Blessed to be a Blessing 
Wednesday, February 27, 2008, 10:21 AM - Extra Christy
Folks shop for churches. An extensive new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reveals that 44% of adults are not affiliated with the church of their childhood. I have met people at worship services who say they are shopping for churches. Perhaps even you!

What is on your church shopping list? A convenient time, good sermons (of course!), children's ministries, praise songs, hymns? Maybe it is a certain feeling rather than any one item. The Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship has had as many as 300,000 visitors over the last 20 years according to Wikipedia most were probably looking for the "Toronto Blessing" where folks are overcome by laughter and other sounds and motions rare in Presbyterian congregations.

When the serious shoppers come home from a trip, I get to be an appreciative audience of all they have uncovered in their expedition. I've been told I'm wrong by them, but shopping for me is usually not a final goal, but a way to a goal: clothes to wear, food for a meal, parts for a project, gifts for giving. So once the church shopping is finished and we have what we are looking for, what then?

Abraham was a famous church shopper. He went seeking a blessing, leaving the religion and country of his youth for our God's blessing. He is told what to do with the blessing he seeks: "be a you all the families of the earth shall be blessed".

Whether you have found a church home or our still shopping...I hope you share what you have found with others. For God wants to bless you to be a blessing to others.

Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." -- Genesis 12:1-3 (NRSV)

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Standing Together... 
Wednesday, February 20, 2008, 11:16 AM - Extra Christy
One of the mysteries of traditional church going is when to stand and when to sit. The "star" or asterisk * next to a song or prayer in the program is a subtle direction to those who know the code that the people should stand. But what do you do when some good people stand without a star?

Due our Lenten observance, we sit during a song we normally stand. Seated during the song, I looked out over the good folk, and a couple stalwarts were standing. Oh well, nothing is ever 100%. A verse later, however, I looked again and nearly everyone was standing. I was strangely warmed by the sight, thinking, we don't let people stand alone here. We stand with them.

An account of unrehearsed church standing is in Michael Lindvall's book The Good News From North Haven . In "Christmas Baptism" he tells of a baptism where the only family members to stand with the baby and his mother was the baby's mother's mother. Instead of the usual proud horde of uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings, and grandparents there was to be just one person standing. Yet, when the time came, the congregation, like ours, did not allow grandma to stand alone. Breaking tradition and ignoring official direction, one by one, couple by couple, the whole congregation "stood with the child" joining themselves as family to this baby, his mother and grandmother.

You just can't stand alone among church people. We stand together. Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. -- Galatians 3:26-27 (NRSV)

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Going to the Blessing 
Sunday, February 17, 2008, 08:21 AM - Sermon
Genesis 12:1-4

We remember the blessing in the call of Abram who will become Abraham, the father of the world's three great monotheistic religions. Blessing run through this scripture, and on this side of the blessing we lose sight of the loss, the grief, contained in the first verse. What if God came to you instead of Abram. (He wasn't Abraham, yet) Abram was seventy-five years old when God told him to pack up and leave country, family, and home to be bless and to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.

Leave your country. Move from the familiar places of your life and move to a different country. Some of us might think about moving as the primary campaign heats up, but few wish to leave their homeland, native tongue, and become a foreigner in a strange land. Where July 4th is just another summer day and Thanksgiving isn't shopper's eve. Where the history you learned isn't the same history that everyone else cherishes. Where you are the odd one out, and your way is the uncommon way.

Leave your family. The people who know all about you, but put up with you any way. The ones who help you on special projects, celebrate special days with you, and sit with you when you are ill. Who will be with you at times of joy and sadness, if you leave.

Leave your home. Imagine what Abram had built up over three-quarters of a century. He was to leave his home at 75! Folks do almost anything to stay in their homes, and when they do leave, more than anything else they wish to return.

Why? Why couldn't God bless Abram right where he was? Why wasn't the country, family and home of 75 years good enough for God to bless right there right then? Abram doesn't ask, he leaves country, family, and home for promised land, the land of God's blessing. Leave everything in the past that is precious to you and you will be blessed.

Maybe we are Abram. Our country is not the same it was seventy five years ago. Even if we haven't changed nationalities, our nation has changed so much that perhaps some of us consider that we are foreigners in a stranger land inhabited by those whose ways are not our ways. We no longer live on farms but are increasingly concentrated in cities and the ring communities that surround them. The census 2000 found that for the first time the majority of Americans lived in suburbs, a 100 years ago, most Americans lived in rural areas.

The democratic presidential nomination is between an African-American man and a white woman. Freeways and airlines make this large land a small one. While the distance between far away towns has decreased, the distance between neighbors has increased. We don't know the people on our street, but media television and internet makes stranger's business everyone's business.

Families aren't the same they were years ago. More folks live in single parent households and for some couples marriage is a quaint option not a lifetime goal. More women work outside the home now than fifty years ago. Children, teens, and parents relationship range from traditional to inverted where children run the household and the teens are not controlled by anything.

Homes aren't the same they were seventy-five years they are bigger and farther from neighbors or older and filled with renters. Where several used to share a small house and a smaller bathroom, now smaller families have larger homes. The average household size has been declining Homes have moved from a shelter to an investment vehicle and back to shelter.

We are all Abrams. We have lost our country, our families, our homes, we grieve. Will we go on to the next verse, that the Promised Land is where God's blessing is waiting for us? Will we move from country, family, and home to the land of promise? God does not wait on our country's elections. God is not limited to our families and kin. God does not wait in our homes and buildings.

Sometimes we are anti-Abram, we feel like the promised land was the past land, where we were. Our Country, Our Kindred, Our Old Home…yet God tells us that the promise land is beyond our country, kin, and home, and that God's blessing lies there not in the past. Maybe Nicodemus is a severe example of this asking Jesus if one can go back to his mother's womb to be born again.

Jesus is talking about a second birth, not a repeat of the first birth. The first birth, to country, kin, and hometown is just the start, the birth “from above”, a better translation than “again”, is into a new land beyond native country, connected kin, and home town. Again, God is working beyond, outside of our comfortable environment that is given to us at our first birth.

This means for us, who feel sometimes as strangers as strange land, to look for the blessing of God in the new land we are, not seek to condemn the world, which even God in Christ did not do, but to be a blessing to the world, this new world, this promised land where we find ourselves. It might be new and strange to us, but God was here before we got here.

A student was called to pray at the last meeting of the seminary student body before graduation. The poor soul graciously asked that “God would go with the seniors as they moved into pastorates and positions of service.” After the prayer came the rebuttal from a second year student, “I move that God stay right here with us!” God doesn't go where we direct, but we are directed to go where God is, he is in the promise land where we are headed and wants us to join us.

Our job is not to condemn the world, but to save it. Our job is not to stay in our Father's house, our own kin and kind, our own country, but to be a blessing to all the families of the world. As John 3:17 tells us about Jesus' mission; it is to save the world not to condemn it.

How do we minister in the world like we have instead of a world that we like? A world of media, video, computers, credit cards, 24/7 workdays, mobile phones and mobile lives, of child care and elder care is what we have. How can we be a blessing to all the families of the earth? Leaving our comforts and native land behind, how can God make us a blessing?

I see a place in the hearts of the families, and the community with RIGHT and Charlie's Place, with outreach to the Youth and the community, with help from Easter Baskets to Relay of Life, to VBS for the community, to Angel Food ministries and Good Neighbors…to folks saying those folks are not about the fifties, they are about blessing people here and now.

How can we be a blessing. If I left behind my native land the country of my youth, the ties and expectations of family and the comforts of the church building for me and mine…what blessings could we be to all the families of the earth? Then we are on our way to the promise land. Then we are on our way to God's blessing so we can be a blessing.

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 Computer Says 
Wednesday, February 13, 2008, 01:35 PM - Extra Christy
I dabble in computer programming so I am not impressed with the magic incantation: "The computer says..." as the final answer. I know there is a lot of interpretation between data and display.

Years ago, I was out to a late dinner at an empty restaurant with the cream of the Presbyterian Church (USA) computer folks. The waitress told the 10 of us that the restaurant computer wouldn't allow more than 8 diners to sit together. I don't think she was prepared for the responses:
So, you want us to fix your computer?

How does the computer know where we're sitting?

If you tell the computer that two of us are sitting over there, God will forgive you...and that's official--three of us are Reverends

Together, we figured out a solution that allowed us preserve our togetherness and her gratuity.

Religious folks sometime use the Bible the same way. "The Bible says..." is used as a debate point in the issue of the day instead of the guide for a lifetime of faith. Last week's scripture reading even had the Devil himself trying it: using "the Bible says" in one of his temptations to have Jesus launch BASE jumping. Our Savior didn't fall for it.

Like our Presbyterian computer workers, we Presbyterians church members bring several questions to Bible interpretations offered by folks. There are 18 big tests in Presbyterian Understanding and Use of Holy Scripture one of which is "The Rule of Love":
The fundamental expression of God's will is the two-fold commandment to love God and neighbor, and all interpretations are to be judged by the question whether they offer and support the love given and commanded by God Any interpretation of Scripture is wrong that separates or sets in opposition love for God and love for fellow human being.

So Presbyterians have objections and alternative suggestions when someone comes to the Lord's table and tells us "The Bible says" that all people can't sit together. For we have studied this system and know the designer too well to be distracted by the tiny bit momentarily lit up on the display.
Then the devil took [Jesus] to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written:
" 'He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.' (Psalm 91:11,12)"

Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'(Deuteronomy 6:16)" -- Matthew 4:5-7 (NIV)

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Reserved for Clergy 
Wednesday, February 6, 2008, 07:43 AM - Extra Christy
As I was headed to my favorite rooftop hospital parking spot on a snowy day I noticed a small sign on a lower parking level. "Reserved for Clergy". Neat! I pulled in while congratulating myself on finding the spot after only two and a half years, but feeling a little guilty about whether I deserved the special treatment.

I got to thinking about the phrase. One thought was that some people could wear that as a label. "We're reserved when we are around clergy". I didn't think too much about that phenomenon until I was a chaplain for a volunteer fire department. Great guys who you are glad to see when you are in danger and need help. I would and did follow them into fire and depended on them to keep me alive and safe. No better folk are the volunteers who risk their lives to help others.

However, they were a little rougher than the average Presbyterian on Sunday. I once thought about not going to the monthly meetings. I told some of the officers that I didn't think I was being much help. I felt the shouting and cursing was evidence that my ministry as chaplain wasn't having an impact. The officers quickly corrected me, "Oh Rev. you gotta come. When you're not here, there's fist fights!" Turns out they were Reserved for Clergy, but it took others to see it.

Most people don't have a sign to remind them, but I am convinced that you and I have places reserved for us. I don't know what spot is waiting vacant for you to fill: parent, friend, brother, sister, church elder, teacher, coach, caretaker, firefighter, teammate, but go ahead and pull into that're doing more good than you know.

Jesus Takes His Reserved Place

"When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.'

"Then those 'sheep' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me-you did it to me.' -- Matthew 25:31-40 (Message)

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