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”.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Jesus Freak Week One Conversation

On Sunday, 10/10/10, at The Village, we heard the story of Sara Miles, author of Jesus Freak. A bit of her story is posted in the blog on this page. What reactions do you have to Sara's idea that we might just live as Jesus called the early disciples to live -- to go out our front doors and heal the sick and feed the hungry and get on with it? Sara was an atheist, until one day she received Holy Communion. In her words "Eating Jesus cracked my world open and made me hunger to start sharing food with other people." Now she runs a food pantry that serves more than 800 people every week. What responses do you have to her story? Do you have a sense that God is calling you to act in some passionate response to some need in the world, and if so what is that calling?

JESUS FREAK WEEK ONE - By Cheri Holdridge & Kurt Young

= Sara Miles calls herself a "Jesus Freak." In fact, that is the title of her book. It's the best book Cheri has read in years, and that’s saying something. Cheri loves Sara Miles. She is her new hero. Cheri says “I want to be Sara Miles when I grow up”. And this is why. She follows Jesus, and she's changing the world. And yeah, it's messy, but it's not so complicated. She doesn't make following Jesus so complex. Oh sure, when you have to deal with people, like we said, it's messy. She writes this in her book: "The thing that really sucks about being a Christian is that God actually lives in other people" (Jesus Freak, p. xvii). So, of course, that means that we have to treat other people with the same care and love that we would treat God. Cheri keeps hearing the song “what if God was one of us” in her head when she thinks about this.

Sara Miles is a real live person, doing ministry today in the city of San Francisco, reminding us, that God lives in the people who are hungry, and coming to our food pantries. Those are the people that we need to treat with the same compassion we would treat Jesus if he came to our house. It's really that simple.

But here's the thing. Sara Miles is no saint. She would tell you that. She was an atheist for a whole lot of her adult life. She was a former war correspondent, seeing whole lot of horrible stuff. At age 46, she wandered into a communion service at a church in San Francisco and took communion, and it changed her life.

This is what she writes about that experience: "Eating Jesus cracked my world open and made me hunger to keep sharing food with other people. That desire took me to an altar, at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, where I helped break the bread for Holy Communion, then to a food pantry that I set up around the same altar, where we gave away free groceries to anyone who showed up. From all over the city, poor people started to come every Friday to the church-100, 200, 450, 800 people-and like me, some of them stayed. Soon they began to feed and take care of each other, then run things, then start other pantries. It was my first experience of discovering that regular people could do Jesus' work." (p. xi)

You see, Sara Miles' life was transformed by Jesus. She got it. She got the message. She said, she read the calls from Jesus in scripture, and she thought he really meant it, imagine that. He seemed pretty clear to her. So she, and some others, started this amazing food pantry. They give away food right in the sanctuary of this Episcopal church, think fancy, high church, crosses, marble altar, etc, every Friday.

They have about 50 volunteers, many of whom started out as folks in the line a few weeks before, who needed food. They start with a home-cooked meal for those volunteers. And then they give away food, right there from the altar of the church, to anyone who comes, no red tape, no qualifications. You just show up and you get food. And people give them donations because they want to help hungry people. And other folks come there to learn how to set up food pantries in their neighborhoods. Because what they are doing there is living out the call of Jesus to feed the hungry. It’s messy, but sometimes, it's just that simple. They’re celebrating 10 years this fall of doing this.

We read some of those calls in the scripture we read in our celebrations for today. The
Scripture, for those playing along at home, Matthew 10:5-14 (The Message):

5-8Jesus sent his disciples out with this charge:
"Don't begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don't try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.
9-10"Don't think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don't need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.
11"When you enter a town or village, don't insist on staying in a luxury inn. Get a modest place with some modest people, and be content there until you leave.
12-15"When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don't welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don't make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.

Sara Miles writes this: "What does it mean to be a Jesus freak? Or, more to the point, what would it mean to live as if you-and everyone around you-were Jesus, and filled with his power? To just take his teachings literally, go out the front door of your home, and act on them?
"It's actually pretty straightforward, Jesus says. Heal the sick. Cast out demons. Cleanse the lepers. You give the people something to eat. You have the authority to forgive sins. Raise the dead." (p. ix)

"I know this sounds nuts," I said to an old friend, who'd been shocked at my conversion to a faith I'd mocked, and baffled by my sudden urge to give away pallets of lettuce and cereal, "But, uh, when we're all together at the Eucharist and at the food pantry, it's the same thing. Because Jesus is real." (p. xiii)

Sara is a Jesus freak. But she never thought she would be. And she's not the kind of person we think of when I think of a Jesus freak. She's not preaching on a street corner to folks and telling them they need to be saved. She's giving food to drug addicts; and homeless parents with hungry children. She's going to the barrio to visit dying mothers and their children, because they call and ask her to come.

And why does she do it? Because, in her words, "Eating Jesus cracked my world open and made me hunger to keep sharing food with other people." She found meaning. She answered God's call in a big way. She wanted to do something to make a difference with her life. And so now she runs a food pantry, and helps others to start food pantries all over San Francisco.
For the next six weeks at The Village, Cheri is going to be preaching from Sara Miles book called Jesus Freak and we are running four "Connection Groups" each week to discuss the Sunday messages. If you want, you can order a copy of the book on-line and read it. Or you can just go to the group (schedules and locations are on line at our website), without any preparation and still get plenty out of it. We are even posting the discussion questions on line. We want to make this as easy as possible, because we know that being in a "Connection Group" is new for most of you and you will be taking a risk to do it.

Here's what we hope we will get out of this experience. Several things:
1) Connecting to one another and connecting to God

2) Recognizing that we are not perfect and that God loves us anyway. Because Sara's stories are all about real people who are far from perfect, hear that, we;’re not perfect people, but they love one another and they are blessed by God's love in all sorts of messy human circumstances

3) We hope that Jesus will catch a hold of us the way Jesus has caught a hold of Sara Miles. That would be the most awesome thing of all.

She has found her passion for serving Jesus in life. Her passion does not need to be my passion or yours. Our friend Claire read this book and said to me: "So when are we going to open a Food Pantry here at The Village?" I said, "I'm not entirely sure Toledo needs any more food pantries. There are lots of them. We might need to provide some volunteers at some of the Feed Your Neighbor sites, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, and that would be great."

Here's what we hope we will do. We hope we will all find our passion. We can't all start some huge amazing new ministry like Sara Miles. And we don't have to. Now there were probably two or three in this room who will do that - start some new thing from the ground up. Some of you are employed in jobs that you see as a ministry, and this worship series may help clarify some of that for you. But we believe there is still quite a lot of untapped potential in this place. We have some big dreams here. We see problems out there - problems so big - only God can respond. But God can use us.

Now one person alone, usually can't do so much. But one person with a passion who gets a vision from God and shares that vision with other passionate people. . . well, then things start getting really exciting. There may be someone who sat in the Village Commons today or reading this blog along with you, that God has put in this place, to be a partner with you - to change the world. The Village is simply the connecting point, the incubator, probably also the prayer center, for that world-changing-movement. And here's the thing. We don't have to change the whole world. God has lots of Villages all over the planet. God is busy.

So, what is God saying to your heart today? Imagine Jesus standing here right now, and saying: "What are you waiting for? Just go. I'm giving you the power, heal the sick, feed the hungry, care for the hurting people." Who would Jesus be sending you to, and what would you do? Whose face do you see?

Cheri says “I believe God is speaking to us today. We are not going to get the whole picture today, but we will get a glimpse”. So take a movement to move into a prayer time & a ritual now, as we ask God to show us that glimpse. To so, find a quiet spot and an object for this, we passed out marbles. Hold that glass marble or other thing right now, and ask the following:

Ask Jesus, who would you send me to?

What are you calling me to do?

What is my purpose?

Now, when you’ve got that figured out, come on down to the Village, or if you’re too far away, find a place to put it, a rock garden, a stream, and put it with the dozens of others we prayed over ourselves today. Each one is a fellow dreamer, a fellow Jesus Freak who wants to change the world. Come be a part of this with us. We’re starting at the corner of Monroe & Central, each Sunday at 10:30 AM & 12:30 PM and as our statement we read each week says “We know that we are imperfect people who make mistakes. We give thanks that God loves us anyway. In this community we practice patience, compassion, and forgiveness. When we leave this gathering, we go out to share God's healing love with a broken world. We are Jesus' instruments of hope in our world. We are followers of Jesus and we can change the world!”.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Listening to Father Gustavo Gutierrez

When I was in seminary more than 20 years ago, I traveled to Nicaragua, I read feminist theology and I learned about this wonderful new thing called LIBERATION THEOLOGY. Father Gustavo Gutierrez, from Peru, was credited as being one of the main forces behind the movement in South America. Last night, I had the privilege of going to Corpus Christi Church in my hometown of Toledo, OH, and hearing this living saint give a talk. I heard the man who coined the phrase "preferential option for the poor" talk about it. As he spoke I sat and imagined all the places he has been, and all the people he has conversed with in his life. I sat in awe. Father Gutierrez is small in stature, and held a cane as he stood before us to speak. I think he must be getting quite old. He spoke matter of factly about his work, as if he were a simple parish priest. And yet i felt like I was sitting in the presence of a rock star in the religious and political world.

Here are some nuggets that I took away from his talk.

1) " Samaritan" as in the "the Good Samaritan" from the well known Bible story, should be a model of what it means to be the church. In fact, it would be a great name for a church. A Samaritan Church shows a preferential option for the poor and GOES OUT to the poor. The person in that Bible story about whom we know THE LEAST is the wounded person on the side of the road. We know something about every other character in the story. A Samaritain Church is one that GOES OUT looking for the poor and wants to KNOW them. And once we go out, it's not enough just to CARE for the poor and help them, we need to ELIMINATE THE CAUSES of poverty. But first, we need to GO OUT, from our churches TO THE POOR. This is what it means to be a Samaritan Church.

2) Theology is a hermeneutic (a way of being in the world) of hope. Gutierrez said he is often asked if there is reason to hope today. His answer is this: "Are you creating reasons to hope?" Theology, or a life with God, is a gift. He said: " We accept the gift of hope if we are committed to create reasons for hope for other people." What I took from this was similar to the phrase that was going around a few years ago during the Presidential campaign: "Be the change." Gutierrez said that our theology is one of incarnation.God is living in us, so it's up to us to give hope to the world. God gives us hope and we give hope to the world. We have some responsibility to LIVE the HOPE.

3) Gutierrez pointed out that the stories of the multiplication appear seven times in the gospels. He closed his presentation with this point. We must be able to share from a very few things. He said he thinks Jesus came with the message: TO LEARN TO SHARE.

It was clear, at least to me, that Father Gutierrez was inviting us to consider this message of sharing for our own lives.

This amazing man has spent his life in conversation with the poor and with the powerful. He message is clear, Jesus showed a preferential option for the poor in his life and ministry. THE CHURCH, and any local church today, is called to do the same. To be an authentic church of Jesus Christ, we are called to GO TO OUT and BE WITH those who are poor. We are called to CREATE REASONS TO HOPE and to LEARN TO SHARE. I was blessed to hear this living saint. Now, as we take Father Gutierrez wisdom to heart, let's follow Jesus and change the world.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


If you were paying attention, this was a hard week for people who love everyone. If you watched CNN, went on Facebook, or Twitter, or read a forwarded e mail from an activist friend, you heard something about this. That is if you are on any kind of mailing list for social justice advocates, gay rights, advocates for children or youth, teachers, special needs students, or even the University of Michigan student or alumni association.

Is there anybody out there that missed seeing an article or an interview about a bullying incident: a blog on political disagreement that instead turned into a state official stalking a gay college student because he is gay; a story about a thirteen year old kid committing suicide because of harassment from other kids for not wanting high end electronics or clothes; another twenty something because an intimate moment was recorded and posted to the net - stuff we used to call peer pressure and hazing that has now become life and death.

Our friend Karyn wrote to Cheri this week: "We have to change the dynamic." These stories of children committing suicide cannot become common place to us. So she wrote this personal manifesto on her Facebook profile, and Cheri copied it, and within hours, scores of others joined us:

“I am standing up to BULLYING!! I am standing up for children and youth who are picked on, bullied, and excluded for being different. I am standing up to the system that allows this to happen. I am STANDING UP to hate, homophobia, racism, classism, sexism, and other "isms" of our world. STAND UP WITH ME!!”

Now, Cheri could have preached an activist sermon today, and ask you all to stand with us, and you probably would do it. She’s done that before and she will do it again. We need to change this sick world. We need to change the dynamic, and God is calling us to do that. God is calling this church to BE the change, and to lead a movement of change starting right here at the corner of Monroe and Central.

But there is something else we have to do FIRST. Before we go out there and change the world. We need to be sure that we HEAR, really HEAR, deep down to the core of our being, to every tiny cell and sub-particle of our being, this message for ourselves: "We are not perfect, but God loves us anyway." That is where we start. We need to go out there and share that message with lots of hurting people.

But hear us clearly, none of us can share that message until we own it for ourselves. There are no perfect people. No perfect people in here in the Village or anywhere among the followers of Jesus. And no perfect people out there, anywhere.

We've all got our crap. We've all got our baggage. Stuff we have done that we are not proud of. Stuff that has happened that has left us broken and wounded. Some of it was choices we’ve made. Some of it was done to us - we were innocent victims. Some was a mix of both. It's complicated, isn’t it.

We are imperfect. Like the messy burlap hanging on the wall behind our worship stage. The threads of our lives are ragged and uneven. Like the beat up suit cases at the edge of the stage - we have been on some trips in our lives, and we've been tossed and turned, there have been some ups and downs. These ups and downs have formed us into who we are today. It is what it is. We wouldn’t be who we are were it not for all of the hurts and joys, the loses and gifts.

God sent Jesus to walk on this earth - just like us - to be beaten up and tossed and turned a bit like us - so God would know first-hand what life is like on this Earth that God created.
But this is the promise, found in the letter by Paul to the new, little church in Rome, like the Village - no matter what - God will love us. NO MATTER WHAT - WE STILL BELONG TO GOD - AND NOTHING CHANGES THAT. No matter what we’ve done, no matter what we failed to do, no matter what others have done to us. There are plenty of people trying to drive wedges between us and God.

Listen to Romans Chapter 8 again, verses 31-39 for those of you playing along at home:
Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We're sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I'm absolutely convinced that nothing-nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable-absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

You see, the early Christians were being persecuted. They were being killed for being followers of Jesus. And of course, that was awful. And yet, they knew that if their life of this Earth was cut short, they would still have eternal life in heaven with God. And so somehow, they were able to have a sense of peace. They understood that life on this Earth does not last forever for any of us. Physical life is temporary. But what never ends, is the promise that we belong to God, and that God loves us, and has a home for us. And nothing can separate us from God's love. NOTHING.

Now, there are some people in this room who have been, or who are discouraged, to the point of wanting to give up on life. I know some of you have been, or are so depressed that they want to give. But you are with us today, in person or on this blog. You chose to get up out of bed today. You said YES to life, today. You said YES to this community, and YES to God's love today. And here is the thing: God says YES to us EVERY DAY without fail.

Friends, hold onto that promise. There are people out there who need to hear that message, that promise. We know that people out there are dying to hear that message. But before we can go out into the world and boldly proclaim that message with confidence, we have to be sure that we know it - that we feel it with every fiber of our being. We are not perfect. We have some crap of our own. We have made some mistakes. We have been hurt, some of us more than others. But it's ok. Because God loves us anyway. Do you believe us? Do you believe the promises of Jesus?

Nothing separates us from God's healing love for us.

Nothing. No THING

We belong to God. Jesus came to show us that. And nothing and no one can take God's love away from us. Amen! So say we all!