Sunday, April 28, 2013

Who is Missing? by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

When I was young, just out of seminary, I served a church, as an associate pastor.  I got to be a part of the Young adult group, so did Terri.  Terri was a young woman with Tourettes syndrome.  She had the kind where she had all kinds of tics and squeals she could not control, and also suffered from depression.  It was distracting and unnerving to people who came. Terri had graduated high school recently and things had gotten worse without that structure.   She had gained weight and had fewer people to have contact with, and therefore was more depressed.  

            Whenever we had an event, Terri would of course come, she was the first to sign up, ALWAYS.  We would go out to dinners, go out to a ball game, and all kinds of fun.  And always, Terri was the FIRST to sign up, it didn’t matter what, always.  And, at an event, it was inevitable that someone got cornered by Terri, who would talk about being depressed, suicidal, etc.  Not your typical young adult group conversations, but she just could not control latching on to someone, anyone at these events.  One night, we had a game night in the church parlor, and you guessed it, Terri cornered someone. 

After that game night, I was the one who got cornered, but it wasn’t Terri, but by sisters Suzy and Sophie, picture perfect suburbanites.   “Pastor Cheri, we really like this church” but we can’t invite friends to this group because of Terri.  We come to this group to have fun.  On Friday night, after a long week of work, we come to have fun, not be cornered by Terri. They had basically had it with Terri being there.  In the most, kind, pastoral way I could, I gently tried to explain to them: Terri needs church. And we don’t kick people out of groups at church.
At home that night I got pretty self righteous. “What Would Jesus Do” was popular then and I so wanted to ask them if they thought Jesus would kick out Terri.  Suzy and Sophie have plenty of friends. It’s not fair of them to act this way toward Terri. If I have to sacrifice them in order to provide a place for Terri, then so be it. They will find another group, but Terri does not have lots of options. 

I went to my friends Freda and Fred with a strategy. They were in my Disciple Bible study class (a 9 month long intense bible study created by the Methodist church adds Kurt and it and Servant Leadership are incredible).   I asked them if they could help with Terri.  We got to together and met and came up with a strategy.  We would take turns with Terri and her Tourettes syndrome. We would let someone have ten minutes of Terri and then step in.  We all need to be Jesus for each other, including Terri.  

The next outing, was, of course, an all day outing to the local amusement park. All day is a lot of ten minute blocks. When we got to the park, immediately Terri was excited.  They had a shop where you could make a karaoke CD was all she kept saying.  We went to the shop, and she got to pick her song and sing it. She was beaming!  She got to record her not great rendition of the song and create the cover.  It was a great day for her and an okay day for me and my friends, Freda and Fred. 

I did not see so much of Suzy and Sophie in the group after that. Looking back, I do have one regret. Looking back, I did not sit down with Suzy and Sophie and talk with them about Terri more.   We could have tried a little harder to keep them in the group.  I let them off the hook too easily. I did not ask them to find their common humanity with Terri.   

You see, the things that made Terri hard to be around were obvious. She had some obvious tics and squeals that set her apart. She was over-weight and depressed.   She didn’t know what was appropriate and not appropriate to talk about.  We worked on that in her private sessions in my office.  

But we ALL have things about ourselves that set us apart, and make us feel unlovable. The rest of us, just hide our things better than Terri did.   I’m willing to bet that at some point in life Suzy and Sophie had their share of insecurities. Who knows, after all these years, they may have had a child with some severe disabilities. I’m pretty sure they have faced some hardships in life. I just wonder, if I had tried a little harder, I might have found a way to be more patient and tolerant with Terri.  It could have been a gift for them to see their common humanity. 

You know, one of the things I value here at The Village, is that we hang in there with one another. We know we are not perfect. Some of our imperfections are more obvious than others. But we know that we all have our ups and downs. And so we work really hard to welcome all the folks: the Terris with Tourettes and the Suzys and Sophies who are uncomfortable with the Terris; and we welcome the Fredas and the Freds too.  We really try to welcome everyone.  There are people missing here even.

            Now, let’s go back to that crazy scripture, for those following along on the net, it’s Acts 11:1-18 from the Message:
when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, 3saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 4Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5“I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.9But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

The Jews were like Suzy and Sophie. They just wanted the Jews in their young adult group. The Gentiles were people with Tourette Syndrome, or try immigrants or those against immigration, people who carry guns or people who want to limit our ability to carry guns, vegetarians or people who eat meat, people who buy foreign cars or people who only buy American cars even though they are gas guzzlers, people who go to casinos and gamble or people who are opposed to going to the casinos.  Those who are missing.  You get the idea.

But here, we want to include everyone. Because everyone needs God.  Everybody, no exceptions.  Because if God can love the likes of us, then God can love everyone.   So, here is what I want to you to think about.  Who do you know who is missing from The Village, who needs God’s love? Whoever they are, they will add diversity to our community. They will add something unique to our community. There are no exceptions to who God wants to include in the circle or who we want to include in the circle.

And I want you to do two things?  First, pray for that person.   The second one is much harder, ask them to come with you to The Village. Offer to pick them up if needed.  If you can afford it, offer to take them to lunch or out to coffee.

You don’t have to be annoying, just be consistent. Tell the person that you care about them. That you just want them to give it a try. If they won’t come here then you want hope they will go somewhere. God loves them, and you want them to give God a chance to show them how much God loves them, by being part of one of God’s communities.

For example I know a family with kids that have been thinking about coming for a year.  But they just don’t do it. I am going to call them again and ask them what is going on.  I’m going to try inviting them for Mother’s Day.  

What do you have to lose by inviting someone?  It won’t cost you anything, so I’m giving you a money back guarantee.  Give it a try, will you?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

“Perfect love casts out fear.” In The Message Bible, this statement from John’s letter goes like this: there is no room in love for fear. 

In Methodist theology, given to us by John Wesley, we actually talk about how we can be made perfect in God’s love. Now, I know, here at The Village we say, that no one is perfect, but stay with me for just a moment here. Imagine that you are this glass. And that this water is God’s love. Imagine, now, that you could be so full of God’s love, that there is no room for anything else. There is no room for fear, or hate. Because there is just so much love that if hate or fear tries to get in here, the love just spills out into the world. That is what it means to be made perfect in love in this life. 
This is our goal in life as followers of Jesus. To be vessels of God’s love. To be a container that holds God’s love so that we are so filled with God’s love that there is no room for any hate or anger or any fear. God’s love, God’s perfect love, casts out fear.

I want you to just hold on to that image today during our time together. Perfect love casts out fear.  Because you see, it was a week of fear for many of us. 

It was a week where it was normal to feel fear. There was some scary stuff going on. We got more than our share of bad juju this week, bad juju. 

I don’t know how your week started. Monday was an okay day for me. Until about 4 p.m. For me the news of the Boston Marathon bombing came in a text from my husband. Next, came the text message from the local news station. Kurt is always my #1 source of news, good or bad. Soon came messages from my sister and her husband. They live in Vermont but my sister works in Boston several days a month. They knew my Mom would be worried. And in fact Linda was leaving to drive to Boston as the bomb went off. Being a woman with more peace about her than just about anyone I know, she got in her car and drove to Boston anyway, on Monday night as anyone else who did not live there was trying to flee the city. 

You see, my sister works for the Christian Science Church, the Mother Church in Boston. She is BIG in the Mother Church there. That is another discussion for another day. But what you need to know is that there church and office complex is right in the neighborhood of where the marathon ended and the bomb went off. I don’t know Boston, but she said she was staying that night in an apartment owned by the church in a neighborhood called “Back Bay” and I came to learn that was the area where the bombs went off. She e mailed us and told us it took her awhile to get into the city, find some dinner and make her way to the apartment where she was staying. But one she got there she said it was very quiet and calm. That area around where the race had been was filled with police and emergency personnel. 

Change scenes here. There was another flurry of text messages on my phone on Monday night. One of our own Lisa Stevens, who attends the Village, ran in the Boston Marathon. It was her first time to run the Marathon, a life-long dream fulfilled. She failed to qualify in 2011. She finished this year in good time. Now if you followed the news closely you may know that the first bomb went off at 2:50 p.m. That was about two minutes after Lisa crossed the finish line. She was about half a block away, getting her medal and picking up her belongings when the first bomb went off.

I had forgotten that Lisa was there. Around 5 p.m. I got a text message from Deb and Jenny saying that Lisa was there, and she was ok. A friend was there with her, and was ok too, but they were having a hard time getting to one another, and had only 2% phone battery left. As we could all see on TV it was chaos. I sent Lisa a text thinking that when she found her way to her hotel and a phone charger she would get it. I was right. I heard from her around 11 p.m. that she had made her way out of the city, with her friend, to her hotel (about 45 minutes outside of town) and they were safe. They would fly home the next day. 

I checked in with my sister to ask if she could be available in case Lisa needed a local for any assistance and she said, “yes, of course.” Lisa got home safely the next day without seeing my sister, but I was glad to could offer this little personal connection just in case. 

When there is a crisis we all want to do whatever we can to help those who are in the midst of it.  When there is a crisis, we all want to help.  We all wanted to help Boston.  I knew that if Lisa needed anything, my sister would do it for her. And I know my sister. If you are in a crisis, and you need a calm presence, my sister Linda is the one you want to call. 

Again, if I had been her, living in Vermont, driving to work in Boston on Monday afternoon, I think I would have called my office and said, “Um, you just had some bombs go off in your city. I’m staying home for a few days. Our office is a BLOCK from where some crazy person just killed three people. 

I would have had some fear going on.  Now, my sister is not a hero. She is definitely not a thrill seeker. She did not rush to Boston to try to give emergency aid to the victims. By the time she got there, the streets were clear.

       She is a Christian who puts her trust in God. She had work to do. And so she did it. I don’t know what kind of work she had to do. Probably some meetings. I guess they were important. I’m pretty sure they were not life or death. But important to her and her people.
But here is the thing. She was not afraid.  I didn’t even have to call and ask if she was afraid because I know my sister. She knows the love of God. She is filled with the love of God. She trusts God. And perfect love casts our fear. 

You and I all saw the stories of people who were heroes this week too. People who ran to help those who were hurting: the first responders, runners who had just run 26 miles and then ran to the hospital to give blood. We saw it again on Wednesday night in the Town of West, Texas (Cheri’s home state) in that horrible explosion at the fertilizer plant. Brave first responders knew that the fire was going to lead to an explosion. They went and tried to evacuate as many people as quickly as they could. We don’t know the final death toll yet, but we know most of those who died are going to be volunteer fire fighters and emergency responders. They might have been fearful but they did not let their fear guide their actions. They let their love and concern for their fellow citizens guide their actions, that’s what they do. Perfect love casts out fear. 

I don’t mean to judge those of us who felt fearful this week. I know that the reaction of most people who were there when the bombs went off was fear. There were plenty of reasons to be afraid. If I had been living in Watertown on Friday, being told to stay in my home as thousands of police officers went house to house looking for the suspect in the bombing incident; it would have been hard for me not to be fearful, especially as a mother with children in my home. 

It seemed as if our world was coming apart at the seams this week. On Saturday we woke up to learn there was an earthquake in China. That barely even got our attention after everything else that was going on. 

Sadly, it was easy for such fear to turn into anger and accusation. No sooner were the suspects in the bombing identified than people started saying: “You see, that is why we need to limit immigration.” When we get fearful, then we want to start drawing lines and start excluding people. We think we can decide who the good people are and who the bad people are. Let’s just keep the bad people out, like we could do that.  We forget that God made us all and that God created us all as good, and that deep down inside we are all beloved children of God. Even those suspected terrorists are beloved children of God and they are within the grace and mercy of God just as we are. 

Something went terribly wrong in their lives but God still loves them.
Things go wrong in our lives and we are grateful that God loves us.  God weeps for and with the people who do such incredible right and do such horrible wrong.  

So what is a follower of Jesus to do in the midst of a week like this? One option: crawl into bed and pull the covers over our heads. (not a good option) Another option: get angry at God. We can do that for awhile. And God will understand.   The Bible is full of stories of people getting angry with God and God still being there. 

The Third option: Ask God to fill us with love, so there is no room for fear or anger and no room for hate. I read an article this week about a Holocaust survivor who did this, she loves everyone, hates no one, despite the horrors she and those she loves saw and experienced.  We can trust God to see us through the difficult times, knowing that God weeps with us, and grieves for those who suffer, and God gives us the strength to do better as a people. Listen to what we heard in worship again (Psalm 46:1-3, 7 for those who are following along on the net):
God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.

       God’s love in us is bigger than any evil act or acts in the world. God’s love is stronger than any bomb, or accident and stronger than any one or two misguided young men who try to wreak havoc in a community. When we refuse to live in fear and anger, refuse to hate, then love wins. So let us put our trust in God’s love. Perfect love casts out fear.  Amen.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Feed My Sheep by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

I saw my friend Leslie during Spring Break down in Cincinnati.  She and I have been friends for about twenty years.  Leslie is not dealing well with her son graduating high school and getting ready to head off to college.  My parents started acting strange right before I went to college.   They started to frantically try to teach things they thought they had not taught me yet. Anyone ever experience that?  We have this kind of panic when we hit these milestones.  

Jesus’ resurrection appearances, after his resurrection but before he ascended into heaven sort of remind me of this.  First, Jesus wanted to get his disciples ready to carry on without him; Second, he wasn’t quite ready to say good-bye.

So he has this wonderful little conversation with Simon Peter (for those following along via the Internet, John 21:1-19 from The Message paraphrase).  To me, it’s like a little final test, not in a judgemental way, but as a way of emphasis, he asks him three times: “do you love me? “  By the third time, Peter gets a little exasperated.  

Jesus is giving them a mission for the rest of their lives They have been the children up to this point, but now they are the leaders.  When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you’ll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don’t want to go.” …. And then he commanded, “Follow me.”  In other words, do what I do.

Now we need to know a little something about sheep to get this lesson. Henri Nouwen, one of my favorite spiritual teachers, writes this about the imagery of the shepherd and the sheep: “As Jesus says, good shepherds know their sheep, and their sheep know them (see John 10:14).  There must be a true mutuality between shepherds and their sheep.  Good leaders know their own, and their own know them.  Between them is mutual trust, mutual openness, mutual care, and mutual love. This is the kind of relationship Jesus wants us to have, The kind of communities Jesus wants us to build.    To follow our leaders we cannot be afraid of them, and to lead our followers we need their encouragement and support.  Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd to show the great intimacy that must exist between leaders and those entrusted to them.” (emphasis mine) Source:
So Jesus is telling Peter, you need to go out now and lead, but this work takes time. You need to develop relationships with those you will lead. They need to trust you like a sheep trusts a shepherd. Then you can help them know how much God loves them. This work, Simon Peter, will take this rest of your life. That is why I am asking you three times, “do you love me?” and are you ready to feed my sheep? 

This text is a wonderful post Easter Text for us. You see, we came here on Easter Sunday a couple of weeks ago. We celebrated the Easter miracle. YES! Death does not win, we have hope.  Eternal life is the promise, not just in this life, but joy in this life. We have hope.  God forgives us of our sins and God wants us to walk in freedom and joy; loves us and accepts us and we don’t have to work so hard trying to prove ourselves.  All of that is rolled up in the Easter message. We claim life right here and right now. 

But, my friends, it means nothing, if we do not go out, feed the lambs for Jesus. That means, we can’t hold this message to ourselves. The message is meant to be shared. But even before we go out into the world to share the message with strangers (strangers who will become friends) we have to live the message right here in community with one another. We have to practice it right here.   We have to practice this right here and right now.

What did Henri Nouwen say? Between shepherds and sheep there is mutual trust, mutual openness, mutual care, and mutual love. So we practice these things right here with one another. 

 We say it every Sunday: “We know that we are imperfect people who make mistakes.  We give thanks that God loves us anyway.  In this community we practice patience, compassion, and forgiveness.”  This means that here in the Village we value every person, every person – mean, nice, rich, poor, etc. When we feel ourselves in conflict with a person, then we value this community enough to go to the person and work it out.

 Because no one is perfect. We all have times when we need to forgive and we need to be forgiven.  I lost count this past week how many times I had to ask for forgiveness. But it makes me really sad when people won’t give me a second chance and forgive me. It also really hurts when they won’t even listen to my apology.  I don’t understand how people who are in community or how people who are family to one another, won’t practice this basic act of forgiveness.

We teach our children from the time they can talk, “Say you are sorry.”   Sometimes they even really mean it.  Sometimes older children, Break same rule, “I’m sorry” does not cut it.We have to teach that repentance means nothing without change.

Recently with one of my kids I had to work to break a pattern because I was the one who was repeating the behavior that was hurtful to my child. I know I’m the one who keeps messing up. I had to change and get forgiveness .  I got to model that for my child.

When someone comes to me, and asks for forgiveness, that is a holy moment. When my husband and I have a disagreement and he has hurt me, and he looks and me and says he is truly sorry that he has hurt me, that means something to me. I hope  it means something to you. This is what mature people do. When we make mistakes, we talk to one another. We let the other person know we are hurt and we practice forgiveness. And we change the behavior that was hurtful. This is what it means to be in community. 

Jesus called his disciples to go out into the world and teach people how to be in mature, trusting, healing relationships. Between shepherds and sheep  (and in communities of Christians) there is mutual trust, mutual openness, mutual care, and mutual love. 

Now, we can’t really practice these things on Sunday morning in corporate worship. Worship is, in many ways, more of a consumer act. This is where we are fed. We come here and listen to the band, we sing along, we hear a message from the pastor, some Sundays we are fed the holy sacrament that someone else gives us, and we go home. We are not asked to do much except show up and be fed by the experience. 

Now sure, here at The Village we do ask you do pitch in by bringing food, helping with set up, being a greeter, counting the offering, creating the power points,  singing along, and those things are important for keeping the Sunday event happening every week, but for the most part, Sunday worship does not demand a high level of trust among the participants. 

It’s when we start to dig deep and reach wide, together, that we start to demand  mutual trust, mutual openness, mutual care, and mutual love of one another. Think about it. When we are in a small study group together, and begin to read scripture together, or a book, and to pray together, we begin to share our life stories. We get vulnerable. We share our challenges as Christians. We talk about the times when it is hard to follow Jesus. We do that a little bit in those times after the message when we talk and share, but we can take it even deeper when we offer small connection groups and we create situations where we can dig deeper.

Jesus says: do you love me, and will you feed my sheep? So one take away for us from this message would be this: Will you be in a small group the next time The Village offers one, or will you form one of your own, because it is in these smaller groups for study and prayer that we dig deeper, and we find opportunities  to practice mutual trust, mutual openness, mutual care, and mutual love of one another. I often find that people tell me that want to grow deeper in their walk with God but when we offer groups that would give us this opportunity people say, “I just don’t have time for that.”  I know, I am as busy as everyone else here.  But, I think Jesus was saying to Peter, “You say that you love me, so are you really going to make loving me a priority in my life, when the choices get hard?” So you can practice that with others.

Here is another example. We have opportunities to serve in ministry with other folks from The Village. We have a music team, and a tech team that prepares our power points. We have a marketing team that organizes events out in the community like going to Take Back the Night, and doing things like the Tax Day event we were going to have this week, and going to the Old West End Festival and the Maumee Street Fair this summer. Kurt coordinates this team. We also have a Service team that organizes service projects in the community. Jodi is running our project to rehab Rock and Beth’s house. Beth is scheduling our other projects such as going to the Seagate FoodBank on May 18. All of these are opportunities for you to join in and be part of a Village ministry team in action as we go out and make a difference in the world either telling folks that The Village exists or doing some act of service. When you come to one of these events, it is an opportunity to be the hands and heart of Jesus in the world. 

Guess what? Doing one of these things may not be 100% in your comfort zone. You may not even get to work with your best friends for your whole shift, they might be busy that day. But you might learn something about someone you did not know. You might make a new friend. You might find out that someone in our own community who seems like someone you will probably be best friends with is still someone with a gift for something that you would not have seen if you did not spend that day with them. And you just don’t know. While you are working at the Food Bank one day, Jesus might want to use you to feed that lamb of God, or Jesus might use that other person to feed you. And you’ll never know that if you didn’t step out of your comfort zone.  There just might be some act of mutual care or love that occurs, on top of the fact that we fill a whole lot of food boxes for hungry people. 

I believe with all my heart that Jesus wants us to grow deeper in love with God and that the way we do that is to grow in mutual trust, mutual openness, mutual care, and mutual love of one another. One way to do that is to spend more time with one another and really pay attention to one another with grace.

That leads me to my final point: listening. I believe when Jesus said to Peter, “Do you love me? Then feed my sheep.” Jesus was also saying: listen to my people. Do you like to be listened to?  When someone just shuts their mouth and listens to you.  You see, we all just want to be respected and listened to. In all my years of counseling as a pastor, I think the number one cause of conflict that I can identify between people is the inability of people actually to be quiet and listen to the other person – and to actually ask a question and then wait and listen for the answer. So many conflicts are caused because people assume they know what the other person is thinking or what their motive is, instead of actually asking the person.

When we sense a conflict with a person, if we would simply value and trust the relationship with that person enough to actually go to them and ask what is going on, and then listen, so many problems could be avoided.  Rather than assuming what is going on.  

We are human beings and so, guess what? We will have conflict. But when we stop and listen carefully to one another, and ask clarifying questions in order to understand what is going on, we will often find that much of the conflict is caused by misunderstanding and miscommunication. In community, we need to build enough trust that we are not afraid to call a person and say, “Hey can we talk about this? I care about you and I care about such and such. Let’s see if we can work this out.”

I am here to tell you that if I am in a perceived conflict with someone and they call me and start the conversation with kind and open words like those, and I trust that we are both in community together, it makes all the difference in the world.

When Jesus made these resurrection appearances to his disciples, he was getting them ready to go out and build the church that we are now a part of. Jesus knows human nature. He had lived with us for 33 years, that was long enough to know what human beings were like. He knows we are prone to getting our feelings hurt, to conflict, and to mistrust. But Jesus was full of God’s love and he saw a vision of a better way, that someday when things are better. So he said to his disciples, “If you love me then go and feed my sheep. Love them, care for them, show them how to trust one another.”

That is what we are called to do today as we continue to build this community of The Village Church: build a community of mutual trust, mutual openness, mutual care, and mutual love.  If you are looking for a community like this, they are out there.  We are at the corner of Conant Street & the Anthony Wayne Trail in the Maumee Indoor Theater Sundays at 10:30 AM, and we continuing feeding Jesus’ sheep the rest of the week.