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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What's in YOUR Wallet? 
Wednesday, June 13, 2007, 12:30 PM - Extra Christy
One of the fallouts of 9/11 is a concern with proving your identity. Have you looked in your wallet lately? What identity papers and cards do you have there?

In my wallet I have business cards, family pictures, store loyalty cards, health insurance cards, a library card, club membership cards, credit cards, a couple of prayers, and some actual cash. If you didn't know me, you would have a good introduction by looking in my wallet. Maybe that would be a good ice-breaker / trust exercise for a new group, introduce your neighbor just by what is in his or her wallet!

In the Bible, the apostle Paul was asked for his identity, he said he was part of whatever group needed to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. (see Bible quote below) He was a card-carrying everything! He was less concerned about his papers than his purpose: winning people for God.

Maybe when God's kingdom fully arrives, we will all have a common identity card in our wallets: full and equal member of the human race with dues eternally paid by the love of God shown in Jesus Christ.

Card Carrying Member

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. - 1 Corinthians 9: 19-23 (NRSV)

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The Miracle of Life 
Sunday, June 10, 2007, 08:06 AM - Sermon
1 Kings 17:8-24; Luke 7:11-17

Years ago, I enjoyed reading a science fiction series involving Berserkers. It was a story of the struggle of humanity in the galaxy against machines that were programmed to destroy all life. They viewed it as a cancer to be eradicated. It wasn't just machines that were the enemy of humanity in these books. Folks who worked for them, humans who to gave a little more time to live, or a little more power in life, or just because they valued death were called Goodlife by the berserker killing machines because they helped the berserkers on their single minded mission to wipe out all life.

The thought of humans in the service of death is horrible. Yet we cannot deny that death attracts our interest and attention. Some say that the most extreme sports or even the less extreme sports are fueled by a death wish. Critics says we watch races for the crashes and stand in long lines at amusement parks because of the thrill of the fear we might be risking our lives.

This attitude carries over into our lives. It is natural to tear down, complain and destroy. At the church officers retreat yesterday we were looking at a list of activities we had planned last year and of the dozens of events, offerings, programs, studies, we were all drawn to the several that we didn't get done instead of the scores of ministry we did accomplish. For some reason, it is natural to be drawn to death.

Bring up a dream, a goal, a new ministry and someone will help by pointing out what could go wrong why it won't work. It is so easy to do it is almost unconscious. Problems and challenges are seen as insurmountable. It is an old story, look at our story in 1 Kings…I'm making our last supper, I am just preparing the last food in the house and then we plan on dying, so don't disturb us we are busy with our dying. Even after the miracle of the never ending supply of meal and oil, the woman jumps at the chance to accuse God as being a berserker God, desiring the death of her son. Even Elijah sees God as a God the son killer, but has faith enough to ask for the life to return to the son.

In our Gospel, Luke tells of the Lord of Life, Jesus, seeing life and hope in the funeral of young man. Imagine the turmoil, telling a widow who has lost her only son not to weep at the funeral. The nerve! Telling the family how to grieve! Can you imagine the upset? We have the funeral procession all ready, the memorials have been made, the fellowship dinner prepared, the plot made ready! We have spent thousands for dollars on all these preparations! Who are you to derail this? Death gets a lot of attention.

Is Color our Rainbow Academy death or life? Is any day care in a church death or life? Do they use up our building suck us dry and rob us blind? Maybe don't have anything to share. Our jar and jug are just about empty, so please don't bother us for more, we have just enough to die.

Or is a source of life and hope? Families and children need help and they come to our building and even pay for it. It sounds so good, maybe we should be running our own day care; I know that 12 hours a day, 100 children 5 days a week is beyond the wildest dreams of those who built the building for Sunday School. Where is life? Where is the connection. Gina told me that when the children got school supplies donated by the good people here they were so pleased. One mother actually was in tears, saying she didn't know who she was going to buy supplies for her child before school started…and she came and found that they were given to her. To me that's life in the face of death, hope in the face of despair.

Death is so overwhelming, on a cosmic, personal, and financial scale. So great is the power of death, that Life is a miracle. On our bulletin, it is a smiling toddler peeking from behind a tombstone. In our Old Testament, It is hope for more life in the jar we thought would go empty. In the gospel it is cancelling a funeral on the account of a life. Today, It is being alive 5 years after cancer treatment and getting a clean MRI from top to bottom. It is coming back from war, alive. It is celebrating another day, another month, another year of sobriety after trying to drink yourself to death. It is going into rehab and learning how to live without the drugs. It is finding a job I should have been doing all my life after years of unemployment. It is a mother reunited in a household with her daughter. All these miracles of life are in the families and friends of our congregation.

We need to be celebrating the miracle of life. Yesterday I tried to turn from death to life. I believe too often I've been fallen into serving the cause of the Berserkers instead of the Lord of Life. I want to do less of grumpy complaining and more of appreciate inquiry, a tool made famous by Case Western Reserve University's management school.

Ap-pre'ci-ate, v., 1. valuing; the act of recognizing the best in people or the world around us; affirming past and present strengths, successes, and potentials; to perceive those things that give life (health, vitality, excellence) to living systems 2. to increase in value, e.g. the antique has appreciated in value. Synonyms: VALUING, PRIZING, ESTEEMING, and HONORING.

In-quire' v., 1. the act of exploration and discovery. 2. To ask questions; to be open to seeing new potentials and possibilities. Synonyms: DISCOVERY, SEARCH, and SYSTEMATIC EXPLORATION, STUDY.

Appreciative Inquiry searches for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. AI involves discovery of what gives “life” to a system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. AI ask questions that strengthen a system's capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential.

AI seeks to unite what people talk about as past and present capacities: (achievements, assets, unexplored potentials, innovations, strengths, opportunities, high point moments, lived values, traditions, stories, expressions of wisdom, insights into the deeper corporate soul)-- and visions of valued and possible futures.

AI assumes that every living system has many untapped and rich and inspiring accounts of the positive. Link the energy of this core directly to any change agenda and changes never thought possible are suddenly and democratically mobilized.
—from A Positive Revolution in Change: Appreciative Inquiry by David L. Cooperrider and Diana Whitney.

We try to build on strengths, the meal that is in the jar, and not give into the death. The church officers yesterday talked to each other about when the best time in your life with the faith at the church? What was going right about the church then for you? After exchanging stories, and sharing hopes for the future based on those best times. We found some themes: Celebrations, a positive outlook, a enjoyment of serving those within and without our fellowship, a strong financial support of youth program, an enjoyment of visitation ministry, support with dinners to those going through tough times. The more we have to do with each other, the more we find our spirit lifted and our faith encouraged. The testimony of your church officers is that their best experiences in faith involved other people, in service and celebration. When has your faith been most alive most real to you? How does your church fit into that experience?

What would a church whose best experiences are with celebration and service of people within and without its walls look like at its 100th anniversary, in 2015? I see a place where folks people are helped and enjoyed, where the generations can mix freely children knowing many adults beyond their parents and relatives who want to know about their report cards and band shows. I see folks telling one another about employment openings. I see email, cell phones, and web being used to keep track of people and their needs and allowing all folks to see where they can offer help to others in the congregation. There is a program that exists today that matches services in the congregation with needs in the congregation ArkAlmighty. I see us being a place where co-op buys food and distributes it in a ministry that expands and supports Good Neighbors where all people can join together to save money on food, regardless of their economic status. I see the Christian Education building full of children, a place where parents can get help with caring for their children throughout the week. I see Vacation Bible School inviting others into our church and faith. I see monthly celebrations of the season, of family, of connections with country and each other. I see small groups that meet here and take care of each other outside the building.

You can be a part of the future. The difference between a hope and a wish is working as if the wish already is true. It is living before we die. It having a youth group and Vacation Bible School even though we don't have children and youth begging for it. We live the wish for more children and youth. It is having contemporary worship before we have a congregation full of new people. It is giving to others before we get a thank you for doing it.

We don't have to hoard our meal so we can make our last cake and die, when we reach in and share we find that God provides enough for the miracle of life.

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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