Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Time to Repent by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

Human tragedy happens every day. I’m sure if I asked you, you could tell me about someone you know who is dealing with tragic illness or recovery from an accident. Or you probably know someone who died an untimely tragic death. We live in a world where bad things happen to good people every day. Planes crash. Terrorists attack movie theaters and schools. Hurricanes devastate coastlands. We turn to God and we ask: why? Why don’t you intervene? Why do you save some people and not save others?

Countless books have been written about this topic: why do people suffer? I would not begin to try to answer that question today. But our scripture starts with suffering. There are two accounts of suffering. In this first, we learn that Pontius Pilate had killed some Galileans who had made their way to Jerusalem on a religious pilgrimage. This is brutality at its worst. We see Pontius Pilate as a ruthless political leader. We are not surprised later on when he is used as an instrument to bring about the death of Jesus. Then, in this scripture we hear about a Tower that collapsed in Jerusalem, killing eighteen people. The first event was caused by an evil man; the second was probably just a tragic accident. 

Jesus does not use these stories to talk about the reason for suffering in the world. Note that he does not say these people were evil and that is why they died. He makes a point to say, “Do you think those murdered Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans? Not at all.” And he says: “And those eighteen in Jerusalem the other day, the ones crushed and killed when the Tower of Siloam collapsed and fell on them, do you think they were worse citizens than all other Jerusalemites? Not at all.” He will not make a connection between people’s worth and their suffering. 

He does say this: “Unless you turn to God, you, too, will die.” Jesus makes a call to repentance for everyone. He uses these two events to show the fragility of life. He reminds us that none of us knows how much time we have left on this earth. We don’t know when a tower might fall on us, or we might contract a fatal disease, or get hit by a bus. We don’t have to be morbid about these things, but it’s a good idea to take stock of our lives.

We need to ask ourselves: are we living the lives that God calls us to live? Unless we repent, and turn toward God, we will die and not be able to turn back time. There will be no time left to make things right. I don’t want to die separated from God, and I don’t think you do either. 

And so this scripture invites us to make a turn toward God. Matt Skinner writes that repentance here “refers to a changed mind, to a new way of seeing things, to being persuaded to adopt a different perspective…. It can be more about being found than about finding oneself (see Luke 15:1-10). It refers to an entirely reoriented self, to a new consciousness of one's shortcomings and one's dire circumstances.” (Source: So repentance is more than just making good moral decisions. Repentance is a complete realignment of oneself with the ways of God. Repentance is to see the world through the eyes of God. Repentance is to be fully aware of one’s shortcomings and to make a sincere effort to change. 

There is a second part to the scripture. In it Jesus tells them a parable, a story that teaches a lesson. 

“A man had an apple tree planted in his front yard. He came to it expecting to find apples, but there weren’t any. He said to his gardener, ‘What’s going on here? For three years now I’ve come to this tree expecting apples and not one apple have I found. Chop it down! Why waste good ground with it any longer?’
8-9 “The gardener said, ‘Let’s give it another year. I’ll dig around it and fertilize, and maybe it will produce next year; if it doesn’t, then chop it down.’”

The command to chop down the tree represents judgement on someone who has not repented. If there is no fruit in your life, no sign that you are a follower of Jesus, then you will die and be separated from God. 

But did you hear what the gardener said? “Let’s give it another year? I’ll dig around and fertilize it and maybe it will produce next year.” That is the way it is with God. God does not want to give up on us. God always wants to give us another chance. God always wants to give us a little more fertilizer, in the hopes that in next year we will come around.

What does that fertilizer look like? It might be an invitation to participate in our outreach ministries to feed the hungry; or an invitation to give someone a ride to someone or visit someone in the hospital. It might be an invitation to pray daily or fast during the season of Lent or to come to worship more regularly. Perhaps your fertilizer will be a nudge to be more patient with a particular person or more compassionate or more generous. It could be any of these things. Any of these things could produce fruit in the life of a follower of Jesus. 

The big question for today is this: will we repent? Will you admit that you are not all that God wants you to be? And if so, will you undergo a changed mind, a new way of seeing things? Will you be persuaded to adopt a different perspective…. It can be more about being found than about finding yourself (see Luke 15:1-10). It refers to an entirely reoriented self, to a new consciousness of one's shortcomings and one's dire circumstances. (ibid.)

The place to start is where you are. Are you content? Do you feel connected to God? Do you believe you are living in the Way God would have you live? I mean the Way with a capital “W.” Or do you need to make a change? Do you have a sense that there is a separation, some kind of wall between you and God? That God is distant from your life? We all go through times of feeling disconnected from God. This is when we need to repent and turn toward God. We need to allow ourselves to be found by God again. 

Are you willing to make an honest inventory of yourself and your shortcomings so that you might confess those shortcomings to God and ask for help? God always stands ready to forgive us and God will give us the strength to make changes.

Do you see fruit in your life? This means, do you see evidence that the Holy Spirit lives in you and is working through you? In the book of Galatians there is a list of what we call the fruits of the Spirit. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23.) It’s hard to live out all of these things all the time. But this is the goal. If we are lacking any of these fruit then we need to repent, and turn toward God and ask God to help us live in these ways. 

So let’s start with the first one.  Do you have a loving spirit? Do you treat every person you encounter with a sense of love? Do you live with joy? Do you have a sense of light-heartedness? This is evidence that you are living in line with God. Do you have peace? This means peace deep in your soul. Are you not in conflict with anyone? If you are in conflict, can you start today to work to make amends? Are you patient? This is a hard one for me. When someone tries your patience, can you take a deep breath and ask God to give you patience? Can you try to put yourself in the place of the other person? Do you live with kindness in your heart toward every other human being? This is what it means to live in the way of Jesus. We have an attitude of kindness in our dealings with others. Are you generous? Do you give yourself away or do you hold on to what is yours in the fear that you might not have enough. Everything we have comes from God and God wants us to share with those who have less. Are you faithful? Are you someone that others can trust? Do you put your trust in God without reservation? Are you gentle? This means that you are not harsh but you practice gentleness in your dealings with others. You treat others with care and concern for their well-being. And finally do you practice self-control? Do you refrain from self-destructive habits and practices? Do you hold your temper and hold your tongue so as not to harm your relationships with others? 

This list, the fruits of the Spirit, is a good one to consider when we want to ask ourselves if we are living in line with God’s desires for us. And in the places where we are not, we need to repent. We need to undergo a changed mind and a changed spirit so we might be faithful followers of Jesus. 

Of what do you need to repent today? What is holding you back from being the person God created you to be? Let’s confess our sins to God now, and ask God to make us new people. Will you pray with me?

Holy God, have mercy on us. We repent of our old ways and turn to you to make us new. We know that we are not all that you want us to be. We want to undergo a changed mind and have a new way of seeing things. We want adopt a different perspective, your perspective. We want to be found by you. We see our shortcomings and we confess them to you now. Forgive us, we pray, and make us new people. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

On the Way to Jerusalem by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Patti Lusher

When my kids were in Kindergarten, each of them had the same teacher, Mrs. Nofzinger at Gesu School. I volunteered in her classroom at various times during both Becca and Jamie’s year of Kindergarten so I got to observe Mrs. Nofzinger in action. I have to tell you, she was a joy to behold. She could have 22 little five years olds enrapt as she told a story. Then she would have them do workshop which meant they would each go to stations and do some little project. Those kids would do it! She floated around the room answering questions and watching as her charges learned by doing. If there ever was a conflict, Mrs. Nofzinger, being a Mennonite, would send the two children to the “Peace Corner” to work out their differences. I’m telling you, this teacher knows her stuff. Carol Nofzinger is an example of someone who has found her purpose in life. She knows why God put her on this earth. She was put on this earth to be a Kindergarten teacher, at least for this season of her life.
We all have a purpose, probably more than one purpose as we go through the seasons of our lives. God made you and me with particular gifts and graces so that we could live out our purpose. Your purpose gives you joy and it gives the world joy when you live it out. Some purposes are related to our vocation and others are not. Some people might just have a job to pay the bills and live out their purpose in their free time. Today we’re going to talk about purpose.
Jesus had one ultimate purpose: to go to Jerusalem and to give himself up to be killed by King Herod and Pontius Pilate, so that he might be raised from the dead in all his glory. Because he knew this was his purpose, he lived with courage and without fear. When the Pharisees came and warned him that Herod was on the hunt for him, Jesus did not back down. He knew he would eventually be brought before Herod. But in the meantime, Jesus had other work to do. He would clear out demons and heal the sick, because that’s what Jesus did during his time on earth. He cleared the demons out of people’s lives and he healed them from dis-ease.
Jesus took broken people and made them whole again. He did it by telling them they were beloved of God. He told them that no one is perfect, and he told them that we are all made perfect by God’s love in us. I know that sounds confusing but it is the truth. As human beings we make mistakes. We pull ourselves away from God through sin. But God loves us and when we accept God’s love, that love can fill us up completely so that for moments in time we can be made perfect in God’s love. It’s like your life is an empty glass and God’s love is water. There is an endless supply of water that can fill up your glass, so your glass can be overflowing with God’s love. During his ministry on earth Jesus came to show us that we can be healed of our brokenness by being filled with God’s love for us.
So when the Pharisees came and told Jesus that Herod was on the hunt for him, Jesus said, “Tell that old fox I have no time for him.” Jesus could not concern himself with threats because he was focused on his mission. He said “today and tomorrow I’m busy clearing out demons and healing the sick but the third day I’m wrapping things up.” This was an allusion to the third day when he would rise from the dead. Jesus was pointing their attention to what was about to happen in Jerusalem.
Then Jesus talks about Jerusalem. He mourns for Jerusalem as a killer of prophets and abuser of the messengers of God. Again he is alluding to his impending death. Everything important is going to happen in Jerusalem. Then the mood shifts for a moment as Jesus becomes pastoral. He says: “How often I’ve longed to gather your children, gather your children like a hen, her brood safe under her wings.” Jesus sees himself like a mother hen and he wants to gather Jerusalem like a bunch of baby chicks under his wings. A mother hen does this to protect her brood from danger and keep them safe. Even though Jerusalem kills prophets and will kill him, Jesus feels protective. He wants to save the people of Jerusalem.
Then, sadly, the mood shifts back and Jesus condemns them. He says: “but you refused and turned away! And now it’s too late.” Jerusalem is part of the plot against Jesus. They have turned away from him and turned away from God. They refuse to be protected by the mother hen. Jerusalem must play its part in Jesus’ final days.
Jesus says: “You won’t see me again until the day you say, ‘Blessed is the one
who comes in the name of God.’” Here Jesus is pointing to the day when he will enter Jerusalem and the people will wave palms and shout Hosannas and say “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.” That day is coming soon. That day leads to the day when Jesus will fulfill his ultimate purpose. He will be betrayed and denied by his own disciples. The people will turn on him. The high priests will have him convicted. He will be crucified. This is his purpose. He died so he might show us how much he loves us. He did not back down. He faced death and did not save himself. He died an excruciating death, but put his trust in God. He knew he would be resurrected in all his glory. Jesus fulfilled his purpose.
What is your purpose? I can’t tell you what it is. Only you can figure that out. Maybe you are living your purpose and if you are: well done! Keep on trusting God and living God’s purpose for your life.
Maybe you are still seeking your purpose for this season of your life. If you are, here are some tips for how to find your purpose. First, pray to God for discernment. This is not meant to be taken lightly. A season of prayer is essential when it comes to making life decisions. This is a prayer of listening to God. Too much talking will drown out God’s voice. Find a quiet place to sit and just listen to God. Ask God, what is my purpose in this season of life? And wait for God to give you clues. You may get a clear answer, or you may get clues.
Another way to find your purpose is to ask a few close friends. Ask them what they see as your gifts and strengths? I’ll never forget once Kurt and I were in a small group. There was a woman in the small group who used to be a teacher and then she tried a couple more careers. She was doing something else when she was in our group. I can’t even remember what. One of the purposes of our group was to help people to discern their call. One night the woman came to us and said, “I’ve come to a realization. I think I need to go back to teaching. I’m a good teacher; I love teaching. And I think that’s what I’m called to do.” The whole room burst out in laughter and said “Of course, we all see it.” We confirmed for her that she had the gift of teaching; that teaching was the reason God put her on this earth, and all these other things she had been doing really did not make sense to any of us. Sometimes your friends and family can help you see your purpose when your vision is cloudy.
Another way to find your purpose is to make a list of your strengths, and what gives you joy. God does not want us spending our time doing what does not give us joy. Make a list and then study it. Pray over it. Journal about it. Draw pictures about your list. Doodle it. See what emerges. You just never know what you might see until you begin to write some things down on paper.
Once you have an idea of your purpose for this season of life, test it out. If you think your purpose is to be a social worker, before you quit your job and enter a Master of Social Work Program, meet a couple of social workers and shadow them. Take one class and see how you like it. Put your toe in the water and see if this really is your bliss.
If you think your purpose is to start your own business then talk to some small business owners about what it was like to start a business. Read some books about starting a business. Find out what you are getting yourself into.
You will get confirmation along the way if you are on the right track. God will give you signs. People will cross your path to encourage you. Things will fall into place in ways you could not have imagined.
We all have a purpose. It may change in different seasons of life, but God put us on this earth with a unique purpose. Jesus’ purpose was to spend his life showing the people how much God loved them, and then to die on the cross to continue to show the depth of his love. In the resurrection we saw his ultimate purpose, to give us the hope of eternal life.
What is your purpose? If you don’t know what it is I invite you into a time of discernment with God so that you can find your purpose. If you do know your purpose, then I encourage you to live it out with every ounce of your being. Don’t waste any time with self-doubt or second guessing. Be the person God put you on this earth to be. Amen.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

JESUS STANDS FIRM by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

Do you ever feel like there are two forces competing for you? The force of good and the force of evil? You know, like in Star Wars. Will you turn to the dark side? Okay, maybe it’s not that dramatic. But like this picture, do you feel like you have both good and evil wrapped around your head and you could go either way? In this picture we have a gun and bullets on one side, and a dove of peace on the other side. The person in the middle looks frightened. I think it looks like a young woman. There is a battle going on for her heart and soul. She does not know which force is going to win and take over her head. 

Of course we want her to choose peace because we follow the Prince of Peace. We are peace loving people. But everyday people choose violence over peace, don’t they?  We see it in our streets, on the news, and on the internet. People give into temptation and choose evil over good every day. 

Today’s scripture (Luke 4:1-13 for those following along from afar) is about Jesus being tempted. He was probably in a weakened state. He is in the wilderness for 40 days, fasting and praying. He might have been weak from no food. But his soul was strong from spending this time with God. He was preparing for his ministry. This is right at the beginning of his mission, right after his baptism. We’re told that the devil comes in to tempt him. This force of evil in the world wants to get Jesus off on the wrong foot right from the beginning. The devil wants to draw Jesus away from God. He could have used all sorts of things to tempt Jesus with, but as David Lose puts it, he begins with “bread, power and safety” (

First the devil knows that Jesus is hungry and so he tempts him to turn the stones to bread, to show off his power for the evil one. He is tempting Jesus to prove he is the Son of God. But Jesus turns to scripture and he stands firm against the power of evil. He says: “One does not live by bread alone.”

Next the devil tempts Jesus with power. He says he can have all the kingdoms of the world. He can have world domination if he will just bow down and worship the devil. But again Jesus stands firm and quotes scripture: “Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him.”

Finally the devil tempts Jesus with safety. He says: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’
11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Once again Jesus stands firm and quotes scripture. He says: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” And the devil departs until another opportunity comes along. 

You see the devil uses these three temptations: bread, power and safety, but as David Lose writes, he could have used any three temptations. It could have been “Youth, beauty, and wealth” (ibid). These temptations all “seek to shift our allegiance, trust, and confidence away from God and toward some substitute that promises a more secure identity.” The point is this: the devil was trying to pull Jesus away from God. He was trying to pull him away from his identity as the Son of God. 

The evil forces of the world will do this to us as well. They will draw us into violence, malice, and greed. They will draw us into a self-centeredness that makes us think we can make it on our own without God. This is what the temptation story is about: the idea that we don’t need God, the idea that Jesus no longer needed God and we no longer need God. 

But this could not be farther from the truth, and Jesus stood firm in his truth. He stood firm in scripture and he stood firm in the knowledge that he belonged to God and he was put on this earth for a purpose.

Jesus also had a secret weapon. He had the Holy Spirit. Luke’s gospel loves to remind us of the importance of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life. We begin with his birth. In Luke 1:35 we read that Jesus was born of the Spirit. Then we see him receive the Spirit in baptism (3:22). Now in 4:1 he was both full of the Holy Spirit and led by the Spirit. And following these temptations, in 4:18, he went into Galilee to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit guides Jesus in everything he does.

But the Spirit is given not only to Jesus but to the whole church. Fred Craddock writes this: “Resisting evil and ministering to human need are not left to will power and psychic strategies; the effective presence of God is offered and available” (Preaching Through the Christian Year C, Fred Craddock, p. 140). We have the Holy Spirit. In our baptism we claim the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the power to resist evil and oppression in whatever form they present themselves (we all make a promise to do this in our liturgy when we accept new members or when we baptize someone at the Village). 

So how are the ways you feel tempted? Think of temptation in this way. Temptation is anything that pulls you away from God’s desire for you. We all know that God has certain hopes and dreams for us as followers of Jesus. God wants us to live in peace, and to have healthy lives filled with joy and goodness. But we are like the person in the photo. We are torn. We are torn between what God wants for us and what the evil forces of this human world are trying to drag us down into. 

What is your greatest temptation? What pulls you away from God? You might be tempted to talk bad about other people and to judge them. We all get caught up in gossip and petty conversations about our co-workers, our neighbors and even our friends. We pick one another apart like a biologist dissects a frog. She is too this, or he is too that. Like we are perfect. Right? Sometimes we talk behind the other person’s back, and sometime we say it right to their face. “You’re fat, you’re too skinny, you are so stupid, you’re a lousy so and so.” Do you think Jesus would say any of those things? Do you think Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, would say any of those things? Of course not. But we get pulled into the temptation of mean talk about others and we’re off and running.

What other temptations are hard for you? I think greed is a big one. We all want more money and more stuff than we have. We think that stuff will make us happier. We even waste money buying lottery tickets in the hopes that we will become millionaires. We take vacations and go shopping at outlet malls. What kind of vacation is that? 

We have bought into the consumer culture and the idea that we are what we own. The more we have, the more we are valued. But that is a big myth. Our desire for stuff is us trying to fill an emptiness that only God can fill. We are trying to feel of value, but if we would just stop and rest we would remember that we have already been claimed by God as someone of value. In our baptism we are claimed as God’s own beloved children. God does not care what we wear, or what kind of car we drive, or how big our house is. God loves us just as we are. Greed and the desire for more wealth will pull us away from God. They are temptations. What we need is to turn away from greed and turn toward our creator. 

What about one last temptation: the temptation for instant gratification. We live in a world where we want what we want and we want it now. We want high speed internet, fast food, and we want love without having to take the time to build a strong relationship. We are impatient. We are seduced by sales people who will promise us the fastest, most high tech gadget there is. We want a partner who will be available to us 24/7 but we don’t want to deal with the give and take that a committed relationship takes. We want instant gratification. We want it now. 

The way of the Jesus follower, on the other hand, is to slow down and savor life. Don’t be in such a rush that life speeds by you on a passing train. Take time to smell the flowers. Understand that relationships take time, open communication and commitment. Only when you slow down do you have time to encounter the Holy Spirit and pay attention to what the Spirit is saying to you in your life. 

The list of temptations goes on. We all have our own demons. Anything that pulls you away from God is your temptation. In this season of Lent, the time leading up to Easter, Jesus invites us pay attention to those temptations and to stand firm. The Holy Spirit lives in us and will give us strength to resist evil and temptations. So ask the Holy Spirit for strength and let us stand firm with Jesus. Amen.