Sunday, March 25, 2012

HOPE GROWS: COME AND SEE by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

I learned something this week. Parents raising black sons have to do something that parents raising white sons never have to do. You have to have the talk, not the talk about things we do, but the talk as to how to “teach him how to walk, what to say, and how to act so he won’t seem like a threat” ( Marian Wright Edelman “Walking While Black.”) My son Jamie, enjoys privilege because he is white. We live in the Old West End, and even if it is raining and he puts up his hood on his hoodie, he will not be viewed as a threat.

Not like a young black man in Florida. Who was walking home from a store, having gotten Skittles and a canned iced tea. He was not carrying a weapon, but he was viewed as a threat. A block watch captain, (and details may come out), shot him for "walking while black."

People say we have moved past the race issue in our country. People are not paying attention. In 2008 and 2009, 2,582 Black children and teens were killed by gunfire. Black children and teens were only 15 percent of the child population, but 45 percent of the 5,740 child and teen gun deaths in those two years. Black males 15 to 19 years-old were eight times as likely as White males to be gun homicide victims.

Here at the Village we follow Jesus so we can change the world. That is what it’s all about. With problems as big as the race issue and gun violence in our country, it seems pretty hopeless to change the world. Look around. There are not so many of us, about 50 people. How can we really hope to change the world? The Children’s Defense Fund has a piece of children’s art on its web site that seems fitting. It says: Dear Lord, be good to me, the sea is so wide and my boat is so small. Look at all of us. The sea is so wide, and our boat is so small.

Well, of course, this is how we change the world: one life at a time. It’s how Jesus started and it’s how we start. Last week, we had a benefit concert at the Village Idiot down the street. We raised $400 and collected 138 items of food for the food pantries in Toledo. Our food was taken to the food pantry at Salem Lutheran Church downtown on Huron. I am familiar with that ministry. In fact our friend Tianda has had a long history with that ministry so I was delighted to hear the food ended up there. They will stretch that money to feed hundreds of hungry families across the city.

Between acts, we took a few moments to talk about The Village. Our friend Rock came down and told her story. Rock does not like to come to bars. She has been clean from drugs and alcohol for about 15 years after a life of serious addiction.

Rock is not a professional speaker, but she stood up there and told her story, because this church means so much to her. She knows we are already changing the world because we changed her life. When she moved to Toledo a couple of years ago to help take care of her two grandchildren, she had no friends. Life was hard. Before she found the Village, she was very close to looking for drugs again. It wouldn’t be too hard in this town, is it?

This community saved her. We gave her a second community, a second family. We showed her God’s grace. We showed her unconditional love. We gave her the courage to continue to fight her addiction. Last week, a year later, she has become a leader here at the Village. A year later, she found her partner Beth. A Year later, she had the courage to stand up in a bar and invite people to come to church! I’d call that a miracle.

You see, Rock wants this church to grow, because one of the ways we can grow our movement stronger and do more to change the world for the Trayvons, is to find more people who need a church home like The Village.

But they can’t find us, if we don’t invite them. We can’t find them if we don’t go out of their comfort zone. So today I have a question for you – have you ever gone to a great new restaurant or seen a fabulous movie (Becca & Kurt went to see the Hunger Games at the midnight showing Thursday night) and the next day, you tell everyone you see all about it?

Over the next two weeks, I want to ask you to take 5 of these invitation cards to our Easter Service and invite 5 new people to our Easter service.

Now, I know that some of you have already invited everyone you know to The Village, and you are just waiting for them to come. If they have shown any interest at all, then give them a card and invite them again. But here is the thing, the average person knows at least 200 people, so you have probably not invited everyone you know, you just think you have.

You see, in our heads we just make this into some big scary thing. And we are afraid of rejection. We aren’t afraid of rejection when we tell someone about a great restaurant or movie. Ever lost a friend because you recommend a restaurant for a kind of food they don’t like or a type of movie they would never want to see. We are just giving them information. So why does this have to be any different.

You would be surprised how many people are just waiting for an invitation. Look at our scripture for today (John 1: 35-42 for those following along on the net). Jesus’ ministry is just beginning. Some of John’s disciples see him. I think they can sense that there is something special about Jesus. They are curious. They want to know more about him. When they ask where he is staying he says: “Come and see” and then they spend the day with him. By the end of the day, several are with him and one calls him the Messiah, they are hooked. They know a good thing when they have found it. But in the initial encounter Jesus does not try to convince them. He does not talk theology. He just says: “Come and see.”

It’s a great model for us when we are inviting folks to The Village. We can say to anyone: “Come check out this new church meeting at a movie theater. I love it. The people there have become my second family. We are changing the world.” There’s something special here. We feel it.

Jesus in our Bible story today does not require these people to believe in certain principles. He doesn’t ask if they believe in his virgin birth. He doesn’t ask them to go through classes. He simply invites them.

Whatever two or three sentences you choose to say will be enough. They will either be ready or they won’t. But if they are ready, they will catch the energy in your voice. What have they got to lose? An hour or two of their day – in exchange for the possibility of finding a community of Hope where they can be a part of changing the world? Sounds like a great offer to me.

But they won’t know about the offer if we don’t invite them. Now sure, we can put a few ads in the local paper, and yes we want your help putting door hangers on doors in Maumee, but by far the most effective means is one on one inviting. Even better, is you offering to bring someone with you to church. If you offer to give them a ride the first Sunday, and go have lunch with them after, that is the best.

Let me tell you a personal story of how this works. I have been spending time at a coffee house down the street: Georgette’s. I keep inviting the baristas to our various “come and see” events. I invited them to Blues Christmas; and to Grease, and then to the concert at The Village Idiot to feed hungry people. This week, one of them, said to me, “You know I’ve been thinking about it. I have not been to church for 4 years and I need to come back to church. I’m going to come to your church.”

We talked a little more the next day, and I learned why she had left church and why she thinks it’s time to come back. She was just waiting for the right time, and for an invitation from someone who seemed safe and friendly. You could be that person for someone else.

This young woman is not my best friend. I just got to know her because I buy coffee from her a couple days a week. But because the Village is having these “Come and See” events to make it easy for you to invite people to things, I had something easy to invite her to. In time, she was able to say to me, “You know, I used to go to church, and I want to come back.”

She wants to change the world too. And with us, she can do that.

Who do you see every week that you could invite to The Village’s Easter service?

I’m going to ask you to invite 5 people to Easter Sunday and see Hope Grow with us. Just 5 friends, relatives, co-workers. Five people who need a community where Hope Grows. If you’re following along on the net, come join us. We’re at the Corner of Conant Street and the Trail in Maumee in the Maumee Indoor Theater, Sundays at 10:30 AM and out in the world the rest of the week, following Jesus and Changing the World.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

“God Said to Jesus: ‘Put the World Right’” by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

   If you have ever seen a professional sporting event on television, you have probably seen someone holding up a sign that says: John 3:16. Or if you ever went to Sunday School as a child, in a church where they encouraged you to memorize scriptures, you probably know this one: “For God so love the world, that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” It’s a very common verse.

    I guess folks hold up that sign because they think it might be their one shot at getting some of us to turn to Jesus and get our lives lined up with God’s path for us. It is our message: we want people to “get it” that they belong to God – and life with God is better than life separate from God.

    You could sum up the message of the New Testament like this. God said to Jesus, “Go , put the world right.  It’s a mess down there. Get down there, and get those folks to turn to me. You’re my son; if you can’t do it, no one can.”  Talk about your parents putting pressure on you.

    The Christian movement really is just that simple. We follow the way of Jesus. Our church’s mission statement gets it. If we all follow Jesus we really can change the world. We can help Jesus “put the world right.” It’s really that simple, Follow Jesus, Change the World.  But how do we do that?

    God sent Jesus to do it, to put the world right – with our help. God loves us so much that God sent Jesus, knowing that his love was so radical, that the powers of this world, would likely kill Jesus. He was just too threatening to their political power. Jesus’ message of love was so radical that they could not take it – so they killed him. But he showed them. Jesus never backed down. He never rejected God. He never gave into fear. And when they killed him, he overcame death in resurrection.

    Thankfully, God does not ask most of us to go to the death to stand up for our faith.
Instead, we get face little life choices every day. Choices that move us toward God, or away from God; choices that move us toward the light, or away from the light.  In John’s Gospel, he describes the human condition this way: "This is the crisis we're in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won't come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is."

    John says we seem to have a knack for choosing darkness. It’s as if we’re afraid of God’s light. We make it a habit of doing evil. We are addicted to denial and illusion. But we CAN choose to live in the light and truth and we can choose to welcome the God-light into our lives.  The challenge every day, every day, is to pay attention to those little signals we get from inside that tell us, which way God is leading us to go.

    So I want to tell you a little story about getting one of those signals.  More than 20 years ago now, I was living in Cincinnati, as a young pastor. I was single and I joined some organization of young single professionals in Cincinnati.  This was a social club. They met downtown for social events, going to Reds Games, meetings for mixers after work. They did some community service projects too. I had no family in Ohio and I was trying to make friends, and yes, I’ll confess, I was trying to meet guys.

    One weekend the event was to go to the horse races across the border in Kentucky. I had not been to a horse race since I was a kid, once on vacation. So I signed up to go. I guess was curious. I got there and discovered they had rented us a private room from which to watch the races. There was a bar, and TV’s to watch the races, and windows where we could look out and see the races. And we had our own betting window. I had no idea how to bet. I don’t think I even made one bet that night. It just did not interest me. I was pretty bored most of the night. At one point I walked out into the main area where the “regular” people were, and I saw a couple of sad, old guys wearing grubby old clothes. They looked just like out of a movie --with  rolled up newspaper and a pencil and that look of desperation. They looked like the homeless guys I had worked with when I was in seminary in Atlanta. I don’t know for sure that these guys were gambling addicts. But I can tell you one thing. They were not getting wealthy at the race track betting on the races. And I am pretty sure they did not look happy to me.

    I went back into the room with all the young professionals who were betting $10 or $25 here and there and I thought: “I don’t have money to blow on this. This is just stupid.”  I was bored. I would rather have been at home alone watching TV, than hanging out at this race track. I was not this desperate to meet guys. I might have enjoyed seeing some beautiful horses, I couldn’t see horses, I would have seen them better on TV, and the whole gambling thing just ruined it for me.

    This was not my scene. This did not bring me joy. The scripture from John says that when we are living in God’s way for us that we will have a whole a lasting life. This experience was not giving me fullness of life. When I looked at the faces of those men who clearly spent a lot of time at the racetrack, I did not see people who were experiencing joy and fullness of life.  I didn’t see people who were making choices I wanted to make.  So I made a life choice that day, that for me, gambling as a leisure activity is not going to give me rest and relaxation. It’s not going to restore my soul.

    Actually, this makes me a Methodist through and through. Some of you do not identify as Methodists, and that is fine. Everyone is welcome at The Village Church. Others of you don’t have any idea what it means to be a Methodist and that’s ok too. We are connected to the United Methodist and United Church of Christ. There are many interesting things about our history as Methodists, but one of them is this: we have a history of working against gambling. So in the interest of learning about our roots, I’m going to take just a few minutes today to educate us all about this. Some of you have asked me what I think about the new casino going in and so I thought it was about time I let you know where our denomination stands on the issue of gambling. And by the way, the United Church of Christ shares the view of the Methodists when it comes to casinos.

    There are plenty of Christian denominations that have raffles, and bingo and casino nights. So clearly good Christians are divided on this one. And this is not a litmus test. You are welcome at The Village even if you go to Vegas on your vacation. In fact, my husband will go there for a business conference next month.

    But hard core Methodists, and your pastor, are not gamblers. The reasoning is stated in a book called The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church.  And while I don’t agree with every thing in our Book of Resolutions, I very agree with this one and here’s why:

1) Gambling feeds on greed and materialism. It is based on the value that if we have lots of money our life will be better. This is a form of idolatry. Gambling encourages us to put our trust in possessions rather than God. Oh sure, we can say it’s just for fun. But if the games are just for fun, then why don’t we just play the games for the games, and give up the betting? When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he said, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” Putting our love toward money puts it ahead of God, and makes money an idol.

2) Jesus says the second commandment is almost as important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  I’m quoting the United Methodist Book of Resolutions now: “In relating with compassion to our sisters and brothers, we are called to resist those practices and systems that exploit them and leave them impoverished and demeaned. . . . Organized and commercial gambling is a threat to business, breeds crime and poverty, and is destructive to the interests of good government. It encourages the belief that work is unimportant, that money can solve all our problems, and that greed is the norm for achievement. It serves as a "regressive tax" on those with lower income (seen these internet cafes, which are for gambling popping up in poorer neighborhoods? I have). In summary, gambling is bad economics; gambling is bad public policy; and gambling does not improve the quality of life” (From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church — 2004. Copyright © 2004 by The United Methodist Publishing House).

    Yes, of course, again, I have heard all the arguments. I know many people can go to the casino with $X in your pocket and decide that is what you are going to spend. You don’t become a gambling addict. You go for fun just like you would go to the movies or snow skiing. But the other side of the argument is this: the gambling industry also brings with it the potential for preying on poor people, it brings with it organized crime, the victimization of women through prostitution, and host of other problems. Not to mention the fact that for one person to win, lots of people have to lose. The system depends upon lots of people losing.

    The lure of gambling has caused what our church describes in this way: “Dependence on gambling revenue has led many states to exploit the weakness of their own citizens, neglect the development of more equitable forms of taxation, and thereby further erode the citizens' confidence in government”  (From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church — 2004. Copyright © 2004 by The United Methodist Publishing House).

    So, we have a new casino opening in Toledo. Some of you who need jobs will choose to work there. Others of you will choose to go there.  I know that. And most of you will not turn into gambling addicts. But someone here may have a gambling addiction, or you know someone with one. You may know someone who is buying lottery tickets and really can’t afford them. You may know someone who is getting payday loans months after month and getting deeper into debt and digging a hole that they cannot get out of without help. You may even be that person.

    Or you may have some other addiction, or life choice that you know is pulling you away from the light of God. We make jokes about a slippery slope but it is really not a joke.
It’s life. We all make choices every day, don’t we?

    We all make choices and some of them draw us closer to God, and some of them take us farther away from God.  The message of the Scripture from today is that God sent Jesus to PUT THE WORLD RIGHT. More specifically, God sent Jesus to put us right – to draw us into the light. 

    Because you see, for some reason – no matter how much we say that we want to follow Jesus, and stay close to the light – we just seem to veer off into the darkness.  We just get off track. Our world gets off its axis.

    And we need Jesus to pull us back.  What is the thing that pulls you away from God?  It could be any number of things.  You know what it is, don’t you? What practice, thought, or habit pulls you away from God’s desire for your life?

    I’m going to stop here for a minute and give you time to think about that (really, take a minute and think about this: What is it that pulls you away from God’s desire for your life?).

    Here’s the thing, God loves you so much, that God sent Jesus into the world – to pull you away from that practice, or thought or habit – and to pull you back toward God’s love for you.
Here’s what the scripture said, “God didn't go to all the trouble of sending this Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. Jesus came to help, to put the world right again.”

    That’s why God sent Jesus. Because God loves us, and God knows that we don’t want to live in the darkness. We want to live in God’s light. We just need to be reminded of that over and over and over again. That’s why we need Jesus.   So take the time to time to figure out where your darkness is.  And then take the time to find the light. It’s out there.

    If you need help finding the God light for your life, come join us.  We’re at the corner of Conant Street & the Anthony Wayne Trail in Maumee, Sundays at 10:30.  We’ll help you find that light, the light God has for all of our lives.  There are no exceptions, no exclusions, God loves us all.  Come be part of a group of people who struggle, like you with darkness and struggle to find that light.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

“Living as the Beloved” by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    Many years ago, when I went to Christ Church Findlay as pastor, for the first couple of months I was there, people kept talking about these two people who were members of the church but were not there. The names just kept coming up: Bob Chatelain, and his wife Bea Chatelain. Bob and Bea, they would say, “Oh that’s right, you haven’t met the Chatelains yet; they spend the summer in Vermont. It’s too hot in Ohio I guess. Oh you will love them; they are wonderful people.” The mystery just kept building up for me all summer.
    Indeed, it was true. Bob and Bea were wonderful people. And do you know why those two were so beloved by that congregation? There was just something about them. There is only way to describe it really: we saw God in them. Do youi know anybody like that?  They lived as beloved children of God. You would have called them living saints. They have since died. I had the privilege of presiding over each of their memorial services.
    When Bea found out that she had terminal cancer, I remember visiting her in the hospital, just after she found out.  She was well up in years, but she was still vibrant and enjoying life. She said to me, “Well, Pastor Cheri, I would like to live longer, but I’ve had a good long life and I’m not afraid to die.” She died so full of grace, with a peace I would wish for every one of us. No regrets, not angry, not afraid, a beloved child of God, clear that we will all die one day, and move on to another place with God.
    When it came time to plan her funeral, we looked though the anthems that the choir had been singing recently at the church, trying to select something for them to sing at her service. We chose the song: “God is so Good.” Can you imagine? Singing that song at a funeral? For a moment one of the choir members, an older man, questioned my choice. He said, “I don’t know pastor, I’m thinking about Bea’s husband, Bob. His wife has just died. If my wife had just died, I don’t know if I would want to hear the choir singing that God is so good.  I am not sure If my wife had just died, I could stand lisetning to the choir singing that”.
    But you see, her memorial service was a celebration of life. Her husband had a deep faith. Of course, he was sorrowful for his loss. But he loved God and he was thankful for every day of blessing with God. He wept as the choir sang, “God is so good”, it is OK to weep at a funeral you know,  but he knew it was true, and in that moment, he felt I believe he felt blessed as a child of God and he knew that his wife Bea was blessed as a child of God. He knew that Bea had found her eternal home with God. As Christians, this is what we do. We live as God’s beloved children, and we die as God’s beloved children, blessed, every step of the way.

    I saw God  in Bea and Bob, in their love for one another, in the gentle way they treated other people, in their service through their church and in the generous and kind way the loved their community. I saw God in every life choice I ever saw either one of those two make.

    I’m sure they were not perfect. I’m sure someone saw a flaw in them that I never saw.  But they were good people. They were a model to me, as a young pastor. They were a model to the members of their congregation, and to their community.

    Friends, this is what Jesus calls us to be. When we follow Jesus, we are called to claim our belovedness, and live in such a way, that the world will see something in us, that is compelling. We will be a model for others of compassion, civility,  generosity and service. We will reflect Jesus back to the world.
    The writer of the letter that is the book of the Bible we call 1 John, was talking about this, when he wrote these words. Listen to them again:

 What marvelous love God has extended to us! Just look at it—we're called children of God! That's who we really are. But that's also why the world doesn't recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who God is or what God's up to.

 But friends, that's exactly who we are: children of God. …when Christ is openly revealed, we'll see him—and in seeing him, become like him…. [We have] Jesus' life as a model for our own.

    So what does this mean for us? It means that we are called to live as people who know we are loved by God and as people who love God in such a way that the rest of the world will SEE a difference in us.

    We usually say that ‘us’ and ‘them’ language is not so helpful but today we’re going to use that language, for the purposes of this message. We’re going to talk about the people who follow the ways of the world, separate from those who follow the ways of God. You know that there are values and desires and forces in the world and pull us away from the values and desires that God has for us.

    When you are walking around, functioning in your day to day life, what is it about you that says to people who are living more by the ways of the world, that you are living in God’s way? What says to people: “Hmmm. . .  there is something different about her. She knows she is loved. She is more confident.  She is centered  She acts in loving ways, and she is serving a higher power. He does not get tossed to and fro by the influences of the world.  “I want to have the life that she has.”

    In my son’s school, which happens to be a school sponsored by a church, they have a student covenant. The covenant says that all students should expect to be treated with certain values. I love it because every line starts with the same words:
“Because I am a child of God,” then it says things like this, “Because I am a child of God, I have a right to be happy and treated with kindness in this school. Because I am a child of God, I have a right to be myself in this school. Because I am a child of God I have a right to be safe in this school. Because I am a child of God I have a right to hear and be heard in this school. . . and I have a responsibility to listen to others” (Gesu Student Covenant). 

    At the Beginning of the year, Jamie said, Mom, my classmates don’t always live up to this.  A few weeks ago, they had each classroom vote on which student in their class best lives out this covenant. One or two students were chosen in each class and those students got some special recognition.

    Most schools have anti-bullying programs, and this school is no exception. Sadly, those programs are essential. But this program goes from a positive starting point. We expect everyone to feel like a child of God, to know we are loved and to treat one another as such. And so then once a year, they have a way to celebrate the students who are modeling these attributes of the Christian life. The students who were recognized felt really special, I can tell you that. It was a great little program at the school.

    Let me ask you this, it’s kind of a personal question,  if the people around you were to give you a score on how you are doing with knowing that you are loved by God, and showing that to the world, how would you do? It’s an interesting question. Would you stand out? Do you stand out among your peers as someone, like my friends from Findlay, Bob and Bea Chatelain?  Are you so full of the knowledge of God’s blessing, that every time your name is mentioned, people smile and say, “Now there is someone you ought to meet! That person is really full of God’s love, and really making a difference in the world.”  There is something about that person, they know they are loved by God and nothing can phase them.

    And if you’re not, because truth be told, most of us probably aren’t there yet, what would it take to live like that?  Here is the starting point: we have to really trust that God loves us. Truly. That basic message that “We are God’s beloved children”. And we have to love God back. Because here’s the thing, once we know that God loves us, and we love God back, then we can’t help but see that everyone around us is also God’s beloved child. And if we all treat every other person on the planet like God’s beloved childr, friends, that changes everything. When we start treating everyone in the world as a beloved child of God -- that is a game changer.

    So I’m going to ask you now to have a little conversation with one other person  you are sitting near or find someone if you are alone at home. There is one simple question I want you to discuss. Look at the other person square in the eyes and say:

    Do you know that God loves you?

And then wait for the answer. You can say yes, or no. And with either yes, or no, then elaborate a bit. If it’s no, then say what is keeping you from it. If you say yes, then share how you came to this understanding. And after a bit, switch and let the other person, ask the question to the other.

    When you are done, I want you to do something.  I want you to give each other a blessing.  It’s really easy.  Just put your hand on their shoulder (get their permission first) And say this:

God, thank you for loving _(name). Help him/her to love you, and to be a blessing to others. Amen.

    Do you have a church home that helps you feel like this?  That you are a beloved child of God.  That God loves you, not matter what, and has a purpose for you?  If not, find one.  There are many out there.  If you find yourself near the corner of Conant Street and the Anthony Wayne Trail, come wander into the Maumee Indoor Theater.  We are there Sundays at 10:30 and out in the Community the rest of the week. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Giving Ourselves Away by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    The knock came at my door one afternoon. We had only been living in the Old West End for a couple of months. I had just starting working as the pastor of an inner city church. It was my dream job. Not everyone would call it a dream job (be careful what you dream for), not everyone would call being the Pastor of an inner city church with 27 members (and attendance of 19) their dream job.  But ever since I had lived in Atlanta and worked at an inner city church while in seminary, I had dreamed of being the pastor of a church in a neighborhood just like the Old West End. It took me about ten years to get here, because the powers that be, sent me first to the suburbs of Cincinnati and then to the county seat town of Findlay Ohio.

    Finally, I landed in the Old West End, at a tiny congregation with a passion for reaching out for people living on the margins. We had an after-school program for children at the local public school. I told you last week about Travis, our children’s leader here at the Village, who was a part of this program years ago. 

    The knock on the door came from a woman I’ll call Toni. She had worked previously at the church as the custodian, on a very part-time basis. Toni lived on social security disability. I did not know much of her story, but I knew that she was economically poor, African American, did not finish high school, and that her disability had something to do with being mentally slow, she had a mental disability. Compared to her, I enjoy great privilege in this world. Toni knocked on my door that day, looking for work. She asked if I had any odd jobs she could do. She needed money. I don’t remember the details of her particular story that day. I don’t recall if I found any work for her. Maybe I gave her a few dollars, as a loan, knowing that I would probably never see the money again. I don’t do that very often, but sometimes I do. Maybe I gave her some food.

    This is what I do remember about that day. I was holding my infant child, and I needed to go into the house to get something. So I asked Toni to come inside and I asked her to hold my baby for a moment while I went to the kitchen. And when I returned, Toni was crying. She was staring at my baby, and then she looked up at me and said, “Oh thank you Pastor Cheri for letting me to hold your baby.”

    I meant so much to her that I asked her to just hold the baby.  She said it had been a very long time since anyone had let her hold a baby. But she also made it clear, that it was a big deal that I had asked her to hold my baby.

    What struck me, was shame. Because I had hesitated. Toni was not really someone I trusted. To be honest, I was not sure I wanted to let her hold my baby. She kind of smelled bad, as if she had not showered in a few days. And I honestly had hesitated before I handed the baby to her. And then, I thought to myself “How stupid is that?” I could not have consciously gone through this thought process, but in a flash it went something like this: “Cheri, You have waited ten years, been dying to come be a pastor in the inner city for the past two years, and you are standing in the safety of your own home, and you are hesitating to let another child of God hold your baby while you walk into the next room?”

    So I handed the baby over.  God taught me so much in that moment. It was a moment of blessing. Toni was blessed in that moment, in the way we are all blessed when we get to hold a baby and wonder at the beauty of any child of God. Toni was blessed that I trusted her with my most precious child. I was blessed, even in my shame, as God showed me that it is in giving and sharing that we bring joy to the world. My baby was blessed too. Of course she did not know it at the time. But she was blessed too. And I have to believe that God smiled in that moment.

    When we give ourselves away, we are blessed.  When we give ourselves away, we experience fullness of joy.  When we give ourselves away, we are living as God’s beloved children.

    In his book, Life of the Beloved, that wonderful spiritual author Henri Nouwen reminds us that our living finds meaning when we live for others (p. 84). He writes: “True joy, happiness and inner peace from the giving of ourselves to others. A happy life is a life for others. That truth, however, is usually discovered when we are confronted with our brokenness” (p. 87).

    Nouwen says that there seems to be a mysterious link between our brokenness and our ability to give to each other. I have to agree. I call it vulnerability, or authenticity. Around here we call it being real, or recognizing that there are no perfect people in the world. You seen, when we own the reality that we all have been through hard times (not that God caused us pain in order to teach us a lesson, I don’t believe that – I think that kind of theology is problematic). But you can look around and see that life includes some hard times. It is what it is. When we live in authentic community, we are honest about our brokenness.

     Then out of the honesty of our shared experiences, we have the opportunity to give to one another – to be generous, forgiving and compassionate.

    You see I can forgive another person for disappointing me, or hurting me, because I own up to the fact that I have been a disappointment to others.

    That is what it means to be in a community of people who follow Jesus: we trust God to use our brokenness, to bless us, and we trust that when we give ourselves away we will all be blessed.

    Our scripture reading for today (2 Kings 4:42-44 from the Message translation for those following along on the net)  is a great example of this. The story is reminiscent of those great stories in the New Testament when Jesus takes a couple of loaves of bread and a few fish and feeds masses of people. Do you remember the stories? And then after everyone eats, they gather up baskets of leftovers, and they have more food left than they started with?

    Well, in this story from the Old Testament, long before Jesus came along, we have a story of one of God’s prophets, Elisha. A servant comes to this holy man and brings a humble offering to God of twenty loaves of bread and some apples. Elisha tells him to use it to feel the crowd. The servant is taken aback because there are 100 people there, and this will never be enough food to be an adequate meal for such a crowd. Elisha says: “Go ahead and feed them. Give what you have. God says there’s plenty.”  It’s always about trusting God, isn’t it? 

    As the story goes, the servant feeds the people. There is more than enough and they have plenty left over. You see, the man focuses on what is lacking. But God blesses his gift, multiplies it, and all are blessed abundantly.

    You see, you can’t out-give God. When we are generous, God always blesses our giving. When we don’t hold back, there is always plenty of blessing. I had no idea what a blessing it would be to Toni that I asked her to hold my baby. But God knew. Even in the brokenness of my fear, God brought about blessing. I trusted God. I took a chance. Not only was my daughter perfectly safe, but Toni and I were both blessed in that moment of connection.

    The servant came to Elisha thinking he was giving an offering of food to the prophet. I don’t think he had any idea that Elisha would try to feed the whole crowd that day. But Elisha and God used the man’s humble gift, and multiplied it. You see with God, every act of love and forgiveness and generosity is multiplied and there are even left-overs (Henri-Nouwen, p. 98).  Leftovers of blessings, I love that image.

    So, here we are Village Church. God has brought us to a new neighborhood. We are still serving the greater community of NW Ohio and SE Michigan but since we have this new home on Sunday mornings, we have a chance to reach out a little more to Maumee and the surrounding neighborhoods. How shall we give ourselves away?

    We are going to start with something really basic: FOOD. In two weeks we are going to sponsor an afternoon of music down the street at The Village Idiot. We’re calling it “Feed Your Village.”  Our band leader Travis has secured a line-up of seven musical acts to perform. We are asking for donations for the “Feed Your Neighbor” food pantries in Toledo.

     We’ll also set up this Hope Chest in the lobby of the Maumee Indoor for the next 3 months in order to collect food.  You see, we asked the folks down at The Village Idiot, (a local bar and restaurant) what do they think people in Maumee care about and they said people need food, so that’s what we are raising money for. I think most of us have enough food and enough money to buy food. If not, let me know and I can give you a referral to one of the “Feed Your Neighbor” food pantries.

    You see, there is actually enough food in the world, it’s just a problem of distribution.  There is certainly enough food on the shelves of the stores in Toledo. It’s just that some people are out of work. Some children have parents who can’t feed them, and so they need food at these pantries. Everyone in this room has the ability to give something to “Feed Your Neighbor.” More than that, you have a friend who likes music and pizza and who would like to come out to the Village Idiot for our “Feed Your Village” event. So, I want you to invite them to come with you.  We’ve even got a Facebook event to get invited to and let you invite people.

    Now the Village Idiot is a pizzeria, but it is also a bar. We will be there on Sunday afternoon. The music will be family friendly and young people are welcome. But the bar is not your scene, that is fine. We don’t want anyone to come who is not comfortable there. You can make a donation here at the church. This is just a way to get out into the community with folks who might not come to our church without us going out to meet the first.

    Here at the Village, we will have opportunities every month to give ourselves away. Last month we went to the Toledo Seagate Foodbank and sorted boxes of food for senior citizens, helping feed hundreds of people for a month. We will do this again.
Other months we have participated in a community meal at a church in the Old West End. In May we are going to host a Mother’s Day brunch and we are going to give some free tickets to some women who have been victims of domestic violence so their children can bring them for a nice meal. If you want to participate in one of these service projects talk to me, or Patrick or one of our other leaders.

    At the Village, we follow Jesus and Change the World.  We give ourselves away. This is a core value. This is who we are. We are followers of Jesus. We are changing the world by giving ourselves away. I hope you give yourself away. I hope you find ways, on a regular basis, to let go of your blessings so they may be a blessing to others. You see, in this way, our blessings are multiplied. Joy comes when we do something for others and give ourselves away. So let’s live out that calling of Jesus. Will you? Let’s live in that way of Jesus, that way of Joy and give ourselves away!

    Want to be a part of a faith community like this?  We’re now at the corner of the Anthony Wayne Trail and Conant Street in the Maumee Indoor Theater.  We’re here Sundays at 10:30 AM and out in the world the rest of the week.  Come join this group of imperfect people as we try our best to follow Jesus, and to change the world in ever way we can.