Sunday, July 26, 2015

To Be Blessed by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

Do you know about Park(ing) Day? It happens in cities when businesses and community groups turn parking spaces into parks for a day. The parking spaces are whimsical and fun. Some raise awareness about environmental issues. Some are just cute and silly. In Cleveland, on Park(ing) Day, a church called Embody, wanted to embody the presence of God for the stressed out office workers who were walking down the street in a busy office district, so they set up a parking space as a spiritual escape. They had percussion instruments for drumming, and a yoga mat for meditation. There was a place where you could write a prayer request and put it in a little cubby with other prayer requests. But my favorite part was the blessings. The pastor and some lay members of Embody Church stood near the parking spot with a simple sign around their necks that said “free blessings” and that is what they would offer: free blessings, to anyone who would come. And come they did. Office workers, and mothers with babies, professionals, and those living on the street. They came, and asked for blessings. And Pastor Kristina her church members offered blessings, in the name of Jesus. What a gift. What a gift to God’s weary people. To offer blessings.
In our scripture for today, a woman offers a blessing to Jesus. It’s sort of backwards because all the time people were coming to Jesus to ask for a blessing. But on this day, a common servant woman offers Jesus a blessing. He is visiting in the home of Simon Peter. And so the scripture says: a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table.  The type of oil used was oil used to anoint someone for burial. The woman somehow knew that Jesus’ death was imminent.
The disciples react negatively to her action. They complain that the oil is costly and the money she spent was wasted. The money should have been spent to care for the poor. Jesus corrects the disciples and explains that there will always be time to care for the poor but he signals that this is a one-time only experience he is heading for. Once again, the disciples are missing the point. This unnamed woman gets it.
She performs an act of great love. She is blessing Jesus. Who knows how she got the money to buy the oil. She might have spent her life savings. She might have borrowed money from family and friends. But in her heart she knew she wanted to give this blessing to her Master.
We don’t know the back story here. Maybe Jesus had blessed her in one of his many times of healing and blessing the crowds. Maybe she had heard his Sermon on the Mount. Obviously, she had been moved by his teaching. And somehow she knew the end was near for him and she wanted to bless him for burial. This brave woman decided to break cultural protocol and burst into dinner at Simon Peter’s house in order to give a blessing to Jesus. What a gift.
Jesus said that what she did would be remembered. Sadly, her name is not remembered. But her act is remembered. Her act of blessing and her love for Jesus is recorded in scripture as an example to us.
So today, our question is this: how will we bless Jesus with our lives? How will we be a blessing to one another as a way to honor Jesus? You see, that’s what it means to be a follower of Jesus: it means that we bless one another.
There are countless ways to bless one another. Today, let me offer a few suggestions:
1)     Be gentle with one another. This may be a variation on the Golden Rule of do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The common vernacular would be to cut your brother or sister some slack. Life is hard. People get beat down in all sorts of ways. What if we decided that rather than beating one another down, we would build one another up? I think that’s what Jesus did. He found people who were bruised and gave them encouragement. Let’s be more like Jesus and be gentle with one another. That would be a blessing.
2)    Learn to forgive. No one is perfect. God knows I am not and neither are you. Learn to forgive yourself and learn to forgive others. Rather than being so critical of our friends and loved ones, what if we learned to forgive? Maybe they are doing the best they can do with the hand they were dealt. I could spend all day thinking about things I would like to improve about my husband, but at the end of the day I know he’s a good person. I chose to marry him. He puts up with me and all my faults, so maybe I can bless him by forgiving him for not being perfect.
3)    Be proactive in your kindness. What a blessing it would be if we all decided to be kind to one another and to make an effort to be kind. Could you make an effort to thank your partner for doing the things he or she does to make your house run smoothly? The things we take for granted. Could you thank your co-workers for doing their job? These are simple acts of kindness that become blessings. Could you go out of your way to do something kind for a neighbor? Mow their grass, take their trash cans in for them? Weed their garden? Make them dinner. I know! These are big things. What would the world be like if we did simple acts of kindness for one another?
4)    Break down walls. What a blessing it is when we break down walls of difference. Who is there is your life whom it’s hard for you to like? Is it someone who is different from you in some way? Someone from a different culture? Economic class? Race? Age? What is the wall between you and that person? As an act of blessing could you pray for that person and for their family? Could you pray for their well-being? It is hard to have a wall between you and another person when you are praying for them. Or perhaps you could make some move toward reconciliation. Maybe you could invite that person to have a cup of coffee or join you for lunch? Don’t get into a debate about the things over which you disagree. Just try to find common ground in your common humanity.
A blessing is a simple act of bringing the presence of God into a relationship. The woman who anointed Jesus was calling upon God to be with him as he moved toward the end of his life. She wanted him to feel the blessing of God.
My friends from Embody Church, offered blessings to people on the street in Cleveland, because they know that people are busy and get worn down. We forget that God’s blessings are all around us. We need to stop and be reminded that God is with us. We need to bless one another and be blessed.
This is what it means to be a Christian community. We bless one another and we receive blessings.
What blessing do you need today? It is probably the same blessing your neighbor needs. We need the blessings of gentleness, forgiveness, kindness, the breaking down of walls, and so many other blessings. Jesus came to bless us and to encourage us to bless one another. He inspired the woman so that she was brave to bless him. He said that her gift of blessing would be remembered.
Today I want to invite you to bless one another. We’re going to share in a simple ritual of blessing. I’m going to model it for you now.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

INSIDE OUT by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

There is a new Disney/Pixar movie called “Inside Out.” The movie follows a little girl named Riley as she goes through the challenge of moving to a new town. The movie is told through the view point of her emotions. There are actual characters: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger. The power of the movie is this. We see how these emotions play out within Riley. We see not just Riley on the outside. We see her on the inside. 

Because there is a difference, isn’t there? There is a difference between the person we are on the outside and the person we are on the inside. We all try to put up a front on the outside. We try to be perfect. We try to seem like we have it all together. We try to be beautiful. We try to pretend that our relationships are all going great. We pretend that we know what we are doing at work even though inside we know that there are some things we really need help with but we are too afraid to ask for help. On the outside we pretend we don’t have addictions, but in the privacy of our own homes, we smoke, we drink, we overeat, we shop on the television & internet and we gamble. On the outside we pretend to be “fine.” Right? When someone asks how you are, the acceptable answer is “fine” even though you might be depressed, or exhausted, or scared, or lost or about anything but fine. The truth is, there is a disconnect between what we say we are on the outside and how we really are on the inside.

Jesus knows this. He knows the truth. One day he had a conversation with a woman from Samaria (John 4:1-30, 39-42 The Message for those following along from afar) . Now, if you were here last week you will know that this conversation is unusual. Just last week I told you that Jesus focused his mission on the Jews and did not spend much time with the Gentiles. The Samaritans were some of the Gentiles. So it is very unusual that Jesus would talk to this woman. Also, Jewish men did not talk to women and they didn’t talk to Gentiles, but here you go. Jesus has a lengthy conversation with this Samaritan woman. Go figure.

He and his disciples are traveling through Samaria and he stops to rest by a well. It’s in the middle of the day. His disciples go into town for some food and Jesus is waiting here by the well. A woman comes up to draw some water and Jesus asks her for a drink. She is surprised because as I have already mentioned, no self- respecting Jewish man would talk to a Samaritan woman, let alone ask for anything. 

He starts a conversation with her in which he reveals that he knows she has had five husbands and she is now living with a sixth man who is not her husband. He offers her living water and says if she drinks from the water that he has to offer that she will never be thirsty. She says, “Give me some of that water. I want some of that water.” 

They talk about worship and where is the true place to worship because the Jews worship in the temple in Jerusalem and her people worship on this mountain. Jesus tells her: It does not matter where you worship “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.  That is who God is looking for, people who worship out of themselves.  

Their conversation is interrupted when the disciples return. They can’t believe Jesus is talking to this Samaritan woman. She takes the hint and leaves. But she goes back to the town and tells the people “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?”

She tells the people that Jesus knows me inside and out. You see, Jesus gets past her façade. He gets past the person she is trying to be on the outside. He sees her emotions on the inside, like in the movie “Inside Out” when we get to see the feelings Riley has inside of her. Jesus knows the woman has had several husbands. Most women go to the well early in the morning when it is cool. The reason this woman is at the well in the heat of the day is because she is ashamed of herself. She wants to go to the well when no one else will be there.  She doesn’t want to see anyone, where she won’t be shamed. Jesus knows all of this. And yet he still accepts the woman. He has a conversation with her about God and about how to worship. These conversations are to be reserved for men in that culture, but he treats the woman with respect as he talks to her. When she says that her people are waiting for the Messiah he says: “I am he, you don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.” It’s a big deal that he reveals his true identity to her. 

And the amazing thing about this story is that when the woman goes back into town and tells the people what happened they turn to Jesus because of her witness. The scripture says: “ Many of the Samaritans from that village committed themselves to him because of the woman’s witness: “He knew all about the things I did. He knows me inside and out!” This was not a woman to be trusted, but because of her witness, they turn to Jesus.  She is an evangelist.  

They asked him to stay on, so Jesus stayed two days. A lot more people entrusted their lives to him when they heard what he had to say. They said to the woman, “We’re no longer taking this on your say-so. We’ve heard it for ourselves and know it for sure. He’s the Savior of the world!”

But it was her witness, “He knows me inside and out” that turned the people toward Jesus.  You see, we want to be known for who we really are. We want to be known inside and out and accepted for who we really are, inside. That is what Jesus does for us. Jesus knows us inside and out and loves us anyway. 

This is why confession is so important. In prayers of confession, we tell Jesus who we really are. Of course, he already knows. Just like he knew that that woman had had several husbands, Jesus knows all the secrets of our hearts. But it helps us to clear out all the bad stuff when we confess to God. We name the things that give us shame and then we let them go. God does not want us to carry around things in secret. So once we confess them to God we can let them go. This is letting what is on the inside come to the outside. “God I said a hurtful thing to my friend. I am sorry. God, I have been giving into my addiction and I need your help to stop. God I did this thing that I know was wrong, and I need your forgiveness.” Confession is important.

Being true to who we are on the inside is also so important. We all struggle with this. We all have a façade. We think we need to be perfect on the outside, but there are no perfect people. Jesus invites us to be authentic on the outside, to let our vulnerabilities show. This means we are honest with one another. When we make mistakes, we admit it. We don’t try to cover it up with excuses, or by blaming someone else. We just own up to it: “I made a mistake and I am sorry.” 

Another thing we need to do is ask for help when we need it. One of the mistakes “perfect” people make is that they don’t know how to ask for help. They try to do everything themselves because if you ask for help you are showing vulnerability. Think about it, even Jesus had a team of 12 disciples. He understood that everyone needs help. It is a mistake to try to look so strong on the outside that we never ask for help. The best teams are made up of people with a variety of gifts. So in order to have a good team you have to admit that you have some strengths and some weaknesses and that there are other people who have strengths in the areas where you are weak. It’s okay to ask for help.

In the movie, “Inside Out,” the little girl, Riley, is going through a rough time, because her family has moved. She closes off. She does not let her parents know what is going on. She loses her Joy and Sadness takes over. It is only when she lets her inside feelings come to the outside that her parents are able to help her and she is able to find her Joy again.

In our scripture for today Jesus is trying to help the woman find meaning in her life. She has messed her life up pretty good. But Jesus shows her that you can never mess up your life so much that there is no room left for God. God will always love you and give you a fresh start. 

God accepts us, with all the mistakes and brokenness we have inside. We can let what’s inside show on the outside and God will still love us. Remember what the woman said, “I met a man who knew me inside out” and that man still loved and accepted her. 

We all have parts of ourselves that we hope no one sees. We think they are unloveable parts. Maybe we need to confess some sins and let go of some things. Or maybe we just need to let go to self-doubt. Whatever it is, Jesus sees it and Jesus still loves us. That is the good news. Jesus loves us inside and out.   Amen.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Persistent Faith by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

On Wednesday afternoon, Carolyn Wilson and her partner went to the Courthouse and wanted to get married. They filled out the paper work and paid their fee. They went to the court room of the judge on duty and they were turned away. The bailiff said that judge did not do “these kinds of marriages”. But they were persistent. They believed in their right to marry, so they went back to the Clerk’s office where they had gotten their license. And when one judge would not do his duty, another judge stepped forward and married them. They had their wedding, but it should not have been so hard. They should not have had to suffer the indignity of being turned away. It hurts to be an outsider, an outsider turned away when you are asking for something you want or need. 

Today’s scripture (Matthew 15:21-28 from The Message for those following along from afar) is about another woman who needed something. She needed healing for her daughter. She was an outsider too. She was a Gentile, Gentiles are considered unclean by the Jews. Jesus was a Jew and even he considered this woman an outsider.

You see, Jesus, though he was God, he was also a human being, so he had human limitations. He was on a mission to draw as many people as possible into the love of God during his time on earth. I think he knew he would have a short time. As it happened, his ministry was only three years. Can you imagine having a career only 3 years long? So early on, he told his disciples they would focus on the Jews. As he was sending them out he said; “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Mt 10:5-6). 

Now later, of course, the apostle Paul spread the mission to the Gentiles, but Jesus, for the most part was focused on the Jews. They were the insiders.  So today’s story brings him to the area known as Tyre and Sidon. It’s a bit odd because this was a Gentile territory. A Cannanite woman comes up, this would be a sort of country woman, also a Gentile. Something strange happens. Jesus excludes this woman. We don’t really like to see this side of Jesus. Because we like the all-loving, all-inclusive side of Jesus. But he was still a man and still a Jew. Jewish men did not talk to Gentile women. 

So, in this case he sort of disses the woman. She comes up and says: “Mercy, Master, Son of David! My daughter is cruelly afflicted by an evil spirit.” And the text says he ignores her. This is unusual behavior for Jesus. Then, his disciples, being Jewish men, show that have no time for this outsider woman. 

They say to Jesus: “She’s bothering us. Would you please take care of her? She’s driving us crazy.” Jesus refused, telling them, “I’ve got my hands full dealing with the lost sheep of Israel.” Basically he is reminding them that his mission is to the Jews and he does not have time for Gentiles. He is focused on his mission. He is called to bring the message of God to the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and he is not going to be distracted by the likes of this woman. Again, it is hard for us to see Jesus like this. It is really out of character. 

The woman knows this is out of character for Jesus too, and she will have none of that. Apparently, she has heard about Jesus. She knows about his healing powers. She has a daughter afflicted with an evil spirit. And she wants healing. So a second time she addresses Jesus as “Master” showing him respect and reverence. She says, “Master, help me.”

Then he says something really cruel. Jesus says to her: “It’s not right to take bread out of children’s mouths and throw it to dogs.” He means that the people of Israel are the children and he is reminding the woman that he came for them. He is calling the Gentiles dogs. 

I can tell you that scholars really don’t know what to make of this. They really don’t know what to do with it.  It is really uncharacteristic of Jesus to be so blunt and so rude. It is not our Jesus.  But there is it in scripture. Jesus refers to the woman and her people as dogs. 

Maybe Jesus is tired. He is only human. Well, he’s God too, but he’s human. And humans can only be pushed so far. I think this is one of the reasons why I like this story, because we see the human side of Jesus. He just loses his cool. 

Then, we see this really strong mother instinct come out in this woman. Lord help us when a mother is trying to get help for her child. Woe be onto those who can help a mother but are trying not to help.  She is not going to stand for Jesus calling her a dog. She knows in her heart that Jesus is better than that. And she calls him on the carpet. She says, “Well, even the dogs get the scraps from under the table.” 

She demands something from her master. She wants healing for her daughter and she will not leave until she gets it. She is like those two women who showed up at the courthouse in Toledo on Wednesday to get married. They knew it was their right to get married and they were not going to leave until they were married, even if one judge refused to do it. The woman in the story is persistent. She demands healing for her daughter. As the story goes, Jesus gave in. He said: “Oh, woman, your faith is something else. I will give you what you ask.” Right then her daughter became well. 

Her persistent faith paid off. Jesus answered her prayer. He knew that God’s healing love would extend to the Gentiles too eventually, he knew that. So why not give a little piece of it today? So the woman, who was a double outsider (both a woman and a Gentile), got healing for her daughter.

Do you ever feel like a double outsider? Do you ever feel like God’s love is for someone else, but not for you? Do you ever feel like you are banging on the door trying to get God’s attention, and no one is answering the door?

This story is for you. This brave woman is your role model. She just kept saying to Jesus: “My daughter needs healing, and I know you are the one to give it to her.” She was like the two women who went to the courthouse to get married on Wednesday and weren’t going to leave until they were married. If one judge would not do it then they waited until there was another judge who would. They found a way. Persistence found a way.

What do you need? What do you need from Jesus? Do you need healing? Do you need direction? Do you need justice? Perhaps you need forgiveness? I believe Jesus will give us any of those things when we ask for them. We just have to be persistent. Sometimes forces in the world get between us and Jesus.  For the woman in the story, Jesus’ own human nature got in the way for a minute. He saw her as an outsider. But then he came to his senses and saw her as who she really is, a beloved child of God, a child of God whose daughter was in need of healing. The truth is this: to God we are never outsiders. And to Jesus we are never really outsiders. We are all inside the healing love of God. 

What do you need? What do you need from Jesus today? I want to invite you to ask for it. And to be persistent in your asking. Just ask for it today, and trust that you will receive it. It may take a little while, but put your trust in God. Ask for what you need and trust that Jesus will give it to you.  You can take it to God yourself, or you can ask here or elsewhere for help taking this to God.  But you can ask and be persistent, what you need will come.