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Home of the... 
Wednesday, March 21, 2007, 07:00 AM - Extra Christy
Pizza parlors have a common advertising theme. Many of them proudly proclaim what they are home to. "Home of the Free Pizza & Ribs" "Home of the 2 for 1 Pizza Deal" "Home of the 24" Pizza" "Home of the Cheap Slice" "Home of the Gaint Jumbo Pizza Slices" "Home of the Big MEATY Pizza" "Home of the Late Night Slice" are some I and Google have read. ("Slice" being a classy shortcut for "piece of pizza".)

What are we home of? What sign would be on our homes? Before elections we see signs in front of homes supporting candidates, but usually the candidates themselves are not living there. Sometimes yard signs do proclaim to be home of a fan of a sports team or a student of a high school, but associations and membership signs don't match the emotion invested in a piece of dough and tomato sauce by the "Home of" pizza shops.

Matthew tells of the disciples being sent out to the lost sheep of Israel to preach the that the kingdom of heaven is near. Jesus instructs the disciples to find a worthy person and stay at the person's home, and let his peace rest on it. Now there's a sign for a home: Home of the Peace of God

The Best Peace is the One God Delivers.

Home of the Largest Peace

As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. - Matthew 10:12-13


Hope God's Peace is Always Home at Your House,


J Christy Ramsey


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Love Never Surrenders, Never Retreats 
Sunday, March 18, 2007, 08:00 AM - Sermon
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Spartans Never Surrender, Spartans Never Retreat, thunders Leonidas the Spartan king in the movie 300. He has been told his situation is hopeless, that now is the time for surrender, or retreat…or death. His reply makes his choice in the silence, for of the three; Surrender, Retreat, or Death: Spartans Never Surrender, Spartans Never Retreat.

There is Surrender, Retreat, and Death in our story today. Death comes first. Strangely you might have missed it. The younger son demands his inheritance. When do children get inheritance? When someone dies. “Father you are as good as dead to me.” “Father, I'm tired of waiting for you to die and get out of my way now.” Death of the Father.

Death appears again. When the younger son loses his money, loses his freedom, loses his Jewish religion by tending pigs, loses himself. Even his conscience is dead, for it seems he only wants food, not forgiveness. His belly, not his repentance, sends him back to his father. His father knows that his son is dead when he leaves him, for when he comes back, he twice declares that despite the giving of the father's inheritance to his son, it was not he that died, but the son.

Death appears a third time, when the elder son is out in the field who states that his brother is not his brother, but only his father's son, “this son of yours.” His brother is dead to him.

Yet facing death, there is also no retreat and no surrender in the story. The father never retreats. God never retreats, and since God is Love, Love never retreats. God never surrenders; Love never surrenders.

Your son is dead, and wishes you dead. Surrender; go inside, quit looking down the road, retreat into the house. Yet we find no retreat, no surrender…the father sees his son a long way off and runs to him. Imagine you see me running somewhere, you know something important was happening. In ancient times, elders did not run, they never even hurried. But here we have the father running to the son. Retreat? No Charge! Run! Hug, embrace, grab. Before words get out of his mouth, the father is welcoming him back.

At times we face death, disappointment, and defeat. In these times, we might identify with the younger brother, the loving father, or the elder son.

Younger Brother
The younger brother: Our choices have led to disaster and ruin. We are so far down, we can't even see where we started. We don't have to stay wallowing with the pigs. We can at least take some beginning steps back. The surprise to all people in recovery is that when they take a few steps back, God and others reach out across the distance. You don't have to travel the whole way alone. When you stumble back toward God and goodness, God comes running to embrace you.

If you are down and out. Do not look at the whole journey back, look at the next step. In the words of the long version of the Serenity Prayer: “Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time;” Turn your face and your steps toward God's home and don't be surprised when God comes bounding out to welcome you home before you get even a chance to confess your sins and errors.

Loving Father
Sometimes we are the loving father, or mother, or friend. We see a loved one heading off to ruin over and over. It tears our heart again and again. We want to stop them, but know we cannot. We want to go and get them and drag them home and knock some sense into them. But for one reason or another, we can't.

If you are watching disaster. Know that you can still love even the most errant person. You don't have to rescue them again and again. You don't have to pay their debts or restore their fortunes. You can welcome them when they come home and make sure they know there is a place in your home and heart for them. In between, you can consider prayerfully, that your suffering is linked to God's who mourns over everyone who is lost, who turns away from the heavenly home and blessed inheritance God freely offers. God never retreats from love, never surrenders hope that the lost will be found.

Older Son
Sometimes we are the older son. Most of us are. Do you know that the older son was a Presbyterian? Who else but a Presbyterian, on the way home from work, hearing the noise of fun and partying would stop and start an investigation into unscheduled happiness? What?! People are having fun and rejoicing?! I'll have none of it! We've been there. It is my favorite place. We don't like the people God has welcomed. Or we see the unfairness in earthly rewards and happiness between those we determine good and those we determine undeserving of blessing.

If you are out and alone. Listen to the loving father, the lost are found, the dead are alive. So it is required that we rejoice. It is not where people have been, but where they are going that is important to God and should be the focus of God's people as well. Never retreat from restoration, charge on it to the party.

Conclusion
God never retreats, God never surrenders, and unlike Spartans and all things human, God can even overcome death. No matter your situation, lost in sin like the younger son, broken hearted like the father, or smoldering about the unfairness of this world, God has a way out. God is waiting. The party is waiting. Come home to God, he hasn't given up on you.


Now young faces grow sad and old
and hearts of fire grow cold
We swore blood brothers against the wind
Now I'm ready to grow young again …

We made a promise we swore we'd always remember
No retreat, believe me, no surrender
Blood brothers in the stormy night with a vow to defend
No retreat, believe me, no surrender
— Bruce Springsteen, No Surrender, Born in the USA 1984


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 Cookie Barn 
Wednesday, March 14, 2007, 08:30 AM - Extra Christy
Girl Scout cookies are famous. They have their own website www.girlscoutcookies.org and even a MySpace page ( cookies on MySpace ) where you can "friend" the cookies.

I selfishly buy my own Girl Scout cookies. This goes back to the tragic year I had no cookies. Ironically, it was the year my wife was in charge of the entire county's delivery of Girl Scout cookies. For a few days, every Girl Scout cookie sold in Fulton County, Indiana was stacked shoulder high throughout my garage. What a sight! I thought I was the King of the Cookies. But then, in the process of filling orders, after ensuring that all the girls got all their cookies, it ended up that our family was left with none.

Since then, we have never had that many Girl Scout cookies under our roof, yet we have always had more cookies then the year we had them all.

There is a story in the Bible about a man who thought he had everything he wanted but wound up having nothing he needed (see below) A full barn is not a guarantee of security, but a life full of God, where one stores up treasures of faith, hope and love in heaven's garage will last longer than a mountain of Thin Mints.

Hope your enjoy cookies now and God forever

The First Cookie Barn

And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'

"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." '

"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'

"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."- Luke 12:16-21

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Presbytery Postpones "One Night Only" Offer From Stow 
Tuesday, March 13, 2007, 07:00 PM - Other
By a close vote, Presbytery declined to immediately to vote on a "one night only" offer, previously presented to the Stow Consulting Commission, to dissolve one of the Presbytery's churches. Presbytery decided not to hear persons claiming to be from the Stow church who wanted to bypass the Stow Consulting Commission and speak to the entire Presbytery about an unscheduled motion recorded in the commission's minutes. (No one signed in as a commissioner to Presbytery from the Stow Presbyterian Church)

Move that the Stow Presbyterian Church be dissolved as a congregation within the PC(USA) and that the property be considered disposed to the present Stow congregation. Dissolving will include a 2006 per capita payment of $4,368 from the present Stow congregation and its direct PC(USA) mission support in 2007 on four levels: locally, within Eastminster Presbytery, nationally and internationally.”


The presenter of the motion stated that the "offer" expired that day when the Presbytery considered postponing the motion until its next meeting. Presbytery refused to be rushed into such an important decision and will be in prayerful consideration and conversation with Stow Presbyterian Church through the Consulting Commission until its May meeting.

Previous Presbytery action on 11/14/06:

Eastminster Presbytery directs the Consulting Commission to perform a special administrative review of the Stow Presbyterian Church with authorization to explore the possibility of a negotiated settlement with the understanding that a negotiated settlement requires the approval of Eastminster Presbytery.

Members: Lynn Thompson Bryant, Rusty Cowden, Bonnie Dutton, Carmen Ferris, Paul Gaug, Alan Hutchison, Trella Johnson, Peggy Richmond. Ex-Officio: Nick Mager, Harriet Chapman, Dan Schomer

The Presbytery vote can be interpreted as supporting the ministry of these Presbyterians in their work with Stow Presbyterian Church and a rejection of some purporting to be from Stow to hijack the process with a surprise "one-night only" offer.

In other action related to Stow Presbyterian Church the Presbytery approved this motion:

Whereas the Stow Presbyterian Church filed new articles of incorporation on January 19, 2006, in which they describe their purpose of incorporation as follows: “The general object and purpose for which this religious corporation is formed is to worship Almighty God, to give instruction in Christianity, to voluntarily gather for corporate prayers and worship, and to voluntarily associate with a higher denominational organization, such as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), so long as doing so is in accordance with the dictates of conscience”, and whereas on October 9, 2006, the Session of the Stow Presbyterian Church informed the Stated Clerk and General Presbyter that at a congregational meeting of the Stow Presbyterian Church held on October 8, 2006, the congregation voted “to disassociate from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), effective immediately”, Eastminster Presbytery goes on record that it finds these actions to be irregularities because they are in violation of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).


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You Turns on the Causeway 
Sunday, March 11, 2007, 08:00 AM - Sermon
Luke 13:1-9

The announcement is made, “Bill's dead”. A friend known to all is gone. Someone asks the first question, “What happened?” and the answer is “Lung Cancer.” Silence hangs as all wait for someone to ask the second question. Finally, someone does, “Did he smoke?”.

We want the world to be cause and effect. Reward for the good we see and punishment for evil we perceive. Pushing that harder, we want to be in the good crowd: safe from disease, illness, accident by our goodness. Our brains are wired to make our choices seem good to us. Research suggest there is no “I”, a little person sitting in a control room in our heads making decisions and judgments, but rather a shouting mob that gradually settles on a common chant as one group wins out over others. Only after our decision, according to this theory, do we go back and create a rational and reasonable decision making process.

Both Jesus and brain research show we are not evil free. No one is protected by a shield of goodness. Not in the first century when folks believe that they are unlike those rebellious Galileans, (you know how uppity they are! No wonder Pilate had them killed!) nor today when we think that we are good and do not need to repent. Jesus says, we are all smokers, hooked on sin; the stink is on our breath and yellow stains are on our hands. None of us free of the habit of evil, we all need to quit, to turn away from the temporary pleasures offered by temptation, to turn toward God.

How?

Last month, the Virginia General Assembly unanimously voted to express “profound regret” for the state's role in slavery, the first state to do so. The resolution says government-sanctioned slavery “ranks as the most horrendous of all depredations of human rights and violations of our founding ideals in our nation's history, and the abolition of slavery was followed by systematic discrimination, enforced segregation, and other insidious institutions and practices toward Americans of African descent that were rooted in racism, racial bias, and racial misunderstanding.” Is sorry the way out?

Repentance is just beginning with Sorry.

Your boss says they have to reduce the head count at work. Your part is to write the poor job performance evaluations for all those who report to you, so they can be easily fired. You do your job, with a heavy heart to be sure, but you do it. You just write one bad one and copy it over and over, ending careers of one associate after another with the least keystrokes. They are fired and you are reassigned. You are okay most days, but walking by and empty desk, or getting email forwarded to you from the workers that are gone, brings a twist in your gut. Should you say you are sorry? What good would that do? Did you even do anything wrong? What is the way out?

None of us are free from such course corrections. We do not have auto-pilots keeping us on course. Accountability groups such as Bible study group or Kairos group are helpful. I've been active in Presbytery for two decades, involved with Permanent Judicial Commission in various roles. They are the ones called when a minister flunks a test, falls into temptation, fails a trial. One thing that has struck me is that anyone, even ministers, can go astray. And another is that the ones who do, are often the unknown in the Presbytery, they don't come to meetings or Presbytery events. We need others to help us turn again and again to the way of Christ. For temptation and testing is all around us. But so is God; and for me and others I believe, God sometimes comes in the form of other people who provide a way out, if we will turn toward God and God's people.

We are tempted corporately. To make the church our social club, or even our funeral society, investing in ourselves and for us instead of others. We need to turn. I would like every group to have child care at their meetings! Imagine if 60 advertised and provided child care at their meetings! We would be known as expecting young families…and we might get some interesting new 60 members. We need to turn. What if we directed staff and deacons not to just visit homebound but rewarded and celebrated their ministry with people who have no relation to this church? We need to turn. What if instead of viewing Color our Rainbow as tolerated squatters we welcomed them as partners in ministry to families and did joint programs with them, supporting the struggling families as an outreach? We need to turn and find our mission not just outside our doors but within our very walls.

Sorry never had much pull for me. Never impressed with the magic of the word. I guess I didn't want sorrow. Sorrow is plentiful. Change is rare. Sorry begins. Sorry for what I did in the past, a restitution or a repair in the present, and a change in the situation or myself for the future. In our reading about the garden today. We see not just sorrow for past barrenness, but a change in the present, the digging and fertilizing, and a promise for change in the future—bearing fruit.

Repentance is not saying I'm sorry, looking toward the past, but changes our present, and turns our path in the future. When new members join our congregation, we ask them to turn from evil and turn to Christ, to repent, to turn around, 180 from dark to light, from the path to hell to way of heaven.

A example of repentance moving beyond sorrow for the past into action in the present and change in the future comes from a man who was Muslim; but considered himself also a Hindu, a Christian. When the British left India, the Hindus and Muslims started killing each other. Sectarian violence within a country based on religion. Sound familiar? A Hindu man comes to Gandhi and confesses to him: “I will be damned to hell.” What did you do, asks Gandhi. “I killed a boy. He was Muslim, so I bashed his head against a wall” “Please! Tell me what I must do to stay out of hell!”

Gandhi told the Hindu man that he could stay out of the evil hell of his past by finding an orphan boy, whose parents were killed in the fighting, adopt him in the present and during the future in his Hindu home…raise him as a good Muslim. Turn around your past, change your present, turn to God for the future, for God will give you all the strength you need for the trials, testing and temptations that face you.
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