Close to You 
Saturday, August 11, 2007, 12:30 PM - Wedding
Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.

Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ's love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They're really doing themselves a favor—since they're already "one" in marriage.

No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That's how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become "one flesh." This is a huge mystery, and I don't pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband. Ephesians 5:21-33 (The Message)

Heather and Mike, you've known each other a long time, you grew up here in this church. You couldn't agree if you ever broken up as a couple because one of you maintained that the break up in 4th grade doesn't really count. Even as youths you planned to have your youth leader Sue Tinker in your wedding. So it is good you are here in the church for your wedding, for marriage is one of the best examples of the relationship of Christ and church.

The Presbyterian Church and all churches serve Christ and Christ gave up his life for the church. This union is so close that the church is called the body of Christ. You two know about closeness for is one of the strengths of your relationship, you find it easy to do things together because you genuinely like to be together as a couple. You are the first couple I've married to score 100% on communication issues. You both strongly agree that you can express your true feelings to your partner even during times of conflict. You completely trust what your partner confides in you. Others have picked up on this closeness, telling me, that you are married already. You are one and this wedding is a celebration of that oneness, that closeness that you share.

You have some tests coming up, and not the college kind you are used to. Short-term I know you wonder about your first airplane flight later today. But marriage is long term. Marriage is different that dating, a marathon compared to a 50 yard dash. Long term, the financial pressures of education and employment are a concern to both of you. Your closeness will help you, but I want to also remind you that isn't the only close relationship you have. You have your families and friends with you. Let's take a moment from looking at each other, you already have memorize each other's image, turn and look at the people gathered here today. They are not just a part of your wedding, but a part of your marriage. They are here to support and help you not just as Heather and Michael, but as a married couple, they are commitment to the health of your relationship as well. You can call on them for a listening ear in times of stress, advice during difficult decisions, and consolation and encouragement when things go wrong. Don't let your closeness close out your family and friends.

Look again at the congregation. It is a great view from up here isn't it! If you look past the individuals seated here today you can see the generations that have sat here before, praising God and loving one another in the Body of Christ the stained glass brings us back to the beginning of that close relationship of God with God's people. That is the third closeness I want to lift up today. The Closeness of God and God's People. We have a Christ who knows about the struggles of life, trying to do right and live well in an indifferent and sometimes hostile world. Christ is with us in the church universal; it is his body, his spirit unites us and makes us one. No matter how difficult the journey, God is with us in Christ, that is why we call Jesus Christ Immanuel; it means, “God with Us”. Do not let your closeness as a couple crowd out the closeness of God here among God's People gathered in churches around the world. We can be a part of your marriage as well, helping you to cherish your relationship as Christ cherishes the church gathered for worship and service.

You are in for surprises! Seat backs do not recline in the last row of the airplane is one coming up pretty quick. Others are coming as well, but no matter how bumpy the ride might be, you only have to look over to your partner to remember your closeness to the one you love. And you only have to walk into a church, Christ's body, to know you are close to God, who has loved you from birth, without break ups! and will be as close to you for eternity as you are close to each other now. Be close to each other, to your family and friends, and to God and his church. Amen.

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Happily Ever After 
Wednesday, July 18, 2007, 12:39 PM - Extra Christy, Wedding, Radio
I enjoy pre-marital counseling. Listening to a couple in love talk about their relationship strengths and "growth areas" is always familiar yet new with each pair.

Like "happily ever after" in fairy tale accounts of weddings; I admit I have some stock lines I use: like asking if either of them is going to change their names. The big surprise is when I ask them why they are getting married...a question they don't expect from someone in the wedding business, and one surprisingly hard for some couples to answer.

Another surprise comes when I share the statistic that cohabitating couples are more likely to divorce than those that do not live together before marriage. (This is according to no less than the Center for Disease Control: First marriages that were preceded by cohabitation are more likely disrupted than those that were not preceded by cohabitation. Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the United States 2002 p. 28) Folks are surprised, because they think that "playing house" is a good way to divorce proof a marriage. This points out there is something different between cohabitation and marriage.

Which bring us back to the question about why get married. Our marriage service in the Book of Common Worship says:

God created us male and female, and gave us marriage so that husband and wife may help and comfort each other, living faithfully together in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, throughout all their days.

God gave us marriage for the full expression of the love between a man and a woman. In marriage a woman and a man belong to each other.

God gave us marriage for the well-being of human society, for the ordering of family life, and for the birth and nurture of children.

What is your answer? I am drawn to the part about "belonging to each other". It is good to have an answer to the question of "Why marriage?" whether your wedding day is in the future or the past.

Two Become One
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said,
"This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called 'woman,'
for she was taken out of man."

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.- Genesis 2: 20-24 (NIV)

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Wedding Insurance 
Wednesday, June 6, 2007, 12:18 PM - Extra Christy, Wedding
Did you know you can buy Wedding Insurance? In an update of the Old English rhyme's method for insuring good luck, couples (and their parents!) can purchase insurance for the big day:

Something old........change of the old wedding date
something gifts covered
something borrowed...deposits lost by business closing
something blue.......provides professional counseling
& a silver sixpence in her shoe......extra expenses covered!

I have been in a lot of weddings over the years, some were major productions and others were simple affairs. One included a horse drawn carriage while another was held in a living room. (Note: If you want a quick service, have a roaring fire behind the pastor!)

I wonder what Marriage Insurance would be like. For while a wedding is a big day, marriage is intended for the rest of our days. Premiums of love would have to be paid daily, in the form of thoughtfulness and kindness. Coverage would be summed up in another wedding poem found in the Book of Common Prayer:

for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
till death us do part.

We don't seal Marriage Insurance with a notary's stamp and ink signatures but with the seal of the Spirit and promises written on our hearts:

Eternal God, without your grace no promise is sure. Strengthen them with patience, kindness, gentleness, and all other gifts of the Spirit, so that they may fulfill the vows they have made. Keep them faithful to each other and to you. Fill them with such love and joy that they may build a home of peace and welcome. Guide them by your word to serve you all their days.

Enable us all, O God, in each of our homes and lives to do your will. Enrich us with your grace so that, encouraging and supporting one another, we may serve those in need and hasten the coming of peace, love, and justice on earth, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Two Together

Jesus answered, "Haven't you read in your Bible that the Creator originally made man and woman for each other, male and female? And because of this, a man leaves father and mother and is firmly bonded to his wife, becoming one flesh-no longer two bodies but one. Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart."

- Matthew 19:4-6 (The Message)

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Promise Land 
Wednesday, May 9, 2007, 10:53 AM - Extra Christy, Wedding
A wedding is embarking on the marriage journey that is a lot like crossing into the promised land. Your promises, your vows, will take you into marriage, a land made of promises to each other, God, God's people, your family and friends. Just like the first trip to the promised land; it is supposed to be great, where God wants us to be, yet, again like that other promised land, there is a lot of battles before us until we can claim the land and its blessings of milk and honey.

What would you like to know about the land of married you are about to enter? Surely some have come back from that land to warn you. Some probably have told you about there being Giants in the Land, maybe some problems so large and forces so uncaring that we are as insignificant as bugs before them. Almost half of first time marriages end in divorce, the cost of raising a child is astronomical, safety of your home, job and wealth is harder to guarantee. What about your freedom? What if you find someone better? Surely folks have come back to tell you about all these dangers in married promised land.

But as you take your promises today. You are like Caleb who, when all of the leaders were saying how dangerous the promise land was, said, "We can do it!" He didn't say there weren't dangers and challenges. He didn't disagree with the facts. He just didn't stop looking there. He looked around at those he was with, the other leaders, Moses, and the Israelites. WE CAN DO IT. If you look into the future, all the problems and threats and dangers; you'll turn back from the promise land. But if you look at each other, and look at God, and look at all your family and friends gathered in God's house today. You will say "WE CAN DO IT" Keep looking at each other, God, your church, family and friends and your will enter the promised land today and dwell there the rest of your lives together.

-- first preached at Allison and Geoffrey's wedding in April 2007

We Can Do It!

They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: "We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there.

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it."But the men who had gone up with him said, "We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are." And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, "The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them." - From Numbers 13

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Love's Way 
Sunday, January 28, 2007, 07:00 AM - Sermon, Wedding
1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Preaching that grabs the heart; teaching that reveals eternal mysteries; faith that wears down mountains of doubt; generosity ten times the size of a tithe that gives everything back to God; all of these, any of these, would define a great church. Such a church would be quoted in the paper and celebrated by its members. We have the best preaching, teaching, faith and generosity! We are blessed by God! Everyone would want to go to such a church! They are the winners.

Paul has struggled with various groups arguing that God had blessed them best. He attempts to quiet that competition by pointing out that all the gifts are given by one Spirit for the good of the entire body of Christ. But he ends the section with a teaser at the end of chapter twelve. “But I will show you a still more excellent way.” That way is our reading today, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Love's Way.

Here he lists what people would consider great spiritual gifts: preaching, teaching, faith, generosity, and sacrifice, and cuts them all down to nothing without love. Of all the things we can say about ourselves, or others can say about us; the one thing that will remain after all is said and all is done, is how much did they love? Maybe that would be a great annual report, a standard committee report, a monthly newsletter headline: How did we love this year, this month, this day?

Have you noticed that being rich is necessarily a guarantee of happiness or even success in life? The movie Dreamgirls with 8 Academy Award nominations is the latest story of a person who gains the world but loses love. Curtis, played by Jamie Foxx, builds a recording empire and a castle of a home…which he is left alone when his wife leaves him, tired of his betrayal and all consuming focus on money and success. Of all the grandiose shows and wonderful choreography in the movie, the scene most moving is this simple one done with lighting: his grandiose home vanishes as the light shrinks away from it to show just him, alone in the spotlight, just a shadow. If I have the great recording company, and live in a mansion, but have not love, I am homeless and alone.

The Beacon Journal took pains in its report that the Akron Baptist Temple had 7,000 members in 1963; now it has 1,500, less than a fourth. It didn't report on how much love they had. The world counts heads, God counts hearts. If I have numbers to fill great auditoriums, and impress the press…but have not love…I am a empty chair.

I was talking to a person about the church building. They wanted to rent it and would pay more if they could do whatever they wanted to the rooms, paint and remodel. I told them that was a deal breaker. “But we would pay so much more” was the argument. We aren't here for the money. If we have a successful partnership bulging with activity and profit, but have not love, we are bankrupt.

The world wants amazing things. We see this in the Gospel. They want “Real miracles, sensibly priced” (Leap of Faith). Jesus says that miracles are not for everyone and thus turns an appreciative crowd into a murderous mob. The way of the world is to make a profit or die trying. But as Paul tells us in Corinthians, Jesus has a different way. Look at the last verse of the reading. Here we have a mob ready to toss him off a cliff for daring to tell them that God granted miracles for widows and foreign lepers and not them his own people. Yet, Jesus manages to walk through them and go on his own way. His way is not the way of the world, it is another path, the way of love.
When have you been on that cliff? Did a false accusation drag you up there? I remember a bank president, a member of the church I served. accused on the front page of the small town paper of sexual harassment. He wouldn't come to the door when I visited him. The mob was ready to throw him off. What is pushing you up the cliff: financial problems, loss of a job, unemployment, a wayward son, daughter, grandson or grand-daughter? The world will push you and push you if you let the mob have their way. But you can choose love's way, like Christ, and pass through the midst of them.

It is difficult to go through the midst of the crowd on Jesus' way, the way of love, for you must leave irritability at the meanness of the mob or resentment at the unfairness of friends, and gather up a load of patience, bearing and enduring all things in love. In the words of Reinhold Niebuhr in the Serenity Prayer, “Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it” and loving it just the same.

A couple was celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. They were asked how they managed to stay married and in love all those years. The wife said, “When we got married, I decided to make a list of 5 things that he did that I wouldn't get mad at; that love list has kept our marriage together.” She was asked what was on the list and replied, “Oh I never got around to writing it down. Just every time he did something to make me mad, I would say to myself, he's lucky that is on the list.” Love bears all things, endures all things.

The world screams for fairness and success, reward and miracle, fame and fortune. Yet Love's way whispers, come through the crowd, away from the cliff that desires for success and power will lead you up and push you off the end.

Everything but love ends. We want to forget this. We want our family name to continue. We want to leave our mark. We want our values to continue. Sometimes we even want our lives to continue at all costs. Look at verse eight, knowledge will pass away, prophecies will end, great spiritual displays like tongues will cease. For all that we build up is incomplete. We can make a hollow idol of our house, our car, our family, our job, our bank account, our church, our worship ways, our health…but all those will pass away, and before they are gone, if they are without love, we will find they are nothing.

Bobbie Probstein, in Chicken Soup for the Soul tells of having a vision of her mother, who was claimed by Alzheimer's.

I said, “Oh, Mother, I'm so sorry that you had to suffer with that horrible disease.” She tipped her head slightly to one side, as though to acknowledge what I had said about her suffering. Then she smiled - a beautiful smile - and said very distinctly, “But all I remember is love.”

All God remembers, all that makes anything memorable, all that lasts, is love.

Copyright (c) 2007 Advanced permission is given for non-profit, for-prophet use of the above at no charge as long as it is reproduced unedited with notices and copyright intact. Written copies are provided after they are preached as a courtesy for the personal, private, appreciative use of the congregation of Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church, their families and friends to support the ministry of Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church and its pastor the Rev. J. Christy Ramsey. Join us Sundays! 8:15 Traditional Worship and 10:15 Blended. Mingle in our Gathering Room between services and take advantage of Christian Education opportunities.

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