Burden Delivery 
Wednesday, February 4, 2009, 07:10 AM - Extra Christy, Radio
Where Do You Put Your Burdens?
UPS has a distribution center by me. I like taking my packages there to ship.

Unlike a lot of stores, the door into the building automatically opens. The exit door has a sign warning you that it requires a push.

I thought that was odd, until I realized that UPS assumes that you are bring packages into the store, the opposite of most businesses, that hope your arms are full on the way out! You only need the door to open automatically when you are burdened.

I wonder which way church doors would open automatically, coming in or going out. Do people leave their burdens there or get loaded up with more? I suppose it varies among different people and week to week.

At home or church, or whatever special place you have to leave your burdens, I hope the door opens in welcome for you and you are free of burdens when you leave.

Carrying Burdens

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." - Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

Jesus replied, "And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them."- Luke 11:46 (NIV)

I hope doors open when you are carrying burdens.
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Special Treatment 
Sunday, February 1, 2009, 08:00 AM - Sermon, Podcast
1 Corinthian 8:1-13

Pastor Christy talks about being Christian in a secular world using Respectful Presence and a wide understanding of the presence of Christ

The message below is available as a podcast recorded live at our worship service. Click the podcast image to listen now or right click the image and choose "Save As" to save this message in mp3 file format on your computer for playing later.

Who gets to pray at a presidential inauguration? Since 1937 when FDR started the tradition of prayer at inaugurations, inaugurations have included the prayers of rabbis, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, a Presbyterian for Ronald Regan and even the president himself, Eisenhower started his address with a prayer! Did you follow the debate this year? Rev. Rick Warren, author of A Purpose Driven Life, was asked to pray at the beginning of the ceremony, which outraged some people so much that Bishop Gene Robinson was asked to pray at another event, which outraged the folks that supported the choice of Rev. Warren. The idea of a national pastor or national prayer seems to be difficult to do.

Did you hesitate wishing folks “Merry Christmas” this year? I figured “Happy New Year” was safe, though the Jews and Chinese have different New Year's. What if it was turned around, we might be wished a good Imbolc tomorrow, a pagan festival. It does not have to be between Christians and everyone else, we have seen in the debates over the inauguration prayers that Christians have a hard time agreeing. It isn't just prayers either, wedding ceremonies, the very legality of marriages, family gatherings, social events, governmental meetings, public decorations, the definition of life, medical research. How are we to get along with one another where there soon will be no majority, just a collection of minorities? It is good for us to treat others rightly, and not just fight at the ballot box because it soon the situation might be reversed, and our flavor of Christianity will be the minority, if not for us than our children or grandchildren.

Our Presbyterian General Assembly put it this way a decade ago:

Many persons in the United States have traditionally assumed that Christian religious institutions constituted the dominant religious force in U.S. society and that, therefore, their symbols and religious forms should be commonly accepted in the public arena. Today, however, Christians in the United States find themselves in a society that has become so diverse religiously and culturally that it is often inappropriate or unacceptable to assume that acts of Christian worship will be used in public circumstances. At the same time, Christians may find themselves in situations where they are unsure if they are unfaithful and unwise to participate in other types of public religious acts which some might interpret as unauthentic worship.

Will we avoid the language of religious participation and the symbols of religious expression entirely and thereby treat public encounters with people of other faiths as purely secular? Or, shall we join in situations where religious expressions and symbols are used in a context where diverse faith communities are present and active?

We are convinced that Christians may engage in interreligious prayer and celebration, not only to meet the demands of particular occasions, but also as an expression of our faithfulness to the gospel itself.

Respectful presence is a way for Christians to be present with persons of other religious traditions in a variety of settings, expressing deep respect for those persons and their faith while maintaining loyalty to the Christian gospel. — Respectful Presence: An Understanding of Interfaith Prayer and Celebration from a Reformed Christians Perspective commended to congregations by 209th General Assembly (1997)

Paul had the same problem of a variety of religious expressed in a different way. He was fussing with food sacrifice to idols. I don't think we think much about that problem now. Devil's Food cake, deviled ham and deviled eggs don't upset us much. The principle is the same. Some good Christians thought that it was joining in the worship of idols if you eat food that was dedicated to them. Christians, and I think Paul with them, figured it made no difference since “no idol in the world really exists”, he quotes the arguments, or at least the sound bites from the arguments.

Paul points out the difference between the knowledge on which these arguments are based and love. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. One of the teachings in my first experience as a chaplain that has stuck with me is the idea that chaplains needed to be secure enough if there own beliefs that they did not need to argue their beliefs with others. Maybe a better way would be that chaplains who know better; who love others enough that they don't need to argue their beliefs with them.

How is this difference from shifting opinion of Political Correctness? How can we avoid being controlled by the weakest or “squeakiest” member of our community? Paul tells us. At the end of the reading today, he explains why he is as he is. He doesn't leave the control in the other people, but makes a faith statement of who he wants to be as a person of faith, a Christian. He will not eat meat not simply because others told him not to, or because they have convinced him of the reality and power of idols, but because he does not want to cause anyone to fall. It is a profound difference. You can do what other people wish you to do and still be faithful and authentic if you do it for your reasons, not because of their demands. I wish to be a person that builds on others faith, not tear them down.

We can learn also from Paul's respectful presence in Athens which, according to scripture, was full of idols. He tells the idol worshipping crowd in Acts 17, not that idols are wrong and evil but that the evidence of idols shows they are very religious. He doesn't give them tracts or Bibles, but talks about looking carefully at their objects of worship and even quotes one of the inscriptions and poets. His message doesn't mention Christ by name yet he witnesses to the common humanity of all people made by one creator. He is faithful, but respectful, finding common points of faith among Christianity and even the idol multiple God worshipping Athenians. He builds up with love, instead of being puffed up with knowledge and being dismissed as a blowhard.

We wish to be people that confess Jesus Christ is “The way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) As Respectful Presence reminds us: Where God's grace and mercy is present, where creation is restored, when human dignity is maintained, where the stranger is received, Christ is present and revealed. Wherever sisters and brothers gather to comfort, confront and correct each other, God's Spirit of truth is there.

So we seek to “build loving relationships with people of other faiths and religious traditions. Where possible we will work in solidarity with them in struggles for justice, freedom, peace, and human dignity.” (PC(USA) General Assembly minutes, 1991, Part I, p. 676, para 34.074) not because we have given up control to others, but because of who we are and who Christ calls us to be, a light to the nations, builders of faith, peacemakers, and servants. Amen.

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A New Year Day Any Day  
Wednesday, January 28, 2009, 08:00 AM - Extra Christy
Posted by Administrator

Perhaps one of the reasons New Year resolutions don't work is that anything we can put off to the New Year is something that isn't really that important to us.

Will Shortz, the puzzlemaster on NPR's Weekend Edition, doesn't make New Year's resolutions because he believes that any day is a good day for self-improvement.

A New Year for you doesn't have to begin on January 1st. This week is the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Ox (or Water Buffalo). You can have a new year any day you choose, just live in a new way.

Christianity is about newness and change. We don't have to wait until January 1st to do good and be better.

Happy New Year! Happy New You!

A New You Resolution

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.' "

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."

Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."- Luke 19:5-9 (NIV)

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Change We Need 
Sunday, January 25, 2009, 08:00 AM - Sermon, Podcast
Jonah 3

Pastor Christy reads the book of Jonah, the man who hated change.

The message below is available as a podcast recorded live at our worship service. Click the podcast image to listen now or right click the image and choose "Save As" to save this message in mp3 file format on your computer for playing later.

Jonah is a short book. It is just four chapters, two pages in the Bible, but it traces a complete arc of one man's dealings with God's demands. Jonah is against change. The book with his name shows us how we deal with the demands for change in our own life, from God or otherwise.

Realize The beginning of working on a problem, or working on God's call is to realize that something is wrong. God takes notice of Nineveh. Jonah knows Nineveh, it was the big bully on the block at the time. God wanted Jonah to go and fix them. Later Jonah says he was afraid God would forgive them instead of destroy them. He wanted no part of the salvation of Nineveh, they did not deserve his help.

The problems are too big, there is nothing I can do, it will take care of itself. When we realize that we are have a part in the solution of the problem, that God has called us to make a difference in the world. We are on are way to the change we need.

Retreat The most common action after we realize we have a problem to work on, a call to go forward. Jonah runs the other way. Some put Tarshish is on the other side of the Mediterranean in present day Spain, west of Israel, while Nineveh is east. Others put Tarshish in South America near Buenos Aires. Far from Israel and Nineveh. I've meant many people who run away from the problems, literally, they move to another town, move to another church, move to another spouse instead of working on their problems. They bring their problems with them.

I remember talking to the police who pointed out that criminals never figure out that you can't outrun the radio. It is even tougher to go where God can't get you. As Psalm 139 sings, even if you take the wings of the morning to the furthest reaches of the earth will only find God there to greet you. If we make our bed in heaven or hell, we are still in God's hands.

Most of our problems are of our own making. Not the situation, but our reaction and response to the situation. This works out well for the only real thing we can change is ourselves. So fleeing from problems, either by distance or denial doesn't work for wherever we go, there we are. Running away just moves the problem, it does not escape it for you cannot outrun yourself.

Reproach Strangely, we can go right from retreat to reproach. From acting as if we have nothing to do with the problems, to taking all the problems on ourselves. Sometimes some of us can go overboard with a problem, thinking death or destruction is the only way out. Jonah's says it is all my fault, throw me overboard, I am the source of all the problems and evil.

It is also a popular game when the boat is going down, who is to blame. If no one comes forward, folks pick who to sacrifice by casting lots, by random divination. What have you done to bring this upon us? This is done in countries, churches, and families. Someone is to blame for our troubles, if we throw them overboard, all will be well. What if Jonah had repented on the ship? Decided to do what was required of him, instead of giving up on life itself? He took the beating and the blame instead of using it as a time to change and repent. He hadn't hit bottom yet, he just knew the pain was great, but not great enough to change.

Repent Jonah hits bottom in the belly of a great fish. He prays there in the dank and dark saying that he will do what God has commanded him. When we get so low there is no way out but up, we see repentance. When the pain overcomes the fear of change, we do what we need to do. Repent means to turn. Change course, go in a new direction.

Some of us wonder how an African American got elected President. We never expected to see the day. I wonder if it took a lot of pain to see a new way out. Maybe we are in the belly of the whale now. A place where we can turn away from racism, classism, greed, and forcing our way on the rest of the world. It is good when things are bleakest, when banks teeter on collapse, investments shrink, and jobs evaporate; when we got of the storm only to swallowed by a fish, to realize that maybe God is trying to get our attention to turn our course. In the belly of the beast, Jonah prayed. It is good when all has gone from bad to worse to pray God.

I talked to one person who made a huge career change. Left the ministry, he said, when all was going bad in his current position and he couldn't even get through the first interview with other churches because he was so down on himself and life…he prayed, I get I'm supposed to leave this church God, show me your way. Immediately a dream job dropped in his lap, and everything else fell into place. He was much happier out of the ministry, but it took a kick in the gut and an honest prayer to get him to see that God wanted him to move.

Reveal Our third chapter has Jonah reveals his message and result of his warning. All of Ninevah from the King on down makes a change in sackcloth and ashes and repents. He is a change without know that it will work. Who knows? Interesting thing has been reveled in pandemic planning, you know if another great flu epidemic rages through the world like in 1918 where 20 to 100 million people died. Planners have run different ways of coping, shutting down air travel, declaring a holiday, closing schools, distributing vaccine…they found that any change was good and helped the outcome. When something isn't working, when the present form of the world is slipping away, and the current course shows doom is certain, any change can bring a better outcome than the status quo. God does relents and lets the city survive.

Regret Now this makes Jonah a liar. Worse than that he saved Israel's enemies from the destruction of God. It is like God was like God was going to destroy the terrorists, but you warned them, and they repented so God let them off. How popular would you be back home? Jonah regrets the whole episode.

Change is like that as well. At some point the old ways seems so much better compared to the new. The Israelites mourned for slavery in Egypt, the alcoholic remembers the sweet numbness of the bottle, the abused women returns to her attacker. We forget the storm and the whale belly that got us to change and slip back into what A.A. calls stinky thinking. Jonah can't see the good in an entire city repenting and the saving of people from destruction because his pride was hurt and nationalistic desire for revenge was thwarted.

Reflect The last chapter is reflection, or a challenge to reflect. God gives Jonah a tree for shade one day and then destroys it the next. Jonah misses the tree and its shade. God says well, you miss the tree you had nothing to do with, that you only had a one day relationship. How much more do I care for the men, women and children of Nineveh? The book ends with that question, which is a cue that that the reader is supposed to answer the question.

The entire book of Jonah is about how God's care changes us. God's messengers or the recipients of that message, God's care is with us in the belly of the beast, the storms of life, and in our most wickedest moments and with our deadliest enemies. If we let God's care and love for us and others direct us from ourselves into relationship and care with others we will find not only ourselves changed for the better, but the world. Amen.

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Brother Can You Spare A Prayer? 
Wednesday, January 21, 2009, 11:17 AM - Extra Christy
Inauguration Prayers Parsed

All the discussion about the inauguration prayers and those who pray in public reminds me of a Southern Baptist student I worked with once. When a parishioner complained about a prayer he gave, he replied, "I wasn't talking to you."

Public inclusive prayer is tricky. There are so many flavors of Christianity on our national table along with other varieties of soul food. Often there are those present who skip spiritual nourishment altogether. Jesus wisely tells his followers to avoid the hollow rewards of public prayer and recommends praying in private.

In his inauguration prayer, the Rev. Rick Warren moved from a public gathering of hopes and faiths (he touched sacred texts of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in the opening sentences) into a personal testimony of who changed his life and in whose name he was asking all the above. (He switched from "We" and "our" to "I" and "my".)

Sharing what you believe and who gives you hope and purpose maybe be the best way to be personal in public prayer. In may also help us remember who is the audience for all prayers whether we are alone or in front of millions.

Table for One...

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." - Matthew 6:5-6 (NIV)

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