Sunday, November 24, 2013

BREAD OF LIFE by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

  I know you all remember the story from scripture about the day when a huge crowd had gathered around Jesus. They were amazed because he was healing people and working miracles. They all just wanted to be near him – to see what he was all about. But the day was getting long and the disciples got into a bit of a panic. They said to Jesus: “what are we doing to do? We have all these people here and nothing to feed them.” They said, “we found a boy with 5 loaves and bread and 2 fish but that will never be enough.” 
Jesus told them to sit everyone down. They did, and there were 5000 people. He took the bread and gave thanks and then gave it to the people and they all ate until they were full. They gathered 12 baskets full of leftovers. 

So we’re going to start out today with a little bread (baskets of bread and butter were then placed out on the tables and around our worship space). And I want to ask you a question. When have you been fed by Jesus? Perhaps in an unexpected way—or in a way that was abundant and overflowing with leftovers of blessing. When have you been fed by Jesus? We then read the Scripture John 6:24-25 for those following along on the net. 

Jesus said to them:  “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Wouldn’t it be great to eat bread and never be hungry again; or drink water and then never be thirsty? Wouldn’t it be great to never want for anything? To never feel empty? To never feel inadequate?  It seems to be the human condition that we are always trying to fill ourselves up because we feel empty of something.

Do you know that TV show America’s Got Talent? Nick Cannon is the host. The judges are: Howard Stern, Heidi Klum, Mel B and Howie Mandel. Have you seen the show? It’s been on for eight seasons, and for the eight years in a row “Talent” has been the #1 summer reality tv series.

If you have not seen it, just imagine an old fashioned talent show. They have performers from across the United States: singers, dancers, comedians, contortionists, impressionists, jugglers, magicians and ventriloquists. They all compete to win America’s hearts and the $1 million prize.” (source:

But when you watch this show week after week, it’s sort of like the judges and the audience get hungrier and hungrier for an even crazier and more daring act. No matter when the contestant does, we want MORE from them the next week. Our need for entertainment must be fed. We must be satisfied. Like the crowd in the story with Jesus, we are hungry and we must be fed. 

The day after Jesus fed the 5000 by the Sea of Galilee, the crowd came looking for him. Jesus said: “Now wait just a minute. You are looking here for me because you ate your fill of food. And now you want more.” He said to them:  “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.”

28Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one whom God has sent.”  So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” (John 6:30-31)

These people are really demanding, they get on my nerves eventually. He fed them one day and so there they are the next day asking for more. I can just hear their whiney little voices: “Sure you fed us yesterday, but what have you done for us lately.”

He had just told them that their work was to believe in him. And yet they ask for more signs.

Jesus tells them: “It was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

He tells them again: It’s not about the physical bread. It’s about believing in Jesus. Yes, Jesus fed them the day before in order to get their attention. Jesus will do whatever it takes to get our attention. Jesus wants to see that out basic needs our met. Jesus will use the resources of the Earth to meet the basic human needs of the people here. But there is more to our existence that food and water and shelter.  

There is spiritual food and water. Jesus is our spiritual food and water.  You see, Jesus wanted a relationship with those people, and he wants it with us too. He used the bread, and the miracles to get their attention. He uses things to get our attention too: the beauty of creation, music that speaks to our souls, human touch. But it all points to him. 

All the blessing in our lives comes from God. That is what Jesus came to tell us. So, the people said: “Well, what do we do then to get in on God’s works?” 29 Jesus said, “Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.” 

Follow Jesus, live your life for Jesus, in the way of Jesus, and that gives you a connection to God. Living in the way of Jesus gets us way more than just some bread. Bread does not last.  You are probably already hungry for more bread. Being in relationship means we will feel deeply satisfied. We won’t feel empty. 

We won’t have that longing and that thirst. We won’t have to anesthetize ourselves with material things, and extreme sports, and forms of entertainment that have to get more and more exciting. We will have God’s love and we will have relationships with people who know God’s love, here – here in this community.   This is the bread of life, here in the Village community. We are living bread, living for one another.   When we care for one another, when we take care of each other’s needs, we are bread for one another. 

So, today, I invite you to consider all the ways that Jesus feeds you. Give thanks for your blessings. And then I invite you to lean more deeply into the love that God offers us through Jesus. Don’t just seek the basics from God. Seek a deep relationship, a deep relationship that demands your attention. Give your whole life to God. Make God’s desires for you, your priority.  That means you have to ask God, listen to God, and order your life around those priorities. 

You see, Jesus doesn’t want to give us just bread to eat. He wants to be the bread of our life. He wants to live in us and he wants us to live for him all the days of our lives. Jesus is the bread of life. Whoever comes to him will never be hungry, and whoever believes in him and lives in him will never be thirsty again. Amen.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Endurance by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

WARNING: the scripture for today is a tough one. Last week was hard, too. We talked about death. Today is not as hard as last week. Here is the deal. We are nearing the end of the church year.  The church year ends in November.
On December 1st this year, we begin the season of Advent. That is the beginning of the seasons of the church year. Advent is that wonderful time when we prepare to receive the baby Jesus. It is a time of hope and expectation.
There is a rhythm to the scripture readings in the church year (called the lectionary). And at the end of each year, we hit some hard texts. The point is to make sure that preachers don’t just pick our favorite stories and just the feel good ones, but that we preach the whole story of scripture. I know last week was a challenge for some of you so I thank you for coming back this week!
In this week’s reading which you just heard Jesus talks to the people about the future destruction of the Temple. Just a little background here: The Temple was the social, religious and political center of Jewish life. Even if a Jewish person never traveled to Jerusalem, they revered the Temple as the home of God. For Jesus to predict its destruction was devastating to the people. But equally as troubling was the prediction that before the Temple falls, the people would be persecuted. This was scary for the people to hear, even more frightening for them to live through. You see, the Jewish people were living under an occupation army. The great Roman Empire had taken over their country. And in time, just as Jesus had predicted, the Romans destroyed their Temple. This was about 70 years after Jesus was crucified.
He was telling them to be prepared for terrible times ahead. They would be betrayed by family and scattered to the countryside. “You will be hated, because of my name,” Jesus says. But then he says: “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
Life for my followers will be hard, he says, but persevere. You will have fullness of life because of your faithfulness. Stay strong. Remember that I love you. God loves you.  You’ll gain your souls.
Fifty years ago, in Birmingham Alabama, a young pastor was in jail. A group of Bishops and other religious leaders published a public statement asking this young troublemaker to go back home to Atlanta. They called him an outside agitator. They said he and his people needed to be more patient – to wait. They would get what they were asking for all in good time.
Of course, you know that young pastor was Martin Luther King Jr. Two of the bishops who wrote to Dr. King were the Methodist bishops in Alabama. They were white men, trying to keep the status quo.
Dr. King wrote an eloquent response to them now known simply as “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail.” He said to them that he was not an outsider; that everyone in these United States had a reason to be concerned about segregation. He wrote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
He addressed their request that he and his people wait and be more patient. He said they had been waiting for over 300 years. He wrote:  “History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily….For years now I have heard the word ‘wait’”…but “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
Then he talked about laws and why they were willing to break laws by sitting at lunch counters and doing other nonviolent acts. He said: “There are two types of laws. There are just laws and there are unjust laws.” “I would agree with Saint Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all.”
King was accused by the bishops and others of being an extremist and he asks: was not Jesus an extremist? Was not the apostle Paul an extremist?
Then he writes: “So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love?”
Martin Luther King, Jr. expresses his great sadness that the white churches do not, for the most part, join them in their efforts. That is the shame of our church.
“So here we are moving toward the exit of the twentieth century with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice.”
Dr. King, with his letter, was responding to his critics. He was also calling his followers to endurance. He knew the road ahead was a long and arduous one. He wrote this five years before he was assassinated. There would be beatings, fire hoses, houses fire bombed, lives lost. But progress was made. The Voting Rights Act was signed into law.
They endured because Dr. King and the people around him were grounded as followers of Jesus. He would have known this scripture. He would have known well what it feels like to have your Temple destroyed, as black churches in the South were fire bombed on a regular basis. He knew persecution, but he kept his eye on the goal. Justice for people of all races. By their endurance, Dr. King and all the people around him gained their souls.
There were many people around Dr. King during those days. One was another young black preacher, now a United Methodist bishop, retired, a black man by the name of Melvin Talbert.
I want to tell you about Bishop Talbert because he went to that same city recently. He went to Birmingham. He broke the law, church law. He went against the status quo. And this week, his own church turned against him, our own church, the United Methodist Church.

On October 26, Bishop Talbert went to Birmingham and presided at the wedding of two United Methodists: Joe Oppenshaw and Bobby Prince, who have been in a committed relationship for 12 years. In so doing, the bishop broke church law of the UMC. The Bishop would agree with Dr. King and with Saint Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all, and that our law prohibiting clergy from presiding at the union of two men or two women is an unjust law. Last year at our General Conference, after we were once again unable to get our church to change its stance, Bishop Talbert stood before a crowd of progressive United Methodists and gave a call to Biblical obedience. 

He said to the crowd: “I stand before you here this afternoon and I declare that God has already settled this matter: all human beings are created in the image of God. There are no exceptions, no exclusions. We belong to the family of God.

“At the same time, I declare to you that the derogatory language and restrictive laws in the Book of Discipline are immoral, and unjust and no longer deserve our loyalty and obedience.”
Talbert said that the “time has come for those of us who are faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to do what is required of us.” The retired Bishop went on to remind the crowd of the old story of Jesus’ teaching to love God and neighbor, according to the Gospel of Luke.
“As Jesus said to the young lawyer, ‘you have answered rightly: do this and live,’” Talbert said to the gathered Coalition. “My brothers and sisters, I declare to you that same Gospel imperative: do this and live. In light of the actions taken by the General Conference, the time has come to act and to invite others to join what I’m calling an act of Biblical obedience.” (source:
Then at the end of October Bishop Talbert went to Birmingham and officiated at the wedding of Bobby and Joe. This week, the Council of all the United Methodist Bishops from around the world met for their regularly scheduled meeting. On the agenda was a discussion of what to do about Bishop Talbert. They recognized that our church is divided, but in the end they advised their leaders to request that a complaint be filed against Bishop Talbert by his jurisdiction, which is in the Western part of the US. He could, potentially, be brought to church trial and lose his ministerial credentials. We don’t yet know how this will play out. But I can assure you, Bishop Talbert is clear about who he serves. He will endure the persecution even from his own church that he loves and serves. I heard him speak this summer. He said that he sat at lunch counters in the South and risked his life during the Civil Rights movement 50 years ago, and he is not afraid to put his life on the line again.
You see, Jesus was warning his followers that they would be called upon to suffer persecution. Their most prized Temple would fall into ruins. Some of them would even become martyrs. But as a group they would endure, and God’s love would never die. Justice would prevail.
So our question for today is this: will we stand with the early disciples, with Dr. King and with Bishop Talbert? Are we willing to suffer ridicule, alienation, to even risk personal harm if necessary, in order to stand up for justice and compassion in our community?
Will we take some risks?
Will we get outside of our comfortable homes and do something to change the world? I know some of us are already enduring persecution by who we are. I get that. Others of us are enjoying privilege that comes with being white, or educated, or straight in this country. But whatever our situation, we still have a choice. The poor uneducated black people living in the South who were enduring great hardship under segregation had to decide whether or not they were going to sit at home or go out and join the bus boycott or be trained to sit in at the lunch counters and not respond with violence.
Our church is broken right now. We can write letters to our bishops and let our voice be heard. In Ohio you can be fired or denied housing because you are gay. We can get involved in the work to pass laws to change that. We can also speak up, in the name of Jesus, when we hear anyone being racist or judgmental toward someone who is poor.
There are so many ways to follow Jesus and change the world. One of them is not to hide out at home and hope that the problems will go away, or that someone else will fix things. Jesus knew that his disciples would endure persecution for their beliefs because he knew they would be out in the world living their faith – doing the right things, living with compassion and speaking up for justice.
But remember, he promised them, and us, that our work is not in vain. Yes, we will suffer some setbacks as we work for justice, but we will endure. AND, we will gain our souls. We will have true life. We won’t be lifeless bodies just walking around. Our lives will have meaning.  I have a hunch that Bishop Talbert is sleeping well these nights, because he knows that he has been faithful.
So my friends, don’t be afraid to follow Jesus. Stand up for justice and be compassionate even when it is unpopular. You can endure the abuse of those who do not agree with you, because you will gain your soul. Amen.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Life Beyond Death by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

My friend Beth posted this on FB on Monday evening: “I just got a call -- My brother... has less than 24 hours of life on this earth. He is in the hospital … with a severe infection after battling cancer for over 3 years. Please keep him and my family in your prayers…. I just hope to get there before he dies.”

I am sure she got on a plane as fast as she could. Nothing else mattered except being at the side of her big brother. She made it. She was there to tell him that she loved him and to tell him good bye. We don’t always get that chance. Yesterday they had a memorial service to give thanks to celebrate his life. 

His 5 sons, his wife, my friend/his sister and others will now walk through what we call grief – that sort of fog that surrounds us when someone we love is ripped from life on earth and moves to the unknown we call heaven, or eternity with God. For Christians, we trust that it is a good thing. At least we try to believe that the afterlife is a good place. We believe that death is not the end. Rather: death in this world is our transition to life in the next world.

But when someone dies, we don’t always act as if we believe this. I often hear people say how tragic it is when someone dies, or how it is unexpected. We know that every one of us is going to die one day. I wonder how we can say that every death is unexpected.

 Yes, of course, when a child dies, or a young adult, a parent who still has children at home, with their whole life ahead of them, it is painful. It feels like it would be so much easier for us to deal with death if everyone would live to the age of 95 and die in their sleep.  That would be so much easier.  But here is the thing.  We believe as Christians that when our physical bodies die, then we are resurrected and have eternal life with God.  But we are still afraid of death.  I wonder, why, then, are we so afraid of death? And why do we have so much difficulty letting go of our loved ones when they die?

Of course, there is a natural grieving process. We must allow ourselves to grieve. There is a big empty space in our lives where someone once lived. We need to cry and acknowledge our loss. We need to go some rituals, to talk about the person and remember them. But let’s be clear: the loss is ours. That person – they are fine. They are alive, fully alive with God. Death in this world is our transition to life in the next world. Life goes on.  Life is eternal. 

Most of us don’t have many good opportunities to talk about death and the transition life in this world to life in the next. It just smacks us in the face sometimes.   People avoid talking about death. I know people who avoid going to visit people in the hospital who are dying. We avoid going to funeral homes and funerals. They say: “I just can’t handle funeral homes. It’s too hard.” That is because in our culture we have not learned to have healthy conversations about death. One organization help us with this: hospice. They do a great job with death. And people love hospice because they have learned to help families prepare for death, when we have to face it.

Well, today’s scripture (Luke 20:27-38 from The Message Bible for those following along on the web), Jesus is having a conversation about death with a group of religious people called the Sadducees. This is an important conversation because the Sadducees were a group of religious people who did not believe in the resurrection. 

  They didn’t believe in life after death with God.  They were very concrete in their thinking and so they came to Jesus to question him about resurrection. They created this somewhat absurd scenario: “Teacher, Moses wrote us that if a man dies and leaves a wife but no child, his brother is obligated to take the widow to wife and get her with child. Well, there once were seven brothers. The first took a wife. He died childless. The second married her and died, then the third, and eventually all seven had their turn, but no child. After all that, the wife died. That wife, now—in the resurrection whose wife is she? All seven married her.”

They were thinking about the after-life with the same sort of time and space that we have here on earth in this world. Jesus told them their thinking was too narrow. They were too preoccupied with things of this world: systems and institutions, human relationships such as marriage that simply will not be necessary in the resurrection.  Jesus said: “[those in the resurrection] will have better things to think about, if you can believe it. All ecstasies and intimacies then will be with God. Even Moses exclaimed about resurrection at the burning bush, saying, ‘God: God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob!’ God isn’t the God of dead [people], but of the living. To [God] all are alive.”

God isn’t the God of dead men – but of the living – all are alive. Death in this world is our transition to life in the next world. You see, there are no dead people. There are people alive here and there, in this world and the next. Physical death is just a transition to the next life. 

Our resurrected life is not going to be like our physical life here on earth. So, for example, if we have had a spouse die and we have remarried, and had another spouse, we don’t have to worry about some convoluted question of who will be our spouse in heaven. Jesus says that the things we worry about here we won’t worry about there. (That’s a relief!) Jesus says our connection will be with God. I think that means that our spiritual selves will be deepened. We will be one with God in ways we can only dream about now. 

Honestly, we have no clue what heaven will be like, except to know that we will be alive, more fully alive than we can imagine. It will be good, and we will be with God. 

So, then, how shall we live now, in order to prepare for such a resurrected life? I want to tell you a story about a family I once knew. The mother found out that she was dying of cancer. She was an older woman, with grown children. She was a woman who knew God well. She had given her life to serving God. When I went to see her in the hospital right after she found out that her illness was terminal she told me, “I’m not afraid to die. I have had a good life. Sure I would like to live longer, but we all have to die sometime and I am not afraid.” That woman died with grace and dignity. On her last day, she got up out of bed, something she had not done for a week or so. She ate breakfast, laid down, and just died. Her family was there in the house with her because they knew that she was near death. Her husband, a gentle old soul, who was also quite a saint himself went into the room and saw that she had died, he quietly said his good-bye and went into the living room to be alone and begin to grieve in his own way. 

She had a grown daughter who had been staying there. She had come from out of state. The daughter went into the room and laid down on the bed and cried. She was grief stricken. The hospice nurse came and called the doctor. I came too. We told the daughter that we needed to call the funeral home to come and pick up her mother’s body. The daughter asked if we could just wait a little while longer so she could lay there with her mom. She laid there for a good 2 or 3 hours until we had to tell her that we could not wait any longer. The daughter just could not let go, she couldn’t get up, she couldn’t leave her mother’s side.

You see, I think the husband was able to walk into the living room, and start his grieving because he knew that the lifeless body was not his wife. He knew that she was not dead. He knew that she had already made her transition from this world to life into the next. Of course he would go through days and weeks of grief. He would miss his wife. But he had a deep faith. He had a theology of death. I believe he knew that his wife was alive with God.

The daughter, well, I am not so sure. I think she was having a more difficult time. I think for her, the mother was still there, in that lifeless body on the bed. I fear that the daughter may have been stuck in her grief for a long time. I fear she may have been stuck for a long time, believing that her mother’s life truly ended when her heart stopped beating that day. The daughter did not want to leave her mother’s side because she did not want her mother’s life to be over. 

I want to live my life like that husband. I want to live my life trusting in God, so that when I have to face death, I can put my trust in God. When I get the phone call like my friend Beth got this week, saying that her brother had 24 hours to live, I want to be ready to say good-bye to my loved one.  Death in this world is our transition to life in the next world.  Jesus said it: “God isn’t the God of dead people, but of the living. To God all are alive.” 

So let us live, believing that we have eternal life. Amen.