Sunday, May 25, 2014

Jesus Lives in You by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

Today, we’re going to leave The Village smarter people. I’m going to teach you a new word. You probably don’t know this about me but I took three years of Greek when I was in college. Pretty nerdy, I know. But I got all A’s. 

I took all those years of Greek so we might as well get something out of it. Today’s vocabulary word is “paraclete.” What’s a paraclete, you may ask? Well, paraclete comes from the Greek work, paráklētos, which means literally advocate. A paraclete might be someone who advocates for another in a court of law. A paraclete is also anyone who consoles and comforts. We also use the work paraclete to describe someone who is a healer, someone who steps into a situation of sorrow and brings healing and comfort. 

In worship we showed a video from CNN about Taryn Davis, who at the age of 21 suffered the sort of tragedy no one ever wants to face, that is our worst nightmare. Instead of being defeated by that experience, Taryn reached out to others in a similar situation. She became a paraclete, one who brings comfort and healing to others. 

When CPL Michael Davis, was killed in action in the Iraq war on May 21, 2007.  Taryn found herself a widow.  She searched for support for herself and others.  She discovered that there were few resources to help young military widows.

Following her grief and confusion, four months later she began work on a documentary speaking to military widows, hearing their stories of love, tragedy and overall survival. The documentary was shown to military widows who gathered in Austin, Texas from across the country in July 2008, for the official "launch" of the American Widow Project. During the launch In Their Boots was on location to film and interview widows.

Since then, the AWP has conducted several events through the country to unite military widows (over 750) to celebrate their survival, honor their loved ones sacrifice, and provide a healing environment with others who share this journey.   They lift each other and others back up, even doing work for others, outside of their community.  

These women lift one another back up. That is what a paraclete does. We all know that when tragedy hits, we can easily fall into despair. The death of a spouse is way up there on the list of life’s most significant losses. But there are other losses that give us the need for a comforter, a paraclete, who will walk beside us. Those losses include: the end of relationship through divorce or a break up, the loss of a job; the loss of health, children growing up and leaving home; the inability to have children; a move that causes us to lose relationships in one place and have to start over; the loss of our dreams, one that will never come to fruition. These are some big ones. 

There are tiny situations that give us the need for comfort, the help of a paraclete on a daily basis: just a bad day, a fight with someone, a bill we did not expect, a flat tire, a big decision to make… the list goes one. 

Jesus knows that we need comfort and consolation. We need paracletes who will care for us. He had an important conversation with his closest friends, his disciples, on his last full night alive on earth. 

I think you all remember the last supper, of course. He had a meal with his friends. Then, in John’s gospel, we have record of some last minute teaching that he gave them. 

It reminds me of those last days before I went off to college. My parents kept trying to squeeze in all the last bit of parenting they could. Do you know how to sort your laundry? Now, remember to check the oil in your car? You will find a church to attend, right?   They were cramming in this last minute advice and teaching.

Jesus gives what we call his “Farewell Discourse” – his last bit of encouragement to his disciples and close followers. Our reading for today (John 14:15-21  New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) for those following along from afar) comes from this Farewell Discourse. 

He says to them,  “If you love me, you will keep  my commandments. 16 And I will ask God, and God will give you another paráklētos, to be with you forever.”

He calls this paraclete “the Spirit of truth.” And he says: You know the Sprit, because the Sprit abides with you, and will be in you.”

Now they are scared because they can tell from what Jesus has said earlier that his death is soon to some. But he makes them a promise. He says: “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.” He is telling them that after he dies he will be resurrected and they will see him. 

But then he takes is a bit deeper.  It is not just that they will see him in resurrected form. He says:  On that day you will know that I am in God, and you in me, and I in you... and those who love me will be loved God, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”   Jesus is saying that he will live in his followers. 

But let’s go back a moment. He says that he will ask God and God will send “another paraclete.” This means that Jesus was the first paraclete and there will be a second one. He calls the second one the Spirit and says the Sprit will live in us. So this paraclete – this advocate, or comforter will live in us.

Over time, well after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christian leaders came to develop a way for us to wrap our minds around all of this. We call it the Trinity. We think about God as being one God in three forms: God the creator is the first form. Sometimes we use the word Father, but here at The Village we like to use Creator because it helps us get away from the patriarchal tradition of the church being run by men – we know that God is way bigger than male or female. So the first part is the God who created the world and who is still creating.

The second form of the trinity is the Jesus Christ, God in the flesh in the world. Jesus is probably the most familiar part of the trinity for all of us. We talk a lot about Jesus around here.

The third form, the one that is the hardest to wrap our minds around, is the Holy Spirit. In a couple of weeks we will celebrate Pentecost Sunday. That is the day we celebrate that the power of the Spirit really made itself present with the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection. This is what Jesus is promising in our text for today in his Farewell Discourse. Jesus promises that after he is gone there will be a powerful Spirit that will live in us. This Spirit is the one he refers to as the Paraclete, or the Advocate. The Paraclete is the one who who gives us comfort and consolation. The Paraclete is the Spirit of God that lives in us. 

Jesus said, if you love me you will keep my commandments, and I will be in you, and you in me. We have a connection with Jesus. That connection is the Holy Spirit. 

This is the mystery of God, that unexplainable presence of God.  The Holy Spirit is the force that connects us to God as our Creator, and draws us into a relationship with God. Even when we fall away from God and try to pretend that we don’t need God, God is always there. To me the source of that connection always comes back to the belief that God is my Creator. 

Jesus came along to make that connection even more real. The people were getting disconnected from God. They had turned a relationship of love into a bunch of laws. Jesus came to make things real again – to show us that God loves us and that love is the heart of God. But Jesus could not stay here forever. So when it was time for him to go, he made a promise. I will not leave you orphaned. I will send the Paraclete – a Comforting Spirit. That Spirit will live in you and then you will comfort one another. You will love one another, and when you love one another you will show God’s love to one another.

The Spirit of God is alive in the world when we love one another. I see that Spirit in all sorts of situations. One example, is those beautiful women in the American Widow Project. Their husbands died serving our country in the military. And one by one, those women comfort one another. They bring a spirit of love and hope to one another. They bring healing to one another. Taryn Davis became a widow at age 21.  She could have fallen apart, but she is a paraclete. She allowed the Spirit of God to pour out of her to so many other women, and to give them comfort.

This is what we do when we join a community of Jesus’ followers. We open ourselves to the Spirit of the Creator God that lives in us. And we allow ourselves to be used, to be paracletes, to walk alongside one another in our times of sorrow and challenge. I can’t think of any task more important in the world than walking alongside of someone and reminding them that they are loveable. 

We all need to be encouraged. We all need comfort and consolation. We all need support now and then. I don’t know about you but I need support almost every day. 

Sometimes, I don’t feel like I have anything left in the tank. I am worn out. That is when it is time to rest and pray, and remember that God’s Spirit lives inside of me, and the Spirit wants to bring me comfort and healing. It’s great when another Christian friend reminds me of God’s love for me on one of those days.   They’ll say it’s OK, I still love you and so does God. 

There are also many days when we see another person, and we know that person is worn out, by the day, or by their whole life. That is the time, that we, as followers of Jesus, can claim our role as paracletes, as sacred carriers of God’s love. We can say to them, I love you, I’ll be there with you through this difficult time, I’ll be that Spirit of God with you.  Because you see that Spirit of God lives in us and so we are healers and comforters on God’s behalf. 

In closing, I want to invite you to practice walking alongside one another this week, trusting that the Spirit of God is within each of us. We did this in worship, I’m going to invite you to try this as an online community too.  Think of one situation in your life where you need comfort or support; and write it down in a message here.  You can leave it anonymously if you want.  But if you leave your name, we’ll be able to support you.  

If you come on here and leave us a situation, pick one to be there for too.  If you know how to contact this person (e.g. they leave contact info on here), contact that person and be there for them.  If not, just pray for them.  

This is your opportunity to be a paraclete for someone and vice versa.  Trust that God’s love is inside of you. God’s Spirit lives in you. Pray for that person and whatever they have written. Offer the situation to God. We are just walking alongside one another. That is what a comforter does. Walks alongside someone through a challenge and offers comfort and support, not advice, but encouragement and hope.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

We Give Our Lives to God by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

I found a story this week from a blog post about generosity.  This is the story: “Today, I found one of my old high school friends, who used to tutor me in math, begging for money outside of a convenience store. I took him out to lunch and he spilled his guts to me about how his wife (also an old friend from high school) died from cancer last year; and that due to a combination of lack of medical insurance, the loss of his job, and the downturn in the economy which forced him to foreclose on his home, he has nothing left. I set him up with a place to stay in my second bedroom, and told him we’d be roommates for as long as it takes him to get back on his feet.” (source: “75 Day-Brightening Stories of Generosity.”)

The band just sang a song about “surrender.” Surrendering all to God is a hard concept. Giving our whole lives to God? That’s intense.

But then I think about this person who ran into an old friend from high school, the friend was begging because he had fallen on hard times and he was homeless. The person offers the homeless friend a place to live in his own home for as long as he needs it. Why not? We read last week about the first Christian community. They held everything in common. What’s mine is yours. I have a house with an extra room. You are homeless. I share my extra room with you. I surrender my life to God and it means I share what I have with someone in need. Especially if that person is an old friend from high school. “Give away your life,” Jesus says, “Generosity begets generosity.”

How generous does Jesus want us to be? Practically speaking. What do we mean by surrender? Does that mean everything? Our whole lives? Or can we just choose part?
I don’t know. . . When I hear the word surrender, I sort of think about being defeated. When someone surrenders it means they have lost. Right?
But you know, Jesus has a way of turning words upside down. Because when we surrender to God, we don’t lose, we win. Jesus says that when we give our lives away, we get them back. I think we are going to have to take another look at what it means to surrender our lives to Jesus.

Today is our Commitment Sunday. We are celebrating our commitments as followers of Jesus. Here at The Village, every Sunday we say together a statement of identity. We say that we are followers of Jesus and we can change the world. I believe it is true – that when we live in the path of Jesus, we do change the world.

Some 2000 years ago, Jesus walked along the Sea of Galilee and met some fishermen. They were common folk. He said to them: “Hey, how about you leave those fishing nets and come with me? We will go fishing for people. We will build a movement of people who will discover God’s love and together we will heal the world.” He also called a tax collector named Matthew and a physician named Luke. Some women joined the inner circle too. They all saw something in Jesus. They saw God. And so they followed.
We are here today because we are all followers of one sort or another. Some of us are confident that we want to claim that name. We have said, “Yes! I will follow Jesus.” Others of us are on a spiritual journey, we come here with more questions than confidence. We like The Village people and the sense of community. That is okay too. In the United Church of Christ we say that whoever you are and wherever you are on your journey, you are welcome here.
Today I want to talk about what it means to be a follower in the way of Jesus, sometimes called a disciple. Because today many of us are making commitments to the ministry of this church and I want us to be clear about what we are committing to. Many of you came here with some forms that say “Time, Talent and Treasure.” You are ready to commit your time, your skills, and your financial support to The Village because you care about this community and you want to be more than a casual on-looker. You want to be “all in.” You want to invest in this community because you believe in what we are doing, because you care. You like what Jesus had to say. You love that Jesus hung out with imperfect people like us and reminded everyone of God’s unconditional love. You get that message and you want to sign on and be a part of the Jesus movement, whatever the case. If you are going to sign on today, I think it’s good to have a reminder of that to which you are signing on. So here is what it says in Luke chapter 6. This is a pretty good little synopsis of some of Jesus’ core teaching.
LOVE YOUR ENEMIES. There is no room for hate when we become followers of Jesus. In this passage he instructs us to: love, pray, take it (when slapped), and give. Now I don’t think Jesus is telling us to live under the fantasy that no danger exists in the world. And he is not telling us to live in a world  without any laws to protect people from harm. However, he is saying, that hatred only hurts us. So, no human being is to be despised or written off, no matter how awful they are.
Then he brings up the GOLDEN RULE: “Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!” Don’t treat people the way they treat you, or even the way you think they deserve to be treated. Don’t give them what they deserve. “The principle of reciprocity (do to others as they do to you, which means: love your friends and hate your enemies) was widely accepted in the ancient world and represents the attitude that Jesus is challenging.” The Golden Rule attacks this idea. “We are not to do to others as they do to us but as we would want them to do to us.” (source:
Do better. Be kinder, more patient, more forgiving. Be your best self, even when the other person is not. How many of you heard this from your mother or grandmother?
This brings us to compassion, (which is, by the way, one of our core values at The Village). Jesus says that it is easy to love someone who is lovable. Everyone does that. His followers have compassion for people whom no one else loves. God loves us when we are at our worst, and so if we are going to be followers of Jesus then we need to stretch ourselves and offer compassion to people when they are at their worst.
Jesus concludes this passage by reminding us not to harp on one another’s faults. Don’t kick people when they are down. What it means to be a community of Jesus’ friends is that we encourage and support one another.
I have a friend who puts it this way: “You can’t out give God.” The first time I heard my friend say this, I found it a bit puzzling. I have had to let this saying sort of sink into my spiritual self over the years. “You can’t out give God.” What it means to me is this. God gives us everything. I say that most Sundays when I make our statement before the offering. Everything we have comes from God. God is the creator of the universe. We may think that we own property and we have money that belongs to us, but the whole world was made by God, and ultimately it belongs to God. God is the gracious and generous landowner who shares God’s creation with us and lets us think that some tiny piece of it actually belongs to each of us. We live under that illusion. But it’s really all God’s.
Now we have some human made systems that allow some people to get more stuff than other people. I’m not altogether sure what God thinks about that system but I have some hunches. But here is what Jesus said: “Give away your life.” You’ll find that when you give your life you get it back. “Giving, not getting is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”
That takes me back to the guy who ran into the old friend from high school who was homeless. The one guy with a house gave the homeless friend his spare bedroom for as long as he needed it. He was giving away part of his life, because as Jesus says: “Giving, not getting is the way.”
Today, we are celebrating our giving to The Village Church. I love giving to The Village, because I have learned that I can’t out give God. I can be what I think is generous, and God is always more generous with me.
Still, I want to give away my life. Holding on to my life just does not make sense. Holding on to my resources, when I could be using them to help this church thrive, well that does not make sense either. So just about every year, Kurt and I increase our financial pledge to this church, even if the increase is just $10 or $20 a month. And of course this is my work, but Kurt gives many hours to this church, because, you just can’t out give God.
Let’s think again about what it means to surrender. The song says: “I surrender all, all to Jesus I freely give; I will ever love and trust him, in his presence daily live, I surrender all.”
I think that means that we will order every part of our lives around giving, and not holding on. I think it means that as followers of Jesus we want to have a loving and trusting relationship with him and when we do, we will find ourselves naturally wanting to give back.
When we run into an old friend who needs a home and we have an extra room we will offer ours. It’s a bold thing, I know. I’m not sure I’ll be ready to do such a bold thing when the opportunity comes, but I hope I will be.
Jesus invites us to give our lives away because generosity begets generosity. Most of all we have to pay attention to the opportunities that God sends our way to share our lives with others – to make a difference – to give our lives away. Let’s be courageous. Let’s be generous. Let’s follow Jesus and change the world.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The First Church by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

  A few years ago, archeologists uncovered what they believe to be the remains of THE first church meeting place located in the country of Jordan. The church is in a cave in the ground underneath a church called St. Georgius. Scholars believe this is a church that housed the original disciples of Jesus, and was used in the first decade after Jesus’ death. They found evidence of its use for early Christian rituals. 
This first church, we’re told, grew quickly to more than 3000 members. Peter and the other disciples were filled with spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. Peter preached one heck of a sermon, and 3000 adult men, plus the women and children in their families, were baptized. Then they began to be church.

This is what their community life looked like:
    A high commitment community; Studied the teaching of the apostles;  Prayed together, worshipped, and praised God; Held possessions in common, pooling their resources so all were cared for;  and·         Shared meals that were a celebration

The Village has many of the traits of this first church. Our Lead Team has developed some plans for our ministry in the next year or two. Tomorrow we are mailing out some information to you. There will be a document called “How Can I Get Connected to The Village?” (And we’ll post it online as well) In that document you will see a list of opportunities for you to help us build a community just like this one. 

You can be part of a new study group to discuss the Sunday Scripture and message after worship – “studying the teaching of the church leader.” That would be me. You will have a chance to talk about what I say and discuss how it applies to your life. We have a new team called “Serving through food” that will help us feed hungry people, pooling our resources to help others. That is one way to pool our resources and share with those in need. There is another team called “Dinners, game nights and outings.” That is so we can eat together and have some fun. The early followers of Jesus shared meals that were a celebration. Disciples get to have fun together. 

There will be a “time, talent and treasure” commitment form where you have an opportunity to say how you will support The Village both with your time and financially in the next year; and what special donation you will give to our Bedrock fund for financial independence. In this way, we will all pool our possessions in common, and pool what we have so that we will have the resources we have to do the ministry that we believe God has given to us.

We believe we have a plan to be the church God put us on this earth to be. It seems like it is lining up pretty well with the community that got started in what is now the country of Jordan. 

However, there is one more trait of that early church that I have not mentioned yet. It is the characteristic that makes a church a church. It is the thing that separates a living, growing, spirit driven church from one that begins to turn into just another gathering of a group of people who could be any group of people – a country club, or the Kiawanis, or a softball league. What separates the church of Jesus Christ from some other support group. This thing is what we call “Communitas.”

Mission focused church guru, Allan Hirsch uncovered the term “communitas” back in 2001 but he got it from an anthropologist named Victor Turner who wrote about it back in 1969. The idea is that a community does not really reach this rich, deep level of what we call communitas, until we endure some kind of challenge that puts us out on the edge together. (article by Michael Frost,

Turned explain, that in Zambia, in tribal life, the older boys, at a certain time in life were sent out of the village into the jungle to fend for themselves. They “were visited regularly by the community’s holy men to be taught the lore and learning of adulthood.” When they were brought back to the village, after then had been in this sort of “limbo” stage, they reported that they had formed a bond with one another. The sense of community they felt with one another, having been through this intense experience of living out in the jungle, being mentored by the elders, gave them a deeper connection than what we would normally call community. This deeper thing was giving the name communitas.  

What we have come to understand, is that when you take a group of people who are already in a community, and then you take them out to do something that stretches them, takes them outside of what is comfortable, and sort of puts them in limbo, and gives them a shared experience, they form a deep bond. 

Although this anthropology may seem somewhat obscure, the concept of communitas isn’t as unusual as it first appears. You don’t have to be in a Village in Zambia’s jungle to experience this. We all know that when people are thrown into a challenge, an ordeal, they develop a much deeper sense of communion. Think of any group of people in a state of being on the edge, in a state of separation from what is familiar, and in all likelihood they will have experienced a deeper sense of community than those in mainstream society.

We know it happens, for example, when people go on a mission trip, or even when people are thrown into a crisis with a group of people and have a face a challenge. People form a bond.  You are separated from the usual, facing challenges that help you form a bond.  You never forget this bond and you can face things you’ve never faced before.

So, think now, about the first church. They did not stay in a cave, enjoying comfortable community, sharing good meals, and uplifting praise and worship. Soon they broke down into mission teams and went out as evangelists. They went far and wide to places they had never been. Some went to places they had never heard of. I read this week that Joseph of Arimathea, the guy who gave his tomb for Jesus, actually went all the way to England, right after Jesus died, and he planted the first church there.  I can’t imagine how long it took him to get there. It was risky and bold to travel across the world, even to the next country, to tell people about Jesus, to form the first churches. 

They formed communitas. Going out and being separate from one another, was HUGE. It would have been so much easier to stay in that wonderful comfortable community: They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.

What a wonderful community – taking care of each other – turning inward and loving one another as Jesus loved them. But Jesus did not love them so they could be a only a closed community. Jesus wants his communities to spread – to be communitas. This means that even though we care for one another, we care called to push ourselves to the edges of our comfort and consider – who is out there that Jesus wants to send us to?

Which brings me to The Village, Did you know that original vision for The Village was to be a network of progressive churches across Northwest Ohio and to start five worship services or communities in the first five years? Okay, my original vision was a bit overly ambitious. But perhaps we can start one every five years. That would mean that it’s getting to be time to think about the next one.

There are more people in Lucas County and Wood County, over in Fulton County, and across the border in Michigan who need a church like The Village. They need community and we need to be communitas for them. There are people who drive from further than those places to get here.  A few of us could go out as missionaries and start something new. It could be another church that looks much like The Village. But it could be something much simpler.

All across the country, churches like ours are starting house churches and small communities that are extensions of the mother church. Groups of 15 to 30 people could meet and watch the video of our worship message and have their own discussion in response. They could to acts of service together in their own towns. They could be community for one another without having to drive all the way to Toledo to be part of The Village.

The precise vision of what God is calling us to do is not clear to me, because it can’t be my vision, it has to be OUR vision. But I want to pray about it, and I invite you to pray with me. I believe that God might be calling some of you out there in our congregation, to be comunitas.  

Because you see, if that first church had become a closed community, and stayed inside a cave, and turned inward we would not be here. For 2,000 years, people have come to know that God loves them because people have reached outside their communities, and taken risks to reach new people. I believe it is because of the deep love, and the care and the warm wonderful feeling we experience inside this community that we are propelled out into the world to share that love. We can’t keep it to ourselves.

I find this idea of Communitas really compelling – this deeper form of community that calls us beyond ourselves to share God’s love with those who don’t know it. Let’s pray and talk about this over the next few weeks and months. Let’s talk about it together over the coming weeks and months. Let’s ask God what it might looks for us to be 21st century missionaries in NW Ohio, in a way that is authentic for us. How can we spread the wonderful sense of community we have here inside The Village, out there, to reach others? I know it sounds big and bold and risky. It was big and bold and risky to get us here.  But with God’s help, anything is possible. Communitas is big and bold and risky. Communitas is why we are here. It is how the first church moved out of this cave. Let’s pray about it, and let’s see what God will show us. Amen.