Running To and Fro 
Sunday, July 22, 2007, 08:23 AM - Sermon
Amos 8:1-12; Luke 10:38-42

Amos says: A famine on the land, not of bread or water but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it. No time has there been so many people been running to and fro seeking a word from the Lord and not finding it; at least not in churches. People report themselves as spiritual, but don't do much about it. As our material wealth has increased, so has our feeling of emptiness.

Mary and Martha had very different ways of reacting to a visit of Jesus. You can almost see the rushing to and fro in Martha's preparations for a meal. Both longing to welcome Jesus. How do we welcome spirituality into the emptiness in our lives?

Could we recognize spirituality? According to research by George Gallup and Timothy Jones (The Saints Among Us [Ridgefield, CT: Morehouse Publishing]) Spiritually mature people:

Likely have a daily time of private prayer
Sense the presence of God in the lives
Find religion to be a source of strength, growth, and healing
Are more peaceful, joyful and happy and less depressed
Are more humble
Are more often engaged in compassionate acts
Are less prejudiced

Not the people described by Amos in the first part of our readings. They view religion has something that got in the way of their busy lives of profit, and people as a means to the end of profit. Compassion had no value for people God condemns to Amos.

How can we get there? How can we become more peaceful, more joyful and more happy? Herb Miller in Connecting with God says there are over a dozen ways. Seven are primary:

1. Worship
2. Music
3. Prayer
4. Fellowship
5. Preaching
6. Service
7. Stewardship

Worship — Paying attention to God. Focusing on God and sensing God's presence. The church sanctuary is a great place to do this, we are surrounded by the symbols of the faith, pictures of great Bible figures and events in the life of Christ, and wrapped in the history of this place and this people. It is hard not to pay attention to God here. We have worship services that could welcome more people. I hear good Marthas tell me, shut down the other service and tell those people to come help me! The way I prepare for Jesus is the way all should prepare. No, there are different ways to come to Christ and each is honored.

Music — For some organ music lifts them to heaven. For others it is Jazz, or praise songs, or rock, or country. We need to broaden our God sense in music. We are doing that with two services with different music and more so next week with the contemporary service downstairs. Our music director does a great job with the music and the theme of the service. It is good, but as my Uncle counseled me, music has its own message, its own integrity and path to the heart and soul. It isn't just a servant of the preacher. Does it bring God closer to you? Then it is good soul music.

Prayer — time spent with God relating to God. Not a form or a list or an exercise. But time with God listening as much as telling. Praising as much as asking. Hanging out as much as checking in. I working on text messaging on cell phones. We send little messages to others. 160 characters or less. There is a service called Twitter. You text the answer to the question, “What are you doing right now?” and it goes to your friends cell phone, your web page, your facebook. God would like to be included too in your updates. And if you pay attention, maybe you'll get a message back in what God is doing in the world.

Fellowship — Is fellowship a waste of time? An embarrassment? I don't believe so, although many pastors do, they want people to do something! We have lots of programs going on and more needed! I believe we have four Sunday School adult classes. Three have a book, the Sanctuary Class, the Spiral Class, and the Friendship Class. One isn't on the schedule, but meets every Sunday. It is the Gathering Room class. I secretly call them the Welcoming Class. They are the scouts between services that keep the social space alive for earlier arrivals and the curious and confused. Should they go and help other real classes…I think they have a ministry and a purpose on their own.

Preaching — I try to get to people. If folk will hear God only if I'm in a pulpit and reading a sermon. Fine! If they need me to talk without notes fine! If they need to see me in a golf shirt and kahkis in conversation with them. Great! I want to get out of the way. I want to get the centuries between us and Jesus' life on earth erased. I want to bring the prophets into America and out of the holy land. Preaching is the newspaper in one hand the Bible in the other, (Karl Barth) to make God's word come to me.

Service — We always have something going now. The God's Squad has moved from Evangelism to Doism. They are doing mission. From baby supplies this month to school supplies next month. We have opportunities with projects at the church on Wednesdays. We just go through with a lot of people working in service for Vacation Bible School. It was fantastic amount of work and I know folks who worked, who service, were helped in their spiritual life not just the kids who came. Service needs always to be out there.

Stewardship — This week we are beginning to think about our stewardship efforts for this year. I just go through talking about service and how great it was, I bet no one thought, “Hurmph, giving money is important too!” Yet the givers of money get this all the time, we ask for service every week and rarely is their a complaint about too much asking. But we are sensitive about stewardship of finances. Yet people report that giving money, like giving service, or worship, or music is a pathway to spiritual growth as well. We need to include this in our mission of making spiritual mature people.

Now we look at Mary and Martha and we find that Mary choose worship or maybe preaching, while Martha choose service. Jesus affirms that people can make choices, not everyone has to come to Jesus the same way or find the depths of spirituality in the same pursuits. How can we stop running to and fro and find the Lord? There are many ways, find the ones that speak to you and make the better choice, the choice that leads you closer to Jesus.

Some of the information here comes from “The Parish Paper” by Herb Miller and Lyle E. Schaller.

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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Happily Ever After 
Wednesday, July 18, 2007, 12:39 PM - Extra Christy, Wedding, Radio
I enjoy pre-marital counseling. Listening to a couple in love talk about their relationship strengths and "growth areas" is always familiar yet new with each pair.

Like "happily ever after" in fairy tale accounts of weddings; I admit I have some stock lines I use: like asking if either of them is going to change their names. The big surprise is when I ask them why they are getting married...a question they don't expect from someone in the wedding business, and one surprisingly hard for some couples to answer.

Another surprise comes when I share the statistic that cohabitating couples are more likely to divorce than those that do not live together before marriage. (This is according to no less than the Center for Disease Control: First marriages that were preceded by cohabitation are more likely disrupted than those that were not preceded by cohabitation. Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the United States 2002 p. 28) Folks are surprised, because they think that "playing house" is a good way to divorce proof a marriage. This points out there is something different between cohabitation and marriage.

Which bring us back to the question about why get married. Our marriage service in the Book of Common Worship says:

God created us male and female, and gave us marriage so that husband and wife may help and comfort each other, living faithfully together in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, throughout all their days.

God gave us marriage for the full expression of the love between a man and a woman. In marriage a woman and a man belong to each other.

God gave us marriage for the well-being of human society, for the ordering of family life, and for the birth and nurture of children.

What is your answer? I am drawn to the part about "belonging to each other". It is good to have an answer to the question of "Why marriage?" whether your wedding day is in the future or the past.

Two Become One
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said,
"This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called 'woman,'
for she was taken out of man."

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.- Genesis 2: 20-24 (NIV)

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Who is My Neighbor? 
Sunday, July 15, 2007, 08:20 AM - Sermon
Posted by Administrator
Luke 10:25-37

Ask a question and get a story. Jesus I just want to know who my neighbor is. Is it people of live on either side of me? It is people in my ward? Folks in my town? Americans? Christian people? English speaking people? What if a immigrant family moves in next to me?

It would be simple if Jesus would give us a yardstick to tell us who does and doesn't fall in the category of neighbors to love as we love ourselves. The book titled How by Dov L. Seidman tells us that a rule is a proxy; a stand-in when we cannot be there ourselves or when we don't trust others to act as we would wish. The less trust the more rules. Yet rules fail us.

1. You can't make a rule for every situation. New situations keep coming up that are not covered by the old rules. So rules fail as proxy, they can't stand in for the rule maker, because they are limited to past situations.

2. A rule sets the floor not the ceiling, as Dov Seidman writes. Rules don't tell you how to excel, how to be first or the best. They limit and protect, but do not encourage and inspire. We not have a law, a rule, of no smoking in public buildings. Yet we can't make enough rules to make people choose healthy lives.

3. Folks are very good at getting around rules. Firestone High School changed their dress code while I was there prohibiting wearing shorts. (I know it seems like a quaint worry of yesteryear now.) One boy figured out how to obey the rule yet still stay cool, he wore a skirt, which were allowed.

4. Rules require constant maintenance. Look at the income tax code. Or locally we have supreme court cases, more than one, about enforcing the speed limit in a school zone. How did that happen?

5. Rules require enforcement. If rules are not enforced they are ignored and fail to stand-in for the rule maker. The one I hear most around the church are copyright rules. “No one will know so we can make copies…” Unenforced rules devalue the principle and the morality they try to protect. We don't want to be people who only act rightly when someone is watching.

These are reasons why Jesus doesn't give us a rule of loving the neighbor. I think he senses that our friend is looking for some wriggle room, a way to do the minimum daily requirement for maximum eternal life. Jesus is about doing the minimum. John 10:10 says that Jesus came so that we might have life and have it abundantly.

Jesus tells us a story instead of giving us a rule. Stories are great for building a culture, where folks can trust one another because they all know what the purposes and mission of the place are. Dov Siedman tells the story of the visits to factories and the various ways rules and culture intersects.

Dov Seidman has a story about rules and how they are limited. He imagines a group going on the tour of several factories. A person in the group, lets say he is in sales asks if he has to wear a hard hat at each of the factories. He gets a different response at each factory.

Factory #1: “Go ahead, do want you want, its your neck. It doesn't matter, when your time is up, its ups right?”
Factory #2: “Well, if it was up to me, I'd let you slide, but the boss has this thing about hard hats. If he sees you without one, I'll get in trouble. So you better wear it. Sorry about that, at least you don't have to wear these uniforms he makes us wear!”
Factory #3: “Let me look that up.” (Much page turning and study.) Hmmm. I need to ask a supervisor about that.” (15 minutes later) “Sorry the guy who could sign off on that is out of town and we can't reach him. I don't know what to tell you.”
Factory #4: “Yes, you'll have to wear a hard hat. Safety is important to us. We have had over a 1000 days without a lost time accident because we look out for each other. Even if I let you go without one. The first person who saw you without one would give you one, we look out for each other's safety here.”

Just as you can't rule your way to safety; you cannot rule you way to how and who a neighbor is.

Just so Jesus tells us a story to show us that you cannot assume a neighbor is one who is a holy person, of the same faith and culture than you. We forget that the Samaritans were hated and taboo for good Jews. They were half-breed collaborators, unclean, traitors, that couldn't be trusted. Jesus says you can't always easily identify your neighbors by country, neighborhood, ethnicity, or language. A neighbor is one who helps another when they need help, whether in the Sudan or in New Orleans, or in the next pew. Regardless of their attitude to us, or relationship to us, or if they say thank you to us for being nice.

What would this look like if the world view each other not as other, but as neighbor. If we answered the question of “Are you my neighbor” with “Yes” more than “No.”?

Washington Post reported last Friday of a family that was having a dinner on the patio with friends. In through the open gate comes a hooded man who puts a gun to a 14 year-old's head and says “Give me your money and no one gets hurt.” What do you do? Give him your money? Tackle him? Pull out your concealed weapon and let him have it? One of the dinner guests did none of these. Instead she sees a neighbor not a robber, “We just finished dinner. Why don't you have some wine with us?” The robber, I mean neighbor, took the wine and said, “Damn, that is good wine.” The neighbor said, “Keep the glass!” and the house owner said, “Here have the bottle.” The robber sat down, put his gun away and ate some cheese. He said, “I think I have the wrong house.”. He then asked for a hug. First individually, then as a group they hug their new neighbor. Who left with the wine and no money. The police found the glass placed in the alley behind the house.

Who is your neighbor? Everyone you meet. Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet.

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 Back Way 
Wednesday, July 11, 2007, 12:37 PM - Extra Christy, Radio
Years before in car GPS systems and Internet map routes, my older brother Ric was a master of the turns and twists of greater Akron. He would drive me off the beaten path into strange neighborhoods and he would ask me, "Do you know where you" "No," was my answer again and again, until, suddenly; we were at our destination.

Sometimes I could retrace the back way he took; usually not until after one or two attempts. I wondered how many tries it took him to find the connecting streets through town that enable him to pop up like a rabbit miles from where he started, but only a few yards from our target.

In our new members Inquirer's class, we have people who have been in the church all their life, some that haven't come since they were children years ago, and some who never had any contact with the church! Yet here they all are, together at one church, which, by God's grace, is part of all of their spiritual journeys.

I think of the varied and unusual routes my brother took when there were perfectly good and straight streets with names like "Market" and "Main" available for him to use for his journey. Yet he ended up at the same place those big, broad, commonly used streets would have taken him.

I like to think there are many paths to heaven and salvation; not just the standard ones most people choose. I hope that the church will always be a place where folks on many different routes can get an answer to where they are and help on their own way.

Together From All Over
Many religious Jews from every country in the world were living in Jerusalem. 6And when they heard this noise, a crowd gathered. But they were surprised, because they were hearing everything in their own languages. They were excited and amazed, and said:

Don't all these who are speaking come from Galilee? Then why do we hear them speaking our very own languages? Some of us are from Parthia, Media, and Elam. Others are from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, parts of Libya near Cyrene, Rome, Crete, and Arabia. Some of us were born Jews, and others of us have chosen to be Jews. Yet we all hear them using our own languages to tell the wonderful things God has done. - Acts 2:5-11 (CEV)

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When the Godly Disappoint 
Sunday, July 8, 2007, 08:17 AM - Sermon
2 Kings 5:1-14

“I thought he would…” Criticism comes when expectations are not met. Naaman expected Elisha to come out and call on the name of the LORD his God and wave his hand over the spot and cure the leprosy! Instead he gets a message to go and wash in the Jordan seven times. Elisha didn't even come out to see him much less touch and heal him! No wonder scripture says he was angry and went away in a rage!

The least religious have the greatest expectations of religion. It is bothersome to the holy crowd. Why are people like that?

1. They got their expectations from media, everything from horror movies with demons and warrior priests to dramas where the pastor pronounces a married couple man and wife instead of husband and wife. Horror movies are not documentaries, and movies like License to Wed aren't a good description of pre-marital counseling, ministers don't have comedy writers feeding them one-liners. Media magnifies expectations.

2. The less experienced you have with something, the simpler it seems. Think of before you drove a car, it seemed so simple, but when first tried it, you couldn't get the key to work. Or before you got married, or had kids, or started a job…it looked easy until you tried. Every now and then I talk with couples who put down on their inventories that marriage will solve all their problems. Experience corrects expectations.

3. Some are looking to be disappointed. They need to justify the lack of time and attention they have given matters of faith. What better way to get a “get out of church free card” then to get angry that they have failed you. The Yiddish proverb is right: “If you don't want to do something, one excuse is as good as another.” Expectations to fail are usually fulfilled.

Have you met someone like Naaman? Wanting faith but rejecting religion? Ready to buy a religious wedding, but not follow the teachings and ideals of marriage? Willing to go to a holy show, but not follow the instructions given during the performance? I think we have a lot of Naamans around us. Maybe you have a little Naaman in you.

Our Part in Miracle
Look at the genius of Elisha. He requires an act of faith, that Naaman do something, before the healing occurs. Elisha might have known that such requirements would have made Naaman angry. Maybe that is why he didn't go out to see him! Have you asked God or a prophet of God, or a prayer chain for a healing? A cure? A miracle? What have you done in faith in partnership to that request? Washing out leprosy seems futile, but doing what the prophet teaches is an expression of obedience to and faith in God than the healing powers of the Jordan river.

There is no reason to wash in the Jordan river, instead of the rivers of Avana and Pharpar in Damascus except faith. Here is a place faithful people part from others. Others want an action to make sense without God or faith. A recent scene of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip had the Christian character teaching the producer how to pray. She takes him to the chapel and tells him to get on his knees to pray. Like a modern day Naaman, he objects wondering why God needs him to kneel. Her answer: “The knelling isn't for Him but for you.” God doesn't need our obedience, our faith; our faith is for us not for him.

This is the difference between magic and miracle. Magic is control of the deity. You put your faith quarter in and out pops your prize, like God was a cosmic gumball machine. Miracles come through faith, doing and living as God directs; living in love of God and others even though there is no payoff. It is bathing in the Jordan seven times even there is no way that the magical waters of Jordan will cure leprosy. It is doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God even though there is no cash prize. Faith is its own reward. Miracles come as God wills, as we do what God wills.

Ever been in Naaman's place? You have gone to God, in prayer, in church, to a pastor or parent, or friend and gotten less than you were expecting? The worship and song didn't lift your up. The sermon was tepid. You didn't get your prayers answered. Do you get relied up about how they weren't faithful? The angry and rage almost covered up Naaman's failure of faith. We are most angry when our shortcomings are reflected in other people. Because, emotions are all about me. Naaman was there angry that Elisha hadn't done the minimum for his cure, until his servant pointed out, indirectly that Naaman hasn't done enough for his cure either.

When you are angry. Look at yourself, not at the other, as wrong and condemn to hell he or she might be! Put that aside and ask why that person has so much power over me? Why does that person hook me so much? What can you do in your own life and outlook that you see a lack in the other person? When Naaman was able to focus on what he needed to do, rather than what Elisha should have done…God was able to work miracles.

God's Working of Miracle
Holy people may fail. If we rely on them to come out wave their hands over our problems and cure them. Look at this story at the beginning and the end…a slave girl—not holy witnesses to Naaman's wife her faith that the prophet can cure Naaman. This sets the healing in motion. Then when everything goes horribly wrong…it is Naaman's servants again that turn Naaman's rage into faithful obedience…at least obedience, he might have been grumbling, I suppose.

You can be these people, sharing your faith like the slave girl, or encouraging and supporting obedience like Naaman's servants. If you don't have people like this around you get them. For it takes more than holy people waving their arms to make miracles happen it takes those who suggest ministry and help to people and those who encourage those who need to take steps toward healing and wholeness.

Be a part of the miracle, seek out God's way, look at obstacles and disappointments as opportunities for faithful action. Listen to the prompting and encouraging of others on your path to healing, and in turn, be a prompter and encourager of others.

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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