Wrong House 
Wednesday, March 7, 2007, 08:30 AM - Extra Christy
BAM! BAM! BAM! A church member was awaken at 4 AM by loud banging at the door of her house. A stranger was very intent on getting in. After some scary moments and help from the police, it was determined that the stranger thought she was at a house on a different street. A lot of effort wasted trying to get into someplace she didn't want to be.

I wonder how many other times we bang repeatedly on the door of the wrong house. Yesterday over $120,000 an hour was spent on tickets for a $355 million lottery; that is in addition to $8 million in tickets already sold. That is lot of banging! Odds of winning entry to the lottery prize house are worse than: 1 in 175,000,000; and if you do get in, you may well find, as other winners did, that bankruptcies, family squabbles, even murder and suicide are your new roommates.

A winning lottery ticket does not get you to the promise land; for faith, friends, family, love and righteousness cannot be bought with money. The great gospel song, People Get Ready tells us what we do need:

People get ready There's a train a-coming
You don't need no baggage You just get on board
All you need is faith To hear the diesels humming
Don't need no ticket You just thank the lord

Hope you leave house in time to catch the train...

Winning the Eternal Lottery

Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes..."

"...Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.- Luke 12:22-23, 32-34

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Dangerous Unmarked Crossing 
Sunday, March 4, 2007, 08:00 AM - Sermon
Luke 13:31-35

There are a lot of railroad crossings in rural Ohio without warning lights or bells or gates. They look like the picture on the front of our bulletin. Ever been stuck on an unmarked railroad crossing? Stuck in a fire rescue truck? On a hill? With the quarter million engine a few feet behind you? There is a feeling of power looming around you, and suspense of how that power might affect you. And that power, that looming threat of death is marked with a cross.

The cross of Christ is at the heart of our faith, for it is through the Lord's death that we receive new life. The gospel of Christ crucified is a treasure that surpasses the limits of human language, and so the Bible displays a wealth of expression that leads us to thankful knowledge and grateful faith. — Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ (lines 117-122)

The cross of Christ is at the heart of our faith, for it is through the Lord's death that we receive new life. The gospel of Christ crucified is a treasure that surpasses the limits of human language, and so the Bible displays a wealth of expression that leads us to thankful knowledge and grateful faith. — Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ (lines 117-122)

God's reconciling act in Jesus Christ is a mystery which the Scriptures describe in various ways. It is called the sacrifice of a lamb, a shepherd's life given for his sheep, atonement by a priest; again it is ransom of a slave, payment of debt, vicarious satisfaction of a legal penalty, and victory over the powers of evil. These are expressions of a truth which remains beyond the reach of all theory in the depths of God's love for humankind. They reveal the gravity, cost, and sure achievement of God's reconciling work [The Confession of 1967, 9.09].

In the scripture, Jesus is warned that his way will lead to death. Yet instead of denying or avoiding the possibility, he decides to go to his death in Jerusalem. What would it be like? Maybe, maybe like a soldier that has had been to Iraq, who has watched his buddies die, being told he was going back to Baghdad. Can you imagine that situation? Can you imagine saying, Yes, I will go, when you don't have to go? We can't fully know then or now what it means to march toward death, to set our face to go to the place where death loom, to sit on the crossing. And there is part of the mystery of the cross.

When we discussed this scripture last Wednesday at our Lent Road Trip to Jerusalem, someone said that mystery was something that wasn't settled. That's an important part of looking at the cross, even after 2000 years, there is still mystery, an unsettledness when we look at the cross. Why is it necessary? Why did Jesus have to die?

How and why the cross works is called atonement — an invented word that literally means “at one” and more generically as “peace” or “agreement”. Somehow the cross brings us together with God, makes us one, erases the gap betweens us and salvation, establishes peace between humankind and God. Now there are many theories about how this works, but all Christians are agreed that it does work. Time magazine had a special issue on the brain:
The Hard Problem is explaining how subjective experience arises from neural computation….why it feels like something to have a conscious process going on in one's head--why there is first-person, subjective experience…The problem is hard because no one knows what a solution might look like or even whether it is a genuine scientific problem in the first place. And not surprisingly, everyone agrees that the hard problem (if it is a problem) remains a mystery.

We don't know how to explain consciousness based on the brain but we know it is in there somewhere.

So we use allegories or metaphors to approach the mystery of atonement, of the saving work of the cross. From a feudal understanding of debts of honor and repayment by vassals to lords came the explanation that Jesus Christ's death on the cross was a substitute for our death, a payment for our sins, a way to make God's law and love balance out. These types of explanations focus on forgiveness. You hear words swirling around ransom, redemption and reconciliation. Everyone affirms that somehow Jesus death is tied to the depth of human sinfulness and somehow it makes forgiveness real, but to reduce the cross to balancing a math equation or clearing an accounting transaction has it shortcomings, including making God seem cruel and even wicked to require the innocent to suffer to bring about forgiveness. Is that our God? Remember mystery is at the base of the cross.

Alongside of forgiveness, is one that might be a little foreign to our tradition, one of inspiration. This is usually moral influence or inspiration, we see this in our scripture today. Jesus is told: “Stop what you are doing or Herod will kill you”; compromise or the cross is presented to Christ and he chooses the cross. Just so, we should, as followers of Jesus take up our cross and follow him. The idea of the cross then is that since Jesus suffered and died for us, how much should we be able to do for him? I hear this understanding echo when folks make excuses for not coming to worship or some other spiritual service or discipline. Jesus died on the cross but you can't ___________ (fill in the blank.)

Some object to this understanding because is an extreme example and seems to make violence and torture necessary for inspiration for goodness and love. The Passion of the Christ while viewed by some as an devotional classic is seen by many as a orgy of violence and gore without redeeming value.

The third major understanding of why the cross, or atonement, is revelation. When humanity in spite of all our sin and rebellion asked God how much God loved us, God said, “This much” and spread out his arms and died. The cross shows there is no where you can go that God will not be with you. There is no pain, no evil, no hopeless situation that God has not been, no where you can go that God is not with you. The cross shows that evil has real horrifying power, but God has real love for us. When God says, “I feel your pain” it isn't a gimmick, he has borne all the pain and evil this world can dish out, yet still loves the world and us.

There are those who reject this understanding, looking toward the resurrection of Easter Sunday instead of the crucifixion on Friday. They would have an empty tomb, perhaps a washer like medal, a circle with a hole through it, as the symbol of the power and love of God rather than a instrument of execution and torture.

So, the cross atones for us. It brings us to God across the gulf of sin that separates us from God. It redeems our past with forgiveness, it sanctifies our present with inspiration to do good and to be better, and it assures our future that nothing nowhere can separate us from the redeeming power of God's love. With forgiveness our sinful past, sanctification of our faithful present, and assurance of God with us in the future; we are saved by the cross.

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What's Showing?  
Wednesday, February 28, 2007, 10:48 AM - Extra Christy
A child was intently drawing a picture of God in Sunday School. She was undeterred when others told her that no one knew what God looked liked for she explained: "Well, they'll know when I'm done drawing!"

Showing what God looks like isn't as easy as drawing a picture, but it is possible. At least according to Eugene Peterson's version of 1 Corinthians 12 in The Message. He interprets the use of spiritual gifts for the benefit of others as a way to show God to others. Gifts such as: wise counsel, clear understanding, simple trust, healing the sick, miraculous acts, proclamation of good news draw God so that others are shown what God looks like.

Hope when your day draws to a close, people are shown God...

"Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits." - 1 Corinthians 12

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Do You Look Like Your Driver's License? 
Sunday, February 25, 2007, 08:00 AM - Sermon
Luke 4:1-13

Do you look like your Driver's License picture? How about your passport photo? We are more concerned about identity than we used to be. We show our driver's license so many times at airports that people have taken to just wearing them around their necks. Visiting in some areas of the hospitals in Akron requires signing in with a guard to unlock the hospital door.

All of these have to do if you are allowed to be where you want to go. Does this person have the stickers and stamps to be delivered to this place? It is a checking of the labeling to see if you are safe for the intended use.

We need an identification card for our hearts. We have one for our faces, but none for our heart. A card we could pull out and show to others and look at ourselves that would tell us who we are and whose we are, not just whether we can fly in an airplane. For the root of all temptation is denying who you are…

The devil tempts Jesus three ways: with materialism…having every thing you want, but not anything you need, bribing people into faith; with power…commanding people into faith; with fame…magically dazzling people into faith. Jesus counters each of these temptations, one of which includes a scripture from the Psalms with responses from the scripture, from Deuteronomy. Jesus looks at his identification card, to see who he is as Savior.

Am I a savior whose purpose is satisfy bodily hunger? He looks at scripture with the story of the hunger in the wilderness and provision of manna by God, to find that God's people do not live by bread alone, that filling our bellies with bread will not give us the life he came to offer.

Am I a savior who commands by state authority and political power? He looks at scripture and finds that a divided loyalty is not allowed. Serving principalities and powers of this world is not the way to be the savior of the world. Only God is to be worship and served. That just isn't who he is.

Am I a savoir who dazzles the crowd and wins loyalty by my fame and entertainment value? He looks at the scripture, the paper that tells him who he is, and sees that we do not use God as a stage prop.

When you have been tempted by the need to succeed and forget who you are, what words have strengthened you and reminded you of your true identity? (The words could be lines from
Scripture, from someone wise, or from something you have read.) What words have you shared with others to remind them of who they are? — paragraph from Thoughtful Christian Lent series

When my son was born, I wanted to name him Robert, partly to honor an Uncle of Bette Lynn's but partly because Robert could be Bob, Bobby, Rob, Robby, so many variations. While he was growing up, people would ask him if they could call him Bob, or Robby..his answer was always the same, “My name is Robert.” He wouldn't say Yes or No, just who he was, “My name is Robert.” always the full sentence. He knew who he was.

A powerful way to raise a child, where television and media bombards them with images of who they should be is to remind them of who they are. We are Ramseys, we don't lie. Ramsey don't hit..ever.

When the tempter, asked Jesus who he was, he said, “I am God's, directed and defined by God's word.” For tempter is a translation of Diabolos… one who throws things around. Toss everything, so everything is out of place and doesn't work. Bible verses are thrown into temptations to escape God's will, evil is shuffled to seem as good, confusion reigns, chaos replaces creation, which God called into being and declared Good.

Tom Long teaches preaching at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and tells a story about a high school play, lovingly prepared by a dedicated teacher/director. Lines were memorized, movements blocked out, lighting arranged, music rehearsed, all was ready for the big night of the show.

All went well until one of the actors forgot his line. The earnest new director whisphered his part, but he didn't hear her. After an uncomfortable silence, he just made up a line. The audience laugh, the tension relieved...but then, encouraged by the reaction, he made up another and another...until the play was broken. And off-stage, you could see the director with tears in her eyes.

The one who throws everything all over the place is forever tempting us to make up our own lines, make them up for success with the crowd. All we can do in order to resist such temptation is reach into the tradition and remember who we are, remember our lines as it were. — from Thoughtful Christian Lent series

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Bothered By Answered Prayer 
Wednesday, February 21, 2007, 08:30 AM - Extra Christy
I got a long distance call for computer help today. It was from a former youth group member, now a young man. He apologized for calling every time he had a computer problem. (He calls about once or twice a month.) He knows he is a bother.

Yet every time he calls, I get a warm feeling. For these annoying calls are an answer to prayer. When he was in high school, he had a terrible car accident. Head Injury. Doctors held little hope for him ever waking up, much less walking or talking. At his bedside visiting him, I felt so helpless. Yes, I prayed with him and his family and read him messages sent by his friends, but for weeks, months, there was no reaction. I was so frustrated. My prayer was that I could do something for him that I knew was helping him, something that got through. A selfish prayer, I admit.

In time, due to prayer and the love of his family and friends, he woke up and slowly with years of hard work learned to walk, talk, and just recently drive again! Oh, yes, he learned to use his computer and cell phone.

Where before he laid in bed beyond my best efforts to help, now he calls me and asks for help that I can give him. Thank you God, for those bothersome phone calls. It was just what I asked for.

Jesus Teaches About Prayer
"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." - Luke 11:9-10

Hope You're Ready when God Answers Your Knock!

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