Sunday, November 25, 2012

What Kind of King is Jesus by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

Do you remember playing “Follow the leader” as a child. Usually a group of kids move around a room in a line with the leader marching, or hopping, climbing over or under things. Kids clamor to have the honor of being the leader. Everyone wants to be the leader. But, of course, we cannot all be the leader all the time.  A leader needs followers, so we take turns being followers.
In the real world, we follow leaders too, don’t we? So we want good leaders. We want to follow a leader who cares about us, and who understands the big picture. Now we understand that there are political leaders in our country, and as good law abiding citizens we live with the rules our elected leaders make.  But as Christians, we also follow Jesus. And ultimately, we choose to follow Jesus. We choose Jesus way for our life and it takes priority over anyone else who tries to get us to follow them.
This can cause conflict sometimes – trying to follow Jesus in a world where human leaders also have authority over us.
In our scripture for today, Jesus comes into conflict, not an unusual thing for Jesus to be in, with the political and religious leaders of the day. At the time, they had kings. Jesus was becoming a powerful leader. And the king was threatened by Jesus. You see, the people wanted to follow Jesus. And the king knew there could not be two kings.
The scripture passage for today, John 18:33-37 for those following along on the from afar, is right before Jesus is going to be condemned to death. There is this back and forth with Pontius Pilate. Pilate gives the crowd a chance to have Jesus pardoned, because there is this tradition during Passover that one criminal can be pardoned. But the people say: “If you pardon this man, you’re no friend of Caesar’s. Anyone setting himself up as ‘king’ defies Caesar.” (John 19:12).   Here’s the highlights of the scripture:
Pilate has asked Jesus if he is trying to be the King of the Jews.  36 “My kingdom,” said Jesus, “doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But I’m not that kind of king, not the world’s kind of king.”37 Then Pilate said, “So, are you a king or not?”
Jesus answered, “You tell me. Because I am King, I was born and entered the world so that I could witness to the truth. Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, recognizes my voice.”  (John 18:36-37)
You see, Pilate is trying to pin Jesus down. Make him either save himself by saying he is not a king; or get Jesus to condemn himself by admitting he wants to be a king. But Jesus says: “my values (meaning God’s values) are not the same as yours, Pilate. I am not the world’s kind of king. I am a different kind of king.”
Then Jesus tells us why he came. “I came into the world, a king, to witness to the truth,” (meaning the truth of God’s ways).And Jesus says that anyone who cares for God’s truth, will recognize the voice of Jesus as their king.
Jesus confounded the leaders of his day over and over again. They couldn’t pin him down.  He went against the norm.  Jesus is like the person who stayed home on Black Friday, to have an extra day of family time or to go visit the sick, when everyone in the world knows that you should go shopping on Black Friday. You go on Thanksgiving night too. Never mind that means people who work retail have to work on Thanksgiving. Our economy depends upon it. Even our political leaders will tell us to shop.
But Jesus would not follow the values of the world. Jesus was focused on one thing: showing people the love of God. When we follow Jesus in his ways, it makes us counter-cultural.
Think about it, over and over again, we see this inability to play by the world’s rules.  He loved what I like to call the least, the last and the lost. He loved the people that the leaders of the world viewed as throw-aways.
In worship, we showed a video of a tent city in New Jersey.  People needed affordable housing and a group of 75 people who are living in tents outside the city. They are the working poor.  The cost of living is $23 per hour for housing, but the people there are making $8 per hour.  This is the kind of place I believe Jesus would spend his time if he were here today. If he were a king of anything, I think he would be king of the tent city in that video.   There is one of these in Toledo, Ohio today. 
I feel pretty confident that if God sent Jesus to the Earth today, this tent city is the kind of place Jesus would go. He would not go to the White House, or to Wall Street.   He wouldn’t start there.  And yet we call him a King.  We call him our leader.
Today, is the day on the church calendar called “Christ the King Sunday.” It’s the day we try to wrap our minds around what sort of King Jesus is.  A different sort of king is what Jesus is. Because, you see, this is our calling here at The Village, “to follow Jesus and change the world.” We have decided that he is our leader.
His mission was puzzling to the people who lived when he first came to Earth. They were expecting a political and military leader who would overthrow the ungodly leaders of their day – by force.
Jesus kept talking about being a servant leader, and loving God. He had this idea that he could change the world by spending time with the people I like to call “the least, the last and the lost.” The people society would call misfits. Because you see, these are the people who most need God’s compassion and mercy.
Those other folks in power? Well they needed God too, but they needed to be made humble before they would open themselves to God.
So, as we read this story, I wonder where do we put ourselves? Are the we least, who are grateful for Jesus, because he comes to show us that we still matter to God? Are we the people on the outside of society.  Or are we those with power and privilege, who need to listen to Jesus as he reminds us that in letting go of power and privilege, and acting as servants, that we will truly see God?
I think each of us has been both of those people at one time or another. We have experienced being on the edge of society, and being without. And we are also people of privilege when compared to the rest of the world. When we have privilege and when we have abundant resources, Jesus says that we have the responsibility to use that privilege and those resources to care for the least.  
In either position, we need someone to follow. In the old days they used the title King. For us, we need a leader. We need someone to look up to, who shows us the way to live.   We can’t always make those choices on our own.
Jesus wants to be that leader for us. Our question is this: how will we follow Jesus? What actions do we take, and will we take, in our daily life in order to walk in the way of Jesus?
Today we are one month from the celebration of Jesus’ birth. As we prepare for Christmas, I wonder, how will our traditions and our activities help us follow Jesus? I started thinking about our family’s Christmas traditions and how do they cause us to follow Jesus.  For example, does making cookies help us follow Jesus? Possibly. If it means we spend time with children in making them together, or if we give some of them to someone who might be lonely or sad this year at Christmas – as a way of saying: we care about you and we wanted to bring you this homemade gift. Making cookies probably does not help us follow Jesus if it stresses us out and we are just doing it because we have always done it, and we really NEED to eat all those extra calories this month.
So, how will we follow Jesus as we celebrate his birth?  I want us all to ponder this question: how will I follow Jesus as I celebrate his birth?  You can share your ideas and thoughts here or anywhere on the web.  What are the ways we can help to do this or would like to do this?
At the Village this year, we will be reminding people that this is not your birthday, it’s the time we celebrate Jesus’ birthday.  We will be working on spreading Jesus love and compassion in Toledo and around the world this Christmas. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

God Gives What We Need by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

    Some time ago I went on a spiritual retreat at the Franciscan Center in Tiffin. I took a walk on a sort of board walk they had built through their wildflower gardens. The gardens were so beautiful and peaceful.  And it helped me find peace.

    I had been working extra hard, and not taking care of myself. I know when I am wound too tight and I need to unwind. So I signed up for a retreat for some rest and renewal.

     You see, I tend to worry. I worry about my “to do” list, my kids, about family finances. I worry about how we will get enough for money for The Village and how we can find more people, will people show up each Sunday morning, etc.

     When I went on this retreat, I was trying to let go of that worry, and just rest in God. If you are a worrier like, that is really hard to do. But that is what a retreat is for, for a change of pace, and to slow down. 

     But guess what I tend to do! When I go on a retreat, with lots of unstructured time, I take a stack of good books, or I take my to do list with me. I wanted to do some writing that I never have time to do, while I was on the retreat. But on the first day, my spiritual director invited me. . . well, actually, she INSTRUCTED me, to do nothing. NOTHING.  That includes not worrying about the stuff I left behind at home and work. It also means, not trying to read three books and start writing my book.

    So I took a walk through the wild flower garden. I will confess I had my phone in my pocket, because I had just made a call home to the family. And when I saw these beautiful flowers I just had to stop and take a picture. I wanted to savor the moment. And I wanted something to remind me of the moment, when I got home.

     Jesus was talking with some people once about worry (Matthew 6:25-33  from The Message for those following along on the web), and he gave the some advice. He said, “STOP,  and take a look at the flowers in the field.” Some of those flowers will never be seen by a soul, and yet God creates them with such beauty, and God cares for them. Jesus said, “Can you trust that God cares for you too?” If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think God will attend to you, take pride in you, do God’s best for you?  (Matthew 6:30)

     You see sometimes, we just have to pick up our heads, and turn away from our worry, and see the beauty of God’s creation. Doing this reminds us, 1)of how tiny we are in the grand scheme of things – and that many of our worries are really not so big; 2) it connects us to God. Seeing the beauty of God’s creation fills us with wonder and awe, and we are reminded of God’s presence. We are reminded that we are not alone, God really wants to take care of us.

     Jesus started this scripture with these words:If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body.

      To put it another way, he said, that if we have really given our lives to God, and put our trust in God FIRST, then we won’t worry so much . . . about ANYTHING.

     It’s a matter of focus. Jesus said that one way to put things back in focus is this:  take a walk and just observe the beauty of God’s creation, the flowers and the birds and how they fly carefree. God takes care of them and God will take care of you.

     Now you don’t have to go on a retreat or several days to get reconnected with God. We can go on a short walk outside. We can sit in the comfort of our homes, turn off all the electronics, and breath. Perhaps light a candle and watch it flicker. Or look at pictures of something beautiful in God’s creation. We can take a mini retreat for 5 minutes in the middle of a work day, when we are stressed and overcome with worry. We can do this, because we have already decided that we want to put trust in God.

     You may not think you have the deepest faith, but we go in our trust of God, through practice. Jesus explained: What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving.  (Mt 6:32). Or put another way, God’s blessing in your life.

    In this encounter, Jesus focused on people’s worry about something basic, what they would eat. That can be a real concern for people, even right here in our city. But he also talked about something not nearly so necessary: the clothes we wear. Whew! If we want to talk about something where some of us have way more than we need, because we want the latest style, Jesus really speaks to us here. If I am worrying about money, I need only look in my closet to see where lots of my money went, for stuff that I bought but never wear.

    But I think if Jesus were speaking to us today, he might talk about other sorts of worry. Because Jesus cares about us. Too much worry was a problem for followers of Jesus when he was alive and it’s still a problem today.

     What do you worry about?  - My to do list, money, success, health, children’s education was what was said in our worship celebration today. One study stated that two-thirds of all people worry about their finances, some worry more than others.  “Only three per cent of those questioned said they never worried about money” (Source:  YouGov poll for the Institute of Financial Planning (IFP) and National Savings and Investments (NS&I),

    A Harvard Institute of Politics poll found that “many young Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 have worries about whether or not they can find a job once they are out of college or if they have a job, they worry that they will lose it.” A similar study conducted with young adults from London found that this population worried more about finances than even love or romance.”  (source:

    As I scanned the internet for articles and postings about worry, I learned that quite a few people list fears for their children as their first worry. They are afraid their child will be kidnapped or have something terrible happen to them. As a parent, I will confess that I have had at least some passing worries of this type.

    Senior citizens are not without their worries. One report  lists the top concerns of this population which may include: loss of energy, loss of friends and/or spouse, illness, financial loss, and death as the major worries for those who are in their golden years. (ibid.)

    All of this worry, serves no purpose, according to Jesus. It is just a waste of time and energy. Jesus tells his followers this: instead of focusing on what you do not have, think about how God has blessed you. “ Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.”

    This is a great message for Thanksgiving week. Let’s give thanks for what we have. Even when some things are not going your way. Let’s find a sense of gratitude within ourselves. It’s amazing how the worry begins to fade away, when we focus on our gratitude.

     Rev. Janet Hunt tells this story about a member of her congregation:

“It was a few years ago when I went to call on a member of our congregation.  “She wasn’t in worship much --- it seemed that anxiety was part of her every day and it had intensified since her husband’s death several years before.  We sat and talked a while that afternoon.  I prayed with her.  I don’t know whether it helped with her worries or not, but either way I still didn’t see her much after that.

“It was some time later when a call came saying she was in the emergency room.  By the time I arrived they had determined she had a mass on her brain.  Pretty soon she was sent by ambulance to another hospital where she would undergo surgery to attempt to remove the tumor.

“Not long after that I stopped in to visit her at a nearby rehabilitation facility.  . . .  When I walked into her room, she pulled herself to her feet, leaning on her walker.  She spread out her arms in greeting and she said, struggling to speak, “Pastor!  I’m not worried anymore!  It’s all gone!”” (source:

    Who knows what happened to this woman. Was the tumor actually pressing on her brain in a way that exacerbated her anxiety? Or maybe it was the experience of coming through this life threatening health crisis that caused the woman to see her life in another perspective.

    I would not wish a tumor on any of us. But I would wish us this woman’s sense of freedom from her worry.

     What will it take for us to let go of our worry? I am a worrier too, so I am in this with you.

     Jesus says, remember that you have already put your trust in God. And then relax. It’s that simple (and yes I know it does not feel simple). But it is. God provides for the wildflowers and the birds of the air, and God provides what we need too.

    As we celebrate this week of giving thanks, I’m going to try to remember these words of Jesus and I hope you will too. Let’s not focus on our worry about we don’t have and what we have not accomplished. Let’s give thanks for all the ways that God has blessed us in our lives.