally in the bigger picture, we invite you to pray for The Village Church. Toledo, Northwest Ohio, and ultimately all of our country needs more churches that embrace the outsider. We are part of a movement, my friends. What we are doing here, is not just planting one church.

The world is changing. People are hurting, and the old way of being church is not keeping up. We are part of an experiment in new way of being church. We are building the plane as we fly it, sometimes a scary experience. In some ways, God is trying to break into the windows and doors of the old closed up church institutions and God is saying: my people are hurting-DO SOMETHING. Embrace the wrong people.

God is putting us in a position to lead the way. We are inviting each one of you to be a leader in this movement. God is giving us an opportunity here at The Village, to be a different kind of community and to model that community for others. We say we want to follow Jesus and change the world. Well that means we will turn the world's values upside down. We will work with God to seek out the people who are hurting the most and embrace them. We will speak up when others are being harassed and no one else is speaking up. We will care for the people that no one else thinks are worth caring about. Because here is the thing: God thinks we are worth it, and God thinks they are worth it. So let's do it.

Let's follow Jesus and let's embrace the wrong people. As we say in our worship celebrations each week, “We are imperfect people who make mistakes and God loves us anyway” and “we are followers of Jesus AND WE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD”.