Sunday, September 27, 2015

Who Do You Say That I Am? by Judith Frank & Kurt Young

    In our story from scripture, Mark 8:27-38 from the New Revised Standard Version for those following along from afar,  Jesus and the disciples were on a long walk.  This was a trip of about 30 miles, and remember they are walking, it would take awhile.  So Jesus knew he had this captive audience.  But he also knew he had a lot to teach them in the time he had left. 

    So, he then began teaching them, but in a little bit different way.  He asked them a question:  Who do they say I am?   The answers varied -  John the Baptist who was his cousin, was one name.  Another was Elijah, a prophet, well respected, who was taken up into heaven.  And the names of other prophets, too numerous and minor for the scripture writer to jot down and bring to us. 

    But they never used the names those in power might have called him.  Jesus, was needless to say, not a friend to those in power. So they might have used rabble-rouser, troublemaker, or just trouble. To quote a saying from the time, “ nothing good ever came out of Nazareth”.

    Now this is not the first time that the origin of Jesus was a topic of discussion with the disciples.  Previously, the disciples and Jesus had been on the water when a huge storm came up and they feared for their lives.  Jesus awoke, chastised them for their lack of faith, and calmed the storm.  They wondered who is he that he can calm the storm?  And they again went to Moses, Elijah, etc.  One even went to Messiah.  But he told them not to tell others. 

    The reason is that they are not ready.  They are thinking in worldly terms.  They are expecting a great military or political leader, an over-thrower of power, a new king.  And boy are they expecting to come out well in that, walking the corridors of power with the new king.  But Jesus explains, No, he is going to be rejected, suffer under torture, be killed, but rise again in 3 days.

    Most definitely not what Peter was expecting.  He may not have even heard the rise from the dead in 3 days part.  Peter rebuked Jesus.  He urged him not to follow God’s plan.  Much like Satan in the wilderness Peter tempts him.  Jesus response was simple“get behind me Satan”.  Those are four words available to us all when we are ready to sin, to do something wrong.  When we get cut off in the car, we can give a, shall we call it, a one hand salute, or say  “get behind me Satan”, Pastor Judith says that is her approach and then she laughs and forgets what she was mad about. 

    Jesus said that because Peter was thinking not of Godly things but worldly things.  He was more worried about the things of the world, not the things of heaven.  Pay attention to the God things not the this world things.  They may seem more important but over the long haul you’ll find the Godly things are much more important. 

    It’s hard being a Christian.  Anyone who is selling you the path of Jesus as being easy, is selling you something besides God.  The path is a hard one, but when we walk with God it’s worth it. On that long walk, Jesus taught the disciples some serious lessons.  How to work on the heavenly, not the worldly.  He reminded them they were going to need to deny themselves , take up your cross, follow me.

    Do you know what that means?  Denying yourself?  It means to quit the me, me, me things.  Oh, the me, me, me  feels good, but we are not helping ourselves, and we are hurting each other.  It’s actually a physical and mental taking from others. 

    What about to” take up our Cross”?  Now, when we hear take up the cross, I live 2,000 years afterwards.  Peter had not heard of Jesus being crucified on a cross.  We know what that means. Peter didn’t.      Follow me , following the path of Jesus, follow the example of Jesus. 

    John Wesley spoke of taking up the path every day, every hour, every way.  Give of ourselves to others.  When we serve others, give to others, we are doing this.  When we share of our excess, when we love our neighbors, we follow the way.

    The only thing that stands between God and me, is me.  Author unknown.   How many times do we not turn to God.  How many times do we fall into the wrong ways. When we say we don’t need God.     That doesn’t mean we won’t face problems.  The path means we won’t face them alone. 

    When Jesus said “Who do you say I am?”  If he was here right now, what would you say? Congregation:   My Lord, My Savior, My Redeemer, My Comforter.  All great answers.  Pastor Judith was cleaning a room found book mark with several of the names of Jesus including Alpha & Omega, Emanuel - God with Us, Prince of Peace, Lamb of God, Anointed One, Holy & Righteous one, Teacher, 

    Jesus is the I am.  I am with you always.  Everything around us was made by God.  It needs taken care of, rather than destroy it.  We need to take small steps in the path of Jesus.  We need take the small steps for us in that path, and grown in our faith, we can then change mankind, one step at time, one person at a time. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Treasure Huntin' by Rosie Best (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

“This is why we get nothing done!” You might be thinking that these words were spoken to a child who was asking for more attention than was available, but alas no… Romeo was making it very difficult to get a set of coherent thoughts together and was actually more intent on playing than on letting Mommy work on the sermon for today. At 12 weeks of age, Romeo is very needy, and mommy was very busy trying to balance the needs of the sermon with the article review that is due on Monday night and the discussion board post that must be completed by midnight tonight. Romeo doesn’t care about all the deadlines that mommy is facing… he just wants her to play. He’s a puppy.

            Have you ever had one of those days where, in spite of your best efforts, you aren’t getting anything done? Sometimes it isn’t that there are external obstacles in the way, it’s just that we don’t have the energy, or we feel totally depleted of all our resources. Have you ever had one of those days? How about weeks… years…? The first time I preached at the Village Church was before I started attending the church, it was February 2012. I was living in Columbus at the time, because I was doing some study at THE OSU. I gave a strong testimony of how God had met me in my life and in my journey to understand who I was as a woman who loved a woman. I didn’t know that about two weeks later my world was about to fall apart.
Without getting into the details of all that happened, within a month of preaching that sermon, I was living in my friend’s basement, my hopes of gaining my PhD in theatre in tatters, and my professional aspirations in the toilet. It was one of the most horrible experiences of my life, and it left me floundering. You’d think it would make me hesitant to preach at the Village again! But here I am, as testimony to God’s grace, provision, and comfort. I’d like to say that it was a swift recovery, and that I was able to put the pieces of my life back together easily, but that wouldn’t be true. In fact, the situation that I was in got way worse before it ever started to get better. Insult was added to injury and along the way I lost some friends who I had previously relied upon. I felt utterly bereft, and adrift in the world.

            During the first week of this ‘new normal’ as I started to call it, I accompanied my friends to a church that I wouldn’t normally attend (the theology wouldn’t welcome my ‘choices’ in life) and the first song was Kelly Clarkson’s “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I listened to the song in tears…I wasn’t wanting to be strong, and to be honest, I felt like I was dying. Then came the sermon, and it was the verses that we read today from 2 Corinthians 4, about being crushed and not counted out.  As we walked back to the car, my friend John leaned over to me and said, “I hope you don’t mind, I texted the pastor about your situation!” He was joking, of course, but it was uncanny how God had spoken to me through the sermon and without the specific use of my name, I had been assured that God was with me, even if I felt totally abandoned in that moment.  Have you ever been to one of those services with hundreds of people, and the sermon is like a message straight to you?

            It would be wonderful if we could be assured that coming to God meant that we would never have any difficulties or disappointments, but that wouldn’t be true. God doesn’t promise us that we will not have struggles but rather that God’s presence will be fully with us in those struggles.

Back when I was 20, I was asked to describe my walk with God. I was interviewing for a position with Youth for Christ back in England. My father had died about 6 months before the interview, and I asked the panel if they were familiar with the “Footprints” poem, where the person is on the beach and sees two sets of footprints, except when the person is going through really dark times, the person asks God, “Why did you leave me when things got so difficult?” and God replies, “I never left you, those were the times I carried you.” So as I answered the panel of interviewers, I said, “I am being carried.” It was a humble and honest statement. I had no sense of victory, I just had a sense that God was with me in my struggle.

            There is, I believe, a distinct lack of humility in the proclamations of some believers in this day and age. Some shout so loudly with sentiments that smack of arrogance, not humility. You know the type of expressions? Where the shouter seems more fueled by hatred, and anger, than by genuine concern and grace. And lest you think I’m talking about the old established churches, this lack of humility can be evident as much in young churches as it can in old.

            So it’s really important to remember that it IS through God’s mercy that we have any ministry that we have. It’s not because God’s been impressed with our resume or our degrees. We are fragile and vulnerable people – which makes us the best kind of people to reach out to other fragile and vulnerable people. Jars of clay are not vaults of safety – they are prone to being broken. And yet, God has assured us through this passage, that we are not going to be crushed or destroyed even though we may feel hard pressed, perplexed and persecuted.

            In this scripture, we’re invited to learn to say the truth plainly. That means that, when you hear people say “God hates the sin but loves the sinner,” we need to say “God loves, period.”  I stand here, not to say look at me, but look at Jesus. He is mighty in me, I am not mighty.  The light shines out of the darkness. Whenever there is more darkness than light, it means God is excavating.

            I’m prone to anger when I see injustice, and I forget to stop and pray for the person who is persecuting others. It’s not about them, it’s about me.  What is Jesus trying to call attention to in me? I need to be humble, to let the treasure speak for itself, what God has put in my heart, to show that the all-surpassing power is from God, not from us.

            If you are dealing with depression or anxiety, you might have days when you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel without assuming that there is, in fact, a train coming.  There is still so much stigma about mental health issues.  This is part of my fragility, that God has made me someone who does suffer from depression, and yet, he shines through me. We need to embrace our fragility, in order that we can shine more beautifully as God has made us.   I think today’s reading reminds us of this. But I also believe that we need to look out for those around us who might need some help along the way. They might be doing the equivalent of living in the basement, and need us to check on them. Let’s be open to one another with grace, humility, and a hug if necessary.  And if they tell us of their struggles, have the courage to say, “Me, too.”  Amen.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

“Chosen by God” by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

Do you remember what it was like back in Elementary School when you would have to pick teams for some game? Two captains would be chosen and then they would get to choose, one by one, who they would choose for their team.  Can we all just groan together?  The process is excruciating. I was usually picked near the last. I was never good at sports. It was always such a relief to finally be chosen, but the waiting, oh the waiting, was terrible. 

Today we have a story about being chosen. Jesus is ready to begin his ministry. He comes to John the Baptizer, the one who has been preparing the way for Jesus. Jesus comes to him and asks to be baptized. And this is how the Gospel writer Mark describes the baptism:

“The moment [Jesus] came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God’s Spirit, looking like a dove, come down on him. Along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”

Jesus was chosen for God’s team. He was marked with God’s love and named the pride of God’s life. Friends, this is what happens to us in baptism. We are chosen first. No one else is ahead of us in line. No one is more worthy. No one is more beloved than us. We are the pride of God’s life. 

This is why we baptize infants and children. We don’t believe that you have to prove that you are worthy to God. You don’t have to decide you want to be a follower of Jesus first. Of course, later it’s important for us to say “yes” to God. But in baptism it’s all about God saying “yes” to us. 

When you are baptized, God chooses you to be God’s child. God says: “I will bless you. I will give you grace. I will be with you. My spirit will live in you. You will never be alone. You are my chosen child.” 

One of my favorite writers, Henri Nouwen, wrote a book about what it means to be chosen by God. The book is called Life of the Beloved. The book begins with a voice.

They say that babies can hear the voice of their mother and father in the womb. Even before we are born, we can hear the voices of those around us. So the parents in the home, preparing for our birth, are the voices most familiar to us when we are born: the mother who carries us, and whatever parent is living in the home and whose voice we hear. That’s why crazy excited birth parents talk to the tummy of a pregnant woman, singing songs, reading stories saying sweet soothing words, and telling silly stories. We want the child to be born, feeling welcome, and hearing our familiar voices, and having warm and fuzzy feelings. We want the child to feel chosen.

The story of Jesus’ ministry begins with a voice. That voice came down from heaven and said “You are chosen.” God’s voice was heard when Jesus was baptized. Not just any voice: THE VOICE. The voice of God saying: you are my chosen child. I have got to believe that Jesus carried that voice with him throughout the next three years of his ministry. What do you think?  

When people were challenging his authority, and questioning his actions and his motives, do you think he might have paused to remember that voice? On the day of his baptism the heavens opened and God’s voice said, “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” 

You know sometimes the world tells us one thing, but God tells us we are chosen. I think we would do well to listen to God!

But we don’t, do we? What voices do you hear? From the time we are children, we all hear voices, don’t we? We hear human voices of judgment and criticism. The loudest voices of all become those of self-rejection.

What are some of those voices you have been listening to all of your life?
  • You’re not good enough for my team
  • I don’t choose you, I choose another
  • You’re not loveable
  • You’re not worthy
We all listen to those voices and we internalize that negativity.  But we don’t have to. There is another voice. There is another voice. The soft gentle voice, the bold courageous voice of God deep inside says: you are chosen and you are loved. You don’t have to give in to self rejection any more. 

Every one of us has people in our lives that have encouraged us. We have people who have loved us. You have people who have told you that you are important to them, people who have told you that you matter. You have experienced the joy of knowing that someone values you. You have heard that voice that says you are chosen. 

But for some reason, it is so much easier for us to listen to the one human voice that say we are worthless, than to a hundred human voices that say we are of value. And we think to ourselves, if that person who says they love me, could see my innermost being, the darkest side of me, would they really still love me? 

And so, Henri Nouwen writes, we continue on this eternal quest for something that will make us feel whole: some book, some fitness program, some perfect life partner, a great job, anything that will make us feel worthy. The compulsiveness keeps us busy, but it just keeps us moving forward toward burn out. This is the way to spiritual death.

He writes: We “don’t have to kill ourselves (p. 30), because We are chosen,  We are the Beloved. This is the simple truth. That voice of acceptance is the only voice we need to listen to.  God says, “I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child” (p 31). 

“Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper” (p. 31). 

Friends this is why Jesus came: to show us to this well of being chosen. So often, we stumble around listening to that voice of criticism and judgment. God is standing here ready to speak in that soft tender voice: “It’s ok, you are my child. I made you, and I love you. I know every hair of your head, every mistake you have made and every mistake you will make, and I still love you. I just want to be in relationship with you. Don’t turn your back on me.” 

So, will you say “yes” to this life and “yes” to this voice? When the voices of self-rejection start getting louder and louder, will you tell them to hush, so you can hear God’s voice? Because, you see, we get to choose.

And God wants us to choose this life – the life of being the chosen by God. We are God’s chosen children, loved by God. Remember this. Claim this. Live this. We are God’s chosen children.  Amen.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

We Follow Jesus by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

Imagine we are meeting for the first time. Perhaps we are at a mutual friend’s backyard BBQ. Or maybe we are at a picnic for all the people who work for the same company. We are having a casual conversation. You say, “Cheri, tell me about yourself.” And I say, “I have a husband, and two kids, we live in the Old West End, and I’m a Christian.” That tells you a lot. You know I’m straight. You know I’m a mother. If you know anything about the Old West End you know I love urban and diverse living, or maybe I’m just into old houses. But what does it say to you when I say I’m a Christian? Wow. That can mean lots of things, right? It can mean I’m a Bible thumper. It can mean I’m judgmental. It can mean I fight for prayer in the schools. Or maybe it means I am a pacifist. Maybe I don’t play cards, smoke or cuss. Maybe it means I love all people and think we should all be treated with dignity and compassion. Maybe I love creation and work to protect our environment. Maybe I know we are all imperfect people and I have a heart for broken people in need of God’s forgiveness. Saying I’m a Christian can mean all sorts of things. If you really want to know what I mean when I say I’m a Christian, you really have to ask me what I mean by that, right?
One day, Jesus was with his disciples. It was a turning point in his ministry. He decided to ask them: “Who do people say that I am?” Meaning what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? “Some say ‘John the Baptizer,’” they said. “Others say ‘Elijah.’ Still others say ‘one of the prophets.’”
This meant that the people in the crowds thought that Jesus was pointing the way to the Messiah. The Jewish people had been waiting for the Messiah – a Savior who would make life better for them – who would draw them closer to God. A Messiah would make things right in the world and establish God’s reign on earth. The people thought Jesus was another prophet preparing the way for this Messiah. They didn’t realize he WAS the Messiah.
Then Jesus asked the crucial question to his disciples. “Who do YOU say that I am?”
Peter gave the answer: “You are the Christ, the Messiah.”
This shows that the disciples had figured it out. They knew that he was the Son of God, the one who had come to redeem the world.
But then Jesus did a kind of peculiar thing. He told them to keep this quiet. It was not time for the news to get out.
Scripture says that “Jesus then began explaining things to them: “It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive.” He said this simply and clearly so they couldn’t miss it.
32-33 But Peter grabbed him in protest. Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. “Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works.”
Peter did not want to hear that Jesus would have to suffer and die. Jesus had to put Peter in his place. He had to show his authority over Peter.
But then Jesus goes on to explain what it means to be one of his followers. This is what it means to be a Christian.
“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?
38 “If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I’m leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you’ll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels.”
Self-sacrifice is the way to saving yourself. This made no more sense to them at the time than it makes to us now. They were expecting a Messiah to be like a King -- someone to rule with power and wealth. These are things we value today too. Money and power are what we aspire to in our world. We know that with money and power comes respect and prestige. People listen to you when you have money and power. After all, money talks.
What do we tell our children? Get a good education so you can get a good job and make plenty of money. Money will give you security. Who has power in our society? Big business because they run the economy. Who controls the decision making in Washington DC? Those who have the money to lobby the decision makers.
Here is the problem. Money and power fail us. Our Congress in Washington is the most dysfunctional institution on the planet. Wall Street is filled with corruption. When the stock market crashes, the wealthy are left in a panic because they have put all their faith in things of this world. And things of this world will always fail us.
Jesus came to offer us another way. Jesus said “Don’t run from suffering, embrace it.” Why did he say that? Because in our suffering, we find our humanity. In our suffering, we learn to care for one another. We learn compassion. And most of all, we remember to depend on God. When we suffer, we realize that we can’t make it on our own. WE NEED GOD. And when we suffer, God weeps with us. God does not cause the suffering in order to teach us a lesson. But when the suffering comes, Jesus says, we should embrace it, because the suffering draws us closer to God.
We are coming up on the anniversary of September 11. Do you remember where you were that day? Do you remember watching those images on the television? We as a nation were terrorized. We could not move. We could not take our eyes off the pictures. We wanted to help. We wanted to donate blood to help the victims. Some of us wanted to jump in our cars and go to NYC, and Washington DC and Pennsylvania and help dig through the rubble. Mostly, we felt helpless. Churches and synagogues were filled on the weekend after September 11. As a nation, we turned to God. The suffering drew us closer to God.
On that day when Jesus was teaching the crowd he also told them this: “Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self.” This is what it means to be a Jesus follower. We give ourselves away. We give ourselves to others. When faced with a choice to do something for ourselves or something for someone else, we will choose to help another person. This is why you go help a friend move on a Saturday when you could be doing something more fun. This is why we go make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a Friday night, in order to feed hungry people. There are much better things we could do with a Friday night. This is why, late at night, when a friend calls crying, you answer the phone, and listen and offer comfort and support, rather than ignoring the call. This is why you take a friend to a doctor’s appointment so she does not have to go alone, even though you might have something better to do with your day. These are the little sacrifices that Jesus’ followers make.
In this way, we save ourselves.
Jesus said, “Who do you say that I am?” The question is this: Who do we say that Jesus is with our lives? Because we claim to be Christians. And so by our lives, we show others what it means to be a Christian. We are the only picture of Jesus that some people see. So, what picture of Jesus do they see when they see us?
This is what I hope they see. I hope they see people who are self-sacrificing. People who will put the needs of others ahead of our own needs. I hope they will see people who are compassionate, and caring.  People who go out of their way to offer acts of kindness to our neighbors. I hope they will see people who are generous. People who give without expecting anything in return. I hope they will see people who are forgiving. People who understand that people make mistakes and need a second chance. These are the traits of Jesus that I want people to see in us.
Who do you say Jesus is, with your life? That is our question for today. I invite you to ponder that question now, and as the day goes on. Remember that others see Jesus in you. And let them see the Jesus you want them to see. Amen.