Wages and Withholding 
Sunday, June 29, 2008, 11:18 AM - Sermon
Genesis 22:1-14; Romans 6:12-23

We preachers teach the adults and tell stories to the children. We probably have that reversed which is why church goers often remember the children's message and not the sermon. I was thinking about our readings today, about death and life, about obedience and sacrifice, and the preciousness of giving even a cup of cold water to a little child and how to tell you about those things.

Once there was a woman that wanted to be a mother. Well, there was a couple that wanted to be parents, but I'm just talking about the woman who wanted to be a mother. They were married, settled in their jobs as much as anyone could be, healthy, had a home, everything society deemed appropriate and good for child raising. Yet no child. “Give it good year”, they were told by the hopeful and given all sorts of potions and procedures by the helpful. Then came the poking and the prodding by the earnest people in smocks. What started in hope and then moved to fear quickly became mechanical as leaky plumbing and as hopeful as day old lottery ticket.

After being rejected by the expensive midwife of medicine and surgery, they had given up and were beginning the adoption process. She was too old, too late, to be a birth mother. She told herself it was okay, even laughed when other asked about her pregnancy prospects. It eased the awkwardness around her friends and their brood and kept her from crying…she already had her tear quota filled. Laughing was the way to go.

Then one week she was sick and didn't get better. She finally went to her doctor who asked the usual questions and routinely took another pregnancy test. She wondered how much money her insurance had spent on pregnancy tests and if she was eligible for a refund or maybe an award. They could give her a framed certificate, customer of the decade. She could show it to people when they asked about her children. Maybe a wallet sized copy to pass around when folks got out the baby pictures. No, better to keep laughing, keep the pain chained away so it doesn't attack others especially her sweet husband who supported and loved her as wife even without being a mother.

Beep Beep a message on the machine. Probably from him, he'll be late home again. She wondered if he would be home more if there were a family to come home to, instead of a-wife-not-a-mother like her. Babies have sure been on her mind for she thought all this between the beep and the button. A message from her doctor, odd, she never calls. After the appropriate greeting and identification, a two word message: “Call me”. Well, maybe below average conversational skills are why the doctor didn't call more. She obediently calls, and gets right through. The disclaimers and cautions that naturally flow from a doctor even when commenting about the weather slowly filled the room. She poked her finger in the flood, “Just tell me”. “You have morning sickness. Your pregnancy test was positive.” Two impossibilities one, she was too old to be pregnant, and two, there was nothing morning about the sickness, it was all day!

The impossible is only impossible until it happens. Every birth is impossible until the birthday. She held on to the impossible until the end. For even after the classes which showed films that gave her husband morning sickness, the surrender of coffee after a valiant battle, the cartons of crackers for her stomach which in return, became the shape of a cracker barrel, she was ready to call this motherhood thing off during delivery, loudly call it off. She had changed her mind! Her husband, who, with the rest of males of the species, had yet to learn that women in labor are to be loved and endured rather than understood, had tried to explain rationally, the impracticalability of her clearly stated desire to stop the birth process between contractions. Silly man, she knew that there was no stopping, but she felt she had given all she had to give and still the baby demanded more of her poor body.

All was forgotten, when the baby came! Joy of joys all that labor, and it was labor, was worth it. A baby boy. Someone to carry on, a physical message of their love to the future.

Over the years she tried to remember the labor to bring this boy out of their hearts and into their home. She caught herself in times of turmoil over the years to remind herself she wanted this. She wanted this dirty, loud, crying, running, sleep stealing whirlwind. Wanted it more than anything. Her son would catch her smiling sometimes, even laughing softly at the wrong times. So he would ask her what was so funny, eager to be amused with her or excused by her. She would tell him, “You are”, “You are my laugh”. For before he was even a sick feeling in her stomach, he was a laugh.

Could that laugh have echoed 18 years? Yet here he was, or there he was, up above her head since he was 12 telling her his plans after high school. Looming over his breakfast of Honey Nut Cheerios and fruit it was like a pronouncement from the gods on Mt. Olympus after a feast of golden ambrosia and grapes. “Mom, I can't stand school. It don't want to spend that much money for years and years wasted in a room somewhere with books. I want to do something important. I'm joining the Army. They need me in Iraq.” He said more, well rehearsed and researched, for once, but she heard no more. She was sick to her stomach. She knew that this would last longer than the morning.

Before he came into her life, she had pain she couldn't show. Now, that he was leaving her life, again, she had the pain that could not be shown. She wanted to do right by him, by the country, by all those others mothers, evil needed to be confronted and conquered, but why does it cost her baby, her only child? Who knew that the leaving would be harder than the arrival? Over the next few weeks, she bit her tongue bloody and resolved to make her body go through the motions even if her heart would not be moved from the special selfless selfishness of motherhood.

The big day came. He went to the testing by himself. It was just as well, she both wanted to go with him and run the other way, she didn't know which she would have decided, and was glad he rang the bell ending the emotional wrestling match which had both sides losing. Brrzzz…the boy, texting. “The kids never call” has a new meaning now. She laughed at her joke as she opened the phone. Two words. “Call Me.” She remembered those two words a dozen and a half years ago, that announced his advent…now will be the words that begin the end?

Caller ID had long since shredded human greetings, so his first words kicked right in, “I didn't get chosen”.

From long practice, she bit her tongue just in time for her heart was jumping up her throat and needed to be corralled before it broke. Clenching her teeth to protect her heart from another kick, she wondered aloud, “You're not going to Iraq?”

“No. I guess someone else will be going instead of me.” A wave of relief that left a burning sting of guilt washed over her. All she could think was that her son was spared, she couldn't spare thought right now about someone else's mother who was asked to sacrifice. His voice crashed over the surf, “Well, thanks for supporting me, mom. I know you didn't want me to go…. I guess I'll have to find a new life.”

Yes, a new life. She laughed, once again, a new life was given.

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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Pool Shepherd 
Wednesday, June 25, 2008, 10:57 AM - Extra Christy
I got a free upgrade Monday. The pool at Canal Place Y was closed, but a helpful member (Thanks Doug!) gave me directions to Citicenter pool which is under the same management.

The hospitality was great, even the men in comfy chairs watching TV in the locker room welcomed me. When I got the to pool the lifeguard came up and inquired if I was there for "some cardio." I told him I was just starting to swim laps again and I was aiming for at least 20 minutes.

I started my laps and noticed...the lifeguard was pacing the side of the pool beside me. Back and forth, we traveled the pool in tandem. I swimming, and he walking and watching.

I gained a new appreciation of Psalm 23, (the Lord is my Shepherd Psalm), especially verse 2, "He leads me besides still waters". The protection was there: unasked and unannounced but unwavering.

We don't have much experience with shepherds in Akron, Ohio so maybe the power of the imagery of Psalm 23 is lost on us urban wanderers. What if our personal psalm sang about the Lord as my lifeguard, my parent, my friend, my firefighter, my mentor, my teacher, my boss, my police, my Sunday School classmates, any that guard and guide.

In any time or any environment, whatever keeps you afloat, that is what the Lord is like.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,*
I fear no evil; for you are with me;
your rod and your staff-they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

-- ( Psalm 23 NRSV )

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To See How Others See 
Wednesday, June 18, 2008, 11:00 AM - Extra Christy
While spending two weeks on pilgrimage with others Israel, we found out that we all have challenges and we learned to make allowances for one another. One of our group, Bonnie, has difficulty seeing. We take turns spotting for her as we travel. "Step!" or "Bump!" we exclaim, not unlike the Turkish guard banging his staff to make a clear path for the priest through the crowds at the Church of Holy Sepulchre.

During my turn, I was warning Bonnie not just of actual steps but patterns of contrasting shadows and light that look like steps but are not. "Flat!" I would shout, letting her know there was NOT a step before her, just shadows in the light. She said in wonder, "You're seeing like I do!"

Seeing how others see is helpful not only in guiding others, but in understanding which paths others choose. There were many contrasts of light and dark which people saw differently in the Holy Land. A recent shadow on the Holy Land is the wall between Israeli and Palestinian areas. The Israelis look at the wall and see security protection. The Palestinians look at the other side of the same barrier and see a prison wall.

I wonder what it looks like to God.

Seeing as God's Sees

We do use wisdom when speaking to people who are mature in their faith. But it isn't the wisdom of this world or of its rulers, who will soon disappear. We speak of God's hidden and mysterious wisdom that God decided to use for our glory long before the world began. The rulers of this world didn't know anything about this wisdom. If they had known about it, they would not have nailed the glorious Lord to a cross. But it is just as the Scriptures say,

"What God has planned for people who love him
is more than eyes have seen or ears have heard.
It has never even entered our minds!"

God's Spirit has shown you everything. His Spirit finds out everything, even what is deep in the mind of God. You are the only one who knows what is in your own mind, and God's Spirit is the only one who knows what is in God's mind. But God has given us his Spirit. That's why we don't think the same way that the people of this world think. That's also why we can recognize the blessings that God has given us. -- ( 1 Corinthians:6-12 CEV )

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God's Call 
Wednesday, June 11, 2008, 08:00 AM - Extra Christy
As part of my preparation for my trip to Israel, I wrote a spiritual autobiography. Over the next weeks, I would like to share parts of it with you.

Last week I shared an unexpected answer to prayer. This week, in honor of my 25th anniversary of ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA), I have another surprise of faith to share.

I think the first time I sensed a call to the ministry was during one of my hospitalizations as a pre-teen. I remember a profound sense of relief and awe in the presence of God. This was very unusual for me. But as an outgoing boy with three brothers, the hospital stay was on of the few times of quiet and solitude in my childhood. I told no one of this. I didn't tell anyone about thinking about being a minister until the late high school years because I wasn't ready to be sure.

Have you ever asked a question and then opened the Bible randomly and poked your finger on a verse? This is a more magical than theological pursuit, but I decided to try it once.

I thought, "Should I go to seminary and become a minister?" I closed my eyes and stabbed at the closed Bible. My finger fell on Acts 13:2:

While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.'

I went to seminary and made my way to ordination. I was set apart for God's work as a Presbyterian ministry, June 12, 1983, the first day of the reunited Presbyterian church.

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler,* and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. - Acts 13:1-3 (NRSV)

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See How I See 
Wednesday, June 11, 2008, 02:12 AM
We all have challenges in our group and during our time together we have learned to make allowances for one another. One of our group has difficulty seeing. We take turns spotting for her. "Step!" or "Bump!" we exclaim, not unlike the Turkish guard banging his staff to make a path for the priest. During my turn I was warning her not just of steps but patterns of contrasting shadows and light that look like steps but are not. "Flat!" I would warn. She said, "You are seeing like me!"

The conflicting claims of the peoples here and the tension even in the Church of the Holy Seplchure between denominations, pilgrims and tourists, natives and visitors could be much improved if we all learned to see how others see.
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