Living Trails 
Wednesday, April 30, 2008, 08:00 AM - Extra Christy
"The way to keep a trail alive is to walk it" quotes Bruce Feiler in the PBS documentary Walking the Bible. The very first name recorded of the followers of Jesus Christ was those who followed "the Way". Maybe based on the exchange in John 14 between Jesus and pre-doubting Thomas. Jesus answers Thomas questions about the way to heaven by stating he is the way.

How can a person by the way? Once we were stopped on a highway by a temporary but big barrier. STOP! There was no way to go forward. In a few minutes we see a little cart buzzing toward us. It turns around in front of us and we see the large sign on the back "FOLLOW ME!" We did. We didn't know the way, but we were on our way, following the driver of the cart who was the way.

Lots of folks argue about what is a Christian. They have belief statements to sign or stances to take. I believe that is like buying exercise equipment, it doesn't help if the only exercise it prompts is hanging clothes on it.

I like the original name for the followers of Christ. People of the Way. We would do well to answer folks who asks the way to be a Christian to say it isn't knowing what the way is but who is the way and follow Him. We learn the Christian path by walking it with Christ...Christ is alive!

Jesus the Way

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."

Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life..."-- John 14:1-6 (NIV)

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Fish Again? 
Sunday, April 27, 2008, 08:07 AM - Sermon
Luke 5:1-11

This afternoon we are going to ordain E. Sue Tinker to the ministry of the Word and Sacrament. We are going to charge her to fish for people in Hudson. I thought it was a great time to continue my series of sermons suggested by the scripture stories picked by the good folks who came to our April 13th meeting, when we asked “What scripture story describes the situation and feeling of our congregation today?” Last week, I did my choice, the fall, the banishment from the garden and in the coming weeks I'll be preaching on the other texts. Next week it is Genesis 37 and 45 Joseph in the deep well.

In our scriptures the good old boys have been out all night fishing, they took time out from cleaning their nets to take this preacher fella out on a boat and now he wants them to fish again.

The feeling of yet again comes over some of us. Ramping up for another preacher and another effort to build and grow is tough. Some of us, most of us have did this before. The history of congregation is often read like the annuals of the Pharaohs…in the 4 year of the reign of Lucarelli came the building program. If you read our history is it divided not into years or decades, but by pastorate, which pastor did what when. With that reading of history, it is hard to not figure that this pastor is just another casting of the nets. The newest fisherman in the lake that's been fished out and over.

Also, we feel we have been here before when we remember hurts and crisis of the past and replay them again. “We worked hard…and got nothing.” We've tried that before and it didn't work.

Felt this way? Grandparents raising their children's children thinking, I've been through this before. What a blessing when those folks throw their nets back into the sea of parenting. What a difficult choice, one that is not always accepted. They could say, “We've done our work…we raised our children.”

Students going from middle school to high school, or high school to college from being the oldest, best and well-known by people and knowing well the system to being new, lost, and unknown. Some take it as an opportunity to re-invent themselves but others despair at climbing up the social and institutional ladder again.

How about the career person whose job vanishes? Vacation, seniority, salary, even the memorized work number are erased. New skills and new learning are required, all our previous labor is for nothing…empty nets.

Folks back in the hospital sometimes after a struggle to recover from an earlier illness are back to learning how to walk again. All their efforts in rehab and exercise is nothing but empty nets.

What to do when your nets are empty and you need to fish again? We have examples of how empty nets are NOT filled in our scripture.

First we find our fishers cleaning their nets. Cleaning the nets does NOT fill empty nets. We do a lot of net cleaning in the church. A wonderful thing to do when you visit churches is to look at the fellowship hall. Is it a reception room or a fishing pond? You know what I mean, some churches fellowship hall is for receptions with decorations and décor identical to a restaurant or social hall. Others have bulletin boards full of mission and ministry opportunities, tables overflowing with information on the church's outreach, and one I saw this month, a mailbox for every family in the church. (You didn't have to ask who hasn't been here in awhile, the stuffed mailbox was an invitation to deliver the news of the church and the good news of the church to those who are missed) Clean nets don't catch fish, fishing fills nets.

Second, hard work in the past doesn't fill nets. As noble and grand yesteryears fishing expedition was, it doesn't fill nets today. It is about as filling as having memories of last week's banquet for dinner tonight. Just as manna given by God in the desert to the Israelites to feed them didn't keep until the next day, we need to prepare the feast for today's hungry souls and not offer the stale bread saved from years ago. It is like asking for what's for dinner and being told, “Memories”. The sweetest memory doesn't satisfy the smallest hunger.

Third, recording empty nets doesn't bring in fish. We can have surveys, questionnaires, interviews, counts that show just how empty our nets are. Yet, at the end, we still have empty nets. Look at all this emptiness is not a way to harvest fish. We can count what we don't have. Give a list of grievances over what we lack, where our resources are lacking, and not one fish will jump into the net.

The difference between ABC churches and fishing centers is orientation. ABC churches (not American Baptist Church, a fine denomination) but churches that focus on Attendance, Building and Cash. They only ask such questions as: How many are here, and how many are not here. How is the building condition, are all the empty nets clean and stored properly, and where is the money coming from?

Fishing centers take their direction from Simon Peter, focusing on the word of the Lord. Since you tell us, we will doing. Not keeping attendance records, building maintained, or cash coming in but doing what the Lord has said to do. Only then will nets be filled, when we do what the Lord tells us.

I see three things. First, the Lord tells us to let down into deep waters. We like to fish in the shallows, where we can easily see and catch the fish. Heck, we would like it if the fish just jumped out of the water completely and into our boats. But Jesus says let down those carefully washed nets into the dark dirty depths. You get fish by fishing!

Where is the depths? The deep fish? I want to a lecture by Marjorie Suchocki last week. She suggested that God only acts in response to prayer. (That explains a lot!) What is our prayer? One of our prayers I that we can reach young families with children. God delivers a hundred families to our door twice a day 5 days a week. We just need to get them here on Sunday. What is the deep that we can lower our loving nets? Graduation is June 3, Tuesday, I'll be in Israel. What if when they came they found members in Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church shirts opening the door for them and directing them to the program with great joy. “We are glad you are here! Thanks for bringing your children here! Here is the way to the fellowship hall”. We will have welcome brochures and information on the table to share as well. Down into the depths with the nets!

Another way to fish is to call in our friends. When Peter and crew couldn't handle the fish, they didn't drop their nets and give up, they called in their friends. We need a song leader and musicians to start a contemporary service to reach out to new people? Let's call in Sanctuary of Worship folks! Can we help each other to bring in the catch of God? We had a great time together at contemporary worship last month, and Bishop Burgan will be here the first two Sundays in June and he is bring his choir! What if we can work together to bring in a catch! We don't have to do the fishing alone! We can ask for help from others and the Presbytery to bring in the catch.

Finally, Peter realizes it is God grace not our work. When we look at empty nets and hard work to do over, whether in a church or personal context; we need to realize it is God that fills the net, not us. We need to allow God to do his miracle of healing, of growth, whatever emptiness we are waiting to fill. We are not alone, we have friend to help, but we are not alone, we have God to bless us. With God we can face anything.

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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How Holy is the Holy Land? 
Wednesday, April 23, 2008, 08:15 AM - Extra Christy
Author Don McKim tells us that holy has two meanings: "pure/sacred" and "set apart/unique". Many of the holy places in the holy lands are disputed. Traditions that this is the actual place that this event happened may "only" be hundreds of years old, (some traditions go back over a thousand years), but due to upheavals in political, religious and geological arenas, no site can prove to the modern mind that it was the undisputed site of a Biblical occurrence.

What is a visitor to the Holy Land to do? If "Holy" is understood as the pure/sacred then much is lost by not being able find the actual site. But...if one receives Holy as set apart/unique then the centuries of devoted pilgrims coming to the holy sites itself makes the place holy. During my visit to the sites of the Holy Land, my thoughts will include the thousands of faithful pilgrims over hundreds of years that have come to the same spot I visit, considering the same Bible event that I am reflecting on. There is holiness in joining those saints through the ages in reflection and prayer in the same set apart space.

Make somewhere holy this week. Gather with others in Jesus' name. It could be for a prayer at work, scripture reading at school, or service at Good Neighbors. Whenever two or three are gathered in Jesus' name, Christ is present and that is holy enough for anyone.

With Jesus in the Holy Land

For where two or three come together in my name,
there am I with them.-- Matthew 18:20 (NIV)

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Snakes on a Plane t 
Sunday, April 20, 2008, 08:00 AM - Sermon
Earth Day
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-8, 3:9-24

The horror film “Snakes on a Plane” continues a hatred and fear of snakes that go back to our Biblical Story. It is a curse of the Fall of humanity, that “you and this woman will hate each other; your descendants and hers will always be enemies” (Genesis 3:15a CEV) Before we were enemies, snakes were busy distracting us from God's plan for humanity and the earth and tempting us to be little gods instead of servants of the one true God. This continues today, with distractions from God's plan a continuing temptation.

In Genesis 1:28 quoted on our bulletin we read God's command to humanity: "Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth." Our reading from Genesis 2 has verses 15-17 declaring humanity's purpose and boundaries:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.'

Our materialistic and scientific age distract us with knowledge questions worthy of a talking snake even, “Where Adam and Eve Real Persons?” These are distractions. Author Donald McKim (Presbyterian Questions, Presbyterian Answers) tells us:

The theological purpose of the stories are to provide a way of understanding who humans are, that the world and all things originated from God, and that all the created order stands in relationship with the Creator.

You agree with me on that, and I don't need to quiz you on whether you believe Adam and Eve had belly buttons.

The danger of focusing on the story of Creation in the original setting, (“where was the Garden of Eden?” “Can we genetically trace humankind back to Eve?” “Did the snakes have legs before the fall?”) is that we leave God back in the Garden. Read the first four chapters of Genesis and see how humanity screws up creation, and we are still doing it today. For the most important reality is not that the Garden of Eden story happened at Creation, it is still happening today! There are not only Snakes on a Plane, there are Snakes on a Planet today! There is where faith happens, today, right now.

Joe took a weekend off from church every year for his week long family reunion. It was a huge event of dozens of people that he hosted. He had more ways to be related to people. He told me that unlike most people who were interested in genealogy just to see how far back they could go…he want to see how far out he could go. He went back to go out. How many living relatives he could find? He studied history, but he didn't stay there, he brought the story up to date and found his relations here and now. I believe he was wiser than most. The Bible isn't about how far back we can go, that is important only in the way in enables us to go out and restore our relationships with our long lost relatives today.

To Know Temptation is Half the Battle

The danger that we are warned about in the scripture is that we would be lured away from God good gardening plan by our desire to know everything! Wow. Isn't that our desire? Physicists are racing to find the Higgs boson particle, the particle that gives mass to all other particles. Why is this in a sermon, because it's nickname, given to it by Leon Lederman, a Nobel prize winning physicists, is the “God Particle” The particle that will help physicists know how the universe was created. And they will try to explain it to the rest of us.

I don't mean to pick on physicists or even science. We want to know everything everywhere. I remember being amazed that I could turn on cable TV and get news anytime of the day. I remember the switch from newspaper to the web at the Presbyterian General Assembly news room, when the deadline when from 6 pm daily, to get the newspaper printed by the next morning, to every darn minute for the web pages. We had to know. Can you hear a snake? We are still sucked in to knowing everything all time. I had a funeral Friday. It lasted about 35 minutes. Cell phones went off twice during the service and people checked who was calling. “Inquiring minds want to know” and know now!

Politics have a word for folks that know everything about political policy, “Wonk”. It is “Know” spelled backwards. Some point out it is an acronym for WithOut Normal Knowledge. What is normal knowledge? In the scripture it is knowledge of the purpose of God and our place in God's place. We are God's image, caretakers. (Did you know I look like God? Often, when talking to me, people will say, “O God!” I gently tell them I just work for him, but we must look alike because a lot of people confuse us.) Interesting thing about image, back in ancient times, rulers of a land would have statues of themselves, images, posted throughout the land to “watch” over the land in the ruler's place. We are God's image planted in creation to remind all of creation whose garden this is. God's. We are God's representatives, God's stewards of creation. But we want to have the place all to ourselves. The snakes on this planet know this and they hiss that we can be like gods if we would just know more and more.

The problem is not with knowing. It is trying to be like God by knowing. The snake tells us that all there is to God is knowing stuff. We assign to God the gaps in our knowledge and fight over closing the gaps, because if God is what we don't know, knowing more makes God less. This is another snake on the planet. We can know all things, 1 Corinthians 13:2, and still be nothing. Albert Einstein said, “Knowledge is not Wisdom”. We need to know our place, our God given purpose. Remember, it is on the cover of our bulletin and built into our very being, Eugene Peterson in The Message says it this way: God blessed them: "Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth." When we are taking care of God's creation, we are doing what we were made for, just as the sun was made to rule the day, the water was made to be separate from the land, and the earth was made to be green with plants and full of animals of every kind.

How does story fit in with our story? If our faith, our knowledge, our hope, our love is focused on making ourselves more like gods, to make life easier and more controlled, to gain enough power to be like gods; to take what god has entrusted to us and use it for our own glory and not God's: then we have snacked with snakes. But if all that we do is focused on taking care of God's total creation, those here, and our lost relatives and our lost habitat far away, then we have moved from “serve us” to service.

Snakes on a planet tells us to take care of ourselves
so that we can become Gods.

Scripture tells us to take care of what is God's
so we can become ourselves.

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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Already Found 
Wednesday, April 16, 2008, 01:32 PM - Extra Christy
An announcement was made during my retreat in Kentucky, "I found the key to room 117, whose is it?" Two people checked their pockets and one exclaimed, "It must be mine! Huh. It was found before I knew it was lost!"

Found before you knew you were lost. I am reminded of the media campaign 30 years ago by Campus Crusade for Christ. The cryptic phrase "I found it!" was plastered on bumpers, billboards, and blouses witnessing that the poster had found Jesus. Reformed folk (the camp from which the Presbyterians spring) believe that God found them by Jesus. For Presbyterians like me, it is God's great grace not our great effort that saves us.

Maybe I should get a bumper sticker made:
God Found Me Before I Was Lost.

It would remind me God's salvation does not depend on my feelings of being saved or anything I've done or can do. God's great love is sufficient for the task. This is called "Unconditional Election" which author Donald K. McKim explains as, "God elects persons to salvation without foreseeing faith on their part." (Presbyterian Questions, Presbyterian Answers)

The key thing to remember is that God has you safe for all time before all time.

God Loves You Always

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ* before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, -- Ephesians 1:3-9 (NRSV)

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