Sunday, May 29, 2011

ALL MEANS ALL by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

Friday I was at Jamie’s school, at the end of the year “Special Friends Day” program & lunch, talking to a mom I had not really talked with much before. I told her I am a pastor. She said, “Oh, I heard you were a lobbyist.” I laughed. “Well, the last couple of weeks I guess I have been.”

I’ve been what you call a citizen lobbyist. Week before last I went to Columbus for Equality Ohio’s Lobby Day. And this past week, I joined 275 clergy from about 30 faiths in 48 states. We represented the Human Rights Campaign to lobby the United States Senate and House of Representatives. We worked on three main issues: Anti-bullying, or Safe Schools legislation; Employment and Housing non-discrimination, and Respect for Marriage which is the legislation to repeal DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman).

Now, of course, you know that I am not a professional lobbyist. I am your pastor. I am trained in theology and pastoral care. I have experience in communications, both public speaking and the written word, but I am not a politician, nor am I a political operative (that’s Kurt by degree & experience).

However, I am a citizen. I am a community leader. And I was reminded while I was in D. C. that the House of Representatives is called The People’s House. We live in a democracy. And so regular citizens, like you and me, when we know about a particular situation, and when we are passionate about it, are given the opportunity to go speak to the leaders of our government. I have written letters to Congress before. I have called them on the phone and let my opinions be noted as “for” or “against” something. But this time, I went there. I looked them in the eye. I told some of YOUR stories, OUR stories, to put a face on what some of them would prefer to keep at arm’s length.

Why did I do that? I went to Columbus and to Washington, for one reason: because I am a follower of Jesus. And Jesus calls us to speak the truth to the principalities and powers, even when they do not like it.

Now some of the people I visited are with us. They vote with us every time. Those visits were easy. We just said “thank you for your support.” Then we talked about how we can work together. It would have been really easy just to go visit the people who are our supporters.

But I went to see some of our adversaries too, some BIG adversaries. Do you know about the line of succession? You know, first, there is the President, then the Vice President, and third in line is the Speaker of the House of Representatives? Well he happens to be from Ohio. His name is John Boehner. He has not been particularly friendly to legislation to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender persons. So I had the privilege, along with two other clergy and a staffer from the Human Rights Campaign, of going to talk with one of Speaker Boehner’s Legislative staff on Tuesday.

The Congress was in session that day, so most all of our meetings were with staff rather than the actual legislators, but that is okay. It is to be expected. That is the way this is done, but the legislators depend upon their staff to keep them informed about what is important to the citizens they serve.

So here is how that conversation went down. We told some stories to “Darryl.” There was an article in the Blade about me going to do this. Thanks to that my friend called me to tell me about her son. He’s the same age as Jamie: 8 years old, 2nd grade. He goes to school in Toledo and gets called “gay.” He cries for 2-3 hours when he gets home. He’s in therapy. Next year he will go to another school because he has been so traumatized. When his mom heard I was going to DC she called to tell me his story and to thank me. But the truth is, just sending him to another school is not the answer. He will never be the same due to an event in THE SECOND GRADE.

We have to change the culture, where kids (and their parents) think it’s ok, and think it’s funny to call someone gay. And our lawmakers have to change the laws.

We saw this in the 60’s during the Civil rights movement about race. It took people working from all angles. Clergy and community leaders worked to change the culture. Regular Citizens worked too.

At the same time, the law makers changed the laws. And over time, it became no longer socially acceptable, for the most part, to treat black people, or people of any race, as second class citizens. We don’t tolerate racism in this country. We have legal protections against racial discrimination. But there was a time when we did not have it. And citizen lobbyists had to go to Washington, to speak the truth to power.

We told other stories in the last couple of weeks. About a transgender man who can’t rent an apt, even though he has a job and pays his taxes, because when they do a background check they find out he used to be female. About a mother whose 4th grade children, twins, had their teacher ripped out of the classroom, there one day, gone the next, because he was outed as gay on the 6 o’clock news. Never mind he was one of the best teachers in the school district.

So we told these stories to the staffer of the Speaker of the House. He listened intently. And then he told us, ever so politely, that as compelling as our stories might be, that legislation to provide safe schools, and prevent bullying, and to protect people from losing their jobs and their housing are not a priority for his boss.

He explained that they are very busy over there in Washington. They have to prioritize what they can spend their time on. They were elected on a platform of particular things that said they would accomplish. The main one was the budget, and it is taking so much time they just won’t have enough time for our legislation.

I said, “So what you are saying is these things just aren’t important ENOUGH?” He looked at me kind of sheepishly, smiled and said, “I knew you were going to come back to that,” and basically said that was the situation. Sigh.

It took awhile for the gravity of this conversation to sink in. Because you see, he was polite. He was respectful. He listened to us. He said they just don’t have time to deal with all the legislation. But by the time I slept on it, and flew home, but by the time I hit the Detroit airport, I was really angry.

Because you see, I realized, that the Speaker’s staffer was trying to hide behind the budget, in order to say they don’t have time to deal with the concerns of the people who fund that budget and whose lives are affected by that budget.

But we are all citizens, and so are all supposed to have a voice. That is why I went to Washington, and that is why I will continue to speak out. But I want to tell you why there is such clarity in my voice, and why the passion runs so deep when I talk about these things.

I saw my friend Mary while I was in DC. She used to live behind us here in Toledo, and now she lives in Maryland, outside DC. She drove me to the airport on Wednesday morning. She asked me how I became so passionate about speaking out for the rights of LGBT persons. She said, “Is it because you have a sister who is a lesbian?”

“No,” I said, “If you’ll remember, my sister did not come out, until long after I got involved in this work.” It’s because I am a follower of Jesus, and Jesus always takes the side of the oppressed. EVERY TIME.

Over and over and over and over again in scripture – just read it. Jesus goes out of his way to find the people that are being left out, pushed aside, overlooked, and beaten down. He lifts them up. He looks them in the eye. He treats them with dignity. He demands that the rest of the world treat them with respect EVERY TIME, HE DEMANDS.

If we are going to follow Jesus, then this is what we have to do to. EVERY TIME. All means all. “Whoever is on the outside,” Jesus says, “Then draw the circle wider.”

This is what Jesus says to do: "The next time you put on a dinner, don't just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You'll be—and experience—a blessing. They won't be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned—oh, how it will be returned!—at the resurrection of God's people." (Luke 14:12-14)

All means all. Say it with me, “ALL MEANS ALL”. Here at The Village – this is our calling – to reach out to the people that Jesus calls us to include – whoever it is. There are all kinds of misfits out there (and in here) – depressed people, poor people, people with kids whose lives are messed up, rich people who are consumed with their stuff, hateful people who have no friends and who want to change – but no one will give them another chance. Just think of all the ways people have messed up their lives. Just think of all the ways we draw lines to exclude people in our world. Jesus says: there are NO LINES. ALL MEANS ALL!

So, as followers of Jesus, we are called to stand up for the outcast. When we are given the chance we need to speak the truth to power. But we can also be like Jesus, all by ourselves every day. That is the challenge of our scripture for today. Who do you know who is left out? What can you do to bring that person inside this circle? or to extend this circle to include that person? We are followers of Jesus and followers of Jesus change the world – one person at a time.

I want us to be really concrete as we think about this today. Who do you know who needs the love of Jesus? Look at that person’s face in your mind right now. What can you do to extend the love of Jesus to that person this week? Maybe you have invited them to church many times and they have not said yes yet. Maybe inviting them to our concert at the Old West End Festival is just the thing. Who can turn down free food and good music? Maybe you want to do something to change the world but you don’t know what to do. Come down with me to St. Mark’s church this afternoon to serve food to hungry people. That is one good place to start. Just sitting down with someone, eating a meal you served them, looking them in the eye, and treating someone who had to come to a free meal at a church, can change the world.

It is just that simple. We follow Jesus, when we pay attention to the people around us who are hurting and when we DO SOMETHING. So let’s DO SOMETHING. Let’s stand up for the oppressed, and let’s love the outcast. Just as Jesus loves us! Amen.

If you want to be a part of a community where ALL MEANS ALL, look, there are many out there. But if you can’t find one closer, we’re at the corner of Monroe & Central in Toledo and out in our community the rest of the week. Come, help us draw a bigger circle. There is always room in our circle to make it bigger.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Stone Soup Stories: Setting Our Priorities by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

Kurt and I have a problem. Our house needs painting. I don’t know how much that will cost. Let’s say $5000. Maybe not that much, but trust me, we live in the Old West End, we have at least $5000 in little projects that need to be done to our house. Here is the problem, we are not the kind of plan-ahead-home-owners who set up one of those home maintenance savings accounts. We do not set aside money so that when we need to do the big things like paint the house or replace the roof, we can just go to that nice savings account and pull out the money. So, we don’t have the money.

Did you hear me say that? “We don’t have the money.” Now, here is what I know. Most all of us have money: some money. And most of us, at one time or another say, “we don’t have any money,” or we say “I don’t have enough money” and what we often mean is this: “I’m not choosing to spend my money that way.” Sure, most of us don’t have enough money to buy a mansion, or to fly to Paris every weekend, or to drive a Maserati. But Kurt and I make enough money to pay to get our house painted, if we would choose to do that.

Because, you see, I took a little time to see where we spent some of that money in 2010. We spent well over $5000 going out to eat. More than $5000 sending our kids to private school. (we could have sent them to public school – and gotten our house painted) More than $5000 on vacations. We gave more than $5000 to The Village Church.

So, as I look at some of this discretionary spending, where could I find the money for the house painting in the 2011 budget? Well our kids’ education is important to us. Now that Becca is going to Toledo School for the Arts we are not spending as much money on tuition, but we need to sock that savings away in the College Fund, so we can’t save any money there. We can definitely cut back on the going out to eat. We will be healthier if we eat at home anyway. So we can find some of the money there.

Then it comes down to some hard discussions about vacations, (because we really value our family time on vacations.) AND what we give to the church. Here’s what I can tell you about that. Kurt and I are committed to giving to our church. Since the day we got married, we made a commitment to work toward tithing our combined income, that is giving away 10% of our income, mostly to our church (and some to other charities). Since we started planting The Village back in 2008 most of our charitable giving has been going to The Village. In 2010 we gave away about 10% of our income, and most of that came to The Village. Sure, that would be enough money to paint our house. Yes, when things get financially tight around home, it would be easy to say, “We can cut back $100 a month from what we give to The Village.” But we don’t.

And here is why: Because we know that everything we have comes from God. We are blessed. And we know that we can live on 90%, and we can give 10% back to God. We can share 10% so that God’s work can be done in our world. And we give, because we believe the work of The Village Church is so very important. You know this. Look around this room. Look at who is here. Think about the amazing community we have here. Think about the people that come here week after week to experience the healing message of God’s love. The simple fact is, it costs money to have this ministry. And Kurt and I can’t think of anything more important to invest our money in. So, we are willing to let the paint peel on our house another year if we have to, in order to keep giving in a significant way to this ministry.

Which brings me to our scripture for today (for those, like Kurt, following along on the internet today, Joshua 24:14-16). The prophet Joshua said these words: “Choose this day, whom you will serve, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” You see there were lots of gods to choose from those days of the prophet Joshua: fertility gods, and gods that would help you have a good harvest. They built idols out of gold and would pray to those idols. But Joshua and his people chose to serve Yahweh, the One God, Maker of Heaven and Earth. This scripture has always been helpful to me when I find myself getting seduced by material gods of this world, when I get caught up in thinking I need to have a house that looks good, or have better clothes or some new gadget. When I find myself having trouble setting priorities, or making a decision about what is most important in life, I think about this scripture. “Choose this day whom you will serve Cheri.” Will it be God – with a capital G, or some other god – with a lower case g – something less important – something that draws me away from the purpose the Creator of the Universe has for me?

I was talking to a member of The Village this week, who said she has decided to double her monthly financial gift to The Village because she believes what we are doing is so important. She and I were talking about this scripture and about choosing what is important. She said she sometimes thinks about what will happen when she dies. She wonders if she will go to heaven and meet God and if God will ask her why she spent money on cable TV for 30 years rather than giving that money to her church, to help more people. Ouch!

I don’t really think God wants us to live with dirt floors and survive on bread and water. But I do think we all have choices to make. We can choose which gods to serve. Every day we get to choose. And in this world, in this economy, our personal budgets reflect our values. Our financial choices reflect whether or not we serve GOD or the gods of the world.

Today, our Village Lead Team is asking all of us to make a financial commitment to The Village for the next year. Kate Whitmore, our treasurer is going to come up in a few minutes to give us some information about our budget and our giving, and to tell us why she gives.

I know some of you have never made a financial commitment to a church, but I want to invite you to do that today. Here is why. Just like every other commitment in our lives, it’s a way of saying, this is important. If you value The Village Church, and our ministry, and you want us be here week after week, ready to open our doors and reach more people, even on the weeks when you can’t be here, then let us know we can count on your financial support.

There are so many people out there like the people in here – imperfect people who need to hear the message that God loves them and accepts them the way they are. God is using The Village Church to reach out with that message. I pray that you will make a financial commitment to support our ministry so that together we can walk with Jesus and change the world!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

“Stone Soup: God Provides MORE Than Enough” by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

Have you ever gone to a buffet and put too much food on your plate? “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” It’s uncomfortable, isn’t it? Every time I do it, I think, I will NEVER do it again, right, don’t you? But I do. Then I think about the time I went to Nicaragua and I saw children without shoes begging for coins at the airport. And I visited huge families living in homes with dirt floors and only two rooms. And then I remember some of the homes I have visited in this country taking baskets of food at various times, trying to give people some help, when they are out of work, and don’t have enough money to buy food for their children, and diapers, and toilet paper because food stamps don’t cover all that stuff. And I think about those meals when I stuff myself. And it really does not make sense.

And then I remember this story, where Jesus worked a miracle (John 6:1-13’s story of the fishes and the loaves story for those who are following along at home or on the road) . It’s possible that Jesus actually caused food to appear where there was no food before. We’re talking about Jesus after all. I believe he can work miracles. Some people think the real miracle in this story, worked more like this: once the little boy shared his lunch, then other people probably began to share the food they had packed away too. There were probably lots of thoughtful moms -- and maybe a few dads (but mostly mothers and grandmothers in that culture) who before they left the house, packed food, because they did not have a McDonalds or a Starbucks on every corner.

And so as the day wore on and it time to eat, and they realized not everyone had brought food, Jesus had everyone sit down. Then they all began to share their food. And you know how sometimes we have so much food at a pot-luck, that at the end it seems like we have more food left over that we started with at the beginning? Well that’s what happened that day on the hillside. The people opened their hearts, and their lunch bags. Everyone ate, and they were filled, and they had food left over. Because they were GENEROUS, everyone was fed. No one went hungry, and there was more than enough.

This is God’s design for our world, my friends. Our Stone Soup story from last week, tells the same tale. If you did not hear the story last week, let me just

catch you up a bit: Three monks are walking in the mountains of China. They ask: “What makes one happy?” They come upon a village where floods and war had made the villagers untrusting of strangers and their neighbors. “These people do not know happiness,” they all agreed. “But today we will show them how to make stone soup.” “They gathered twigs and branches and made a fire. They gathered a small tin pot on top and filled it with water from the village well. A brave little girl who had been watching came to them.” “What are you doing?” she asked? “We are making stone soup and we need three round smooth stones,” they said. She helped them find the stones and they put them in the water to cook. She got a bigger pot from her mom so they could make more soup. People began to poke their heads out of their windows to see what was happening. One of the monks said, “The last time we had soup stones of this size and color, carrots made the broth very sweet.” “Carrots?” said a woman from the back. “I may have a few carrots! But just a few.” And off she ran. She returned with as many carrots as she could carry and dropped them into the pot.

We left off the story last week with the CARROTS. Well, of course, you can imagine what happened next, can’t you? One by one, those villagers, the ones who had not spoken to one another for years, the ones who had been hidden away in their homes, frightened and lonely, well, they began to warm up to each other, as they thought about what they had to share to make the soup better. One said he thought his onions would make the soup taste good, so he went home and got them. Another was licking his lips at the thought of some mushrooms. Some others went home and came back with mushrooms, noodles, pea pods, and cabbages. And then, as the story goes: “Something magical began to happen among the villagers. As each person opened their heart to give, the next person gave even more. And as this happened, the soup grew richer and smelled more delicious.” (Stone Soup by Jon J. Muth, Scholastic Press, New York, 2003). The sharing went on and on: bean curd, taro root, mung beans and baby corn.

“The monks stirred and the pot bubbled. How good it smelled! How good it would taste! How giving the villagers had become! “At last, the soup was ready. The villagers gathered together. They brought rice and steamed buns. They brought lychee nuts and sweet cakes. They brought tea to drink, and they lit lanterns. Everyone sat down to eat. They had not been together for a feast like this for as long as anyone could remember. “At the banquet, they told stories, sand songs, and celebrated long into the night. They unlocked their doors and took the monks into their homes and gave them very comfortable places to sleep.”

The next day when the monks left the monks thanked the villagers for having them as their guests. The villagers said, “Thank you, with the gifts you have given, we will always have plenty. You have shown us that sharing makes us all richer.” Sharing makes us all richer. The Monks set out to discover what makes people happy. All it took was “stone soup.”

The most profound truths in life are often so simple. . . not easy, but simple. We all have more, when we share. That’s the economics lesson I believe God wants us to learn. We call it God’s economy: the economy of abundance. When we all share – we all have more. There is always enough – and not just enough, there is more than enough, there is plenty.

When Jesus was preaching to the masses on the hillside by the Sea of Galilee, his disciples got scared, because they got hungry. It was a basic human need. And immediately they got sucked into a worldview of scarcity. This is a worldview that is familiar to many of us. It is the idea that we don’t have enough. We need more. It’s the worldview of my eight year old son, who always wants the next new video game, many of us get stuck in this worldview and to some extent we never grow out of it. So we work harder, and get farther in debt so we can have more for ourselves and those we love. But God’s world view is different. God’s world view is just the opposite. In God’s view, there is enough. God created the world, and it is good. There is enough, when we share. And when we don’t take too much for ourselves, like at the buffet bar where we stuff ourselves.

Remember last Christmas when we had that challenge of raising $3000 for the AIDS Resource Center for our Christmas outreach? We wanted to provide really generous food baskets and blankets for people living with AIDS, whose benefits are getting cut back and had trouble paying for medicine? Remember how for some of us, that goal of $3000 seemed huge? Just like the disciples felt when they saw that crowd of people to feed? But then what happened? One person went home to get some carrots ($25) and another some mung beans ($50) and before you know it we had raised $4000! Did any of you suffer at Christmas time because we raised that money? Did you remember being without last Christmas?

Well, you know here at The Village we are a new church, and we have some grants to help us get started, but those grants won’t last forever. Last year of our $150,000 budget, our members gave 1/3 (about $50,000) of the money and this year we need to give about ½ of that ($75,000). Our giving needs to increase roughly from $50,000 to $75,000. Plus we need a little more so we can hire a band leader. Now that might seem overwhelming. But we trust God. And we see in all these stories, that when we put what we all have together, there is plenty.

You are going to get a packet of information in the mail this week, about Stewardship – about how we come together to use our resources to make the Village stronger financially. We are asking everyone to consider making financial commitment to The Village. We are going to ask you to bring your commitment card to worship next Sunday. Some of you have been a part of a church before and you have done this. For some of you this is a new thing. If you have questions, please talk with me or a member of the Lead Team. It does not have to be scary. This can be exciting, as we bring our resources together to make The Village stronger. Pray for our church this week.

Will you pray with me now? God we are grateful for your generosity, for taking care of our needs. In this Country, we have blessings that many in the rest of the world don’t have – clean water, available food, shelter, and clothes. Be with us as we pray about how we have so much, give us hearts that our generous. Calm our fears of need and show us your abundance.

As the story of Stone Soup says, “As each person opened their heart to give, the next person gave even more. How giving the villagers had become! we will always have plenty. You have shown us that sharing makes us all richer.” Do you have a community where you can feel that reassurance of God’s plenty? If not, you need one. Search, they are out there. If you find yourself near the corner of Central & Monroe Streets in Toledo, drop by. We’re here Sundays at 11AM, coming next year in Maumee, and out in the world the rest of the week.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

STONE SOUP: GOD ALWAYS PROVIDES ENOUGH by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

Did you see baby Avi last week? We’re having sort of a baby boom around here. Jordan, Jonah, and Faith. Abbie has a baby on the way. My baby girl is 12 years old today. Every baby is a wonder, you know? It’s mother’s day, and I’m a mother so allow me just a moment to reflect on the wonder of God’s creation. You see we have a world, where every one of us comes in, under the same circumstances. We are helpless, and cute. We have nothing. We have the ability to do just about nothing except breath (well Jamie’s arrived a little late, but that’s another story), suck and well, you know, pee and poop.

But, if everything goes well, there are systems in place, to take care of us. Now, I know sometimes, those systems don’t work. We’ve got some of the “walking wounded” around here, the “survivors” of some of the ways the systems have broken down. BUT God gives us – here in the created world-- what we need. Every child HAS parents. We know that biologically it takes parents to produce a child.

Now we can agree, here at this church, that families take many different forms. But this planet is set up so that there is truly enough food for every person. There is adequate shelter. We have the ability for education, and meaningful work. If we could learn to share, (like we all should have learned in Kindergarten) there really is enough. Every child, like Avi, and Jordan, Faith, and that baby that Abbie is carrying, would all have a fair opportunity. That is the design God has for this world. It does not always work out that way -- YET. But it is God’s way. It’s the way we are working for and praying for here at The Village Church. It’s why we follow Jesus, so we can change the world into the world God desires – into the world God wanted from the first day of creation.

So today, I have a couple of stories to share, as a way to encourage us, and to invite us to participate in God’s way – it’s the way of ENOUGH, and not the way of just enough, but PLENTY for everyone. We’re starting a three week series today based on a folk tale called “Stone Soup.” Do you know the story? It’s traditional roots come from Europe, but the version of the story we are using comes from a children’s book where the Stone Soup story is told and illustrated by Jon J. Muth. He sets the story in the mountains of China with three monks. They are walking in the mountains of China discussing wise and deep subjects that you would expects Buddhist monks to be talking about, such as this: “What makes one happy?” Then one day when they come upon a village.

We’re told “the village had been through many hard times. Famine floods and war had made the villagers weary and untrusting of strangers. They had even become suspicious of their neighbors.” “The villagers worked hard, but only for themselves. When the monks reached the gates of the Village no one came to greet them. Everyone disappeared into their houses. And when the people saw them enter the village they closed their windows up tight. “

The monks knocked on door after door but no one would answer. “These people do not know happiness,” they all agreed. “But today we will show them how to make stone soup.”

“They gathered twigs and branches and made a fire. They gathered a small tin pot on top and filled it with water from the village well. A brave little girl who had been watching came to them.”

“What are you doing?” she asked? “We are making stone soup and we need three round smooth stones,” they said. She helped them find the stones and they put them in the water to cook.

Now they told the little girl that the stones would make excellent soup, but such a small pot would not make very much soup. She said her mother had a bigger pot. She ran home to get it. When her mother asked what she was doing as she rolled their huge pot out of their house she said, “The three strangers are making soup from stones; they need our biggest pot.” “Hmm,” said the girl’s mother. “Stones are easy to come by. I’d like to learn how to do that!”

Well as you can imagine, people began to poke their heads out of their windows to see what was happening with these three monks and this huge pot in the center of their village! “One by one, the people of the village came out to see just what this stone soup was.” One of the monks said, “Of course, old-style stone soup should be well seasoned with salt and pepper.” “That is true,” said another,” But we have none. . . “ Well, you know what happened. Someone from the village went home and got some salt and pepper. Then another of the monks said, “The last time we had soup stones of this size and color, carrots made the broth very sweet.”“Carrots?” said a woman from the back. “I may have a few carrots! But just a few.” And off she ran. She returned with as many carrots as she could carry and dropped them into the pot. Well we will finish the story next week, but you can guess what happened, can’t you. That stone soup turned out quite well. God provided, out of their generous hearts. They had all that they needed. There was enough. There was plenty to eat. They just had to put it together.

There is another story in our scripture for today (Exodus 16:2-15 for those who didn’t get to join us today at The Village). This is one of my favorites. (I know I say that often, but this really IS one of my favorites.) Do you remember the story of Moses saving his people from being slaves in Egypt? Remember he goes to Pharaoh and says “Let my people go!” and over and over again Pharaoh says “No.” And finally they just go anyway. And then they have to flee through the sea, and Moses parts the waters, and all that. Well then, if that is not enough, they have to travel for 40 years in the wilderness before they get to the Promised Land. It’s sort of like a test. It’s a time of trial. A whole generation passes, before the people who had been slaves grow old, and their children get to have a new life as God’s people in a new land. Well, so, they are out in the wilderness, living as nomads. They have left behind their life as slaves. So it is sort of a step up. But this is the scene.

This is one of my all-time favorite lines of the entire Bible. The people of Israel say to Moses: “Were our lives not bad enough bad there in Egypt as slaves, did you have to bring us out here in the wilderness to DIE?” And so we read, then, in the book of Exodus, that God heard the cries of the people and God responded, with bread from heaven: God spoke to Moses: "I've listened to the complaints of the Israelites. Now tell them: 'At dusk you will eat meat and at dawn you'll eat your fill of bread; and you'll realize that I am God, your God.'" 13-15 That evening quail flew in and covered the camp and in the morning there was a layer of dew all over the camp. When the layer of dew had lifted, there on the wilderness ground was a fine flaky something, fine as frost on the ground. The Israelites took one look and said to one another, manna (What is it?). They had no idea what it was. 15-16 So Moses told them, "It's the bread God has given you to eat.

This is where we get the miracle of the “manna” – the bread from heaven. Every morning God gave the people of Israel bread from heaven to eat so they would not go hungry.

God provides. I know there are times, when we feel like we don’t have enough. And some of us, as individuals, have gone through times of being unemployed, and it’s tough. It’s scary. But here in the United States, when we really compare our standard of living to the rest of the world, we have to admit that we live in luxury. Clean water and sanitation are things we take for granted. Grocery stores with food readily available are luxuries that some people only dream of. And we complain when we have to cut back on going out to eat. Really? Really!

The message of today is a simple one. We all came into the world as a baby. Helpless. And we have received plenty. Sure, we have had our struggles and our challenges, who has not? But we have also been blessed. And God has provided and will provide for our needs, usually WAY beyond what is necessary. Think about people who are really poor: People who have to walk miles to get clean water. People who cannot get childhood vaccinations, or don’t have an emergency room right around the corner from where they live. Think of people who run out of food and don’t live in places where there are food pantries and soup kitchens. We’ll hear more about the Stone Soup story next week, but the story reminds us of this: from just a little , we can share, and we can help one another. We have plenty, when rather than hiding alone in our houses and protecting what we have, we decide to come together and share what we have so that all have what they need. That’s the definition of plenty.

Jesus calls us to be generous, because God is so generous with us. Everything we have comes from God. All of creation is a gift from God. We are simply caretakers.

Next Sunday, after worship, you are invited to join me down the street at Monroe Street United Methodist to help with their Community Garden. What better way to give a little time to help feel hungry people right here in Toledo who need fresh vegetables to eat? We are going to go over there at 1 p.m. You don’t need any tools, except some gardening gloves if you have them, and a willingness to help out for a couple of hours. Time is precious, I KNOW. Trust me, I KNOW. But what better way to give thanks to God for all the blessings God has given us?

We have plenty of soil to produce healthy food for people on this planet, and right in this town. We don’t have to eat unhealthy food. But it takes a re-ordering of our time and our resources. The dollar menu is one of the cheapest ways to eat, but also one of the unhealthiest.

Then in two weeks, we are going to ask you, during worship, to make a financial commitment to The Village Church for the next year. You’ll be getting more information in the mail, and these three Sundays you’ll be hearing some of our own folks talk about why they give. If you are a new visitor at The Village during this three week campaign, we want to let you know that this is just some “family business” we are taking care of. We know sometimes new folks who visit for the first time and hear a church talking about money get discouraged and think that’s all al church talks about. So we want you to know that you just happened to stumble upon our first annual financial campaign. But we also don’t apologize for the fact that we talk about money. It costs money to have this amazing ministry. And we understand that every penny every one of us has is a gift from God. So we are not going to apologize for taking some time to consider, what portion of our money we each might want to give back to God through the ministry of The Village. But we won’t be asking to see your tax forms. We consider this a personal decision between you and God. Today we want to invite everyone to pray.

During worship we came up to the Soup pot, and took a stone (we’ve got them still at the Village), and a prayer card, and pray for our church and for your own discernment (same as next week). Give thanks to God for all the blessings in your life.

Do you have a community like this? Where you can share your abundance or need? If not, go find one. They are out here. If you’re near Central & Monroe Street in Toledo, stop on by, we’re here Sunday mornings at 11 AM & out there in the world the rest of the week.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

“Silent Night, Holy Night” Good Friday 2011 by Carol Williams-Young

Silent Night, Holy Night. These are the first few words of one of our most familiar Christmas carols. The words conjure up such lovely images, so different from the images of Good Friday (Matthew 26:36-27:61, Luke 23:32-49).

It gives us an image of a stable, surrounded by a crowd made up of singing angels and awe-struck shepherds and adoring kings. It’s a far cry from the crowd that flocked to GolgothaSkull Hill. Mocking and jeering, spitting and sneering, hurling insults as though they were stones, full of hostility and thirsty for blood.

At the stable, we see a wooden manger, filled with soft straw and cradling a newborn, wrapped in soft warm cloth, with that smooth baby skin and two tiny hands with ten perfect fingers. On Good Friday we see two wooden beams, fashioned together in a cross, and on it a man bleeding and bruised from beatings and whippings and thorns, stripped nearly naked, with soldiers gambling for his clothing at his feet. And those hands: now they are pierced by the nails that fasten him to the cross.

In the stable, there is silence. It’s the silence of a nursery, disturbed only by the gentle rustling of the animals and the cooing of that holy child. In that silent night, God did the holy work of coming to live among us.

On Good Friday, there was silence too. After the screaming crowds had gone home and the wailing women had departed, after the earthquake and the thunder and the sound of the temple curtain being ripped in two, there was silence. The disciples stood at a distance, silently watching as Jesus’ body was removed from the cross and taken away. Then I picture them gathering in a room that is sealed up tight, huddled together in petrified silence, terrified that a knock at the door would mean they were next.

Or maybe their silence is a result of confusion. They have no words to explain what has happened. Just a few days ago they had entered Jerusalem to people waving palm fronds and singing hosannas. Over the next couple of days it seemed like there was nothing Jesus couldn’t do. And then last night one of their own friends had betrayed him, and Jesus had done nothing to defend himself. And now this. How can you explain this?

And then there’s the grief. Jesus had chosen them. He had called them by name, taught them, loved them. They had just eaten a meal with him last night, and today they had watched him die, in the most humiliating and excruciating way possible. He had promised that he would not leave them comfortless, but they are not feeling comforted now. Now they sit in silent mourning.

Meanwhile the two Marys sit across from the stone that seals Jesus’ tomb. They can do nothing for their loved one. They can’t even participate in the rituals that are supposed to help people deal with their grief. They are powerless to move the stone away, and so they simply sit in silent vigil.

It was a silent night.

We know what silent nights are like, too. We know what it feels like to be so afraid of what might happen next that we just want to curl up in a ball and hope the next catastrophe doesn’t find us. We have times in our lives when we are so confused that we don’t know what to do or what to say, so we simply do and say nothing. And we know grief. We know the grief that wrings the last tear and sob out of you. And we know the kind of grief that is so deep that you are afraid that, if you begin to talk about it, you will start to cry and never be able to stop. So you don’t speak of it at all.

We’ve felt the helplessness that the two Marys felt. We’ve been confronted with situations where we wanted to speak out, wanted to act. But we didn’t think anything we could say or do would make a difference, so we remained silent.

Perhaps you’ve even felt the silence from inside the tomb, sealed off from the life you want to have by institutions that try to strip you of your dignity, people who see you only as a stereotype, a society that welcomes some in and keeps others out. Or maybe that stone is one you’ve put there yourself addiction, broken relationships, bad decisions, poor choices.

Like the disciples, we know silent nights. But we also know something that the disciples did not yet know. We know that in the silence of Good Friday, God was doing Holy Work. In that Silent Night, God was preparing the announcement that would burst out of the tomb on Easter, proclaiming that evil had not won, that sin and death had been conquered, and holding out the promise of new life to anyone who will reach out and grasp it. On Good Friday, God was not silent, and God is still speaking! In our silent nights, God can lead us out of our fear and our confusion and our grief. In our helplessness God can empower us to speak and to act. And God can help us roll away the stones that keep us from being all that God created us to be. In our silent nights, God can do holy work.

On Good Friday, we remember that our Silent Nights can be Holy Nights, too.