Freedom Fruit 
Sunday, July 1, 2007, 08:14 AM - Sermon
Galatians 5:1, 13-25

We are entering the world of the fruit of Spirit. The works of the flesh are breaking down in this hyperconnected, world. It used to be works you made, what you did. Who you were, how you behaved, didn't matter as much. It was nobody's business, and outside of an expensive private investigator, it couldn't be anyone's business. Now leave an angry phone message and it is on the internet. Treat a girl rotten and get on the who not to date web site. Even minor things are recorded, I remember grossing out a friend of mine: “according to the Rotary's web site you have been a guest at Rotary five times in three years, when are you going to join?”

The book titled How by Dov L. Seidman argues that when everyone can do things cheaper, faster, better than the next person when everything becomes a commodity, HOW you doing something is the only thing that sets you apart from everyone else. In this view, Google isn't a search engine for finding web pages, it is an reputation management system. Google itself is almost spiritual in its motto “Don't Be Evil” which came from a desire not to make rules to direct individual actions on WHAT they should do in various circumstances, “Be on time for meetings” but HOW to act in all situations.

Wikiopedia talks about Google:

Google also falls victim to general criticism of companies that promote their corporate social responsibility, since many economists and business leaders believe that a corporation's first duty is to maximize shareholder value. This point of view holds that corporate social responsibility is either cynical and empty self-promotion (if the company's social responsibility claims are false), or detrimental to shareholder value (if the claims are true). Google, however, claims a third position, that a Don't Be Evil culture is a prerequisite to building shareholder value in the long term for a company that requires public trust to achieve its mission.

I maintain that the works of the flesh is greed, taking short-term profits. Short cuts to quick profits. The pay-off for fornication is quick and fleeting, the same with drunkenness, anger, quarrels, jealousy. All have there counterparts in the corporate world where we are seeing vast changes from the abuses of the Enron scandles and others. For the whats that used to make profits, the widgets, the cars, the people who answer the phone, all are made quicker, cheaper, and more efficient by someone else. People are now looking at how companies work, not what they produce. For the whats are becoming the same.

IBM got out of the computer making business, international business machines, and is now in the consulting business, trading making WHATs into selling their HOWs. Ever take an camera to an Art Fair. Don't do it. A picture of a painting can be copied at a photoshop, enlarged, and hung on the wall in four hours. Next month it could be $19.99 at the discount store. WHATs are becoming less important.

The world of the flesh is failing. It destroys itself. Instead comes the world of the spirit. Note there is only one fruit of the spirit. Not several fruit“S” (You can amaze and astound your friends with that trivia. Many gifts of the Spirit, just one fruit of the Spirit. ) If you are of the spirit, all these flow from the Spirit. It is the “Do be evil” idea of Goggle. All from there instead of from rules on rules.

To live and guided by the Spirit is to work on these items. Dov Seidman talks about it as trust. It is good idea. He has a bio-chemical and anthropological argument for using trust, but we have a better one. Living and being guided by the spirit is at its heart. The belief that the world is good and it is headed for a good purpose. Christians see this in the creation story, were God calls the creation good. We also see it in God's love for people shown in Jesus Christ. It you know the outcome is good, if you believe in God's providence, then it is easier to be patient. If you trust in God to work things out, you can have more self-control. If you don't look at the short term profit, the instant gain, the individual pay-off but the spirit of God in the kingdom, you will see more fruit of the Spirit.

Look at the Gospel…here is a disciples what to take short term profit on their mission to discipline the ones who rejected them. Jesus takes the longer term view…he doesn't punish folks who aren't ready for him yet. He has patience and self-control. What if he did that today? The films would be on youTube and the news, the bloggers would crucify him, and his message and his reputation would be ruined. The reputation latter is climbed one rung at a time, but when you fall, you slide all the way down.

Time and again, I've seen it is it not the incident, the offense, that causes the uproar but the reaction to it but the individual or the institution. And how often have you heard it said, “It isn't what was done, but how it was done.” The flesh is all about “Just Do It” get it done, self-indulgence, short cuts, and short term. The Spirit is about longer term values, about other people, relationship where trust and reputation matter and flow. Google, if they were more theological, might be tempted to replace, don't do evil with the positive, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”.

How would this work out? What would a world, a culture, an economy based on the fruit of the Spirit instead of the self-indulgent works of the flesh look like? It would be one not based on rules and laws, for the Spirit is not subject to rules and laws. How can you legislate trust, patient, generosity, kindness? If all lived by the Spirit, we wouldn't need some many laws, Jesus and the epistle today says they can all be reduced to one, “Love your neighbor as yourself”

What about the abusers? Rules are useful for minimums, for safety to set the floor. But not for motivation or inspiration or the ceiling as Dov Siedman says. You cannot make a rule to be the best for one cannot envision all the possibilities and situations and cover them with rules.

The wave was invented in October of 1981 at an Oakland A's game by Krazy George, the world's sexiest professional cheerleader. Siedman says getting a stadium full of thousands of fans to cooperate and make the wave cannot be done by hiring them (who has that money?), scaring them, (who can frightening folks across a stadium?), or making a rule that everyone has to jump up at the right time? It can only be done with trust in the community. That is how the Spirit transforms, by transformation relationships and people into communities that help one another, that see the bigger picture of a mighty wave of humanity when flesh self-indulgent folks only wonder what's jumping up and down going to do for me?

Be a part of the wave. Live and be guided by the spirit.

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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iPhone Home 
Wednesday, June 27, 2007, 12:33 PM - Extra Christy, Radio
The iPhone from Apple comes out at the end of this week and people are already lined up to buy the latest $499 technical wonder. An innovation for this phone is that it has one button. All the controls from dialing a number to surfing the web are done using a touch screen: your finger taps, slides, and swirls through phone, music, video, maps and messaging. The one physical button is used to bring you back to the home screen, no matter how many levels deep you are! The reviewers say this means you can never get lost in all the screens and options!

It is true that you are never lost if you know how to get home. Lost isn't not knowing where you are right now, but not knowing how to get back home. The sole Apple iPhone button makes sure its users are never lost in "a twisty maze of passageways" like some computer games. Just knowing the way home is available is comforting during challenging times and inspires the timid to forge on courageously.

A Christian is also comforted and encouraged during the explorations of this life knowing that our home is in heaven. We are never lost here on earth as long as we know where our home is. We can be encouraged in our explorations in this life, cheerful even, because we know where home is. I think this is why some church members tell me that when they don't go to church service on Sunday, they are lost the next week. They benefit from a weekly reminder of directions to their heavenly home.

Hope you always know where home is.

Our Home
Our bodies are like tents that we live in here on earth. But when these tents are destroyed, we know that God will give each of us a place to live. These homes will not be buildings that someone has made, but they are in heaven and will last forever. While we are here on earth, we sigh because we want to live in that heavenly home. We want to put it on like clothes and not be naked.

...Always be cheerful. As long as we are in these bodies, we are away from the Lord. But we live by faith, not by what we see. We should be cheerful, because we would rather leave these bodies and be at home with the Lord. But whether we are at home with the Lord or away from him, we still try our best to please him. After all, Christ will judge each of us for the good or the bad that we do while living in these bodies. - 2 Corinthians 5:1-3,6-10 (CEV)

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The Fear of Miracles 
Sunday, June 24, 2007, 08:11 AM - Sermon
1 Kings 19:1-15a; Luke 8:26-39

Elijah wished for death. It is strange if you read the preceding chapter. In chapter 18 he has his greatest victory, victory of the forces of Ba'al, the god of growth and rain. He challenged the priests of Ba'al to a God contest, complete with teams, fans, and even trash talk. He won. Not only did he beat the pagan priests, he and the victorious fans killed them all! They didn't mess around in God contest back then. But, Jezebel vows revenge and Elijah runs and hides. Have you felt like him? “I'm the only decent person left…the old times were so much better…everyone is out to do me in.” God gave him a great victory, a powerful sign that helped restore the worship of God to the country and broke a killing drought with life giving rain…yet Elijah ran away from God's great miracle.

The villagers of our demon processed man feared miracles, too. Jesus heals a man of being processed by a legion of demons so powerful they caused him to rip off his clothes and chains the villagers tried to use to calm him. When Jesus sent the demons out of the man and they entered a herd of swine, the violence of the demons caused the pigs to stampede over a cliff to their deaths! But the man, freed of the demons, was now in his right mind. He could talk and keep clothes on. The villagers saw this miracle and told Jesus to leave! You see crazy we know, destruction we are used to, but miracle? Healing! We are just not prepared for that, take that somewhere else Jesus.

Ever know a family where someone has cast out the demon alcohol? Suddenly they are in their right mind. Like our demon processed friend in the Bible, he is a different person. Families have a hard time with the change. They are used to craziness, to violence and abandonment. They hate it, but it is familiar and comfortable. Now the drunk is sober, and wants to be treated as an adult or a parent or both! They have opinions that are based on reason and experience, not inebriation. We don't expect miracles. Some fall off the wagon, because they are pushed by others who are afraid of miracles.

Death is expected. Sometimes welcomed. Miracles are always a surprise. We expect people, churches, and machines, to grow old, decay, run down. We have an entire industry devoted to death. They do a great and necessary job at funeral homes. Not so much miracles. There are no miracle homes. It is hard to make a home for the unexpected guest, I suppose. Much as I enjoy being with funeral directors, we fight sometimes over their desire to make a church sanctuary look like a funeral home. I think it should look like a miracle home: with great symbols of miracles on the walls and windows.

Have you noticed how much memorial and death we have compared to life and miracles. I was thinking about the memorial flowers. I like them. Others do, too. Often we have to ask people to choose another date because so many people contribute to the flowers. I want the first Sunday in September for my brother, Ric. I've bought flowers for him in 4 different churches over the years in three states. What would be the miracle expecting donation? Flowers remember, Miracles hope in the future. Maybe Happy Dollars like they have in Kiwanis. For a dollar donation to the Boys and Girls fund, anyone can brag about a miracle, a joy in their life. Maybe we should have in addition to memorial flowers, miracle doughnuts. The doughnuts today are brought to you by the Smith family on the birth of their daughter, or a birthday, or a new job. Expecting Miracles, welcoming them instead of fearing them is a mind set we have to seek.

In church it is very comforting to get slowly smaller every year. It is easy. It is expected. No one acts surprised with another year of loss in total membership. Because giving lags behind attendance, growing smaller is financially easier, too. If attendance is growing, you have that lag working against you. Growing churches have monthly financial crises, new people with new ideas. New ways of worship. What if the contemporary service takes off? Turmoil! Chaos! Change! Shut it down! It is making us two congregations, that isn't really worship or singing. We can save money by just having one service, send that other service away into the exile of Saturday night…we can't have miracle and life and newness around here. It is unnatural, it is unexpected.

Miracles are always unexpected changes in the order of things. Nature runs down into decay. Miracles are new life and that is always messy and upsetting. Ask any new parent about the changes the miracle of a baby brings. Only with a lot of support and understanding from those that have been there before is there any hope of the new parents coping with the miracle of life.

Do not be like Elijah and run away from miracles because change brings challenges. Don't be like the villagers that ask Jesus to take the first boat out of town because he just did not understand the way things were around here. Be like the demon released man and welcome the miracles in your life, telling everyone you know what God has done for you and welcoming that miracle power in others.

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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Stopping on Yellow 
Wednesday, June 20, 2007, 12:32 PM - Extra Christy, Radio
I just passed my Ohio driver's license test for the third time. (I keep moving in and out of the state. I guess Ohio wants to make sure I didn't forget how to drive while I was in the wilds of Indiana and backwaters of Pennsylvania.)

One thing that seemed new to me on the exam was that yellow on a traffic light didn't mean "Caution" but "Clear the Intersection". It seems drivers are supposed to stop on a yellow traffic light. It is not a warning to speed up to beat the red! The yellow signal is only to give cars already in the intersection time to clear it.. Who knew! Jeff Bridges in Starman sums up America's driving practice: "I watched you very carefully. Red light stop. Green light go. Yellow light go very fast"

I've been trying to stop on yellows now. It is surprisingly tough habit to break! (I also worry about the brakes of the cars following me!) It is strange that a signal meant for clearing out is often interpreted as encouragement for rushing in!

I have found that stopping on the yellow is a more calm way to drive. Maybe stopping for warnings instead of trying to beat them is a more calm way to travel through life as well.

Rushing in Instead of Clearing Out

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." - Genesis 2:15-17 (NIV)

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The Miracle of Love 
Sunday, June 17, 2007, 10:09 AM - Sermon
1 Kings 17:8-24; Luke 7:11-17
What's your Credit Score? Do you know? It is important when you buy a house, a car, or even a phone now. A credit score is a number that condenses all of your credit history—your timely bill payment, the number of credit cards you have, how long you have had them and how much debt they can carry, loans you have, your repayment pattern, into one number. It is so sensitive to credit activity that even asking what the credit score is affects the credit score. Folks considering lending you money, or financing your home can decide whether you are worthy of getting that house or loan.

But wait, there's more! You can rent a higher credit score. Yes, there are companies that match credit needing people with people who have credit to spare. The company pays folks with good credit for the right to put the names of people with poor credit on credit cards belong to people with stellar credit histories. No extra cards are issued, the renters of credit cannot make any charges on the accounts, but the credit score computer notices that suddenly they have one, two or three credit cards with excellent payment history and their score goes up! They have borrowed the credit another person deserves. All legally.

The church has had this scheme for hundreds of years. Called indulgences it was the idea that the saints of the church had more than enough good works or merit to get into heaven. (To buy some real estate in the planned and pearly gated community known as Heaven.) So the left over merit would go into the treasury of merit, which the church then rented out to folks who want to make sure their departed loved ones had enough credit to get a lot in heaven. The church told folks that while the people were waiting to get in heaven, they were in purgatory, a kind of waiting room for heaven, a kind of temporary hell. (So the next time you are in a waiting room—think hmm…this is a little like hell.) Just like the credit renting companies of this era, the church charged for this transfer of credit. They even had the world's first advertising jingle: “When the coin in the plate rings, the soul from purgatory springs!” Catchy. The selling indulgences business got so bad, that it was one of the main reasons Martin Luther called for reform in the church. In the resulting reformation, indulgences got thrown out.

Now, I think indulgences were a bad practice. The rejection of the idea of charging for spiritual services of the church is one of the reasons I decline to accept honorariums for funerals and weddings. Yet, you know, I think we lost something between indulgences to get out of purgatory and here. Purgatory at least recognized that the vast majority of people are somewhere between totally evil and totally good. It offered something between sinister sinners and spotless saints. Look at our gospel today. The Pharisee and the Prostitute should be examples of saint and sinner, good and bad…yet Jesus saw more to the story. He pointed out the loving service of the sinner and the lack of the same in the saint. Jesus knew that we are all mixed up with good and bad in each of us.

What do we do with people who are good and bad? I think we too often divide them up to Saints and Sinners. The Good and the Bad. Then when one of the good falls short, we are crushed, for now we have to assign them to the bad. We don't allow folks to be a mix. Throw them into jail! Mandatory sentences! Love America or leave it! Support the troops or help the terrorists! True Americans or Illegal Immigrants.

The Pharisee, the good person in this story, was wrong about Jesus. He did know who the person touching him was. A forgiven sinner, like everyone else. A mixture of good and bad like all the rest of us. Jesus, instead of condemning her or just sending her away, forgives her.

Why forgive sinners? Why give them any credit at all? Shouldn't we all have our own credit score with God, based on our own actions? Shouldn't sinners be punished and corrected? Well, that is possible, and the Bible tells us that the government is supposed to keep order and if they don't, revenge is mine says the Lord, not ours.

Our job could be not to punish sinners play God in the literal sense by deciding who is destined to be homeless in hell and who has closed on some heavenly property; but to increase love in our lives and the world. Jesus points out that the one who is forgiven much, loves much…the one who is forgiven little loves little.

What to have more love in your life? Try having more forgiveness in your life. You can forgive your sister for her treatment of you, or your children for forgetting you. Jesus promises the more you forgive, the more love there will be. How about your own relationship with God? Wish you were more spiritual, that God was more involved in your life? How about forgiving God for the disappointment and pain in your life? You don't have to understand the motivation of others to forgive, you don't have to approve of the act to forgive, you don't have to deny the hurt to forgive. But to increase love in your life, you have to forgive.

The miracle of love is that it increases the more it is given away. The more we give in loving forgiveness, the more we have in our life. Instead of checking credit scores of others, or seeking to borrow good credit from others, forgive the debt and watch the miracle of love happen in your life. Amen.

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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