Sunday, January 25, 2015

Fishing for People by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

When Cheryl Strayed, set off on a 1500 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, she wanted to make some deep changes in her life.  Her mother had died when she was 20. She had spent some years in self-destructive behavior. She wanted to redeem her life from the fear and rage that had haunted her since her mother’s death (source: Nancy Rockwell).  
Strayed writes in her book Wild: “There was the first, flip decision to do it, followed by the second, more serious decision to actually do it, and then the long third beginning, composed of weeks of shopping and packing and preparing to do it.
There was the quitting my job as a waitress and finalizing my divorce and selling almost everything I owned and saying goodbye to my friends and visiting my mother’s grave one last time.
There was the driving across the country from Minneapolis to Portland, Oregon, and a few days later, catching a flight to Los Angeles and a ride to the town of Mojave and another ride to the place where the Trail crossed a highway.

“At which point, at long last, there was the actual doing it, followed by the grim realization of what it meant to do it, followed by the decision to quit doing it because doing it was absurd and pointless and ridiculously difficult and far more than I expected it would be . . . And then there was truly doing it” (Wild by Cheryl Strayed).
She did it because her life depended on it. She had to make a change. She had to find herself. Her mother was gone. She could not depend on her mother any more. She had to find her strength within.
Her inner motivation to hike 1500 miles was fierce. Her life depended upon it. She could not keep going the direction she was going.
I wonder if something similar caused Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John, to leave their nets and follow Jesus.
This story is so familiar to me. I grew up hearing this story in Sunday School as a child. I have taught this story in Sunday School. I have cut little construction paper fish. I have gone to Michael’s to look for a net to use as an illustration. I have built a boat out of cardboard and acted this story out with children. I know this story. Jesus walks up to the guys who are fishing with nets, and he says, “Come on and follow me, I’ll make you fishers of people rather than fish.” And these crazy fishermen just leave their nets and follow this total stranger. Can you imagine?  These crazy fisherman follow this guy they have never met.
It makes no sense.
But we tell this story to children and children are so trusting they just accept it. Why not? Why not just leave your job and go follow Jesus? He’s JESUS, after all!
But the fishermen did not know he was Jesus. He was just some guy. And yet they left their jobs, (their income source), presumably they left their homes and their families and everything they knew and went to be disciples of this guy from Nazareth.
I confess that I could not do it. Oh sure, I am a pastor, but I get a salary, and a housing allowance, a pension and health insurance. I get to have a family, and keep my car and cell phone. My life is luxurious compared to Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. I don’t give up many of my creature comforts to follow Jesus.
I don’t think that it what this story is about. In 2015, most of us are not being asked to leave our families and our homes to follow Jesus. But listen again to what Jesus said to them: “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.”
Now that is something even more radical than leaving home.
The word believe can also be translated “trust.” So Jesus was saying, “Change your life from one where you put your trust in yourself, and put your trust in God.” Turn away from human values and choose God values.
Now we’re talking. Jesus said, “Do something radical, to respond to God’s love for you.”
Because remember, we don’t earn God’s love. The love is a gift. We are God’s beloved children. No questions asked. So Jesus is not saying we should DO something in order to receive God’s love.
But Jesus says that because God loves us we will change our ways and follow God’s path for our lives.
That is why the disciples left their old lives behind, because those lives were not leading them in the God direction. That is why Cheryl Strayed went on a 1500 mile hike, because she knew she needed to make a big change in her life.
When Jesus says, “Leave your nets and follow me” he is saying, “Leave your old ways and step into God’s ways for you.”
So, what do you need to leave behind? What are your fishing nets? What are the things that occupy your mind, your time, your pocketbook, and your heart, that keep you from being the person God wants you to be? You know what they are, don’t you? If Jesus were standing right here beside you, what would he invite you to leave behind so that you can be the person God put you on this earth to be?
What does that new future look like? For the disciples, they became fishers of people. They became evangelists. They shared the good news of God and God’s love with anyone and everyone who would listen. That was their mission.
What is your mission? Why did God put you on this earth?
·      To be a teacher and be a positive influence on children or adults
·      To be a peacemaker and to help people in conflict find a way to peace
·      To be a bridge builder, to help people who are different from one another find ways to make connections across their differences
·      To be an innovator, to find new ways to do things; new solutions to old problems
·      To be a healer
·      To be a care giver for children or elderly parents or those who are sick in body or spirit
The list is, of course, endless.
But sometimes we cannot be who God put us on this earth to be, because we are holding on to something we have always been. Cheryl Strayed had an old life she needed to let go of. She knew she was on the wrong track. She was holding on to her grief about her mom’s death and she was living paralyzed by fear. So she went on a 1500 mile hike to find her new self. And she did.
Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John were stuck in a dead end job as fishermen. Jesus came along and said, “I have something important for you to do for God. Come and let’s fish for people. Let’s show people how much God loves them.”  What better job could you have than that?
What does God have in mind for you? You probably won’t have to go on a 1500 mile hike to find out. God is probably not asking you to leave your family behind. But is there something you need to let go of, so that you can embrace the new future God has for you?
Maybe you need to let go of a habit, in order to free up more creative energy for God. Maybe you need to free up financial resources that are misdirected so that you can use those resources for the purpose God has for you. Maybe you need to free yourself from negative thoughts that hold you back, so that you and God can move forward with God’s preferred future for you.
Whatever it is, Jesus is standing here today, with an invitation. “Come, follow me. Come and be the person God put you on this earth to be. Leave that old life behind and live into God’s future for you. Be the person God created you to be. Do it today.”

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Message: The One by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

In 1965 point guard Bobby Joe Hill was living in Highland Park, MI when Coach Don Haskins came to recruit him to play basketball. Haskins had recently taken over as the coach of a small NCAA team in El Paso, TX called the Texas Western College Miners. During this time of desegregating schools and sports, Haskins decided to integrate his all white team by going across the country and recruiting black players. In this scene from the film “Glory Road” we find the coach trying to convince Bobby Joe to come to El Paso to play.
*** SHOW CLIP***

Bobby Joe went to El Paso. The Miners went to on the National Finals to play powerhouse Kentucky that year. Against all odds Bobby Joe and four other black starters beat Kentucky 72-65 to become the NCAA National Champions that year.
Their success all turned on Haskins invitation to Bobby Joe to come to El Paso and play basketball.

You can tell from the clip in the movie that Bobby Joe is discouraged. Ever since he was a kid, he says, all he wanted to do was play basketball. It was like playing sweet music for him. But he kept sitting on the bench because he was black. Never mind that he was, as Coach Haskins saw, quick and full of skill.

But Haskins tells him: “You just told me about a big old dream you have. I can let you play, I can help you make your dream come true faster than a twister can take your socks off.” Bobby Joe looks at Don Haskins and in that moment he trusts him. He knows Haskins is the one who can make a difference. Haskins is the one who can chip away at the segregation in college sports. And Bobby Joe trusts this man and so he goes to El Paso. His life is forever changed. Don Haskins is the one for Bobby Joe. He is the one who can turn his life of oppression into a life of pure joy. Bobby Joe can live out his potential because Don Haskins does not see color. He just sees skill.

Do you have someone like Don Haskins in your life? Someone who sees the best in you, and who brings out the best in you? Someone who calls you to be the person God put you on this earth to be?

In our scripture for today, we see Jesus do this for Nathanael. First of all Jesus goes to his home region of Galilee. He runs into Philip and makes an invitation. “Come and follow me.” Philip follows right away. He knows Jesus is the one they have been waiting for. So Philip goes to get his friend Nathanael. Philip says to Nathanael: “We’ve found the One Moses wrote of in the Law, the One preached by the prophets. It’s Jesus, Joseph’s son, the one from Nazareth!” 

Nathanael said, “Nazareth? You’ve got to be kidding.”

But Philip said, “Come, see for yourself.” Notice that Philip is not pushy. He does not try to coerce or convince Nathanael. I think Philip is so sure Jesus is the one that he knows once Nathanael sees him that he will know too. It is just so obvious to Philip.

But it is not so obvious. Nathanael, like Bobby Joe in the movie, is a skeptic. Whatever this out-of-towner with the funny accent is selling, Nathanael and Bobby Joe are not buying. 

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming he said, “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.”
You see Jesus is trying to establish a connection to Nathanael. But Nathanael will have none of it.
48 Nathanael said, “Where did you get that idea? You don’t know me.”
Just like Bobby Joe, Nathanael is resisting any sort of idea that Jesus might know him. Who does Jesus think he is waltzing into town and pretending that he knows what it’s like to be Nathanael? No one knows what it means to walk in the shoes of another person.
But then Jesus reminds them they have already met. Jesus answered, “One day, long before Philip called you here, I saw you under the fig tree.”
Now, something happens in that moment. Whatever it is, is not recorded fully in the text. All we get is this: 49 Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi! You are the Son of God, the King of Israel!”
What this means is that in Nathanael’s soul, down to the depths of his heart, in that moment he recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. Nathanael knew Jesus was the ONE that would lead him to God. From that moment on, Nathanael would follow Jesus anywhere and do anything for him. So much more than a player would give his heart and soul to his basketball coach, Nathanael gave Jesus his life in that moment.
50-51 Jesus tells him, “You’ve become a believer simply because I say I saw you one day sitting under the fig tree? You haven’t seen anything yet! Before this is over you’re going to see heaven open and God’s angels descending to the Son of Man and ascending again.”
Jesus promises that their life together is going to be amazing. 

What about you? Have you had that moment where you recognize Jesus as the ONE? Now I am respectful of other religions and I know that some people come to God through Muhammad or Buddha, but we are here because we are followers of Jesus. We have found a unique connection through Jesus of Nazareth. We may all go through times of doubt and skepticism. But we come back to Jesus. How did it happen for you? 

You may have a moment you can name, when you gave your life to Jesus. You can remember the day. You turned away from an old life and stepped into a new life, giving your life to the direction that God has in mind for you. If you have a day like that I celebrate that day with you. You, like Nathanael, saw the wonder and the truth of Jesus and said, “Yes, you are the one. I want to follow you. I want to put my trust in you because you will keep me close to God.” 

Others of you may be more like me. You grew up in a family of Jesus followers. Following Jesus is like breathing oxygen for me. I can’t really tell you a time when I didn’t identify as a Christian. Of course I have gone through times of doubt, but in the end I always put my trust back in Jesus. Because Jesus is the ONE who makes sense of the world for me. Jesus says love wins out over hate, truth wins out over lies, justice wins out over oppression, and good wins out over evil. I believe these things, and Jesus helps me believe. 

I have had mentors along the way who encourage me. We all need human beings who reveal Jesus to us. My mother embodies the patience and compassion of Jesus to me. She puts her trust in God. When I am at the end of my rope, I call my mom, and she gives me some of her rope. That is her being Jesus for me.

Do you have people that are Jesus for you? And point you to God? Who are they? Can you picture one of those people right now? I want you to try. Picture someone who is an example to you in what it means to put your trust in God. Someone who lives their life with a sense of contentment that you long for on a bad day. That person is for you, what Jesus was for Nathanael. Jesus pointed Nathanael to God. 

And here is the great thing, you can be that person for someone else. You can be the one. No, I’m not saying you have to be Jesus. But you can be like Jesus. And you can be a spiritual mentor to someone. You can encourage someone who is doubting and tell that person to have hope. You can be like Jesus was for Nathanael, and point the person to God.

How do we do that? By paying attention. We pay attention when people show us they are hurting, and then we show compassion. When we do that we are pointing them to God’s compassion because God is the source of our compassion. When someone is feeling discouraged and unlovable, we show them love. By our love, we are pointing them to God who is the source of all love. When someone is feeling lost and we encourage them to put their hope and their trust in God, we are pointing to God who is the source of our hope. 

We are the only hands and feet Jesus has on this earth now. We are the ones who point people to God. We get to invite them to live the lives God put them on this earth to live. That is what coach Don Haskins did for Bobby Joe Hill. The Coach invited Bobby Joe to step into the life for which God put him on this earth. That is what Jesus did for Nathanael. Someone did it for you. That is why you are here. You want to live the life for which God put you on this earth. 

Now, will you show the next person? You can be a spiritual mentor. Point someone to God by your actions. Live with compassion and love and hope and when you do, point others to God. This is how we change the world: when we live as Jesus lived. Amen.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

BELOVED by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

Probably my favorite author in the world is Henri Nouwen.  He was a priest and author of 39 books. After nearly twenty years of teaching at such places as the University of Notre Dame, Yale Divinity School, and Harvard Divinity School, he moved to Ontario Canada. For the next ten years he worked at the L’Arche Daybreak community with mentally and physically handicapped people. He provided direct care and was also the pastor for the community until his death in 1996. During his first year at Daybreak Community, Nouwen was paired with one of the core members, Adam Arnett, a young man with profound developmental disabilities. 

          Nouwen spent two hours every morning getting Adam out of bed, bathing him, shaving him, dressing him and feeding him breakfast. Adam could not speak and yet the two formed a deep friendship. Adam was at the center of the family life in the home where he lived. Nouwen called Adam “my friend, my teacher, my spiritual director, my counselor, my minister” (Adam: God’s Beloved By Henri Nouwen, p. 52). 
After Adam died, Nouwen wrote a book about their friendship called, Adam: God’s Beloved. Nouwen says that he was transformed by the two hours a day he spent with Adam. He was supposed to be caring for Adam but over time, he said, Adam became the teacher and the one who ministered to Nouwen. Sometimes he would wonder, without the ability to speak, could Adam pray or could Adam think? He realized he was comparing himself to Adam. Then it came to him. Nouwen wrote: Adam “had no ability or need to make any comparisons. He simply lived and by his life invited me to receive his unique gift, wrapped in weakness but given for my transformation…Adam was announcing to me that ‘being is more important than doing.’ While I was preoccupied with the way I was talked about or written about, Adam was quietly telling me [without speaking] that ‘God’s love is more important than the praise of people’….Adam couldn’t produce anything, had no fame to be proud of, couldn’t brag of any award or trophy. But by his very life, he was the most radical witness of the truth of our lives that I have ever encountered” (ibid, pp. 55-56). 

Adam reminded the great spiritual writer Henri Nouwen that we are all God’s beloved children. His vulnerabilities, which are so obvious, invited Henri to pay attention to his own vulnerabilities, which were not so obvious to others but were painfully obvious to Henri. Adam taught Henri that he was God’s beloved child, not for anything he wrote or said or did, but just because he was Henri. 

Henri writes that Adam had the ability to bring out this belovedness in all sorts of people. There were many visitors to the Daybreak community. One day, an unlikely visitor from New York City pulled up in a limousine. A thin woman dressed to the nines popped out. Her name was Cathy. She met with Henri and with Sister Sue Mosteller, the host of Daybreak and she told them she had been under the care of a psychiatrist for years for depression, but she could get no relief. He suggested she visit the Daybreak Community. To make a long story short, the woman was obsessed with comparing herself to others and of course, she always came up short. Even though she was wealthy, had a busy social life and fame, it was never enough. She would read the New York Times and see who was on the guest list at the White House and get depressed because her name was not on the list (ibid. pp. 71-72). 

A picture emerged of a woman who had lost everything. Though she was rich, she felt poor; she was famous but felt insecure. She was great but felt small (ibid, 72).  Nouwen writes that “Sue asked her, ‘Cathy do you believe that you are a good person simply because you are Cathy?’ “Tears came to her eyes. She said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t even know who I am without all the stuff that surrounds me. I don’t know what it would mean if people just loved me simply as Cathy. Would they? I often wonder” (ibid, pp. 72-73).

That night Henri and Sue sent Cathy to have dinner with Adam and the other core members of the Daybreak community and their assistants. Cathy was transformed by this dinner, this experience. After dinner she returned and told Henri that she had a really good time, that she felt cared for and accepted. There was a silly little game one of the men led and she one the prize of a chocolate bar. This wealthy woman was nearly giddy at winning a simple chocolate bar from a man named John. 

Henri writes that he could see by looking into her eyes that she was changed. This was not the same depressed woman who had gone to dinner. When she got home she called to say that her husband noticed a change in her and wanted to hear about what happened to her there. She told Henri, “I do not feel that awful depression that I felt before. Inside of me there is a new sense of God, and of God’s love for me” (ibid, p. 75). 

Years later, Henri presided at the funeral of Cathy. He said that “God blessed Cathy not only in her gifts but also in her poverty, because of her willingness to receive a gift of healing from Henri and a chocolate bar from John.” Nouwen writes: “I don’t know if [her family and friends] could understand what I said, but I wanted to tell everyone that a very poor man had done something miraculous for a very poor woman” (ibid, p. 76).

Again, Adam in his simple vulnerability, helped Cathy get in touch with her vulnerability and humanity. In that simple act, she felt a connection to him, she felt loved. She felt connected to God and she knew herself to be a beloved child of God. 

She knew that she was beloved because we are all beloved. God loves each and every one of us the same – as much as God can love anyone. This is the promise we get in the story of Jesus’ baptism.

John the Baptist was baptizing the people. They were confessing their sins. He was telling them to turn away from their old lives and to turn to God. And then Jesus comes along. We believe him to be the one without sin, and yet even Jesus says to John: “Baptize me. I am one of you. I am vulnerable too. I am human and I need to be washed clean.” I am vulnerable.  So John baptizes him. 

And when he does, the heavens are torn apart and the Holy Spirit comes on him like a dove and a voice comes from heaven: “This is my Son, my beloved, with him I am well pleased.” 

Here is the thing, God says that same thing to every one of us. Every one of us is claimed as God’s beloved child, because we are sons and daughters of God. God loves us. We don’t have to earn that love. The rich don’t get any more of that love than the poor because we all get it. A vulnerable man who can’t speak and can’t dress himself is beloved of God. A rich woman who is filled with self-doubt and fear is beloved of God. A priest and theology professor who deals with depression is beloved of God. You are beloved of God.

What holds you back? What holds you back from believing that you are beloved? What makes you feel unloved? Are you not smart enough? Are you not compassionate enough? Are you not generous enough to be deserving of God’s love? Perhaps you are not kind enough. What makes you think that you are so much worse that everyone else on the planet, that God would single you out as the one person on the planet not to love.         
It is God’s nature to love. God can’t keep from loving us. So, hear the good news. You are God’s beloved child. Nothing can separate you from God’s love for you. Nothing. So receive God’s love and be thankful. Amen.