Sunday, April 24, 2016

LOVE ONE ANOTHER by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

Why are you here today? Some People come to worship for a variety of reasons: habit, to see their friends, to worship God, or to be fed spiritually. I hope one of the reasons you are here today is because you want to grow as a follower of Jesus. You want to draw closer to God and be more in tune with God’s desires for your life. You see, you’ve all probably made a decision to be a Christian and to follow Jesus, but that was not the end point. That was just the beginning of a life long journey of spiritual growth and learning. We grow deeper in our relationship with God every day. 

So let me show you a story about two men who grew closer to God. It happened because they learned how to forgive and how to be forgiven. They learned how to love one another. We then watched a clip from CBS Evening News.  In 2005, Benton Harbor Police Officer Andrew put Jamel in jail for drugs.  The thing is, he was not a drug dealer or user.  He spent four years in prison for it.  Andrew, was eventually caught and Jamel cleared.  Jamel was originally looking for revenge.  But when both were out of jail, they ended up working through the same program at the same place. Jamel forgave Andrew. He said he forgave him not for himself and not for Andrew but for all of us. Because he’s a follower of Jesus and that’s what’s Jesus’ followers do. We love and we forgive.

Well let’s have a look at scripture and see where that comes from. I want to give you the context for the scripture that was read today (John 13:31-35 from The Message paraphrase). Jesus has just shared his last meal with his disciples and he has washed their feet. Then he says, “One of you will betray me.” He gives a sign that Judas is the one who will betray him. Then he says to Judas, “What you must do, do and get it over with.” So Judas leaves. He is one his way to get the chief priest who will come and carry Jesus away to be arrested. Judas is a lot like the police officer, Andrew, in the video. He causes Jesus to be falsely accused and arrested.  

This is where we pick up our story for today. Jesus tells his disciples that he won’t be with them much longer and that they can’t go with him to where he is going. Then he tells them he will give them a new commandment. He says: “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is an interesting choice. Jesus could have commanded them to go and make disciples; or go and preach the good news, but he instead give them the simple, and not so simple, commandment to “love one another.” He says that by their love this is how people will know they are his disciples. Their love will draw people to God. This love Jesus is talking about is not just about being nice to one another, it’s more than that. It’s not a romantic love. This is not about only loving people who love you back, that’s easy. This is a deep kind of love. This is the kind of love that Jamel and Andrew formed for one another after years of hurt that culminates in forgiveness. Jesus’ followers dig deep in order to love. 

One way we dig deep to love one another is to forgive. This is so hard. When someone does something to harm us it’s hard to forgive. But when a sincere apology is offered, followers of Jesus forgive. We give a second chance. I can’t imagine being Jamel and going to prison for 4 years and losing my whole life. That is a nightmare from which you cannot wake up. Andrew had no explanation for him. He did not try to make excuses. He simply said, “I’m sorry.” And because Jamel is a Christian he dug deep and forgave Andrew. 

Who do you need to forgive? Maybe they have offered an apology and maybe they have not. Even if they have not, it will help give you peace in your own heart if you forgive them. Carrying around anger and resentment just cause us harm. All that negative energy weighs us down. Jesus wants us to do the loving thing. Jesus wants us to let go and forgive. We love one another when we forgive. 

The apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians about loving one another. He says love is patient. Are you patient with those around you? I know this is a hard one for me.  Do you try to put yourself in their shoes when they start to annoy the heck out of you? Perhaps you lose patience with children or with older people or with co-workers who just don’t get it. 

When you find yourself losing patience, what coping strategies can you use? Can you take a deep cleansing breath and center yourself in God? Can you count to ten? Can you leave the room for a few minutes for your own “time out” and then come back to the situation? It’s easy to cop out and just say “I don’t have patience” but we can cultivate the virtue of patience if we want to. Just slow down. Ask God to help you. We love one another when we are patient.  

Paul also writes that love is kind. Now, Kindness is deeper than just being nice and polite. Kindness is going out of your way to do something generous and loving for a person. Many years ago there was a saying “Do random act of kindness.” People would be creative about doing acts of kindness for strangers like paying for the meal of the next person in the drive through; or mowing the grass or shoveling the snow for a neighbor you don’t even know. Kindness is babysitting kids for free for a couple who is going through a rough time and needs a night out but does not have a lot of money. Kindness is helping your neighbor build a fence or a garage. Kindness is sitting at the hospital while someone is having surgery because they have no family in town. We can do these acts for our church family but we can do them for our neighbors too and for our co-workers and even for strangers. They will know we are followers of Jesus when they see how we love one another. We love one another when we are kind. 

Paul writes that love does not insist on its own way. The word for this is compromise. Imagine how much better our world would be if people would compromise. Congress might get something done. Maybe we would finally have peace in the Middle East. Maybe we would not have so many fights at the dinner table or in the car. Compromise is the art of caring enough about the other person to give up some of what you want in order to let them have some of what they want. We love one another when we compromise. 

The last thing I want to mention from Paul’s letter is truth. Love does not rejoice in wrong doing but rejoices in the truth. We can’t be in a loving relationship if we lie and cheat. There is no room in love for wrong doing. When we love our friends we treat them with respect and that means telling the truth. Imagine that you had a friend and after a while you learned that your friend had been lying to you about who she was. How would you feel? You would not feel respected. You would not feel loved in the relationship. We love one another when we tell the truth. 

Well, on his last night with his disciples, Jesus had a chance to wrap up his teaching with them. He wanted to give them one thing to remember. And this is what he told them: “Love one another.” It seems like a simple commandment. But we can see in our world that it is not so simple. That’s because we are imperfect people trying to love other imperfect people. We make mistakes. We fail and need to be forgiven. We are unkind and we fail to be kind. We are selfish and want our own way. We don’t tell the truth. We are, quite frankly, a mess.

This is why Jesus came: to show us how to love, and to show us how much God loves us. Not long after he had this conversation with the disciples Jesus was crucified. In that act he showed us that God is love and that God loves us. Because God loves us God calls us to love one another, friend and stranger. 

I’d like to close by asking you to think of a time this past week when you failed to do the loving thing toward your friend or neighbor. You had an opportunity to be loving and you either missed it, or you did something that was not loving. Ponder that situation for a moment. My friends, know that God forgives you for that missed opportunity. It is in the past now and you can let it go. 

Now I’d like you to think of a time in the past week when you did the loving thing. When did you love your friend or neighbor? Just ponder that image for a moment. Friends, know that God blesses your act of love. God wants you to multiply that act through the weeks to come. Carry that image with you as a source of inspiration. 

I started this sermon by asking you why you come to worship. I hope you came partly because you want to draw closer to God and be more in tune with God’s desire for your life.  This is how to draw closer to God. Love one another. Love one another boldly. They will see that we are Christians when they see how we love one another. Amen.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Eternal Life by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

       Today’s passage comes from a larger section of scriptures in which Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:22-30 for the New Revised Standard Version for those following along from afar). A shepherd cares for his sheep and protects them from harm. In today’s passage the people are getting impatient. They want to know for sure who Jesus is and so they ask him: “Are you the Messiah we’ve been waiting for?”
Jesus answers first: “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” I think he is losing a bit of patience with them here. How could they have been with Jesus all this time and not realize who he is?

He goes on to say: “But you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” He is actually trying to reassure them: “If you believe in me, you are my sheep, no one will snatch you away. I will always be with you, and you will be with me.” Isn’t this what we want? The reassurance that Jesus is with us, walking with us through life, that we are not alone? We are all facing challenges and struggles. Jesus does not promise a life without struggle, but he promises that we will not have to go it alone. He will be with us. But more than that, in this passage, he promises eternal life. He says: “I give my sheep eternal life and they will never perish.” 

Jesus does not tell us anything about what this eternal life will look like. He simply says he will give his followers eternal life. We joke around about what Heaven will look like: there will be rivers of chocolate that we can eat all day and not get fat; everyone will be beautiful and ageless; of course our dogs and cats will be in heaven because we love them so much; the streets will be paved with gold. But that won’t really matter because we won’t need money in heaven, our every need will be met. There won’t be rich or poor in heaven. Everyone will be rich. Everyone will be young and healthy. Everyone will be smart and talented.  Doesn’t that sound wonderful?  (A few us thought it sounded a little boring).

But in this passage of scripture, Jesus does not describe any of those things. All he says is this: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” That means that when we die in this world, we don’t really die. There is something beyond this world. We never die. Something of us goes on forever. We think this is our spirit. Our spirit lives on through eternity. We won’t need our bodies, they can be left behind in the grave, or even cremated because we won’t need them. It’s the spirit that moves on. The spirit will never perish. 

This eternal life does not start when our bodies die, this eternal life begins right now. We are living eternal life right now. What do you think of that idea? How does that feel? Imagine that your life right now is eternal. It won’t be the same forever, but it will BE forever. 

How might we live our lives differently if we really believed this idea that we live forever? We have a sign outside this movie theater that says here at The Village we are authentic, inclusive and courageous. If we really believe that eternal life is real, how might we be more authentic, and inclusive and courageous? 

If I know that I am going to live forever, I want to be authentic in my relationships. I don’t want to go around pretending to be someone I’m not for all of eternity. Eternity is a long time to put on a charade. When we are inauthentic, we end up telling lies. And when we tell lies, we always get caught. We can’t remember the lies and soon we can’t even tell what is the truth from what is a lie anymore. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be fake for all of eternity. So we might as well start being authentic now. That means that we are honest about who we are: we admit our faults, our fears, and our foibles. We know we are imperfect people and God loves us anyway. So we stop trying to pretend we are perfect. We let our true selves show. 

Here at The Village we also value inclusivity. If eternal life is real then we need to get started on inclusivity right now, and not wait until someday far into the future. During the Civil Rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his classic book, Why We Can’t Wait: “The words 'bad timing' came to be ghosts haunting our every move in Birmingham. Yet people who used this argument were ignorant of the background of our planning...they did not realize that it was ridiculous to speak of timing when the clock of history showed that the Negro had already suffered one hundred years of delay.”  (Source: 

We are living in eternity now. There is no time to waste when it comes to inclusivity. There is no time for walls of exclusion. All people must be valued and respected without regard to race, gender expression, sexual orientation, nationality, class, educational status or any other classification. We are living into God’s eternal future for us and that future involves a world where everyone is included.

The third value at The Village is courage. If eternal life is here and now, then we can live with courage. Think about it. We have nothing to fear. Not even death has a hold on us. So we can act with courage. We can stand up to bullies and oppressors. They can’t harm us because we have eternal life. We can stand up to unjust laws and those who uphold them because we have eternal life. We can stand up to unjust practices in our church and those who uphold them, because we have eternal life. We have courage to do what is right. 

Rev. Cynthia Meyer is a pastor who had the courage to do what is right, and to live with authenticity. In her first sermon of 2016, Cynthia Meyer came out as a lesbian who lives in a relationship with another woman. Because she is a United Methodist pastor this was a big deal. You see she is breaking church law and she could lose her ordination credentials. She said she was “called by God to be open and honest” about who she is. (Source: Soon after he received a copy of her Jan. 3 sermon, Bishop Scott Jones of the Great Plains Conference asked for Meyer’s suspension. So far, the executive committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry has not approved the suspension, so Meyer continues to serve as pastor of her church in Edgerton, Kansas. Meyer and the bishop, who has the authority to appoint and remove pastors, have begun a “supervisory response process,” which involves meetings to work toward a “just resolution.” If a resolution cannot be agreed upon within a certain time, the issue will be brought to a church trial. 

Meyer said: “The church would be glad to have my services if I would be quiet and stay in the closet, and I think I’ve indicated that I will not do that. So, I recognize that I may have to leave. I’m not eager to leave. I’m not eager to stay in an abusive relationship, either.” (ibid.)  A few people have left her congregation, but most have stayed with her. Some that she thought would be upset have been supportive. On the day she made her announcement there were many hugs and stories shared of relatives and friends who are gay or lesbian. 

The issue of gay clergy and same-sex marriage will be a focus at the United Methodist Church’s worldwide General Conference in May. The UMC is the largest mainline Protestant denomination to not accept same gender marriage. Meyer plans to attend the General Conference, and she is working with Reconciling Ministries Network and its campaign “It’s Time,” which asks members of the church to send letters to their delegation and share stories, in the hopes of influencing the conference vote.

Meyer has courage. She has the courage that comes when one knows that one has eternal life. She is in this fight for the long haul. She does not have fear because she trusts that she belongs to Jesus now and forever. She knows Jesus is walking by her side. There is a confidence that comes from knowing that down to your core. 

How about you? Do you know that you belong to Jesus? Are you one of his sheep? Do you hear his voice? Do you trust Jesus when he says that you have eternal life? I can’t tell you all of what eternal life means. No one knows for sure. But I have a clue. 

Eternal life means we are not alone. We live with Jesus. We may feel like we’re alone. We may feel isolated and misunderstood. But there is one who is always with us and always understands us. That one is Jesus. Jesus was with us yesterday, he is with us today, and he will be with us tomorrow. Jesus never leaves us. We have eternal life with Jesus. 

        So do not be afraid. Live with courage. Step into that bold eternal life that Jesus offers you. Eternity begins today.