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Who is My Neighbor? 
Sunday, July 15, 2007, 08:20 AM - Sermon
Posted by Administrator
Luke 10:25-37

Ask a question and get a story. Jesus I just want to know who my neighbor is. Is it people of live on either side of me? It is people in my ward? Folks in my town? Americans? Christian people? English speaking people? What if a immigrant family moves in next to me?

It would be simple if Jesus would give us a yardstick to tell us who does and doesn't fall in the category of neighbors to love as we love ourselves. The book titled How by Dov L. Seidman tells us that a rule is a proxy; a stand-in when we cannot be there ourselves or when we don't trust others to act as we would wish. The less trust the more rules. Yet rules fail us.

1. You can't make a rule for every situation. New situations keep coming up that are not covered by the old rules. So rules fail as proxy, they can't stand in for the rule maker, because they are limited to past situations.

2. A rule sets the floor not the ceiling, as Dov Seidman writes. Rules don't tell you how to excel, how to be first or the best. They limit and protect, but do not encourage and inspire. We not have a law, a rule, of no smoking in public buildings. Yet we can't make enough rules to make people choose healthy lives.

3. Folks are very good at getting around rules. Firestone High School changed their dress code while I was there prohibiting wearing shorts. (I know it seems like a quaint worry of yesteryear now.) One boy figured out how to obey the rule yet still stay cool, he wore a skirt, which were allowed.

4. Rules require constant maintenance. Look at the income tax code. Or locally we have supreme court cases, more than one, about enforcing the speed limit in a school zone. How did that happen?

5. Rules require enforcement. If rules are not enforced they are ignored and fail to stand-in for the rule maker. The one I hear most around the church are copyright rules. “No one will know so we can make copies…” Unenforced rules devalue the principle and the morality they try to protect. We don't want to be people who only act rightly when someone is watching.

These are reasons why Jesus doesn't give us a rule of loving the neighbor. I think he senses that our friend is looking for some wriggle room, a way to do the minimum daily requirement for maximum eternal life. Jesus is about doing the minimum. John 10:10 says that Jesus came so that we might have life and have it abundantly.

Jesus tells us a story instead of giving us a rule. Stories are great for building a culture, where folks can trust one another because they all know what the purposes and mission of the place are. Dov Siedman tells the story of the visits to factories and the various ways rules and culture intersects.

Dov Seidman has a story about rules and how they are limited. He imagines a group going on the tour of several factories. A person in the group, lets say he is in sales asks if he has to wear a hard hat at each of the factories. He gets a different response at each factory.

Factory #1: “Go ahead, do want you want, its your neck. It doesn't matter, when your time is up, its ups right?”
Factory #2: “Well, if it was up to me, I'd let you slide, but the boss has this thing about hard hats. If he sees you without one, I'll get in trouble. So you better wear it. Sorry about that, at least you don't have to wear these uniforms he makes us wear!”
Factory #3: “Let me look that up.” (Much page turning and study.) Hmmm. I need to ask a supervisor about that.” (15 minutes later) “Sorry the guy who could sign off on that is out of town and we can't reach him. I don't know what to tell you.”
Factory #4: “Yes, you'll have to wear a hard hat. Safety is important to us. We have had over a 1000 days without a lost time accident because we look out for each other. Even if I let you go without one. The first person who saw you without one would give you one, we look out for each other's safety here.”

Just as you can't rule your way to safety; you cannot rule you way to how and who a neighbor is.

Just so Jesus tells us a story to show us that you cannot assume a neighbor is one who is a holy person, of the same faith and culture than you. We forget that the Samaritans were hated and taboo for good Jews. They were half-breed collaborators, unclean, traitors, that couldn't be trusted. Jesus says you can't always easily identify your neighbors by country, neighborhood, ethnicity, or language. A neighbor is one who helps another when they need help, whether in the Sudan or in New Orleans, or in the next pew. Regardless of their attitude to us, or relationship to us, or if they say thank you to us for being nice.

What would this look like if the world view each other not as other, but as neighbor. If we answered the question of “Are you my neighbor” with “Yes” more than “No.”?

Washington Post reported last Friday of a family that was having a dinner on the patio with friends. In through the open gate comes a hooded man who puts a gun to a 14 year-old's head and says “Give me your money and no one gets hurt.” What do you do? Give him your money? Tackle him? Pull out your concealed weapon and let him have it? One of the dinner guests did none of these. Instead she sees a neighbor not a robber, “We just finished dinner. Why don't you have some wine with us?” The robber, I mean neighbor, took the wine and said, “Damn, that is good wine.” The neighbor said, “Keep the glass!” and the house owner said, “Here have the bottle.” The robber sat down, put his gun away and ate some cheese. He said, “I think I have the wrong house.”. He then asked for a hug. First individually, then as a group they hug their new neighbor. Who left with the wine and no money. The police found the glass placed in the alley behind the house.

Who is your neighbor? Everyone you meet. Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet.

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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The Back Way 
Wednesday, July 11, 2007, 12:37 PM - Extra Christy, Radio
Years before in car GPS systems and Internet map routes, my older brother Ric was a master of the turns and twists of greater Akron. He would drive me off the beaten path into strange neighborhoods and he would ask me, "Do you know where you are...now?" "No," was my answer again and again, until, suddenly; we were at our destination.

Sometimes I could retrace the back way he took; usually not until after one or two attempts. I wondered how many tries it took him to find the connecting streets through town that enable him to pop up like a rabbit miles from where he started, but only a few yards from our target.

In our new members Inquirer's class, we have people who have been in the church all their life, some that haven't come since they were children years ago, and some who never had any contact with the church! Yet here they all are, together at one church, which, by God's grace, is part of all of their spiritual journeys.

I think of the varied and unusual routes my brother took when there were perfectly good and straight streets with names like "Market" and "Main" available for him to use for his journey. Yet he ended up at the same place those big, broad, commonly used streets would have taken him.

I like to think there are many paths to heaven and salvation; not just the standard ones most people choose. I hope that the church will always be a place where folks on many different routes can get an answer to where they are and help on their own way.

Together From All Over
Many religious Jews from every country in the world were living in Jerusalem. 6And when they heard this noise, a crowd gathered. But they were surprised, because they were hearing everything in their own languages. They were excited and amazed, and said:

Don't all these who are speaking come from Galilee? Then why do we hear them speaking our very own languages? Some of us are from Parthia, Media, and Elam. Others are from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, parts of Libya near Cyrene, Rome, Crete, and Arabia. Some of us were born Jews, and others of us have chosen to be Jews. Yet we all hear them using our own languages to tell the wonderful things God has done. - Acts 2:5-11 (CEV)

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When the Godly Disappoint 
Sunday, July 8, 2007, 08:17 AM - Sermon
2 Kings 5:1-14

“I thought he would…” Criticism comes when expectations are not met. Naaman expected Elisha to come out and call on the name of the LORD his God and wave his hand over the spot and cure the leprosy! Instead he gets a message to go and wash in the Jordan seven times. Elisha didn't even come out to see him much less touch and heal him! No wonder scripture says he was angry and went away in a rage!

The least religious have the greatest expectations of religion. It is bothersome to the holy crowd. Why are people like that?

1. They got their expectations from media, everything from horror movies with demons and warrior priests to dramas where the pastor pronounces a married couple man and wife instead of husband and wife. Horror movies are not documentaries, and movies like License to Wed aren't a good description of pre-marital counseling, ministers don't have comedy writers feeding them one-liners. Media magnifies expectations.

2. The less experienced you have with something, the simpler it seems. Think of before you drove a car, it seemed so simple, but when first tried it, you couldn't get the key to work. Or before you got married, or had kids, or started a job…it looked easy until you tried. Every now and then I talk with couples who put down on their inventories that marriage will solve all their problems. Experience corrects expectations.

3. Some are looking to be disappointed. They need to justify the lack of time and attention they have given matters of faith. What better way to get a “get out of church free card” then to get angry that they have failed you. The Yiddish proverb is right: “If you don't want to do something, one excuse is as good as another.” Expectations to fail are usually fulfilled.


Have you met someone like Naaman? Wanting faith but rejecting religion? Ready to buy a religious wedding, but not follow the teachings and ideals of marriage? Willing to go to a holy show, but not follow the instructions given during the performance? I think we have a lot of Naamans around us. Maybe you have a little Naaman in you.

Our Part in Miracle
Look at the genius of Elisha. He requires an act of faith, that Naaman do something, before the healing occurs. Elisha might have known that such requirements would have made Naaman angry. Maybe that is why he didn't go out to see him! Have you asked God or a prophet of God, or a prayer chain for a healing? A cure? A miracle? What have you done in faith in partnership to that request? Washing out leprosy seems futile, but doing what the prophet teaches is an expression of obedience to and faith in God than the healing powers of the Jordan river.

There is no reason to wash in the Jordan river, instead of the rivers of Avana and Pharpar in Damascus except faith. Here is a place faithful people part from others. Others want an action to make sense without God or faith. A recent scene of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip had the Christian character teaching the producer how to pray. She takes him to the chapel and tells him to get on his knees to pray. Like a modern day Naaman, he objects wondering why God needs him to kneel. Her answer: “The knelling isn't for Him but for you.” God doesn't need our obedience, our faith; our faith is for us not for him.

This is the difference between magic and miracle. Magic is control of the deity. You put your faith quarter in and out pops your prize, like God was a cosmic gumball machine. Miracles come through faith, doing and living as God directs; living in love of God and others even though there is no payoff. It is bathing in the Jordan seven times even there is no way that the magical waters of Jordan will cure leprosy. It is doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God even though there is no cash prize. Faith is its own reward. Miracles come as God wills, as we do what God wills.

Anger
Ever been in Naaman's place? You have gone to God, in prayer, in church, to a pastor or parent, or friend and gotten less than you were expecting? The worship and song didn't lift your up. The sermon was tepid. You didn't get your prayers answered. Do you get relied up about how they weren't faithful? The angry and rage almost covered up Naaman's failure of faith. We are most angry when our shortcomings are reflected in other people. Because, emotions are all about me. Naaman was there angry that Elisha hadn't done the minimum for his cure, until his servant pointed out, indirectly that Naaman hasn't done enough for his cure either.

When you are angry. Look at yourself, not at the other, as wrong and condemn to hell he or she might be! Put that aside and ask why that person has so much power over me? Why does that person hook me so much? What can you do in your own life and outlook that you see a lack in the other person? When Naaman was able to focus on what he needed to do, rather than what Elisha should have done…God was able to work miracles.

God's Working of Miracle
Holy people may fail. If we rely on them to come out wave their hands over our problems and cure them. Look at this story at the beginning and the end…a slave girl—not holy witnesses to Naaman's wife her faith that the prophet can cure Naaman. This sets the healing in motion. Then when everything goes horribly wrong…it is Naaman's servants again that turn Naaman's rage into faithful obedience…at least obedience, he might have been grumbling, I suppose.

You can be these people, sharing your faith like the slave girl, or encouraging and supporting obedience like Naaman's servants. If you don't have people like this around you get them. For it takes more than holy people waving their arms to make miracles happen it takes those who suggest ministry and help to people and those who encourage those who need to take steps toward healing and wholeness.

Conclusion
Be a part of the miracle, seek out God's way, look at obstacles and disappointments as opportunities for faithful action. Listen to the prompting and encouraging of others on your path to healing, and in turn, be a prompter and encourager of 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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Freedom For and Freedom From 
Wednesday, July 4, 2007, 12:35 PM - Extra Christy
Happy July Fourth! A day to celebrate freedom! What is your idea of freedom? Is it freedom from rules and constraints? Or freedom for doing the right thing?

Dov Seidman in his book How writes a lot about rules.On page 96 he states "True Freedom lies not in the absence of constraint; true freedom lies in the transcendence of rules-based thinking." The transcendence is not asking the utilitarian question of what is the rule, can we do this, but what is the value involved: given what we believe, should we do this.

Did you know that July 2 was the date Congress declared independence? July 4th is the day the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was adopted which:

"...declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"


So we celebrate not the day we broke the rules, (July 2) and declared freedom from England but the day we declared our values and beliefs, and how independence was the only way to honor those beliefs; what our freedom was for: Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Hope you use your freedom for declaring your values today and every day.

Freedom
Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom. - Galatians 5:1, 13-14 (The Message)



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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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