Sunday, August 26, 2012

ALL WE NEED IS LOVE by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young, the Beatles & the Village Band)

    In October we are coming up on our three year anniversary since The Village opened with weekly worship. On Palm Sunday of that first year we had our first baptism service. Some of you have been with us since that first few months but most of you don’t remember that service. I want to tell you about a couple of the people we baptized with us that Sunday because their stories embody today’s message: ALL WE NEED IS LOVE.

    Jesse was 19 years old, just starting college when he came to The Village. He came because one of his high school teachers was attending and she invited him to come. Jesse told me that when he was in high school he tried to commit suicide 2 or 3 times because he was gay. He was told by people really close to him, that God did not love him and he was going to hell.

    And then this teacher, who was like a second mother to him, invited him to come to The Village. One day when our message finally sank in to Jesse he came up to me and gave me a big hug and he said, “Thank you, Pastor Cheri, for planting this church, I never knew a church existed that would accept me for who I am.” You see, we told Jesse that God loves him and accepts him, and that God created him as a gay man. It’s really that simple.  We told him God loved him and Jesse’s life was changed. ALL WE NEED IS LOVE. Do you hear me?

    Another person who came to The Village that first year was Vanetta. She was pregnant when she came to us. Her first child was being raised by another relative because the county had determined that Vanetta was not able to care for her. Vanetta has some challenges in her life. She walked to our church. She had a case manager and a counselor but she also wanted a church family. She came to an Open House we had for our neighborhood, and said: “I need a church family because I want to keep this baby.” The Village embraced Vanetta and became her second family.

    In fact when her own mother could not go to the hospital when baby Faith was born, one of the members of The Village went to the hospital with her for the delivery and birth of her child.  We gave her a baby shower, and on that Palm Sunday we baptized both Vanetta and baby Faith. The Village embraced Vanetta and Baby Faith.  Sadly, when we moved to this new location, Vanetta has not been able to make the trip across town to be with us. But she was with us for a season and she will always know the love of God that she experienced through The Village church. That love is powerful. ALL WE NEED IS LOVE.

    As a congregation, we are called to continue to find and care for the Jesse’s and the Vanetta’s that God is putting in our path to surround with love. This past Spring on Mother’s Day some of you will remember we went out for a nice lunch at Degage here in Maumee. We worked with the Maumee Court system and the staff who work with the women and children affected by domestic violence to invite some of those families to join us for lunch as our guests.  To be treated like our mothers are treated.  To not be separated out but included in.   It was one small act of love we could offer to women and children who are trying to rebuild their lives. LOVE is a powerful healing force.

    You see, we do these things, because we follow Jesus, and Jesus models the way of love for us. Our scripture for today (John 6:1-21 from the Message for those following along on the net) gives us two simple stories of Jesus showing LOVE to his followers.   God sent Jesus to love this world because God knows that ALL WE NEED IS LOVE.

    In the two stories we heard today, we see examples of love and generosity. They are both miracle stories. The first is about a big crowd of people getting fed. We have several of these stories in the gospels. A big crowd has gathered around Jesus attracted by the miracles they had seen him do among the sick.

    In this version of the story it is Jesus who asks one of his disciples: "Where can we buy bread to feed these people?" He said this to stretch Philip's faith. He already knew what he was going to do.  You may remember that Philip says there is not enough money to feed this many people.

 8-9One of the disciples—it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter—said, "There's a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But that's a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this."
 10-11Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." There was a nice carpet of green grass in this place. They sat down, about five thousand of them. Then Jesus took the bread and, having given thanks, gave it to those who were seated. He did the same with the fish. All ate as much as they wanted.
 12-13When the people had eaten their fill, he said to his disciples, "Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted." They went to work and filled twelve large baskets with leftovers from the five barley loaves.
 14-15The people realized that God was at work among them in what Jesus had just done.

    Now, perhaps Jesus actually physically worked a miracle and caused bread to appear where there was none. Or perhaps, there were people there who had food. They had packed food for their journey, and when Jesus asked them to sit down to eat, and when they saw the love in Jesus, the love in their own hearts grew. They shared their food, and there was more than enough. I went to a family pot-luck yesterday, we all brought a dish to share and when we left there was plenty of food left over, and I can tell you there was plenty of love at that family gathering too.

    Where there is love, there is plenty of everything else. Truly, ALL WE NEED IN THIS WORLD IS LOVE.   I don’t want to be simplistic, and we’ll go back to that.  But ALL WE NEED IS LOVE.

    The second story comes in the evening. Jesus had slipped away to the hills by himself, for a break, which he often did to pray.
 16-21In the evening his disciples went down to the sea, got in the boat, and headed back across the water to Capernaum. It had grown quite dark and Jesus had not yet returned. A huge wind blew up, churning the sea. They were maybe three or four miles out when they saw Jesus walking on the sea, quite near the boat. They were scared senseless, but he reassured them, "It's me. It's all right. Don't be afraid." So they took him on board. In no time they reached land—the exact spot they were headed to.

    We don’t know for sure why the disciples were scared senseless. They could be scared because of the storm. They certainly seem to be frightened because of a figure walking on the water. But Jesus reassures theme of who he is, he gets into the boat and they find their way to their destination even in a storm. To me it’s a metaphor for their life together. These disciples, without Jesus, often got off track. They encountered storms, and got scared easily. But Jesus would go to great lengths to get back to them, to reassure them, and get them back on course.  Sound familiar?  Do you get off course and find yourself alone and afraid. Because Jesus loved them. ALL WE NEED IS LOVE.

    Now, lest I be accused of being overly simplistic, I do understand that our world is complicated. I know that you and I are dealing with big problems: unemployment, disease, not enough money at the end of the month, childhood traumas that haunt us, bad relationships and all that. Then you add the layers of the big problems of the world and the idea that “ALL WE NEED IS LOVE” may seem a bit too easy, a little simplistic.

    But we have to start somewhere. And I say, that LOVE is a powerful place. It was a powerful force for Jesse when we baptized him, when we gave him a message of love, and told him that God loves him just the way he is. Now I can tell you Jesse has had bad days since.  But he has had love and message that God loves you there with him as well.

     Love was a powerful force for Vanetta when baby Faith was born and this church family surrounded her with support. Nothing can take that away.

    So my question for us today is this, my Village people. How are we going to love one another today? We continue to grow as a church and we have new Jesses and Vanettas in our midst every week with new names, how are we going to love them. This is the challenge God puts before us every week, every month and every year to be a community of love.

    Because you see, we all have our challenges in life. Some of our challenges are more obvious than others, but we all have challenges. We all need love. And I believe we are all here looking for some form of love or support. We want to know that God accepts us just the way we are. God made us after all, so God must love us the way we are, but it’s funny how the world can convince us that we are not good enough. We need to be smarter, thinner, less wrinkled says the world.  But God says I made you and I love you just the way you are.

    Some of us will say that we are here looking for friends and support, like Vanetta was, and others of us are simply here to connect with God. But either way, We all need love.

    But here is the thing. As I look out here on the congregation, I know most of you, but I know that many of you do not know one another. Now, you are not all going to be friends, and that is fine. But I want to challenge you with this, will you love one another, in the way that one follower of Jesus loves another? And will you commit to getting to know the other people in your Village family in some way? Here is what I want to ask you to do. Because there are some Jesses and Vanettas sitting here who need you. And we won’t know who they are and what they need unless we pay attention, so I have three challenges for you:
·    Spend three minutes at the end of worship talking to someone you do not know well. Your friends will wait three minutes. But a new person will leave if no one talks to them. Ask them how they found The Village, and tell them how you got here.
·    When you get here, don’t sit in the same place each week, and look for someone who is sitting at a table alone and ask if you can sit with them; or invite someone who is coming in alone to sit with you.  It is really hard to go into a new church for the first time.  Even for me, a Pastor, I had a hard time visiting a church on Sabbatical. I sat in the parking lot for 10 minutes.  Really?  Me, a Pastor, was afraid to go.
·    Pray for the people of The Village.

    All we need is love. My dream for The Village is that this is a community where anyone can come and receive God’s love. I pray that you know you are loved when you come here.   But we can’t forget there are lots of Jesse’s and Vanetta’s out there who need us.   

    The band is going to come back up now and sing a couple more songs. John Lennon wrote a song in which he dreamed of a world of peace. He imagined a world of no hunger or greed. As you listen to the song, I invite you to dream about what the world could be like if we had more love for everyone.

    Do you have a faith community where this is what you are doing?  If the answer is Yes, then reach out to others and bring them there, they need places like that.  But if you find yourself answering No, come check us out.  We’re at the corner of Conant Street and the Anthony Wayne Trail in the Maumee Indoor Theater, Sundays @ 10:30 AM.   All we need is love and we all need to hear that again and again and again. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Hunger Games: No Greater Love by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    In the summer of 1977, I was 14 years old. A blockbuster movie came out that summer. The subtitle of the film was: A New Hope. I saw that movie more than 10 or 15 times that summer and more than 26 times in the first year or two after it came out. It was a movie about good and evil, light and darkness. And of course, the good guys, and girl came out the victors at the end. It was, after all, 1977. Do you know the movie?

    Of course, it was the original Star Wars film, A New Hope. (By the way, I am really not a sci fi geek, I just like guys who like sci fi, I dated one then and I married one.) But the Star Wars movies are different. They have great stories.

    I like to go to movies with happy endings and movies that make me laugh. My family and I still love to go to Disney movies. The great thing about Disney movies is that you can pretty much count on the fact that they will have a happy ending. There might be a little tension in them now and then, but you KNOW everything will come out fine in the end.

    Now, even though there are a variety of types of stories and movies in the world; you have your action and adventures, you horror movies, your historical fiction movies that are teaching you about some time in history, many of the blockbusters of the 20th century were still pretty happy. The Star Wars saga is a great example. Good wins over evil every time. The picture is one of utopia: an ideal place to be.

    But something begins to happen in the 21st century. Suddenly, we get books and films like the Harry Potter series, and books about vampires, and now, The Hunger Games.  Children, teens and adults by the millions are reading these books. These are not books with pie in the sky happy endings. These are no stories of utopia. They are what are called stories of dystopia. That was a new word for me. I think about the word “dysfunctional.”  While utopia is defined as “an ideal place or state,” dystopia is  defined as a “society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding” ( browse/HYPERLINK ""HYPERLINK ""=t). The word was actually coined in 1868 by John Stuart Mill as “an imaginary place where everything is as bad as it can be” (ibid.)

    In this century we are seeing more and more stories and movies about dystopia rather than utopia. Why have our stories changed? When did they change?

    One big event happened in 1999 at Columbine High School. “Two senior students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold "", embarked on a shooting spree in which a total of 12 students and one teacher were murdered. They also injured 21 other students directly, with three further people being injured while attempting to escape the school” (source: Wikipedia).  This remains the deadliest high school massacre ever in the United States. This one, and so many others, in shopping malls and places of worship have become such a common occurrence, that my children are almost numb to the stories on the news. Yet I can’t escape the belief we all live with a certain level of fear about them every day.

    Of course, the biggest turning point happened on September 11th. When terrorism hit American soil in a catastrophic way, whatever fantasy we had that we were living in anything like utopia, came crashing down with those towers.  Life would never be the same.

    So, you see, our teen-agers, and our young adults, really can no longer tolerate the simplicity of stories and movies with a pie in the sky happy ending. They just are not real enough. We can blame the internet if we want. We can blame video games and television. But our world has changed. So the stories we read and the movies we watch have changed to reflect the reality changes in our world.

    Now we come to the point of a popular book series and movie called The Hunger Games, so popular that your pastor decided to preach on it today.

    Let me stop here and tell you that the first SEVERAL times that I saw the movie trailer for The Hunger Games in the theater, I turned to Kurt and said something like this: “Is this really a movie about a world in which there is a game about young people competing to the death?” It sounded like laser tag or paint ball gone to the extreme. I thought it was just another piece of junk horror movie, to be honest.

    Then my daughter wanted to read the book, along with about 23 million other people. I decided there must be more to it. After Kurt and Becca both read all three books and went to the midnight showing of the movie on opening night, Kurt came home and told me I need to read it, because I would want to preach on it, I read the book. Becca was thrilled. They were both right. Because you see it does have a message for those of us who are trying to follow Jesus in this difficult world. It has a message of hope and compassion in the midst of great misery and fight for survival.

    Now how many of you have neither read the book, nor seen the movie?
Let me give you some brief details:
·    The setting is American, in the future. There has been a great disaster, and the United States, Mexico and Canada have become a single country. The new country is called Panem. There is a capitol where the wealth and power is concentrated. There was a great uprising in Panem 75 years or more before.  The people in the capital live very well. The rest of the people live in 12 districts, across what we now know as the United States. The 12 districts are quite poor. They provide natural resources to the capitol so they are vital to the wealthy elite in the capitol.

·    Every year, there is this reality game, called “The Hunger Games.” It’s called that because the people living in the 12 districts are literally hungry. So two children, one boy and one girl, between the ages of 12 and 18, from each district compete on behalf of their district, to the death. So 24 children compete until one is left alive. That one child’s district gets extra food – thus the name, “The Hunger Games.” The Districts are told that the reason for the Games is because there had been a terrible war, an uprising caused by the districts. When peace came the capitol put in place these “Hunger Games” in the President’s words: “Each district will offer up a tribute” (a child, actually two), who show “honor, courage, and sacrifice;” “the victor is bathed in riches” because the one district that wins gets extra food and resources. You see, this forced competition is really about power and control, to show them they must never revolt against the central government again.

·    One of the most powerful scenes in the movie, to me, is when the President is talking with the man in charge of running the Game. He is called the Game Maker. The President talks about the purpose of the Game.  He tells him that the only thing stronger than fear is hope.  A little hope is effective, but a lot is dangerous.  A spark is fine, as long as it is contained.

    You see, this is what they try to do with the Hunger Game. They try to contain the hope, and they try to keep the people living in fear.

        But this is the truth.  Human beings want to live in hope. We don’t want to live in fear. Because this is how God created us.

        The power of the human desire for of hope, fueled by love and compassion, shows forth,  over and over and over
again in the film. You see: hope cannot be contained; and with every act of human love we give fuel to the fire of our hope.

        I think everyone of the students in our Confirmation Class has read The Hunger Games book. I asked them this week a simple question: where do you see a character in the book, acting like Jesus? It was easy: Katniss, the main girl in the story. She acts like Jesus. “13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Katniss puts her life on the line for her sister at the beginning of the story. Her younger sister is selected to play the game and Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place. Katniss knows her sister, who is 12, has no chance to survive, and so Katniss takes her place.

         Later in the story, Katniss puts her life on the line to go into a dangerous situation to get medicine for her friend Peeta.

        There are several points in the story, where one child has a chance to kill another and then lets one go. You can tell that most of them don’t want to be killers. It’s the leaders in the capitol that are forcing them to do this. When they have a chance, they choose love. Hope cannot be contained; and with every act of human love we give fuel to the fire of our hope

        9Jesus said this: "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you."

        You see, the whole point of The Hunger Game, is for the capitol to keep control over the people in the Districts so those people will provide natural resources to the capitol: food, coal, steel, materials for clothing. The capitol must keep them living in fear.  But we know, that where there is love, fear cannot prevail. “Perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18).

        Jesus did not fear death, did he? He gave himself up to death. He sacrificed himself. As the Son of God, he could have found a way to save himself. But the only way to show the people the power of the resurrection, was to suffer that horrible physical death as a human being and so he did it   He could give the ultimate sacrifice  so he could show his love to them.

        You know, this story of Jesus and his first disciples is a lot more like a story of dystopia than utopia. Even though it ends with Resurrection which is great, it is really not a sweet and happy story. It is a HARD road to Easter morning. And for his disciples, even though they got to see that Jesus was resurrected, they still lost the daily physical presence of their teacher and friend.

       And they were left to fulfill the mission of building God’s church on earth by themselves. That was no small task.

       But do you know what they had to do it with?  Hope.  They had hope.  And Hope cannot be contained; and with every act of human love we give fuel to the fire of our hope. And so do you know what those disciples did? They starting going out and performing acts of love and compassion. In the midst of a world that hated them.

        Just as Jesus could not be contained in the tomb, and the disciples could not be contained in a meeting room behind closed doors, because the Holy Spirit came to them and filled them with power and drove them out into the streets to proclaim the gospel story. They went out to love boldly, to forgive, and to work for justice for the oppressed and spreading the message of God.  And that’s why we are here today.

       My friends, our Hope cannot be contained either. Even though we live in a world where there is lots of bad stuff happening every day, we live as a people of Hope. Our hope cannot be contained; and with every act of human love we give fuel to the fire of our hope.  We hold on to God’s love. We look for the good. We treat one another with compassion, even when other people don’t treat us that way. Because living in hope is a better way to live, than living in fear. And God gives us the power to do it.

       My favorite scene in the Hunger Games is a scene that many people probably find the saddest. This is a spoiler alert if you are going to stay for the film and you have not read the book or see the movie before. I apologize.  There is one of the tributes that is young, and reminds Katniss of her younger sister. She and Katniss band together for awhile during the game. While they are separated the young girl gets in trouble, and then when Katniss returns the girl gets a mortal injury. When she dies, Katniss is devastated. Usually the bodies are taken away immediately, but Katniss gathers beautiful flowers and covers the little girl with flowers. It is a sort of funeral for the girl. When I see it, I am convinced that the girl has gone to be with God; and Katniss is presiding over her blessing and her memorial service. KATNISS CLAIMS THE HOPE OF ETERNAL LIFE for the little girl. Katniss’ hope will not be contained or destroyed. With her every act of human love she gives fuel to the fire of her hope.

       Jesus’ hope was never contained, or constrained by fear. That is how he wants us to live. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

       So beloved, let us love one another. Let us remember that Hope cannot be contained; with every act of human love we give fuel to the fire of our hope. Go, and live in the world as a people of hope! Amen.