Sunday, December 30, 2012

Making our Home with Jesus by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

We are coming to the end of 2012 and facing a new year. Do you make New Year’s resolutions? I’m not so big on resolutions. They usually fade away by around the middle of February.   If they last that long.

On the other hand, I do like the idea, of starting the New Year renewing my commitment to my long-held beliefs and values. Methodists have had this idea for a long time and so we have a tradition of what is called the John Wesley Covenant Renewal Service. Sometimes it is a special worship service held on New Year’s Eve. Today, at the end of my message, we will simply say together John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer, as a way of re-stating our commitment to follow the way of Jesus.

As I pondered a scripture for us as we enter the New Year, the one which was just read to us, (John 15:1-8 for those following along on the net), was given to me. Perhaps you have heard it before. Jesus is the vine, God is the Farmer, or the vine grower. We are the branches of the vine. And Jesus invites us: “Make your home in me just as I do in you.”

That is such a powerful image. The second part especially. Jesus makes his home in us. I can see him saying we should make a home in him, but he makes a home in us.  Really? Whew! That is a lot of responsibility. To think that Jesus makes his home in me.
But it makes sense. Think about it. Just last week, we celebrated Jesus’ birth in a manger, in a borrowed room where the animals were sleeping. He was more or less homeless, so I guess he needs a home. During his ministry on earth we hear about him traveling around, staying here and there. He never had a physical home. He lived with the people. Why wouldn’t he make his home with  us.  He lives in us. 

And in this statement, in says: I am the vine and you are my branches: make your home in me.  I can’t think of a much closer relationship than this. And he says, when we live this close, our lives we bear the fruit of God.

Our lives will show the world what God looks like.  I mean, think about it:   we are God trees and our lives  bear God-fruit.  Everyone knows that an orange tree bear oranges.  You don’t get apricots from an apple tree.   So, when we make our home on the vine of Jesus, then our lives will bear the fruit of Jesus: compassion, forgiveness, patience, humility, generosity, and all the rest.  So today, we are invited to renew this covenant – to make our home in Jesus.

There is a fascinating story in the Old Testament about the people renewing the covenant. You can find it in the book called II Kings, Chapter 22. There was a King in Judah, named Josiah. He became King in about the year 640 BCE (before Jesus was born).  He became King when he was 8 years old.  His father had been assassinated. His grandfather had been blamed for the people turning away from their worship of Yahweh, the one God of Israel. They had begun using the temple for idol worship. During the 18th year of his rule, he was having the temple renovated, and so the story goes, they rediscovered the scrolls that were the books of the law, the books of Moses and the Torah. These would be the first five books that we know as the Old Testament.
You see, they had lost their Bible, and they rediscovered it.  Imagine what would happen if you and your family lost your whole history for two generations.  When the king heard what was written in the book, God’s Revelation, he ripped his robes in dismay. And then he called for the priests.  He ordered them all: “Go and pray to God for me and for this people—for all Judah! Find out what we must do in response to what is written in this book that has just been found! God’s anger must be burning furiously against us—our ancestors haven’t obeyed a thing written in this book, followed none of the instructions directed to us.” (II Kings 22 11-13)

Then King Josiah called all the people together and read the Holy Book to them:
23 1-3 The king acted immediately, assembling all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. Then the king proceeded to The Temple of God, bringing everyone in his train—priests and prophets and people ranging from the famous to the unknown. Then he read out publicly everything written in the Book of the Covenant that was found in The Temple of God. The king stood by the pillar and before God solemnly committed them all to the covenant: to follow God believingly and obediently; to follow his instructions, heart and soul, on what to believe and do; to put into practice the entire covenant, all that was written in the book. The people stood in affirmation; their commitment was unanimous.   (2 Kings 23:1-3)

Can you imagine what a day this was?  This was a turning point in history as the people of God renewed their covenant and turned back to God, after they had gone through a long period of separation from God.

I have two friends who participated in the marriage covenant years ago. Marriage is a covenant, you know. It is a decision to make a commitment between two people. It becomes a covenant when we invite God into the mix.  Some people can go down to the Court House and get a marriage.  When we ask God to bless our promises to one another, we are also asking God to help us when things get tough. But when we make our promises in front of God, we are also upping the ante, aren’t we? We are saying to the other person, that our promises are holy.

When we make a covenant, we take it seriously.

My friends wrote a covenant agreement when they got married. I don’t know what they put in it. It was personal; unique to their own situation and their own personalities and values.

But this is the thing that I find fascinating: every year on their anniversary, they revisit their covenant. They sit down together and look at their covenant and they ask one another: how are we doing with keeping our covenant promises? And they revise the covenant for the next year if they need to. In that way, they hold one another accountable and stay true to their marriage commitments. I think it is an amazing statement about how important their marriage is to them.

We could all do this here at The Village. Every time a couple has a wedding or a union service, you could decide to write your own covenant and re-visit it each year.  It could be done for any number of relationships if you think about it. Parents could write one with one another about how they are going to parent their children, and check in each year on the birthday of the oldest child, with how they are doing on it. 

          A covenant is a way to take our relationships seriously.  But it’s a covenant because we invite God into the relationship, to bless and bind us together.


As I mentioned earlier, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, wrote a Covenant renewal service and a covenant prayer for Methodists. It has traditionally been used at the beginning of a new year. 

The Covenant Prayer of John Wesley reminds us that when we make our home in Jesus, we give our lives over to him. It is a prayer of surrender in much the same way Mary and Joseph gave themselves over to God and God’s desire for their lives as the earthly parents of Jesus. The prayer is filled with humility. Let’s take a look at it:

I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

As we prepare to enter the New Year Jesus invites us to make our home in him. I invite you to pray with me this Covenant Prayer, as we recommit ourselves to that home in Jesus.

          Pray this covenant prayer with us right now:

I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

      May the blessings of the New Year be on you.  And no matter how good or bad 2012 was for you, our prayer is for a better 2013 for you and yours.  If you need a place to renew your relationship with God and your spirit, come join us at the corner of the Anthony Wayne Trail and Conant Street.  We are here and ready to walk your journey with you. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Come to the Manger: See Jesus by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

I think it might be presumptuous for me to say that I know God’s heart. I think I know something about God’s heart. I cannot say I know the fullness of God’s heart. But I do definitely believe this. God knows my heart, and God knows your heart.   Don’t you think God knows your heart?

And I believe in the time before Jesus was born, God’s heart was sad. God saw the suffering of God’s people. God saw that because God has given us the freedom to make our own choices that we were making bad choices. 

Human beings, for some reason, choose to hurt one another. We make selfish choices. We resort to violence, we’ve seen quite a bit too much of that lately. We are envious. We draw lines of separation. We could choose compassion, and we could choose to build relationships and form strong communities, and sometimes we do. But sometimes we don’t. And those are the times when God grieves. 

When God created the world, I believe God had a vision of a world of love and perfect harmony. But with human choice, sin came into the picture and things went down from there. 

If you study the Old Testament, we see in human history, before Jesus, a pattern of the people being in relationship with God for awhile.  They worship God and love God, and then they make big mistakes and fall away from God. Then they repent and God forgives them and things get better for awhile. And then the whole cycle repeats over, and over, and over again. 

Finally, God decides to do something dramatic. God opens up God’s heart to us. If you think of God like a mother, the most loving sacrifice a mother can give is her own child. Think about it. When a mother opens up her heart and soul, her most precious gift would be a child of her own flesh and blood.   So God said, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll send my own child, my flesh and blood to Earth, to be one of us.  Our Father-Mother God asks Mary and Joseph to be the surrogate parents of Jesus – so that God’s own child can be born in the world. 

That’s how we got to Christmas, the first Christmas: because God’s own heart was breaking for the world. God wanted to make things better.

We human beings, then and now, don’t know how to love one another, and so God sends Jesus to show us how. And we tell the story every year, because in telling the story, we begin to live into God’s way. So we tell the story tonight, again.  There are three scenes in the story. 

In the First Scene, Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem. They are forced to travel because of a census. Remember that their country is under control of the Roman government. The Romans have little concern of whether or not a census which demands everyone go to the town of their family’s origin is convenient for the locals. This kind of social-political tension might be unfamiliar to most of us. However there are many people in our world who live under threat from the political leaders in their own country every day.  Imagine what it would be like to live in the Middle East of today.  Of course, we know of the unending political tension in the Middle East which was the birthplace of Jesus. But even in our own country there are immigrant children, born in this country, living in fear of deportation because the government has the right to send them away. Though Mary and Joseph lived with the honor of being the parents of the child of God, they suffered the degradation of living under the rule of Rome. 

In the second scene, when they get to Bethlehem, they have no home of their own. There is no guestroom for them. By the way, here is a side note, for those kids and adults out there who have discovered that sometimes history has to be relearned. Those Christmas pageant’s that show the innkeepers slamming the doors and sending Mary and Joseph out to a barn? Those are dramatic versions, which sort of took some liberty with the text. It’s more likely that their relatives’ guest rooms were full. The guests would then stay in the living room.  The living rooms in those days had space for the animals to come in at night. There was sometimes a large living area with a step or two between the people area and the animal area, and the manger was actually between the two. It’s possible that Mary and Joseph were sleeping the in living room of their relatives, with the animals. That’s why the manger was a handy place for the baby. 

But clearly, they are not wealthy. They are possibly doubling up with family and crowding in with the animals. It was not comfortable.

In the third scene, shepherds come to visit. Shepherds are NOT the elite class of society.  They are not the light, fluffy, clean cut ones you’ve seen in Christmas pageants.   Hmmm, now WHY would God choose shepherds as the ones to whom the angel would visit? Wow! That is a great question. You see, shepherds were smelly, uneducated, and the outcast. 

You got it. Got loves the people on the margins! God love us. God wanted to be sure that the people know Jesus was coming for everyone. So, what better way to get that message out, than to have the angels go tell some smelly group of outcasts that no one liked and let them be the first to visit Jesus!

I suppose if Jesus were coming today, God would probably send the angel to a group of drunks in recovery at an AA meeting. Or maybe God would send the angel to the Transgender support group that The Village helped to start. Or maybe down the street to The Village Idiot on a summer day when a bunch of the bikers stop by for a drink on one of their poker runs? That’s not where YOU would expect the angels would go.  The list of people living on the edge is really endless isn’t it?

Well here is what happened (from Luke 2 for those following along from afar). You see the angel had said to the shepherds: I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
And so they went to see Jesus. And when they saw him lying in the manger they told everyone what the angels had said, “and all who heard it were amazed.”19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.  20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 

          They were all changed.  And we are changed too. Every year, when we hear this story again.  It changes us.  It gives us hope.  

Our children want to be changed. And they have been changed. I started out this message by saying, that God knows our hearts.  God knows our hearts because God lives in our hearts, and when we open our hearts to Jesus, then he can use us to change the world. 

Two little girls at The Village learned that their parents were giving money to our Christmas offering to give Hope for Children Near and Far and those two children each gave $5 each, from their own money. Another10 year old boy from The Village, for the first time, isn’t so concerned about what gifts he is getting this year. He asked his parents for money so he could donate to his school’s project provide food for hungry families. He said he’s beginning to see that Christmas is more about giving than getting. 

Our small congregation is going to raise $5000 with our Christmas offering. We are going to help send young people who have grown up in an orphanage in Zimbabwe to get job training so that when they turn 18 they will be able to go to work and contribute to their communities.  That’s a lot of money for a congregation our size to raise in a few weeks.  

We tell the same simple story of Jesus’ birth every year, because we want to be changed by God every year. God knows our hearts. Our hearts are broken for people who live in fear, for people who are homeless and for people who live on the margins.  Because we are some of those people, we live next to some of those people, and we are in relationships with some of those people.  God sent Jesus to change our hearts and to change the world. 

This is the Christmas miracle. God does the impossible through us. We come to the manger to see Jesus. Because Jesus lives in us. As the offering basket is passed a little later I want you to take a tiny mirror out of it, and take it with you as a reminder that you are a reflection of Jesus.  We reflect Jesus out into the world.

So, have a Merry Christmas everyone. Let it be a Merry Christmas for you as you remember that God sent God’s light, the love of Jesus into the world and that light shines through you. Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

COME TO THE MANGER: SEE MARY AND JOSEPH by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

Since the first Christmas, more than 2000 years ago, people have reacted to the story of Jesus’ birth in a variety of ways. Some with joy, some with skepticism, disbelief, awe, thanksgiving, fear and hope. Today we are going to look at the two central characters in this story, his earthly parents: Joseph and Mary. I wonder if you can relate to either of them. As approach Christmas Day, Do we find ourselves a little more like Joseph or Mary? 

Let’s start with Joseph (if you are reading along on the net Matthew 1:18-25 from the Message). We might call Joseph the first official step-parent. It’s hard to be a step parent.  As an angel came to him and told him that God would miraculously be the father of his fiancé Mary’s child. The angel, ever so politely, and in the way that only an angel of God asks, (and really allows no way for a person to say “no,”) said to Joseph:”God wants you to be the child’s father on earth.” 

You see, Joseph had heard that his fiancé was pregnant. He knew that he had not had relations with Mary. So he was. . . how did our scripture reading put it? Chagrined! I had to look that word up as it is not in my day to day vocabulary. The word means: upset, bothered, and embarrassed. That puts it mildly!  If your fiancé, got pregnant, not by you, you would be a bit of all of that. 

Scripture does not report a single word spoken by Joseph.We have woefully little information about him. We can only surmise what kind of man he was. 

But the scripture says that he was not only chagrined, (upset), but he was noble.  That tells us something doesn’t it?   He wanted to do the right thing. So when he found out his fiancé was pregnant, he was determined to take care of things quietly so she would not be disgraced.    That tells us a lot, doesn’t it?  God chose the right man.  

When and angel came to him with this extraordinary message, that he and Mary were chosen to bring God’s child into the world, he listened intently, I hope we would too. Then, this is the most amazing part of the story to me. It says: “Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary and he named the baby Jesus.”

            Not a single word spoken by Joseph is recorded in scripture. But we know one thing about Joseph, he was obedient to God. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded him to do. 

Obedience is not something we talk about much in our church. It’s not really a feel good word. We like to talk about freedom and grace.  Obedience is not a feel good word, is it?  We like to talk about forgiveness and the choice to make mistakes and how God loves us anyway. But I think there is an important message for us today from Joseph. 

Sometimes is very clear what God wants us to do. Not always. Sometimes it is a little cloudy and we have some difficulty discerning. But there are times in our life, when God is crystal clear. We KNOW what God wants us to do, and we have only to choose whether we are going to be obedient or not. 

Joseph chose to be obedient. And the world was never the same.  Joseph was willing to listen to God’s message through that angel. He was willing to see Mary’s pregnancy from another perspective. He was willing to take another look. He was willing to see this was God’s work, not that of another man. That was huge.

He was also willing to humble himself. We can only imagine what it was like for him to marry a girl who everyone knew was already pregnant. That kind of secret is never kept a secret. Of course, he was the object of ridicule. But Joseph was noble & obedient.  So he endured the ridicule. Because he held onto the vision he got from the angel.

This is the lesson we get from Joseph. When we are following God’s desire for our lives, are we willing to suffer ridicule from the world? Are we willing to be obedient to God, no matter what others may say? This is the question, can we center ourselves in our relationship with God, and remain steady, like Joseph? Do you feel like you are that kind of Christian? And if not,  do you feel this is the time to grow and deepen your faith so that you could be obedient and be able to be steady and strong like Joseph? 

Let those questions just linger for a few minutes, and let’s turn to Mary (switch over to Luke 1:46-55  from The Message). Mary is unique, but she is another example for us of someone who responds to the miracle of the birth of Jesus. Mary gets much more attention than Joseph in the story.  You hear a lot more messages about Mary.   We hear many words from Mary. If Joseph is the silent partner, Mary is the one who sings songs and writes poetry and talks ‘til she’s blue in the face as a way to process how she feels. 

Mary, after she is visited by an angel who tells her that she is to be the mother of God’s child, goes to visit her wise and much older cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth is also pregnant, so it makes sense that Mary might want to go spend some time with a cousin who is pregnant.

When Mary enters Elizabeth’s house, Elizabeth says that the baby in her own womb leaps at the sight of Mary. It is as if there is a connect between the babies, and there is as this is John the Baptist meeting Jesus.  Elizabeth sings a song celebrating the baby, and the visit.

And then we get to the passage that I read for you today. Mary starts singing about her joy.  It’s one of our two scriptures for today:
”I’m bursting with God-news;
    I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
    I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!”
She is exuberant! 

She starts talking about a vision of what the world will be like once the Savior has already come.   A vision of our world transformed:
God knocked tyrants off their high horses,
    pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
    the callous rich were left out in the cold

For Mary, God’s plans have already been fulfilled.
The baby is not even born, and for her, she can already see the world as perfect. When I read this, I love Mary.  She is so full of hope.

Some cynics might read this, and say she is naïve. But she is the mother of God. She is bringing God right into the mess and muck of our world – and she has so much hope, she believes with all her heart that he can change everything.

And why not? The angel told her that God can take our impossible dreams and make them possible.  Remember, we wrote out impossible dreams and put them here in our manager.  God has made her pregnant in a miraculous way! Why not be filled with hope?

Mary is why we love Christmas. Mary is why we are generous at Christmas time. An attitude like Mary’s is why we open up our wallets and give to the poor at Christmas time. A friend of mine told me she was standing in line at the store this week. A woman told the cashier she was buying gifts for teachers but did not have money to buy gifts for her own children. My friend opened up her wallet and gave the woman money to buy something for her kids.

Of course she did. I read about a man from North Carolina who drove to Newtown, CT with rose bushes to bring hope and beauty to a town that is suffering. We want to be generous . We want to bring hope to this world in pain and chaos.

When Mary sings her song about tyrants being knocked off their high horses and the poor sitting down to a banquet, she is telling us, this is why Jesus is coming: to use us to make these things happen.  That is why Jodi and her family gave to our offering, so we can bring this to children in Africa and here in Ohio.

Mary is full of hope. When we join her at the manger, we are wonderfully naïve in our hope. And why not? Hope, generosity and love can change the world.

Mary and Joseph are two different people. They are both good people. I wonder, do you identify more with one or the other. Do you feel like God is calling you to be Joseph? To be obedient to God’s leading in your life? Is God asking you to follow God more closely in the choices you make?  To humble yourself, and to put God’s ways ahead of your own pride? Or this Christmas, do you feel more like Mary? Do you want to give into the hope? Do you need to just give in to the miracle? Do you need to let God use you to bring joy and hope to the downtrodden and love to the lonely? Do you need to trust that God is working for good and that God’s love will prevail?

I want to invite us into a time of silent prayer. I want to ask you to focus on either Joseph or Mary, and ask God to use one of their stories to work in you.  Ask to prepare your heart from Christmas.  Invite God to prepare your heart for Christmas.