Sunday, January 29, 2012

Let the Miracles Begin by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    There are four Gospels at the beginning of the New Testament – four different tellings of the life of Jesus. Sometimes folks get bent out of shape when we point out that there are some minor differences in these four stories. One story-teller remembers something happened here and another puts it there in the story. I can tell you in my family, we love to tell stories over and over again, but we NEVER disagree about the details of an old family story. (Note: SARCASM HAND IN THE AIR HIGH)

    Of course, each story teller has their own bent on the story. That’s why it’s good to have four gospels. With each one, we learn a little more about the life, the wonder, the magnificence of Jesus. John’s Gospel, the fourth, is known as the book of signs, or miracles. It’s built around some amazing actions Jesus took. We call them miracles. John called them signs – because every sign was meant to point the people to God. You see a simple miracle, could be more like what a magician does. It amazes and points to the skill of the magician or the miracle worker. But Jesus was not about himself – he was always about drawing people’s attention, pointing people to God. Leading people to the love of God was Jesus’ whole purpose. So the Book of John is a book of signs.

    In our scripture reading for today (John 2:1-11 for those following along on the net), we get Jesus’ first miracle; this is the first of the signs pointing people to the power of God. This is a fun one because it’s at a party. Jesus and his mom are attending a wedding. The host has apparently underestimated the need in purchasing the wine, and they run out. This is horrible. No one wants to run out of wine in the middle of a wedding reception. Can you imagine the embarrassment to the family, the bride? Jesus’ mother, like any good mother, is aware of everything going on behind the scenes. She catches on that the kitchen staff has run out of wine and there is about to be a big mess at this party. She knows who her son is, after all, J-E-S-U-S. If he can’t fix a little problem like this, who can?

    So she goes to him with the problem. But Jesus’ first reaction is something like this, “Mom, it’s none of our business, and it’s not time for me to start showing my stuff yet.”  Well, sometimes, Mother knows best.  She tells the servants to do what Jesus says. He is an obedient son.

    So he walks over to some empty water pots that are usually used for ceremonial cleansing. He tells the servants to fill them up with water. Lo and behold, when they do, the water turns into the best wine ever! The party is saved and everyone thinks the host is the most generous, because most hosts bring out the cheap wine towards the end of the party but he starts serving the best wine at the end.  This is a great party.
    Jesus’ disciples know that he was worked this miracle, and for the first time they see the glory of God in this sign. That’s what John says in his gospel. Because of Jesus’ willingness to use his gift, people see God! This is the beginning of the Jesus movement to change the world. We’re here today, and it all started at that party. I must admit that I like that it all started at a party. Food for thought when we are planning events for The Village.  It’s ok to reveal a picture of God while having privilege along the way.

    So what does this tell us about miracles? To be honest, I’m not an expert in miracles. Some people spend their whole lives studying miracles and trying to prove how they might have happened by natural or supernatural means. I have a pretty simple belief system when it comes to miracles. I think if God wants to works miracles, then God can. I also think God can use human beings to work miracles. And I think sometimes we pray for miracles, and God does not choose to interrupt the natural systems that are already put in place in creation, and we just have to accept that.

    In this story, I think we have a miracle. I read it, and  I’m willing to believe there is a miracle.  But there is a crucial decision point that comes in this story.  Jesus allows himself to be used. His mother encourages him. OK to be honest she pushes him, she is a bit pushy here, I’ll admit that.  But Jesus has a choice, and he chooses to use his supernatural gifts to change the water into wine.

    I don’t have that gift.  But I have other gifts, and so do you.  We all have gifts. And we can all work miracles in our own contexts. I saw a story this week on CNN Headline news about someone who works miracles. They have this series called CNN Heroes. They give out awards every year to regular people who do extraordinary things.

    Actor Rainn Wilson, from the show The Office,  was nudged by a young activist, Aaron Jackson, to use his influence to help work some miracles. Together they are healing children.  Aaron Jackson was a young man of privilege who was traveling in the third world, in Haiti and saw the children there in need.  He decided to make a difference, and he went to Haiti and is helping to rid the children of Haiti of stomach/intestinal  worms.  They are now able to absorb food and come back to life.

    I must confess I’m a sucker for these CNN hero stories.  And why not? They point to the power of ordinary people to use our God given gifts to change the world. Aaron Jackson managed to get that worm eradicating medicine to every child in the entire country of Haiti!

    Friends, I believe we can work miracles too. Oh probably not in just the same way Jesus did. But we can do amazing things like Aaron Jackson, and let them be SIGNS that point to God. There is nothing stopping any of us from doing that.  We can bring hope to a broken world and point to God.
    There is nothing stopping each one of us.  We all have gifts. We all have passion. We all want to follow Jesus, and serve God and change the world. We just have to discern the particular niche where we can best do that.

    Here’s how we do it. We match our gifts with our passion for some particular brokenness in the world.  You see, I can stand up here and tell you about all sorts of worthy projects until I am blue in the face. Ministries in Toledo, agencies that can help here and around the world.  But you as individuals, and we as The Village, can’t respond to all of them. And that’s ok, because God has lots of followers here in Toledo, in Ohio and around the world.

    But there are some things that are there just for us. Like the children in Haiti and the worms in their stomachs were there just for Aaron Jackson and Rainn Wilson. That was their passion. And they had the skills and the resources to say Yes to God and do something about  it.

    So, in order to work miracles, and to point to God, first of all, we have to identify what breaks our hearts. Because once you know what breaks your heart, then you know where God wants you to work miracles in the world.

    And here is the thing: you will be able to work miracles, because you will be on fire with the power of God moving you to change the situation. You will be unstoppable.
Have you ever seen anyone with that kind of focus? Have you ever been that person?
That’s who Jesus was.

    Nothing could stop Jesus from acting and pointing people to the power of God’s love.  That’s how I get when I start talking about why the church has to be a place where everybody is welcome.  Have you seen me when I’m fire about someone not being welcomed in a church.   That’s my passion – making church a place where the walls come down and everyone has a home. It breaks my heart when people get kicked out of church and don’t have a place at God’s Table.

    What breaks your heart? That’s the place for you to start.  That’s place where you can work miracles for God. We all can.  Tell us here on this note what breaks your heart, (we put hearts on a board in worship) so you can start to work on what we can do together to change the world.  God may call you to do this yourself, but if you need a place where other dreamers want to change the world, we’re here.  Right now, we’re at the corner of Monroe & Central, but because we need more room for dreamers and doers like you we will be at the corner of Conant Street & the Anthony Wayne Trail (The Maumee Indoor Theater) starting Sundays in March @ 10:30.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

MAKING THE ASK by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    A few weeks ago, back before Christmas, I was sitting in an elementary school cafeteria, chatting with another Jody, while our kids played in a chess match.  So people are soccer moms, I’m that and a chess mom now too.   Our two kids are in 3rd grade together and have gone to the same school for 3 or 4 years. In the midst of the conversation I had the opportunity to talk about The Village. She said, “You know, our family does not have a church, and we’d like to find one. We just can’t find the right fit.”

    I invited her.  She said she thought they would like to come.  I’ve heard that before.  It was a busy time, in December around the holidays so it was 2 or 3 weeks before they made it. The first week, it was just Jody and Terry but they loved us. Then next time they came back with the three kids, and they have been back every week since.

    Just like that, in the snap of my fingers, a family of five that had no church home, has become part of our Village community. This weekend Terry was here Friday night and Saturday for our launch team retreat. They are totally committed. Do you know why?  Because someone “made the ask.”

    I took a risk to invite them to my church.  Now, sure, you can say it’s my job. But guess what, I have a fear of rejection too. I don’t like to get the cold shoulder.

    I’ve went to dinner once with a group of parents from the neighborhood. I asked a new mom, “Would you like to visit my church?” She looked right at me and just said, “No.” She didn’t give me any socially acceptable excuse, like, “I have another church.” or “I’m not really religious” and she didn’t make a joke: “I like to sleep in on Sunday.” She didn’t even say, “I don’t do church.” She just said, “No.” It was really awkward.   I still wonder what that was all about.

    But I keep inviting people anyway, because eventually I come across a family like the one I just told you about. They were just waiting. They were looking for us. The Village was made for them, and they were made for us. But unless I had stumbled across the opportunity to invite them one afternoon at a chess match, they would have lived right around the corner from us, and never known we were here. My children would have gone to school with their children for years, and I would have missed the opportunity to invite them to The Village.

    In our scripture for today (Mark 1:14-20, from the Message Translation for those following along on the net), Jesus “makes an ask” of four people who will become his disciples. The story is so simple:

18Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. Jesus said to them, "Come with me. I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I'll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass." They didn't ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed.

 19-20A dozen yards or so down the beach, he saw the brothers James and John, Zebedee's sons. They were in the boat, mending their fishnets. Right off, he made the same offer. Immediately, they left their father Zebedee, the boat, and the hired hands, and followed.

    Just like that, snap your fingers, immediately they came along.  Now I have to believe there was something magnetic about Jesus’ personality that made it just about impossible for those men to say no to him. Of course, we know he was the son of God. He had the light and power of God shining all around him. I think Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John were astute enough to know this was no ordinary invitation. They knew in their gut, this was the offer of a lifetime. So they dropped everything and gave their lives to this mission with Jesus.

    But here’s the thing: JESUS HAD TO ASK THEM.

    THE ASK is crucial.  Sure, they might eventually have wandered their way into the mass of Jesus’ followers, but they could have just lingered on the edges in that case. But to be invited, meant that they were given an opportunity to commit and jump in with both feet.  They signed on the dotted line.

    Those four men faced a turning point in their lives. It was a breakthrough for them. Once they joined the movement of Jesus, their lives were never the same. This turning point, this breakthrough has happened to all of us.  It has happened to us too.

     Being part of this community has changed our lives. We have something that other people don’t have. We have the reassurance of God’s love. We have a community to encourage us. This community makes a difference to us, and together with other Christian communities we make a difference in the world.

    The Village is about to enter a new phase of our life together. We are moving to a new site in Maumee and launching a new worship service at Easter time. When you move to a new location, it’s an opportunity to get some new attention from a new group of people. We create some buzz when we move into a new neighborhood. We will take out some advertizing, put up some signs, and do some things to let people know we have come to town.   We joked at our leadership retreat yesterday how we are going to be the church and give Northwest Ohio something to talk about.  It’s a chance for us to build some new momentum for the church we believe God created us to be together.

    Our theme for 2012 is HOPE. We are bringing God’s hope to NW Ohio and SE Michigan. We are inviting the people of Maumee, and the greater Toledo region to embrace HOPE. We know people need HOPE. We have found our hope in God, and God has called us to share that hope with others.

    It’s not enough just to stay here in this wonderful community we have created, Jesus wants us to go out like Peter, Andrew, James and John did, and fish for some more disciples. Jesus wants us to invite some friends, neighbors, some co-workers and some strangers to experience the hope that we experience when we gather with The Village people each week.

    But they experience this community if WE don’t ASK THEM.   We have to make the ask!  We are the only people Jesus has available to ask some particular people that God is going to put in our path. I was the one that God put in Jody’s path on that day at the chess match.  I was the one to invite her. And then she was the one to go out on a limb and invite her husband and then they invited their kids.

    Someone invited you here. Do you remember who?   Who are you going to invite?  We are going to make it as easy as possible to invite folks over the next few months. In addition to worship each week, with great music, relevant messages, and the best coffee in town, every month we are going to have other events that are going to be easy to invite someone to.

    We call them “Taste and see events” because you can come and get a little taste of The Village at each event.  We are going to have silly fun showing Grease Sing a Long – to have fun and see our worship space.  Then on February 18th we are going to have a service project at the  Seagate Food Bank and spend three hours helping to feed hungry people.  Then on February 4th, we are going to go see the movie “Red Tails” and talk about the heroes of that movie and what they did for our country. 

    And then on March 18th we are going to have a concert and fund raiser for “Feed Your Neighbor” at the Village Idiot.  You can’t go wrong with the Village Church at the Village Idiot.  You can come hear music, feed the hungry, and hear about our ministries. And we are going to keep giving you great things to invite people to during Holy Week, and on Mother’s Day, and beyond (wait until you see what the Outreach & Marketing Team has planned this summer, and in October, let just say zombie makeup may be required.   In each of these we will be the church in our world.   We are going to give them something to talk about while we “follow Jesus and change the world”).

    Our goal is 100 people on Easter Sunday because we know there are people out there who are looking for hope for their lives and who are waiting for an invitation just like Terry and Jody and their 3 kids.

    Now we are not really even making a big deal about inviting strangers to The Village. But I, for one, am going to remember this scene of a guy inviting a stranger to church. If he can do this, I think I can certainly tell someone I know about The Village and what it means to me. Because I never know when there might be another Terry and Jody who are just waiting for someone to invite them to church.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

“When We Weep . . .(God is still with us)” by Cheri Holdridge & Kurt Young

    Travis just sang a sad song for us (“Tears in Heaven” for those following along on the net). You may remember the tragic story of when singer Eric Clapton’s four and a half year old son fell from an apartment window in NYC and died. Mr. Clapton wrote this song while he was grieving. Any parent can relate to this song, whether we have lost a child to death, or we have just feared this awful tragedy, a parent’s worst nightmare.

    In our story from Matthew for today, Matthew 2:13-23 for those following along at home or on the road, babies are killed, not by accident, but because of the evil decision and deeds of King Herod.  He was the ruler of the area when Jesus was born.  He had heard from the Wise Men about the child being born and the star. He heard about the Messiah being born. 

    This wicked, evil man put out an order.  Kill all of the boys in the region, two years or younger.  That’s right, he ordered soldiers to kill innocent babies and toddlers to protect his own reign.   This is not a story we often tell in church, the Slaughter of the Innocents.   THIS IS THE TRUTH: EVIL EXISTS IN OUR WORLD.

    When people die in our world, especially when the death seems untimely, such as the death of a child, people try to make sense of it. We try to comfort ourselves by saying there must have been a reason. “It was their time.” “God needed another angel.”  We say these things because we hope it will make us feel better. In my experience it rarely makes the grieving parent or grandparent, or sibling, or friend feel any better. Because it does not make sense. And we want to believe God is a loving God.

    So how can God think it is the right time for a young child to die?   Surely God did not want a bunch of infants and two years olds to be slaughtered by Herod’s soldiers. Would a loving God have chosen that? I want nothing of that God. Do you? No thank you!

    These are hard questions.  Does God choose for a young father to be killed by a drunk driver and that driver to walk away unscathed?  Does God choose for an 80 year old woman to be shot by a by a gunman, a mistaken target, when some younger gang member was the intended target?   And even then, did God intend for the younger target to be shot instead?  I don’t think any of this is part of God’s plan. I think all of this is of human sin. There is evil in our world. And human choice. And there are natural forces. Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Stuff happens.

    This book, this Bible we read, and live our lives by, is a book of real stories about real people. We turn to this book for hope. We find miracles in here, and healings. We find words of encouragement. But sometimes we find stories that are just painful.

    We find stories where the bad guys win. We find stories that are of the things of the world, evil things, not the things of God. I don’t like to preach on those stories. I’m guessing you don’t like to hear them.  But they are in here.
And when we make the decision to be followers of Jesus, we get this WHOLE BOOK.
We are stuck with the whole thing: the good and the bad.

    So what do we do with a story like this? What do we do with a story of babies being killed because a terrible, insecure king named Herod, who did not like the idea that Jesus was born to be the new King of the Jews. And so Herod, in his evil and twisted mind, used his power, to kill all the babies in Bethlehem and the surrounding area under the age of 2. Now experts tell us it was only possibly around 20 babies. To be honest, when I had read this story in the past, I thought it was hundreds. But it really does not matter how many. If you are the mother of that baby, it does not matter if it is only one.

    If it is your baby, the loss is unbearable.  If ti is your baby, there is no good explanation.  There are no words to take the pain away.  There is just agony.
All I can think is this: Jesus came to bring salvation to the world, but he could not grow up fast enough to save those babies from the likes of Herod and his evil.
Not even Jesus could save them.

    But I began to imagine as I pondered this text this week, what it must have been like to be a brother or sister of one of those baby boys. What would it have been like to live in a family with that legacy? “Your brother was killed because he was born around the time of that young man Jesus – they say he is the Messiah. God sent him to save us all.”

    Do you think those families had some bit of hope, because of that promise?   Do you suppose, that even in the midst of such grief, that they might have been able to dig deep into their souls, and find a tiny ember of hope, burning ever so bright? God is still with us. In fact, God loves us so much, that God sent God’s own child to earth to love us. Wow!
    That could not entirely heal the pain of losing my baby. But it would give me some comfort in my grief.  To be a sibling who survived Herod’s massacre, I think, might have made one feel a strong sense of purpose. My brother will not have died in vain. I will find this Jesus and I will follow him. Herod will not win. Love will win. God’s love, come to earth in Jesus will win.

    Friends, I believe that’s what this painful and oh, so real story has to say to us today. It’s a painful story, a difficult one for us even today, thousands of years later.  Even as God’s love was born into the world, and the power of evil was trying so hard to vanquish it, the power of love was strong.

    You see, those weeping mothers and fathers had a choice. They could give in to their despair, and give up on God. I would have been tempted to be there.  They could stay in their anger and turn away from God, because God allowed their babies to be taken from them.

    Or they could turn to God, and embrace hope. An innocent child was taken from them, simply because he was born in the wrong place at the wrong time. So each family had a question: would they turn to God, and cling to the promise that God is still with them, and that God loves them. Would they trust that ultimately the power of God’s love always wins over the evil forces of this world? Or would they give up on God? We know of course, that God never gives up on us, but we CAN give up on God.  Have you ever wanted to give up on God? 

    So what does this say to us today?  For one, it tells us, that even the most painful stories in the Bible can speak to us, so we need not avoid the hard stories in the Bible. But that’s a minor point.  I think the message is this. We will all experience some kind of tragedy. We will all confront evil in this world. This is a time when we have a choice. We can get angry at God and turn away from God because we think God let us down.   We will all get angry, and to that.  But that’s hopefully something short.

    Or we can take the path that I believe those mothers and fathers in Bethlehem took long ago. We can acknowledge that the evil in the world is not from God. Evil comes from human sin. (And some bad things happen just by accident and forces of nature.)  God does not make this happen.  But out of any tragedy, God still loves us, and God can bring blessing to us. God wants to heal us and comfort us, and restore our lives to wholeness. God does not want to leave us in that place of weeping and mourning and brokenness. There is a time for that, and then there is a time to move on.

    When we weep, God weeps with us.  And then when it is time for the weeping to end, God reminds us that there is still a baby over in Egypt, ready to come back to us, to grow up and be our teacher and our Savior. Jesus is our hope. Jesus is always with us. That is the good news of today.  God is always with us.  God is ALWAYS with us.  Let’s follow Jesus and embrace that hope.

    Do you have a place where you can weep?  Do you have a community that can weep with you?  Do you hear voices that tell you God loves you and will take you through these times?  Do you have hope?  If not, find a community where you can get all of this.  There are many out there.  If you are near Central & Monroe in Toledo, and in just a few months Conant Street & the Trail in Maumee, come join us.  We will weep with you, because we have, but we also will show you hope. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Overcome With Joy by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

      Are you done with Christmas?  Is it over.   Is that so last month, for you?  When did you pack away your Christmas decorations? Have you eaten, or thrown out, all your Christmas cookies?   My mom had a co-worker that kept her Christmas tree up all year long. LOL. Of course, we thought she was a bit nuts. And she was!

      But at our house we always keep our tree up through Jan 6th. It’s Kurt’s Birthday. It’s also a holiday in Puerto Rico, one of the places he lived when he was growing up as a Navy brat. The holiday is: El Dia de los Tres Reyes – The Day of the Three Kings – also known as Three Kings Day, or Epiphany on the Church calendar.

     January 6th is the day we celebrate the day the three kings, or the wise men, from the East arrived at the home of Mary and Joseph and Jesus to bring gifts to the baby. Now in all the Christmas pageants, we see these wise guys showing up at the manger with the shepherds and the angels, but actually we think Jesus was about 2 years old by the time they got there, and the family was living in a house in Bethlehem by this time.

      This is how the story goes. These men were scholars, probably astronomers from a country to the East of Israel. They had read in books, about a prophecy of a king that would be born, and a star that would point to this king. When they saw a bright star in the sky, one they had never seen before, they felt compelled to follow that star and investigate.

      They went to see Herod, who was the identified King, living in Jerusalem, placed there by the Roman government. They said, “We are here looking for a child who has been born King of the Jews.” Herod tried to hide his anger at this affront to his authority. He pretended that he also wanted to worship this newborn King. He consulted with his religious scholars and told the wise men that the prophets said the child would be born in Bethlehem. Then he told them that once they found the child they should let him know where they found him, because he wanted to go worship the child too. Of course, that was a lie. Herod was an evil man.  The wise men were on to him. They knew not to trust him.

     They found their way to Bethlehem.  This is when the story gets really good.  You see, those wise men are just like us.  They were looking for the Messiah.  They were looking for a Savior.  They were looking for someone who would bring hope and healing to their broken world.  Isn’t that what we are looking for?

      Isn’t that why we come here to The Village every week?  Let’s just pause here a moment and consider that question.   What are you looking for today? When you come here, to this holy place, to this community of Jesus followers – what are you looking for?  The answers we got in worship were peace, belonging, fellowship, hope, hugs, encouragement, guidance, to be reminded that God’s grace is enough. 

     The wise men went to see the baby, because they wanted to encounter the holy presence of God on earth. And guess what! That’s just what they got. “Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time! They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him.”
   They were overcome with joy. And do you know what they did?  They kneeled in humility and worshiped Jesus. That’s what God invites us to do today.  We get one more chance at Christmas today.  We don’t have to let go of our Christmas joy quite yet. (We even got to sing one last Christmas carol today.)  We can kneel at the baby bed of Jesus, and imagine what it means that God wants to come into our lives.

    You see Herod was the political King of that time and place, and he was outraged that Jesus came. He went crazy, because he wanted all the power. He could not fathom that God was more powerful than him. He could not comprehend that vulnerability, compassion, generosity, and forgiveness were values that would out over political power, selfishness, greed, and judgment. But those wise men, understood. They had great status in their own right, but they chose to give up their power and status. They knelt in humility and were awestruck by a baby. They were filled with wonder at God’s promises.

      God wants us to be awestruck today.   What does it mean to you, for Jesus to come into your world today? We’ve prepared a little space up here where we can kneel and pray. I want to invite you to come up here and open your arms or hands and pray in an attitude of humility or vulnerability.

    I think that’s what Three Kings day is about.   It’s about the contrast between Herod, who was not humble at all, and the Wise Men from the East, who were completely humble.  They traveled across a vast distance, and had really no clue if they would find anything. But they had hope. They wanted to believe.

     We want to believe in Jesus too.   We want to believe Jesus can change our lives.  Other people might laugh at us for getting out of bed and driving across town to come to this humble little church on this dreary January day, thinking this will change our lives. But we have seen a star. We have seen the light of God. We have seen God transform broken lives into healed, strong amazing examples of new life. We know Jesus can make something of us too.

      So I want to invite you to come kneel beside the baby today. We had a baby basket up by the stage in worshp, to represent, the bed where baby Jesus might have slept. We to received Holy Communion and after we were invited to come and kneel, somewhere near the basket.  You can imagine a simple baby’s bed.  Come kneel down where you are.   Open your arms or hands in a position of vulnerability and humility.

      We all need Jesus, and God sent Jesus to the world to be here for all of us. So today, I invite us to ask Jesus to come to you again, and be your hope.  Amen.