Sunday, May 26, 2013

WHAT IS A DISCIPLE? by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

We all watched the news this week as the pictures came from Moore Oklahoma of a devastating tornado. As a mother of two children, I stood in my kitchen spellbound early Monday evening as the live pictures came from Plaza Towers Elementary School.  I was watching to see if the children and teachers would all come out alive. Seven children died at that school, and another 17 adults in the town.  As I watched the photos I was convinced many more children had died.  I needed to cook dinner for the family, but I could not move.  I just wanted to see children start walking out or being helped out from the debris, but the photos did not come.  It was gut-wrenching.
Eventually the stories have come: the stories of bravery and courage.  I saw a couple of teachers interviewed.  One was a teacher and also a mother.  She talked about what she did to protect the children in her classroom, while worrying about her own children in other classrooms in the same building.  Then they showed her walking, the next day, in the rubble, to the place where her child’s classroom had been.  Her child’s teacher was there, Mrs. Biddle.  The mother/teacher said, “This teacher is my friend.  I know she loves her students and I knew she was doing what she could to protect them.”
The reporter there talked to Mrs. Biddle and she told the now familiar story of doing her best to get her children to safety:  under their desks, trying to keep them calm.  Mrs. Biddle was wearing a necklace with a big medallion on it that said: “Pray big.” She said that she wants parents to know “Your child is my child” all day long.  To me, Mrs. Biddle is a disciple.  She is definitely not just teaching school to get a paycheck.  This is her calling. The other mother/teacher knows that about her friend.  These women know that their job is to teach children and to raise them to be compassionate and responsible adults. But in a once-in-a-lifetime tornado, their job is also to do everything they can to save the lives of these children.  And that is what these teachers did.
That is being a disciple:  using your gifts to help someone else, being the best person you can be, and when it comes to a life or death situation, putting your life on the line for the people you serve.
In the weeks and months after Jesus left this earth, his disciples put into practice what it means to be a disciple.  It passed from one person to the next, just like the light from a flame passes from one match to the next.
You know the names of those first disciples:  Peter, James, John, Andrew, Bartholomew. But then there were others:  the ones they discipled, and the ones discipled by them as the fire of the Holy Spirit spread.  One of them was named Tabitha.  In fact, Tabitha was the first woman in the Bible referred to as a disciple.
When we meet Tabitha in scripture, she has just died, but we learn that she had an important ministry as a disciple.  She was well known for her ministries of care and helping. It wasn’t complicated.  She could sew and she made clothes and cared for the widows. This was an important ministry in her day because, you see, most women did not have any means of income. They were taken care of by their husbands and a widow was left at the mercy and the generosity of friends and neighbors.  Tabitha was someone who apparently had the means and the desire to care for the widows.  When she died, they were distraught, perhaps not only because their friend died, but because they had lost her help.
While the women were preparing her for burial, some disciples heard Peter was nearby and they sent for him.  Peter came to the home where Tabitha was being prepared for burial. He saw the widows in their distress.  And then the most amazing thing happened. Peter sent the women out.
 He knelt and prayed. Then he spoke directly to the body: “Tabitha, get up.”
40-41 She opened her eyes. When she saw Peter, she sat up. He took her hand and helped her up. Then he called in the believers and widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.
This miracle comes not long after Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead.  Of course, we have no idea what may have happened.  Were they mistaken about her being dead?  Did he resuscitate her?  Did he really bring someone back from the dead?  These early days after the resurrection of Jesus were filled with miracles.  We can’t really know what happened for sure.  But here is what we do know.  Something happened, and because of it, many more people became believers.  More people became disciples.
More people became people who:
·       pray big,
·       who care,
·       who do amazing, heroic things in times of crisis
·       care for the people that are forgotten by the rest of the world.
You see, Jesus came to make disciples like Peter, James, John, Andrew and Bartholomew and all the rest. And then they led others, and they led others, like Tabitha and her friends who were widows, and in time they led others, and over generation to generation, the discipleship tradition led to us today.
And this week in Moore, OK, some people had their discipleship challenged big time.  People are facing some challenges of faith.  I had a friend write to me on Facebook this week and say:  how do I keep my faith in God when God allows bad things like this tornado to happen?  How can God let children die in a tornado?  It wasn’t just on Monday, it’s every day.
And I said to her:  I don’t believe God chooses to have some people die and other people not die in a tornado or a plane crash or anything else.  I don’t think it’s good theology to say that God needed another angel in heaven.  I think that the world is just set in motion.   But I don’t think God interferes with nature in order to interrupt who will die and who will not.  None of us is going to live forever in this physical world.  And even though we have the promise of eternal life, it’s always hard when someone dies, an older person, or a child, because we miss them.  
We wish for a miracle like the friends of Tabitha got.  But disciples do not lose faith in the face of a horrific tragedy like Moore, OK.  We may doubt for a while.  That’s okay. But then we lean into God.  You see, God is right there with the people of Moore, this week. God is weeping with the mothers and fathers who lost their children, and with the others who lost a brother or sister or parent or grandparent or friend.  God knows our sorrow and God suffers with us.  It’s part of human experience that we’re not going to live forever.
And God is inside all of those brave and courageous disciples living in Moore who did what they had to do to care for their neighbors and who are now going through the hard work of clean up and rebuilding.  Without trust and faith in someone greater than themselves, the work of recovery from such a crisis would be almost unbearable.  God will see those disciples in Moore through this tragedy.
I know that the word “disciple” is probably not one used in your day-to-day vocabulary.  But I want to invite us to reclaim it.  Being a disciple is a strong identity.  It means that we “get” the ways of Jesus.  Someone (or more than one person) has modeled for us the ways of Jesus and we said “yes” to this life.  Someone did that for Tabitha.  Who in your life has been a disciple and has shown you how to be like Jesus?  Can you picture that person?
Someone did that for Tabitha and then she began to use her gifts to help and care for others.  She began to “disciple” (using the word as a verb now) the widows and they became disciples.  So my question for you is this:  Who are you discipling?  For whom are you modeling the ways of Jesus – compassion, forgiveness, joy, generosity, humility and all the rest, so that they will claim this way of being a disciple?  So that they can see Jesus in you?   Can you see a picture of that person in your mind?
If you see the person, I want you to pray for that person every day this week, and be intentional about what it means to be a mentor for that person as a disciple.  If you don’t see anyone then I invite you to pray every day this week, and ask God to show you the person that God wants you to mentor as a disciple.
What is a disciple?  A disciple is someone who helps and cares and is ready at all times to use their gifts to encourage others.  A disciple trusts in God, and a disciple is always looking for someone new to disciple because there is always someone else out there who needs God.  So this week, I challenge you to be a disciple by mentoring someone else along the way toward being a disciple.  Someone did it for you, and now it is your turn.  Amen.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

BLOWN AWAY BY GOD by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

Today we are celebrating commitments. We are giving thanks for the times when God’s spirit has been so amazing we have been blown away by God’s love.  We’re asking the Holy Spirit to come to us, once again, like a powerful wind, and to sweep us off our feet, so we might live as disciples filled with passion to serve God.
So, first of all, will you tell me, if you were here last week you received $5. We asked you to do something generous with it.  What did you do?
·      Some of you put it in the offering plate last Sunday; that is fine. We will use it to care for our Village kids and to provide for great music to feed us in our worship
·      I gave mine to someone who asked; I put it with my own money and gave to fight arthritis for a child who has arthritis
·      Jamie is going to give to the 6th grade trip at the school he is not even going to next year. I think that is really generous for 10 year old.
These may all seem like simple things but remember we said “being generous is something to practice.”  With each act, being generous becomes a habit.  We learn how to say “yes” to generosity and “no” to holding on to what we have. We begin to feel lighter and more free. It’s a good feeling.
Well, in our scripture for today, it says that the first followers of Jesus practiced generosity by taking care of one another’s needs.  “They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.”  This is not really something that many Christians practice to the extreme anymore, although you will find groups of people living in Christian community here and there.  I run across these people every now and then.
Such an idea sounds appealing to me right now.  Kurt and I live in the Old West End, in a house that is a little more than 100 years old.  It is fun to live in a house with so much history.  Until it comes to the repairs.  On Thursday, I had a masonry expert come look at the foundation on our porch.  Kurt and I have been watching it for a few years now.  The huge set of stone steps is dragging the rest of the porch down. The brick is bowing out.  Matthias came and measured.  He talked with me about what he would need to do.  He said he would email me over the weekend with an estimate.  So now we are waiting for the bad news.  We will be blown away, if by some miracle, the number he gives us matches the number that we have in a savings account we have set aside for home repairs.  Or, we would be equally blown away, if, when we get the number and we don’t have enough money, we lived in a world where people who had more would help those who live in 100 year old houses, and just spread the money around so that we can all take care of our houses. That would blow me away. 
But you know, here at The Village, we actually are doing just such a thing for one of our families, a family where they really do need help, way more than Kurt and I. And I would much rather donate to this project.  Yesterday, 7 people put in a total of 55 people hours working on Rock and Beth’s house as a part of our R and B Blues project.  In fact, so far we have put in 455 hours total; we’ve raised about $3500.   
We’ve been fixing a whole house from top to bottom.  The house had no insulation.  Yesterday, the volunteers put in 2 new windows because the rain had been coming in.  And, there is so much more to do.  Sometimes, we dream dreams so big only God can make them come true.  Back in January, we thought, “We have people in this church who know how to fix things,” but it has gotten harder.  We don’t have any money left in the fund.  But we have done so much.
I think this is how the disciples felt on that first Pentecost.  I think they probably felt like they were not sure they could really do the task that Jesus had put before them. 
Here is how the story goes:  It was about 50 days after the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Lots of Jewish people traveled from countries all around, to their religious center, in Jerusalem, to celebrate a Jewish festival called Pentecost.  So on this day, Jerusalem just happened to be filled with a high number of visitors speaking many languages.
The disciples were sitting in a room, secluded, and still a bit stunned by the death and resurrection of Jesus, not sure how to carry on the mission of the church without their leader.  They were pretty discouraged.  Then something amazing happened.  You see, Jesus had promised that the spirit of God would come to guide them and give them what they needed.  And on that day, it happened. SOMETHING happened.  Witnesses described it like fire and wind, a power like none other. They were blown away. 
Have you ever had an experience that blew you off your feet, literally or figuratively?  Maybe you have been in a tornado or a strong wind.  Or maybe God has done something to really get your attention. 
That day in Jerusalem, SOMETHING happened. The Spirit of God filled the disciples.  With every breath they took, they were filled with God.  Actually, the word in Greek for breath is the same word as spirit so it is as if every time we breathe we are breathing in God’s spirit.  We’re told they went out into the streets and started preaching in every language of all the people who were there from all those countries, even though they could not possibly have known those languages. That’s the Pentecost miracle.  Peter stood up to preach about Jesus and 3000 people were converted. They were baptized and joined the Jesus movement.  It was a revival, like no revival you’ve ever seen!
And here is what those first 3000 people did: 
·      committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles
·      Shared meals together
·      Prayed
·      Sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.
·      Worshipped together daily in the Temple
This was the result: 
Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.  Everybody wanted the spirit in them.  I am sure they would have taken on a project like Rock and Beth’s house.  If they got discouraged half way through the project, they would have prayed and called for reinforcements, and just kept pressing forward, putting their trust in God, and breathing in the breath of the Holy Spirit. 
2000 years later, this is what we still try to do together as a church.  We have several people who are joining The Village as members today. We are asking them to make commitments. This is what we ask you to do as faithful members of The Village:  Will you commit to pray for The Village Church and will you be present here with this community on a regular basis; will you serve God with us and give your resources to support the ministries of The Village Church in the world? And finally, will you witness to the message of Jesus Christ in the world? 
Some of you have already made these commitments formally.  Some of you will make them today.  Some of you make these commitments informally. This is what it means for us to be The Village Church.
Perhaps we are not as radical as those first century disciples who worshipped together every day, and who sold their belongings and pooled their money in order to be sure that everyone had their needs met. There is always more we could do. 
But we take baby steps to be better disciples. 
We are all here today. That is something.
We can pray any time and I hope we do. 
We all have a chance to make a financial commitment to The Village today. This village church is one piece of God’s work.  It is not the only piece but it is something that we are a part of. Our work together is important.  Many of you wouldn’t be in church in Toledo if The Village Church didn’t exist.  We know that there are people here who did not have a church home before The Village opened our doors.  We have a unique ministry.  It takes money to do this ministry.  We all have some money that comes to us from God. The Village is a good place to give a portion of our money back in order to do God’s work in the world. 
We can also serve together with The Village. There were 7 people at Rock and Beth’s house yesterday, but more of us can help.  You may think you don’t have skills to help.  Jodi and Kelly keep telling us they can find things for those of us to do who don’t have skills.  In January, we committed to rehab this home for two of our members and we are not done yet.  If every one of us gave one Saturday to this project in the next three months, it would make such a difference.  And if we all invited one friend who is not here today, that would make an even bigger difference.  We can change the world.
We can also make a difference by going to the Old West End Festival and the other community festivals this summer.  When we go to these events, we have a chance to talk to hundreds of people about The Village.  You just never know who might be looking for a church home.  It is one of the easiest ways to touch lots of people and just be present in the world and offer some hospitality.  We just go and hang out and have fun and wear our “no perfect people allowed” t-shirts.  When people see us having fun they see that Christians are regular people just like them and they think “Maybe I could give that church a try.”
It may feel like it’s outside your comfort zone to go to a community festival and invite people to The Village, but this is what it means to be changed by the Holy Spirit in a Pentecost sort of way – to be blown away by God.  Nobody has died yet by helping at these festivals.  When we give up a Saturday to go to one of these things, we allow God to change us, to breathe new life into us – and to move us to order our lives around God’s desires for us. 
Will we do it? Today, on THIS Pentecost, will we take a deep breath, and breathe in God’s Spirit and be changed?  I want to be changed.  I want to live more deeply in the way of God.  Isn’t that what we are hoping for?  Let’s be blown away.  Let’s allow God to breathe new life into us.  We will never be the same.  Let it be so!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Generous Hearts by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

            Today I’d like to tell you the story of Sasha Dichter.  He is an employee of Acumen which is an organization that invests money to help solve the problems of poverty in the world.  They  fund people who make less than $4 a day in places like India, Pakistan and East Africa, since 2001; They do what they call “impact investing,” using money to solve social problems like access to clean water, etc.

His friends call him Buzz Lightyear as he is so obsessed with getting home.  At the end of the day he has to catch his 6:20 PM train home.  He has a family and has to get back to via that train. He is known to stop mid-sentence saying got to go catch my train.  One night, on his way home, he rushed past a homeless man, asking for help.  

He got home and he felt something in his heart he could not ignore.  So he decided to post a blog without thinking it through. He decided that for 30 days he would say yes to anyone who asked him for help.  If Someone asked me for money, he said  I’m going to do it, I am going to say yes.  He posted it online and then realized it was not the smartest idea ever.  It was December.  He had just announced a Generosity Experiment: for thirty days saying yes to everyone who asked: every musician, beggar; and every non-profit.  I don’t know about you, but think about how often in December you get hit up for money.  

                Why would he do this?  Well, as someone who thinks the world is broken he wanted to change things.  Now he was already doing it at the macro level, but he wanted to take on a new habit of generosity.  Pretty soon the no’s start to become who you are he says.  So he needed a new “habit.”   So he started it and it became a new habit (source:

                Several years later, this is what he has learned:  I truly am able (not every time, but often) to give unconditionally – not just money but time and attention and complements.  Unconditional giving brings me so much more joy;  B.  giving abundantly doesn’t happen every time or at every moment.  Old habits die hard, and life is a dance not a set playbook.  But having a wider repertoire is liberating.  He says he thinks He’s  become a better receiver, meaning he’d become better at accepting gifts openly and with gratitude, and I’m more comfortable allowing gifts to be gifts.  He said I’d like to stop giving halfway.  There are few things more limiting than a conditional gift, and few things more liberating than even one small act of radical generosity.  That means there are no strings attached

I think the Apostle Paul would Love the Generosity Experiment. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth (II Corinthians for those who follow along on the web) :
7 God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.
8-11 God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it,
God throws caution to the winds, giving to the needy in reckless abandon.  Don’t tell my Edward Jones Advisor.  Mind you he’s pretty generous too, but he likes me to plan, not just have my heart tugged at. 

This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. God gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.

12, 15 Carrying out this social relief work involves far more than helping meet the bare needs of poor Christians. It also produces abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God. Thank God for this gift, his gift. No language can praise it enough!

Paul is saying that God gives us what we have so we can be generous.  Giving to the needy in reckless abandon – makes me wonder about all the hoops we use to make folks prove that they need help.  Paul talks about the offering – it does more than help the needy; it makes everyone thankful. Thankful to God for blessings. 

When this church helps through our Good Samaritan Fund people thank me and I see the goodness of God working through us.  I get to help out people in need thanks to the generosity of this congregation.  I get see how much good this does, how a little help transforms lives.   How we get to be the church for each other.  

What keeps us from being generous?  Fear is one of these things.   Children are generous. I’ve seen this before where a kid was given a new coat by his parents.  They had a drive at school for coats for those in need and the kid gives away, wait for it, the new coat.  Because the child said he already had one, but the kids in need had none.  But we unlearn generosity somewhere along the way. Jesus invites us to be like children.

But that fear comes into play.  We don’t want to be made fools of. We don’t want someone to put something over on us, to be taken advantage of.   To have someone abuse the money we give.

Another fear is a fear of lack, we have a sense that there is not enough. We live from a sense of scarcity, but in God’s economy there is always enough.   Now, there are people in this room who don’t have enough.  They really need to hold on to what we’ve got to get by.  But for most of us, there is plenty, we just need to trust in God.

So, what does this mean for us as followers of Jesus who want to change the world? I invite us each to be more generous. Sasha Dichter decided to give money to everyone who asked for a month. There is a FB page for Generosity Day with all sorts of ideas (and we’ll link to it on the Village Facebook page and here’s the link :
a.            paying the toll for the person behind you;
b.            tipping your waiter 100%;
c.             donate blood,
d.            write a thank you note to someone who has touched your life;
e.            stand at a door and open it for people;
f.             mow the grass for your neighbor,
g.            bake cookies for someone;
h.            saying thank you to everyone you see today for something,
i.              volunteering at a food bank;
j.             taking someone to lunch without expecting anything in return. 

So we tried a little experiment at the Village today.  We got a donation to do this, so don’t worry, it didn’t come out of the church budget.  We gave everyone who showed up a $5 bill to give away this week.  We’re asking you to share (and you can do it on the Village Facebook Page or on this blog) what you did with yours.  How did you change someone’s day or life?  How do you feel being generous?  Let us know what it was like and how this could be a habit for us all.