Sunday, July 31, 2016

Where is Your Treasure? by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

As of Friday the current estimated jackpot for the Powerball was $478 million. I don’t play Powerball or any other games of chance. But every now and then when I hear a news story about how high the jackpot is, I play that game in my head. You know the one. What would I do if I won $478 million? I’d buy a house on River Road with a pool in the back yard and I’d pay someone to take care of the pool. I’d buy a beach house on Lake Michigan. I’d take my family on a trip to Europe. I’d buy a little red convertible. I’d buy Kurt his dream car, and Becca and Jamie too when he gets old enough. I’d buy all new furniture and get rid of all the old stuff. I’d buy new clothes and shoes and not think about the prices. Oh the mind can just go on and on, can’t it?
Because you see, greed is a powerful force. Greed is the desire to possess more than we need. We normally associate greed with money, as did Jesus. But we can be greedy for many things — for food, fame, sex, or power. Christians have always identified greed as one of the seven deadly sins.
Dan Clendenin writes that “There's a horrible paradox in greed — it's never satisfied by what it desires. Rather, the opposite is true.” He quotes John Cassian, a 4th century writer who said: "When money increases, it always wants more than a person can accumulate." (Source: That’s how it is with greed. No matter how much we have, we want more.
In our story for today, someone in a crowd asks Jesus to be an arbiter so he and his brother can divide up the family inheritance. Jesus refuses and then he says: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Jesus had learned about the power of greed. He knew what a force it could be in a person’s life. He also knew the power of possessions. We human beings think we want lots of pretty things. But all the pretty things in the world will not bring us true joy. A connection to God is what brings us true joy.
So Jesus told a parable.
“The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
This is where we get the phrase “Eat drink and be merry.” The man in the story was foolish. He had so many things. So many possessions. He built bigger barns so he could store all his possessions. He decided to eat, drink and be merry because he was rich in possessions. But God said to him, “Your life is over tonight. What good are all these things to you now?” Jesus said, “That’s how it is when we store up lots of treasures for ourselves but are not rich toward God.”
It’s easy, in this world, to get caught up in the rat race of storing up worldly treasures. There are so many pretty things out there to buy. The ads on TV and the internet show us these pretty things that we can’t live without. We take on second jobs so we can buy more things. But our souls are empty.
Jesus invites us to be rich toward God. How do we do that? We slow down. We consider our values. Compassion is a good place to start. Do you remember the last time you showed compassion toward another human being? It felt good, didn’t it? Compassion is a choice. It is a way of life. One can even call it a rule of life.
Do you know the story of St. Francis? His life began as the son of wealthy parents. His father was a silk merchant. Francis was in the military as a young man, but he had a vision and lost his taste for worldly life. There is a story that he was selling cloth in the market place on behalf of his father. A beggar came up to ask him for alms. “At the conclusion of his business deal, Francis abandoned his wares and ran after the beggar. When he found him, Francis gave the man everything he had in his pockets. His friends quickly chided and mocked him for his act of charity. When he got home, his father scolded him in rage.” (source: He got a message from God that he was to repair broken down churches so that is what he did. His friends made fun of him but he did not care. He began to live as a beggar around his home town of Assisi. At the end of this period (on February 24, 1209, according to Jordan of Giano), Francis heard a sermon that changed his life forever. The sermon was about Matthew 10:9, in which Christ tells his followers they should go forth and proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was upon them, that they should take no money with them, nor even a walking stick or shoes for the road. Francis was inspired to devote himself to a life of poverty (source: ibid). Francis' preaching to ordinary people was unusual since he had no license to do so. In 1209 he composed a simple rule for his followers ("friars"), called the "Primitive Rule", which came from verses in the Bible.
The rule was "To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps". In 1209, Francis led his first eleven followers to Rome to seek permission from Pope Innocent III to found a new religious Order called the Franciscans. The order exists today. They are known for their simplicity and their compassion for the poor.
Why did Francis have a call to live a life of simplicity? He had lived a life of material wealth and he learned that it was not the way to God. He had to empty himself of things of this world, in order to find God.
So what does this story say to us today? Are we all supposed to sell all that we have and give it to the poor, and live on the street? No, I don’t think that is what Jesus is asking.
But Jesus is asking us this: where do we put our treasure? Where is our heart? Do we focus our attention on the things of this world and the drive to get more things? Or are we seeking to know him more deeply?
Scripture says the LOVE of money is the root of evil. Money, in itself, is not evil. It’s when we love money too much that we get into trouble. It’s when we love money more than we love God that we lose our way.
I don’t buy lottery tickets. I don’t go to casinos. Now I know some of you go to the casino for entertainment. You decide how much money you will spend and you don’t cross the line. But I don’t go. The reason is because I don’t want to get caught up in the desire for money. I don’t want to fall into the deadly sin of greed.  When I start thinking about what I would do if I had “all that money” I start thinking that money will fix all my problems. And money is not the be all and end all of the world. Money is simply a tool. I don’t want to put my trust in money. I want to put my trust in God.
I believe that is what Jesus is saying with this parable. Don’t trust your possessions. Don’t trust your earning potential. Don’t trust your 401K. Trust God. God is the only source of true security that we have.
God will pick us up when we fall down. God will give us hope when we are in despair. God will give us strength when we are weak. God will show us the way when we are lost.
God is the one we trust.
So don’t get caught up in the things of this world. Put your trust in the one who will not fail you. Put your trust in God. Amen.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Do We Have a Good God? – Kurt Young reacting to Morgan Guyton’s Message

Greetings loyal blog readers.  We, for the size church we are, are truly blessed to have some incredible guest preachers come through our midst.  This week, it was Morgan Guyton.  Morgan is the author of “How Jesus Saves the World from Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity”. His blog Mercy Not Sacrifice is hosted at Patheos. He and his wife Cheryl are co-directors of NOLA Wesley, a Reconciling United Methodist campus ministry at Tulane and Loyola in New Orleans, LA.

               Now, Pastor Cheri loves to preach from a manuscript.  In part that is to make things a whole lot easier on your blogging team.  Don’t get us wrong, the Holy Spirit often takes her off the script, and you’ll know that, if you join us in worship, if you see myself or one of our team furiously typing onto a laptop.  We sit and follow along and then edit as the Holy Spirit leads her.  

               However, not all pastors preach from a manuscript.  Some memorize one and share with us.  Others draft an outline and we fill it in for you.  Others, like Morgan, have it all inside them and share with us.  They make our job more challenging, but our worship amazing, just like the other styles.  But, for those of us who want to give you written word learners a better long distance experience, we get to have a white knuckle Sunday on weeks like this.  But it’s worth it.

               If you don’t know, Pastor Cheri’s last church, before founding the Village was Central United Methodist Church.  She was the longest serving pastor in its hundred plus year history.  Central was, like us, a Reconciling Ministry church and did some incredible ministry in its neighborhood.  Sadly, five pastors later, Central has closed.  But some of its incredible contributions live on, including Morgan.   In to his book, Morgan credits Central, during Cheri’s time there, with saving his life and putting him on a path to his ministry.
               Our scripture this week was Luke 11:  1-13 for those following along on the web.  If you’ve not read it, do so before reading any further.  This one time where the analogies are very needed.  Done yet?  If not, take your time, if not read on.   And here’s my best attempt at capturing his amazing message from today:

               So when you ask for a fish do you get a snake instead? When you ask for an egg, do you get a scorpion instead?  I sure hope not.   But that’s what our scripture speaks about this week.  Let’s go with a more modern analogy.

Ever go to a white elephant party?  Morgan was at a church in Northern Virginia. They absolutely loved having them.  We’ve done some in my family and we’ve done one at the Village as well.  Morgan’s church really loved them.  If you do this often, there are always favorite white elephant gifts.  In my family it was a light up Virgin Mary.  At Morgan’s church, the favorites included talking gnomes, a singing and talking fish, and amazingly a bottle of Arbor Mist wine.

Imagine opening a Christmas gift from a loving parent and getting a snake or a scorpion.  Pretty bizarre to imagine a parent giving a child that. But look at our world, you see things like that every day.  Civil war and unrest and terrorism abound.  a world of plenty and amazing medicine we see hunger and death from diseases that we cure daily in our country.   Looking around our world, get to wondering if we have a good god?

Morgan comes from an evangelical background, so how this could happen with our loving God was easy.  The answer to that was and is always that sin was the answer.  And that works for some issues, for example the civil war in Syria is due to violence and hoarding and greed.  But we can’t explain all of that with sin. 

 Vincent who is eight years old, who Morgan met through a former church is battling brain cancer.  You can’t explain that with sin.  Vincent has a stint to drain fluid from brain.   Also has a shaved head, with crease in his skull.  He’s otherwise a vivacious kid with look of a cyborg per Morgan.  But he has a positive, wise attitude about life.  He can hardly see or hear, but is joyful. 
Like Morgan, it doesn’t make any sense to me that I’m privileged as much as we are, and we get our prayers answered.  We both have meaningful jobs where we get to help people and see the fruit of our works.  We both have roofs over our heads, cars that start when we ask, spouses and children who have what they need.  This, when there are kids in Syria or Sudan praying for peace, parents there praying for food or medicine or safety for their children and people all over the world whose prayers go seemingly unheard.  

It’s hard to see a good God, when you live in a world of snakes and scorpions.  And we’re not just talking metaphorical ones.  Morgan’s wife’s cousin has a ranch in Texas.  Unlike other animals, scorpions don’t need provocation to attack.  He and his wife were sleeping in a bed and they would come in and sting them with no provocation.  Not an experience I want to have.  And hard to see any good in that.  

               And it is hard at times to see any good in what is going on in the world.  What is God doing?  If you’ve asked that question, you’re not along.  Many of us have as well.  And Jesus has an interesting way of explaining things for us today, then again he was explaining it to people two thousand years ago.  

Jesus, in this week’s scripture story, makes analogy of neighbor trying to feed guests and pestering and persevering with neighbor to get food to feed them.  In the story he is telling, the message is ask and prayers will be answered, knock and the door will be opened.  But the question is what door will be opened.  It’s not always the door we expect will be open. Sometimes different than what we were asking for.  

God gives us the Holy Spirit when we pray.  May seem like an empty thing.  But it’s actually the most profound gift we can receive.  It changes everything about our lives.  When we receive the presence of God, everything changes.  

Morgan served as a pastor in hospital rooms, with people with cancer, with everything falling apart objectively.  He describes that despite that, they were at peace.  He was a chaplain in a Veterans Administration Oncology Ward. And he described not having a clue what to say or do to comfort the patients, but he said something amazing would happen. They would minister to me.  They would reassure me.  Share their witness to me.   Assure me of God’s presence.  

In 2002, Morgan was living here in Toledo. Specifically, he was living at the Collingwood Art Center.  Morgan Was living there for really cheap, as all artists could.  You had to pass an audition that you were creating some form of art.  He says though, the audition was really easy as they let me in.  Rent was very cheap, then again, got a cell in a former convent, a small bed and desk in room only.  It really is a cool concept.  The challenge is, that when get a bunch of artists together, where artists haven’t dealt with issues that make them such great artists, you get a strange brew. There were love triangles, self medications, etc. 

Morgan grew up in a church and he knew he needed a new church home.  He decided to walk blocks around the corner to Central United Methodist Church.   He had, to that point, believed God was there and loved him, because supposed to, but didn’t know in his heart, just his head.  

Growing up evangelical, he had never been to a church where gay people were there in large, open numbers.  But when he walked into Central UMC, that was what he was greeted with.  But he knew that meant they would not be fundamentalists.  But things went much further, the members of Central were the most welcoming he ever encountered.  Having been a member for a decade, I agree.  The only welcome in the ballpark I’ve received, and I’ve been warmly welcomed into every church I’ve attended, was an African American United Methodist Church in Harlem who welcomed Cheri and I on our first trip together as a new couple many years ago.   

At the time, Central was hosting a book study on Henri Nouwen’s “Life of the Beloved’.  And it connected Morgan to God like never before and him to the fact that he is a beloved child of God like never before.  He began trying to rise up to connect with God’s love for himself.  He wanted to rise up into his air, rather than slouch in the corner with his cigarette.  

Morgan’s message about the goodness of God is not about worldly accomplishments.  It’s not about getting the right job, having the right stuff.  It’s about the presence of God.  The peace of God’s presence.  And that’s what his time at Central showed him. 

One key thing he and I learned from the women who ran Central at the time, Cheri and our friend Tanya, was centering prayer.  If you’ve not experienced it, let me try to describe it to you.  You find a quiet, calm space.  For Morgan it was his room at the Arts Center.  For me, it’s my office with all of the electronics silenced and the door closed.  You then find a focal point, Morgan lit a simple candle, for me it’s different points in my office, a picture of my family, a memento from a client given as a thank you, or my imitation Samurai swords (the word translates to we serve).  

You then just breathe in and out.  Usually you pick a word or a phrase to repeat as you breathe in and out.  For me, it’s usually “here I am God” as I draw breath in and “make me your servant” as I breathe out.  The journey of spiritual growth and then going out in the world to change it for the better.  For Morgan, it was “God please clear a space for you in my heart”.  I only do this about 10 minutes per day, five days a week.  Morgan said that several hundred times a night.  He waited for days and days, but heard nothing.  

Last night, Morgan went to the Arts Center and sat down at a bench, where he smoked maybe a thousand cigarettes.  And he realized that his prayers were answered.  That absence then made him hungry.  It set him on a journey to find God’s presence.  It was, for him, a holy space last night.  As Morgan said, when you’re able to live in that presence, doesn’t matter what God throws at you.  You will know the goodness of God.  

Last Thursday, Donald Trump said as of January 20, 2017, we will be perfectly safe, all will be right with our country and world with his leadership and God’s protection.  I agree with Morgan, we don’t have that kind of God.  We have a god who will fill our hearts with peace.   When we knock, God will open a door.  We will not have a perfect world, but we’ll have peace with what we have. 

How have you tasted the presence of God in your prayer life?  Think about a place or a time where you felt perfectly at safe or at peace.  Where was there a prayer that was answered.  If you have answer you want to share, please feel free to post on our blog or Facebook page.  

And again, thank you to Morgan, his wife and children for joining us.  If you’ve enjoyed his message, his book “How Jesus Saves The World From Us” is available on or through Westminister John Knox Press at 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

DO NOT BE DISTRACTED BY CHERI HOLDRIDGE (with an assist by Kurt Young)

In the middle of the night on Feb 8, 1989 I got a phone call. My sister told me that my father had died. I didn’t even know he was sick. He had gone into the hospital that day but my mom did not think it was serious so she had not called me and my sisters. Two of us lived across the country and one lived in South America. My dad was 61. I was 26. He was too young to die. I was too young to lose my father. 

But there I was, flying home to Texas. A young seminary student planning my first funeral. Trudging through grief. Feeling numb. I remember saying that it felt like there was no blood running through my veins. I grieved with a vengeance. I felt all the feelings. A week or two later, back in Atlanta where I was living at the time, I was sitting in a church Board Meeting. I don’t remember what we were discussing but I remember thinking, “None of this matters. This is not important. My father just died.” But that’s what happens when there is a death. Your world stops, but the rest of the world just keeps moving forward. 

I held onto God for dear life. I prayed. I sat in silence. I asked “why?” “Why me?” “Why him?” “Why now?” God sent me comfort in the form of compassionate friends. People offered me words of consolation. Friends gave me hugs and comfort food. 

I don’t know how I got my school work done that semester. Somehow I managed. I worked at a church and the pastor was compassionate and patient with me. I could not “do” anything. All I could do was “be.” I could only “be” with God and grieve. I had to rest in God’s arms and know that God would see me through. And of course God did see me through to the other side of my grief. I got better. The pain subsided in time. Life went on. I miss my dad, but grief no longer holds me in its grip. 

I call that time in my life a Kairos moment, – a moment in time that was an event; a moment when God breaks into our lives. The Celtics call these moments “thin places.” Thin places are those times and places where heaven and earth meet. 

A Kairos moment, is a time when in an instant, you stop dead in your tracks because God gets your attention. Perhaps like me, you suffer a great tragedy and you turn to God. Or perhaps you see a person show great compassion, and that gets your attention. A Kairos moment can happen when you see something beautiful, or puzzling, when you are frightened or grateful, and you remember to pay attention to God, and you reflect if even for a moment on what God might have to say to you in this moment. My father’s death was for me a Kairos moment. I was drawn closer to God, and forever changed.

I want to take you back now 2000 years to that other story we just read (Luke 10:38-42 for those following along on the Internet). The scene is Bethany, a village on the East side of Jerusalem in what is today known as part of the West Bank. Jesus has traveled to there to visit his friends, perhaps to get away from the busyness of the city. This is during a time when Jesus is traveling from village to village, telling stories, healing the sick and sharing the good news.

Sometimes, as with last week’s story, religious leaders are asking questions and trying to trip him up. “What do I need to do to get eternal life?” “Love God and your neighbor,” Jesus says. “And who is my neighbor?” the man says. Jesus tells the story of the Samaritan, the “outsider” who shows compassion, as a way of teaching that his followers will treat EVERYONE as a neighbor. 

So, Jesus goes to visit his friends Mary and Martha who are the sisters of Lazarus. So the story goes, there is quite a contrast in the way the two sisters relate to Jesus in his brief visit in their home. Both welcome him.  But Martha is distracted by working in the kitchen to prepare a nice meal. Mary, sits at the feet of her teacher and “hangs on every word he says.” A bit of sibling rivalry kicks in. I’ve never heard of sibling rivalry. Martha calls upon Jesus to scold her sister: “Master, can’t you tell Mary to help me in the kitchen. She has left me to do all the work!”

Jesus looks at Martha and says: “Chill! You are stressing out about unimportant stuff. It doesn’t matter what we eat. Mary has chosen to pay attention to the main course. This moment will never be taken from her.”

You see Mary had a Kairos moment – that moment in time when God breaks into our lives. She was not going to be distracted by the things of this world. She could only focus on BEING in the moment with Jesus. 

Mary was not going to waste one moment of that visit. She was going to drink in every moment of the experience sitting at Jesus’ feet and taking in his presence. Poor Martha could not relax and enjoy the Kairos moment. She was too tied up in her responsibilities, and DOING so many things. 

And Martha got jealous that Mary was enjoying the moment with Jesus. Jesus invited Martha to choose the moment too. But Martha could not. Sometimes, we have the opportunity of choosing our moment with God. 

Other times, like when my father died, a crisis is thrust upon us. Hopefully in that crisis we will remember to put our trust in God rather than panic and think we can only depend on ourselves. 

But you see Mary listened to Jesus because she knew that Jesus would teach her the way to life eternal. I listened to God in my grief because I felt like I was dying too, and I needed to find my way back to life. 

We all have opportunities to stop DOING, and to just BE in the presence of God. Sometimes these opportunities come in the form of a Kairos moment, something that stops us dead in our tracks and calls us into the presence of God. But we can choose to stop any time, like Mary did. We can choose to slow down and BE in the presence of God, by taking a walk in nature and paying attention to the beauty of God’s creation. We can choose to slow down and BE in the presence of God by sitting still and lighting a candle and contemplating God as the light that shines in our darkness. We can choose to slow down and BE in the presence of God by closing our eyes and breathing in the spirit of God. 

We are all so good at DOING so many things like Martha. But how many of us know how to slow down and just BE like Mary? To BE in the present moment and just be thankful for the moment is the hardest thing for me, how about you? But to BE in the present moment and be thankful that we belong to God can be one of life’s biggest blessings. 

       Is it hard for you to slow down and BE in God’s presence? Do you have a daily prayer ritual? I know my life is so much calmer when I start my days with prayer. Sometimes I read scripture or read something in a book of spiritual writings. 

Sometimes I write in a journal. Sometimes I light a candle to remind me that God is my light. But the most important thing I can do is to be still and listen to God. God always gives me a reassuring message when I am quiet. These are my Kairos moments, when God breaks into my world. 

It is so easy to become distracted by so many other things: to do lists, dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, phone calls that need to be made, e mails, Pokemon Go and Facebook. All of those things can wait. Those are the things Martha busied herself with. Jesus said, “Martha, don’t worry about those things of the world. Be like Mary. Sit at my feet and listen to me.” 

Sometimes a crisis, such as a death, will drive us closer to God. In our turmoil we turn to God. But let’s not wait until it’s an emergency. Let’s turn to God every day, to start the day.
Don’t be distracted by many things. Only one thing is important. Let’s focus your attention on God. Give God your time. Be in God’s presence. Just as Mary was blessed by Jesus, you will be blessed by God. Amen.