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.