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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Wedding Insurance 
Wednesday, June 6, 2007, 12:18 PM - Extra Christy, Wedding
Did you know you can buy Wedding Insurance? In an update of the Old English rhyme's method for insuring good luck, couples (and their parents!) can purchase insurance for the big day:

Something old........change of the old wedding date
something gifts covered
something borrowed...deposits lost by business closing
something blue.......provides professional counseling
& a silver sixpence in her shoe......extra expenses covered!

I have been in a lot of weddings over the years, some were major productions and others were simple affairs. One included a horse drawn carriage while another was held in a living room. (Note: If you want a quick service, have a roaring fire behind the pastor!)

I wonder what Marriage Insurance would be like. For while a wedding is a big day, marriage is intended for the rest of our days. Premiums of love would have to be paid daily, in the form of thoughtfulness and kindness. Coverage would be summed up in another wedding poem found in the Book of Common Prayer:

for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
till death us do part.

We don't seal Marriage Insurance with a notary's stamp and ink signatures but with the seal of the Spirit and promises written on our hearts:

Eternal God, without your grace no promise is sure. Strengthen them with patience, kindness, gentleness, and all other gifts of the Spirit, so that they may fulfill the vows they have made. Keep them faithful to each other and to you. Fill them with such love and joy that they may build a home of peace and welcome. Guide them by your word to serve you all their days.

Enable us all, O God, in each of our homes and lives to do your will. Enrich us with your grace so that, encouraging and supporting one another, we may serve those in need and hasten the coming of peace, love, and justice on earth, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Two Together

Jesus answered, "Haven't you read in your Bible that the Creator originally made man and woman for each other, male and female? And because of this, a man leaves father and mother and is firmly bonded to his wife, becoming one flesh-no longer two bodies but one. Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart."

- Matthew 19:4-6 (The Message)

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The Miracle of Hope 
Sunday, June 3, 2007, 08:28 AM - Sermon
Romans 5:1-11

Twice this week I have talked to people going through some tough times. One asked me if they were placed in this situation by God to teach them something. I don't pretend to know God's mind, but I do know that God takes all our choices, all the choices of others, all the influences and events and weaves his good gracious will out of them. This pattern of God's weaving is most clearly seen from a distance of years looking back over our lives. We can't see it here and now.

The more perspective we have on our life, the easier it is to see the patterns traced by God. Yet life can only be lived in the present, and plans made for the future, both places where God's providence, God's good gracious will, is not conveniently marked out for us.

Since I'm living just up the hill on Hillside Terrace, I can walk to work. Often I take a turn at the labyrinth over at Charlie's Place. A labyrinth is a path, without dead ends like a maze, that leads the traveler from the outside to the inside. It twists and turns but eventually, if you stay on the path, you will arrive at the center of the labyrinth. The only way to get lost in a labyrinth is to step away from the path. While on the path, it is as confusing as the mountains of Pennsylvania I left. You can see where you want to go, but you never go directly there. In fact, I have walked the labyrinth several times, and I am still surprised when I reach the center, for the path winds. At times I am far from the center, other times right next to it, only to be led to the outside edge again. Yet, I've always arrived at the center, where the youth and their helpers have placed a brick cross.

I believe humanity is in God's labyrinth. We are headed to the center of God's will for humanity. There are many twists and turns. We cannot see past the next bend. Our only job is to stay on the path, to move forward as we can, even though it seems not to be the most direct route to our destination. How do we know we are on the path? Well, Romans suggests that if we are suffering…we must be going towards hope.

Suffering produces endurance. The more you experience, the more you can endure. Adult children often wonder how their parents will endure some disappointing news. They forget that their elders have suffered much over the years and that suffering has produced endurance. When they find that the news was not as devastating to their elders as they feared, they begin to learn that suffering produces endurance. Now, during the suffering, I am sure that people were not rejoicing. I'm glad I'm suffering now. I'll need the endurance in my later years, yet God manages to work his way out even among suffering.

What is character? For me, it is what is irreducible about you. What is your nature if everything unimportant and temporary was stripped away, what would be left. Suffering produces endurance over the long term. Enduring suffering, not giving in to it, strips away all that is unimportant and temporary, leaving your character exposed. I've often heard it said of someone, “She is fine as long as she gets her way.” Well, I think that is true of most everyone. What happens when someone has to endure hardships, setbacks, and compromises? There you see someone's true character.

How does character produce hope? How does your very essence, revealed by enduring suffering, bring about hope? It is good to look at the opposite sometimes. A hopeless person is one who has given up, not moving forward, not looking for change. Someone who has lost all hope is walking the path God has laid out. They sit down in the labyrinth; convinced they will never get to the goal. But someone with endurance, someone with character, who continues on even when things are all twisty turney and the goal is not in sight, this is a hopeful person. Hope is wishes with wings, Hope is moving forward on God's path of love.

There is a film coming out, June 22nd, a sequel to Bruce Almighty, named Evan Almighty. The whole movie is an answer to prayer in a suffering hope sort of way. The hero gets what he prays for, but there is a whole lot to go through before the prayer request is fulfilled. In the movie, there is a taste of what I'm hearing in Romans 5, what I'm traveling in the labyrinth. Morgan Freeman as God says: “If you pray for patience, do you think God just… gives you patience? Or does he give you opportunities to be patient? If you pray for courage, do you think he just gives you courage, or opportunities to be courageous?”

I asked for wisdom...
And God gave me problems to solve.
I asked for prosperity...
And God gave me brains and the strength to work.
I asked for courage...
And God gave me danger to overcome.
I asked for love...
And God gave me troubled people to help.
I asked for favors...
And God gave me opportunities.
I received nothing I wanted.
I received everything I needed.
My Prayer has been answered. — Anon.

What does this mean?

1. Stop and look back where God has taken you over the years. See if you can trace God's path in your life. When was God with you? Can you trace the path from suffering to hope?
2. Keep track of your prayer requests. Not like wishes, waiting for the delivery so you can sign off on delivery. When does God give you an opportunity to make your prayers real in your life? How can you live in hope of your prayers?
a. Say you pray for reconciliation with a family member. What can you do in the hope that this will come true? Does it involve some suffering on your part? Even better! You're on the hopeful track if you endure some suffering!
b. Say you pray for a job…can you get up early, get ready for the day, ask people for contacts, target a company and call for a name you can talk to about a position?

3. If you can, for a brief time, when you suffer, look for the hope. They are bound up together, like the pain of childbirth and the joy of parenthood, like the scream of that newborn and the relief that their lungs are working well

The miracle of hope is that it is born of suffering. The greatest miracle of hope is that of the suffering savior, Christ, who endured the cross and brought eternal hope for humanity.

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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Calendar Girl  
Wednesday, May 30, 2007, 08:30 AM - Extra Christy
The Presbyterian Planning Calendar starts tomorrow, June 1st. We have a mid year start day for our calendar because church programs, like schools, often start in September and finish in May.

I have a ritual when I get a new work calendar. I turn to March 1st and mark in my wife's birthday and July 12th to mark our wedding anniversary. Not because I would forget if I didn't write it down, but because when my wife sees my work calendar I want her to know that among all the ties and commitments of my work life, I still note the commitment I have to her all the days of our life together.

One church I served sent out baptism day cards instead of birthday cards. Our baptism date is a date not many of us have marked on our yearly calendars either at home or work, and that is partly why the church sent the baptism cards, to remind folks amidst all their work responsibilities and enjoyable recreations to save time for remembering the beginning of their Christian life and the gift of faith it honors.

Do you know your baptism date? Why not look it up and put it on your calendar? We can always use another excuse to celebrate and the Christian life is a good reason to rejoice. Like marking my wife's birthday and our wedding anniversary "keeping the day" can be a joyful occasion to pause and remember who you are and whose you are.

You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts-limbs, organs, cells-but no matter how many parts you can name, you're still one body. It's exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) - 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (The Message)

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