Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Village Church: We Celebrate Four Years of Giving by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

Today we are celebrating four years of our life together as the Village Church. We have left behind those toddler years, for those who have cared for children you know this time, where we are not even sure if we can stand. But we are still young. We are still exploring what it means to be church. 

Do you remember what it was like to be a pre-schooler? Lots of experimenting. Trying to do something for yourself. “I can do it, I can do it myself.” Only to find out, we are not so sure how to do some things, when we are four going on five. Thankfully, there is a guiding principle in church planting these days: “If you are not making any mistakes you are not taking enough risks.” Those are good words for a four to five year old – in a safe environment. Because a four year old needs to explore the world and learn how to be an older child, then a teenager and then a well balanced adult who can nurture more children. 

In our life together as a church, it’s kind of helpful for us to think about these life cycles. Because at every life stage human beings have something to contribute.  Think about it, we know that children have much to give us. They teach us how to be creative and playful. And new church starts teach 100 year old churches how to consider being church in new ways.   We challenge older churches into doing things in new ways.  Sometimes we may run headstrong into something without understanding all the possible pitfalls ahead of us. That can be both a good thing and a bad thing. We see that with children too. You have seen a child run joyfully into a pile of leaves or a pool of water – or mud – without any thought of risk. Right? And sometimes, don’t you just want to do it with them.  Don’t you just want to be one? 

Children also know how to give. I will never forget the story that my friend Marion tells. She was a young single mother pastor of twins. She had preached a sermon and read the scripture that says: if you have two coats give one of them away. Her son came home from school on day without his brand new coat. When she asked him where it was he said, yep, you guessed it: “I gave it away.” 

Here at The Village I see people give every day. It is a value we share. Our stated value is compassion for people living in poverty and on the margins. But I see you give to one another in so many other ways too. You give each other rides to the grocery and to the doctor when you are sick. You help one another with your kids. You give to our community. 

Last January, at our annual planning retreat, we starting talking about how we wanted to reach out and give this year. We have some folks who have been talking since we opened about helping with a project with some sort of agency that rehabs houses for people in need. Some of us were sitting around a table: Rock and Beth, Kelly and Jodi and some others and we discovered that all of them really like to do that stuff. Jodi comes from a family of contractors. I happened to know that Rock and Beth were living in a mobile home that Beth had purchased for a tiny amount of money and the two of them were trying to rehab the home while living in it. They don’t have much money so it was going to be a REALLY SLOW project. Rock really wanted to help us work on some other church project but was not going to have much time until she finished her house. Suddenly, it came to us. Duh! Why not make Rock and Beth’s house our first project! 

Now, looking back, that was the point where another group of people, perhaps more prudent business folks might look at our resources and be more cautious. We are a small church, we had no cash on hand, some skilled volunteers, but not an army of volunteers. We might then have listed out all the things needed to be done at the house and looked logically at it and said: this is probably more project than a church this size should take on for a first project. Because you know, we were a three year old church at the time. Three year olds don’t really think through these things. And anyway we had a secret weapon. We had God on our side. We were dreaming big. So we jumped right in and worked on a plan. 

The first work weekend was set. A web site and brochure was made to recruit volunteers. Jodi took the lead on supervising the Saturday work crews and Kelly and I worked on recruiting some other churches to help us.  Rock and Beth on site – literally. And we were off. 

The project launched on Feb 23. That was 8 months ago. Jodi hoped we would be done by June, that was the plan. We are still not done. It was a bigger job than we expected. It was harder to get volunteers than we expected. It was harder to raise money than we expected. On the plus side, we have raised $4,487. Including the work team from King Ave United Methodist in Columbus that came last weekend we have had a total of 82 Volunteers for at least 617 hours. That is amazing. Many people have given time, energy, money and other resources to this project.

But I want to tell you a bit more about one person: Jodi Haney. You see, Jodi has been over at Rock and Beth’s house Saturday after Saturday. She has been there on week days doing prep work so that other volunteers could do work on a Saturday. She has been on the phone with Rock and Beth to talk about what needs to be purchased at Lowe’s so the work can be done. She brought many of her friends several weekends to do the work, so that we could include people beyond just folks from The Village on this project. She gave her money too. There were days when she might have preferred to be with her family. There were days when she probably didn’t feel good and just wanted to stay home, but she made a commitment and just kept showing up. Jodi gave her all to this project. She was sacrificial. 

Like any generous giver, she did not really want me to stand up here and shout her praises. But I asked her permission because it’s important to lift up examples among us of people who are leaders in sacrificial giving.  Many of us gave, but it’s important to point out sacrificial givers from time to time.

You see Jesus was teaching his followers once. As the story goes in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 21:1-4 from the Message paraphrase for those following along on the net), it says that Jesus: “looked up and saw the rich people dropping offerings in the collection plate. Then he saw a poor widow put in two pennies. He said, “The plain truth is that this widow has given by far the largest offering today. All these others made offerings that they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all!” The widow gave, like Jodi gave. She gave everything.

You see, I asked a couple of well to do business people to make financial donations to our project to fix Rock and Beth’s house. One of them said they would make a gift. It was someone who makes donations, admittedly, in part, to get some buzz for their business, and probably for a tax write off. We won’t turn down a good gift. But Jesus says, that sort of gift is not a sacrifice. The rich people in the temple did not even miss what they were giving.

But Jesus says that the woman who didn’t have very much, and gave all she had – well, she was the generous giver. She was the one who Jesus lifted up as an example of what it means to be sacrificial.  

You see, I think Jesus wants us to give in a way that is a stretch for us. If we are giving our time, or our money, out of our abundance, and just giving the leftovers, well it is still giving. But we don’t really miss it. We don’t get as much joy of giving. 

But if we really have to make an effort to give, if we have to give up something to give, or if we have to really plan in order to make room in our budget of time or money to give – well, then, Jesus says – it will really mean something to us.

I am sure there were times when Jodi, and others, got home from Rock and Beth’s house and looked at the things that were undone in our our homes and thought, gosh, I wish I had an extra day this weekend. But then when we look at the fact that we are almost done and that together, we are helping Rock and Beth have a warm, dry, more energy efficient home – then really, I don’t think any of us can regret what we have given.

So that brings us to our response to Jesus today.  As we move into year five as The Village people – how will we give? What do you personally want to do to give of yourself to make our community stronger and better? Our vision is to follow Jesus and change the world and we do that by giving our resources. 

We do still have some work left to do on Rock and Beth’s house. Jodi would like to organize a couple more work days to finish the flooring and the back porch so if you can help with that, please talk with one of them. And yes, we can still use money. Make checks out to The Village and put “R and B in the note line.”

In January, we will have our planning retreat for next year. In the next few weeks, I would love to hear from you about how you want to give to our community next year. One way of thinking about it is this. What breaks your heart?  You see, chances are, if it breaks your heart, can be pretty sure it breaks God’s heart too. And if it breaks your heart, then you can probably find 4 or 5 more people who also care about the same thing. And then, guess what? You have the start of a team that can come together to do something to change the world. 

I know this. We have big hearts here at The Village. We have dreams and with God’s help, we can make them happen.  For four years we have been giving. You know, most new churches, like most start up businesses, fail. They don’t make it to the four year mark. But here we are. We are like a strong little pre-schooler who holds up a piece of art and says: “Look what I did!” 

Rock and Beth’s house is a piece of our art. This community is our piece of art. The way we dare to welcome all people is our piece of art. Our ability to give all that we have, like the widow in the temple, is our piece of art, look what we do. 

We watched some photos to celebrate our first four years, watch the video on our website or You Tube channel, we’ll get it posted as soon as we can. As you watch and celebrate all the people who have made us what we are, I invite you to ponder how they have given, and consider how you want to give to our community in the next year.  We already following Jesus & changing the world, but we’ve got so much more to do.  Come, join us.  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Do Your Part, Good and Faithful Servant by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

We all know that the economy has been hit hard in Toledo. But there is a city to our north where things are even worse. I like to listen to Public Radio. And the Michigan Public radio station around here has news all day, when our Toledo station switches to classical music from 9 a.m. to about 4 p.m. each day. So when I’m running around town in my car I tend to listen to Michigan public radio. I get lots of national news but I get a fair amount of Michigan news too. I hear plenty about the awful state of things in Michigan and in the Motor City. The population drop in Detroit has been crazy. When we drive up there to see a ball game or to go to a show it sometimes feels like we have entered a city in a war zone.
The city is bankrupt. I guess it has been a long time since they had any money for their city parks. So I was fascinated when I heard about these guys this week. (slide 1) They are called “The Mower Gang.” Basically, they get together and go mow the city parks – free of charge. (slide 2)   It all started when Tom Nardone realized that when the city closed a park they did not really close a park, they just stopped mowing it. (slide 3) He said there are a lot of kids in Detroit and someone had snatched away all the play places for them. They could not get to the swings but as soon as these guys mowed they could swing again. He said he saw a need that needed to be addressed. He was looking for volunteer work. This doesn’t seem like work to him; it’s fun. He said, “It’s sort of like a biker gang but with lawn mowers.” (slide 4)
So let’s think about this. You have a city in deep economic depression. Big problems. This week, the former mayor got sent to prison for his mishandling of funds. But some guys just buy some lawn mowers and make a difference.
I love this story!
They didn’t go to city council and ask permission. They didn’t ask for a grant. They didn’t even write a vision statement. They just did something. And the kids are better off because they did. It’s not elegant. But it works.
You see, when Jesus was getting started with God’s mission to change the world, the disciples were getting a little nervous. They thought they were not equipped. They thought they really did not have what it takes to get the job done. I mean, come on! A bunch of fishermen and a former tax collector!
So they came to Jesus and said: “Please master, give us more faith.”  They knew that they were immature in their faith. They knew that they needed to be spiritual giants if they were going to lead this mission. Perhaps they knew that Jesus would not be around forever. If they were going to be the rabbis who would lead this movement, they needed to have more faith.
But Jesus said, “Don’t worry about it! You don’t need more faith. He took a look around and said, if you have faith of the tiniest seed in the garden, you could uproot a huge tree and throw it into the lake.”
Then he told a little story about how when a servant comes home you just expect the servant to do his job. 7-10 “Suppose one of you has a servant who comes in from plowing the field or tending the sheep. Would you take his coat, set the table, and say, ‘Sit down and eat’? Wouldn’t you be more likely to say, ‘Prepare dinner; change your clothes and wait table for me until I’ve finished my coffee; then go to the kitchen and have your supper’? Does the servant get special thanks for doing what’s expected of him? It’s the same with you. When you’ve done everything expected of you, be matter-of-fact and say, ‘The work is done. What we were told to do, we did.’”
And that is what Jesus expects of them – to do their job. No big deal. Just be faithful.
Jesus is saying – use the gifts you have. Work with the faith you have and it will be enough.  
So what does this mean for us?
It means that we pay attention to the ways that even the simplest things, done in faith, can have a huge impact. It means that we CAN change the world when we live as followers of Jesus.
Perhaps you don’t think you are a very strong Christian. You look at someone else who has been at this a long time. You think: I will never be like him. Jesus is saying: don’t make comparisons. Just be who you are.
Our friend Z supervises the cleaning staff at a local hospital. Z tells the staff that their job is really important. They don’t always feel important because they are “just housekeepers.” But keeping disease out of a hospital is really important. I wonder if any of them see their work as holy work.
Not every one of us will be the leader of a great movement of change like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But millions of people took part in the movement to help move along the cause for fair treatment for people of all races. I am sure that people felt they did not have a strong enough faith to march in those marches and face the opposition, but they did it. And they made a difference. And Dr. King alone could not have done that.
Some of us are working now on an effort to get legal protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons from losing their jobs. Last night we made phone calls and asked people to call their Senator and ask him to vote for ENDA. One phone call does not seem like it will make a big difference, but hundreds of phone calls and hundreds of letters and tens of thousands of post cards and visits to his office all put together as part of a strategy have proven to change hearts and minds.  I do this work because my faith calls me to do justice in the world and to work on behalf of those who are oppressed by unjust laws. Jesus spoke up for the poor and the oppressed over and over again. Here at The Village we have a value to change the world by working for justice.
You do things every day, out of your faith, to change the world. When you act out of patience toward someone at work, when you might prefer just to tell them off, you are living your faith.
When you are generous with your time and money and give to help some cause, you are living out your faith. And so you choose not to hold on to the resources that God has blessed you with. Rather, you are giving some of them back to help others who are in need.
We do ordinary things every day and when we do we are living our faith. Things like this:
·       doing our work
·       caring for those in need
  • protecting the vulnerable
  • reaching out to the lonely
  • befriending the friendless
  • keeping the world going
  • contributing to the common good
Jesus’ message to us today is this. Don’t worry that your faith is not strong enough. Don’t worry that you are not a good enough Christian. Just look at what you are already doing. If you want to do something more, like the guys in Detroit, it does not have to be complicated. Make it fun. Get on a lawn mower and just mow some parks. Make a difference!
Your faith might feel like it’s only as big as the tiniest seed in the garden but you have the faith to take a big old tree and throw it into the lake! When we work together we can change the world.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

When the lost come home by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

Have you ever been really far away from home? I think about kids who go away for their first sleep over and get homesick, and think they are a million miles away. You get that phone call and have to go pick them up. Or maybe you were that kid who left home at age 17 or 19 and the circumstances were not so good. You wanted to be as far away as possible (like the kid in the video). Maybe things were bad at home. Or maybe you realized things were not as bad as you thought. Either way, you still had a sense of longing for something you had lost. 

Maybe you have traveled away from your family for work. Maybe you have been in the military and you have been stationed far away from home, in a war zone, not sure if you will ever get home safely again. That is far away from home. These are all examples of being physically away from our literal home.  That’s really far from home.  

Jesus told a story of a man whose son literally left home (Luke 15:1-32 (from The Message translation). The story of the prodigal son is probably one of the most familiar stories in Christian scripture. A father had two sons. One asked for his inheritance and left home; the other stayed behind and worked in the family business.  The one who left, went off to the city and blew all his cash on wild living.  He soon found himself working in a terrible job, feeding pigs.  He was hungry and miserable. When he found himself longing for the food the pigs were eating, he knew he had made a big mistake.  He had made a mess of his life. He knew his father would never take him back so he devised a plan. He would ask his father to give him a job as a hired hand.

Back home, his father thought of him every day, like any parent longs for a child who is missing. The father had no idea what had happened to the son. He loved the son.  When the son was approaching the house the father went out to greet him and threw his arms around him. He said, “Let’s have a party.” I thought this son might be dead but he is alive. The older son came in from work and asked what all the fuss was about. A servant said, “Your brother is back and your dad is throwing him a party.” The son got jealous and said to the father, “You never threw a party for me!”  The father said, “You have been here with me all the time. Everything I have is yours. I thought your brother was dead, but he is back. He was lost but now he is found.”  You see, when the lost come home, a parent rejoices!

Jesus told this story, because he was spending time with lots of sinners and people with bad reputations. He was spending time with imperfect people like us here at the Village. And the good religious people of the day were getting all bent out of shape. The Pharisees and the religious scholars came to him pointing their fingers at him and saying: “What kind of teacher are you? Hanging out with sinners and the lost?”         

Truth be told, Jesus didn’t really enjoy hanging with the religious folk. They were too full of themselves. He liked hanging with the people who knew what life was really about. He liked to be with the people we like to call “the least, the last and the lost.” 

So he told them this powerful story about the lost son: the son who ran away from home and blew his inheritance. Jesus was saying :”God is like this young man’s father: God is just waiting for us to come home when we mess up. But you, you religious folk, you are like that older brother. You just want to judge.” 

I guess Jesus did some judging. He made those religious folk squirm when it came to their self-righteousness. But he did not judge the younger brother who made some mistakes.

The brother ran away from home. He messed up. Let’s take a look at all the things he possibly did wrong:

·         He spent his money very unwisely. Pretty sure there isn’t a person in this room who has not done that a time or two. 

·         He most likely made some unhealthy life choices. Yup! We have all done that. 

·         I’m going to go out on a limb here and say he was self-centered in his actions. I doubt if he had much consideration for the good of his community. I’m thinking it was all about him and his fun not community service.  I’d say most of us have gone through a stage like that in our lives at one time or another, about me and having some fun.  Betting some of us have gone through this stage.

·          He was not a very good son. He certainly did not do too well with that commandment: “Honor your father and mother.” Failure to call your dad and let him know you are alive gives you a big old “F” on that one. 

This son gave us the name prodigal. He wrote the book on being the prodigal son. But look at what happened to him. When he realized he had messed up, and he went home ready to live as a servant, to have the worst job in his family’s business rather than as a son, his father said: “No way, you are my son, I forgive you. I love you. Let’s have a party.”  Can you imagine a teenager stealing the family car, wrecking it and Dad saying “I’m just glad you’re alright, let’s have a party”.  

Jesus said to the people. That is how God rejoices every time we come home to God. Every time we come to our senses and turn away from whatever we are doing that keeps us away from God and what God has in mind for us, and brings us back home – God forgives us just like that – and just wants to throw a big old party!

And God is not satisfied until we are ALL home! God wants all of us, not just the 99, but the lost one.  That’s why God loves a church like The Village – because we dare to include all people. And that’s why we keep doing it. And we have to keep reminding one another that we have all been the least, the last and the lost. You may not feel like that today, but maybe someone next to you may.  That’s why you need to be there for them today, and for you. 

Every week new people come into our doors. The new people have something in common with those of us who have been coming here for 4 weeks or four months or 4 years. And so we need to treat EVERYONE just like that father treated that son who returned. We need to welcome them home.  Every week needs to be like a party.

Some of us when we come here, are lonely and we are looking for connection. We need some people who will notice if we come back next week. We want someone who will ask us about the prayer concern that we wrote on a card last week, or someone who will be our friend on Facebook and notice when we say we had a really crummy day. We need to be the loving and encouraging presence of God for one another.

Some of us are coming here because we need to set our lives on a new course. We aren’t happy with our lives. Perhaps like that prodigal son we can clearly see the choice we made that set us on the wrong course. Or maybe it’s not so clear to us – we just feel like we’re on a treadmill and we have no joy and no hope. We come here because we have heard, somewhere, the promise, that God wants more for our lives. We come here seeking God’s guidance for our lives. We want the full life, that life of hope, that God promises for God’s people.

Finally, some of us come here because the world treats us as if we are the least. We are outcast. We are beaten down. Whether it is by economic poverty, because of race, sexual orientation, by age, because we are immigrants, we are disabled physically or with a mental illness, we feel marginalized. And We have heard the promise that in the church of Jesus Christ everyone is valued and yes, EVERYONE HAS A HOME.   And that’s why we come here, week after week.

And so here we are, Village people. We may have felt lost at one time or another, but not anymore. Now, we belong to God. We are home. 

How does it feel, when you have been away for awhile, and then arrive at home?  Safe, relieved, comfortable, yourself?  

I want you to take that image with you today. Imagine you are home with God. Just like the prodigal son who came home and was welcomed with open arms: You are home. You may have felt lost, but you are not lost anymore. You belong to God. Welcome home.