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Visited by Hope 
Wednesday, August 27, 2008, 07:10 AM - Extra Christy
I was visited by Hope Sunday. The first time she came up and introduced herself.

We had a Name Tag Sunday with a twist this week. Folks were to come with the "nickname" Jesus would give them. Jesus named Simon son of Jonah, "Peter", ( which means "Rock" ) because of his solid faith. The question for the folks was what would Jesus name and claim in them. We had several responses. From "Harmony" to "Mr Fixit". One married couple came as "Patience" and "Job".

The last person out of the sanctuary was the daughter of a nurse and worked in the medical field as all her siblings did. I guessed her Jesus name might be "Nurse". She demurred and said her nickname was "Hope". Wow.

Later that day I treated myself to listening to several recorded Speaking of Faith radio shows as I travelled to Louisville, Kentucky to prepare for a retreat. I was visited by hope again when Jim Wallis of the Sojourners introduce hope in his interview on the show: "Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, then watching the evidence change." He explains further

The big choice today for us is the one between hope and cynicism. Hope is not a feeling or a personality type. It's a decision wherever change has come. It's because some people believed in that possibility before it came to be.

It's hope as a decision that makes change possible. And I think that choice for hope is the most important contribution the faith community has to make to the world, the promise and the power of hope. Things can change. They have and they will. And that's always something that we insist upon because our God, finally, is bigger than all the things that we think are so big.

I hope you decide to be Hope today.

Faith Fuels Hope

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. -- Hebrews 11:1-3 (NRSV)

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Your Jesus Name 
Sunday, August 24, 2008, 07:00 AM - Sermon, Podcast
Matthew 16:13-20

The message below is available as a podcast recorded live at our worship service. Click the podcast image to listen now or right click the image and choose "Save As" to save this message in mp3 file format on your computer for playing later.

Ever heard someone say, “He's okay as long as you don't cross him.” I always think, isn't that true of everyone? From the saint to the slime, everyone is easy to get along with when everything and everyone else is going their way.

Strange to think that the bad times are when good character is revealed, when there is a difference between the principled and immoral. We like to think we are at our best when conditions around us are at their best. Yet, it is during the good times when differences between the virtuous and the heartless are the least apparent.

Should we thank God for hard times; for it is then we meet others unwrapped from the shiny happy coverings of prosperity and pleasure? Amazingly, it is in the dark times where our true selves are illuminated. It is only under pressure and stress that a solid character responds differently than a hollow one.

I wonder if we flee from difficulty and challenge, not just because of the unpleasantness of the situation, but also because it reveals our nature and the true heart. We would rather not look that closely in a mirror.

Winston Churchill knew this--the worst time is when the best is revealed. At a disastrous time of the World War II, when Hilter's forces had overrun Europe, and flung the British Expeditionary Force off the continent, Churchill talked about the dire time they were in, and the worst times to come.

What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.'

At the worst time, Churchill saw the people of Brittan and named them “Duty” and “Finest”.

Avremel Zelmanowitz, of blessed memory, was a Jew who worked in the World Trade Center. When the terrorist attack on September 11th caused people to flee the building, he risked his own chance of escape by staying behind with his friend and colleague, Ed Beyea, who was confined to a wheelchair due to a paralysis known as quadriplegia. Both men lost their lives, but the story of Avremel's love and devotion to his friend conveys a life-giving message to all.

Avremel wouldn't allow his friend to wait alone when everyone else was fleeing the building, and he stayed with him. Both men called their families to let them know that they were okay, and it seems that with the help of some people, they were able to make it down to the 21st floor before the building collapsed. (— http://www.aish.com/societyWork/work/Fr ... oyalty.asp)

I think their nametags would match: “Friend”.

I am haunted by a decades old made-for-TV movie event, The Day After, about how people responded to a nuclear attack that left the nation a radioactive wasteland. Many people descended into barbarism. It was so intense that no company would buy a commercial during the most graphic hour. In that movie, the medical profession heroically reached out to help and heal. There was only one formal religious reference, a preacher was in the background of the scene babbling into incoherence to a congregation sitting in neat rows in a church with no roof or walls. Nametags of “Denial” and “Helpless” and “Worthless” would be affixed by the television writers on the religious folk.

Peter the disciple had a bad moment a couple of weeks ago, (Matthew 14:22-33). He went out walking on the water to Jesus. But the winds turned against him, and Peter's faith turned out to be the fair weather variety. Fearfully he cried out not for the Lord's command to a faithful walk but for salvation from the fierce winds. We see Peter's faith in stark relief in this story: showy at the start, but sinking quickly when the winds change for the worst.

Now, he is called Peter in the story, but this week we see that Jesus names him Peter not on the Sea of Galilee but here at Caesarea Philippi. Peter, or “Petra” which means “Rock”. I wonder. I'm thinking, that “Rock” would be a great name to tease Sinking Simon after his show-off water walking stunt turned out badly. Hey, Sinking Simon, you walk on water like a “Rock”. I can imagine that the punch line turned into a nickname. I bet the cool crowd around Jesus was calling Simon “Rock” to remind him of his the failure of his faith to keep him afloat.

Yet Jesus takes that name, the tease, the shorthand for faithlessness and turns it from shame to glory. Yes, Simon, you are a Rock, just like everyone says. But you are my Rock. You see only that a Rock sinks, but I call you to be rock stable, a solid base of faith that I can set my church upon.

Jesus put “Rock” on Peter's nametag. World War II had Churchill put “Duty” on his nametag. September 11th had Avremel put “Friend” on his nametag.

Last Wednesday, a parade of children wearing backpacks came into my office with thank you notes for the backpacks. It has taken years of effort but slowly we are taking off the name tag of “Landlord” so folks can see “Servants of the Lord”.

Two Fridays nights this summer, there weren't gangs getting bats to fight one another in the streets in front of the church, but families watching cartoons, eating popcorn, and talking to one another. I prayed with a man who was mourning the loss of his wife and child. We peeled off the “Fight Club” banner and put a nametag on the park of “Sanctuary”.

Next month folks will come for a community free meal. When folks have trouble connecting with neighbors and connecting the food budget with their income, we open up the idea of a church dinner to a community dinner can put on the nametag, “Helper”.

Jesus sees us even at our worst and makes it a foundation to build upon. Sometimes disasters and setbacks are like that: they clear away the superficial, the window dressing, the extras and distractions. Violent and tragic, yet God can still find a way to use us, the real us. When you are at your worst or when the church is in turmoil, check your name tag, and listen for God's calling that name; for what you see as your worst, God can use for God's best.


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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Do You Mind Waiting? 
Wednesday, August 20, 2008, 06:30 AM - Extra Christy, Radio
Waiting for the last tip of what to do when you're lost? You're already practicing it! Turns out the final step is Waiting! Tony Nasuta, a leader in search and rescue operations shared several steps at a recent Kiwanis meeting. (You can review them all here at extraChristy)

After stopping, looking around, looking for landmarks, calming down and sitting down, the last step to get found when you are lost is to: Wait.

When you are lost: Wait -

not yet -

see how hard that was? And that was less than second. Waiting like any helpful skill, takes practice. And being lost is an excellent time to practice waiting. Waiting might allow searchers to find you, conditions to improve, or inspiration to strike.

One of my New Year's Resolutions was to wait, (Now with More Resolution, January 2, 2006). It was one of the few I kept! People and situations helped me throughout the year to wait. I found waiting, willingly and not reluctantly, allowed me to notice more about the world around me, which is good to do when lost.

Part of our spiritual travel may include waiting. Use the time as a gift to look both inside and out, becoming aware of your outer surroundings and your inner environment. You may find you're right where you need to be, or discover a path you had overlooked either physically or spiritually. If you do, you aren't lost anymore!

Hope you take some time to wait today and are found. Amen.


Waiting For God

I pray to God-my life a prayer-
and wait for what he'll say and do.
My life's on the line before God, my Lord,
waiting and watching till morning,
waiting and watching till morning.

O Israel, wait and watch for God-
with God's arrival comes love,
with God's arrival comes generous redemption.
No doubt about it-he'll redeem Israel,
buy back Israel from captivity to sin.

-- Psalm 130:5-8 (The Message)



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Pocketful of Miracles 
Sunday, August 17, 2008, 07:00 AM - Sermon
Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6.30-44; Luke 9.10-17; John 6.1-14

You all have miracles in your pocket. Whether it stays in your pocket or is released to bless you and others is up to you.

Feeding of the 5,000 is recorded in all four gospels, the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the Bible. (Some of this message is based on the accounts in the other gospels.) Yet it almost didn't happen! The disciples counseled Jesus not to try to feed the crowd, for there were too many and they only had five loaves and two fish. The disciples plan sounds like society's counsel: Send away people—each one for him or herself—buy food in the market—we don't have enough to share. Jesus instead resists the counsel and sits the crowd down, gathers them together, thanks God and shares what he has—and 5,000 are fed.

Now many folks have told this event as the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. That is the name of the church at the traditional site of the miracle. Yet, the Bible doesn't say the loaves and fishes multiplied. It does say that starting with two fish and five loaves, a multitude of thousands were fed and there were baskets of leftovers. The miracle was the feeding of thousands, not necessarily the replication of bread and fish. I believe the miracle is much more profound than making a picnic lunch.

From Convenience to Commitment
There is a difference between a place to sit and SRO, standing room only. In my extraChristy devotion his week I write about how sit down makes the place your own, you become a part of the place and you have a place. Strangely it is one of the best things to do when you are lost, to sit down so people can find you. Miracles happen when people expect them and wait for them.

There is a change in a visit when someone accepts the invitation to come in and sit down. From a wavering, casual, ready to leave visitor to a friend or participant. It also commitments the one who invites as having interest and time in a relationship beyond just passing by each other toward his or her own goals.

Folks used to get possessive about their seating in church. I can't point fingers because I sit at the same place every Sunday and get upset if someone is in my seat. Yet, for all the problems in claiming a pew, it is a evidence of commitment to being at worship services.

By sitting the crowd down, Jesus invites them to make a commitment to the gathering and makes a commitment to them. He has something to share with them, time for them, a place for them. To make a miracle, the first is to make the commitment to be where the miracle can occur. Miracles do not come to those who leave, but to those who commit, who accept the Lord's invitation to be part of the miracle.

Several years ago, we needed a new roof. We didn't have the $100,000 cost of the roof. We were able to do half of the roof and start saving for the other half. Good faithful folks stayed and paid to gather the money together for the roof. After years of waiting, a hailstorm came and rained down insurance money on us, some $47,000 to finish the roof replacement. Talk about an Act of God. It is almost as if God, said they have waited long enough, I'm going to finish it off for them and gave us the miracle we have been waiting and working towards for years.

Miracles come to the committed.

From Commerce to Community
The disciples' solution to the hungry crowd was to send them away to buy food for themselves. Individuals going their own way to make sure their own needs were met. In Mark's and Luke's account of the miracle, Jesus directs the crowd not only to sit down but to sit in groups. Rather than leaving and going out as individuals to solve their hunger, Jesus directs them to stay in groups. A turn from relying on commerce to buy solutions to our problems one by one, Jesus urges us to come together in groups.

I'm teaching the Friendship class this month to give Rev. Flower a break. I'm learning it is much more than a lesson. The group sings and prays together, keeping each others joys and needs in common. They also contribute to an offering for mission reaching out to yet more groups. It is the same in any group, The Luke 15 Men's Bible Study to Presbyterian women to youth group. Members do more together than solve the most pressing individual need. Jesus knew that for miracles beyond the immediate, folks have to be together.

I was at a Kiwanis district meeting Monday. The next head of Ohio Kiwanis asked the group, “How many of you can run your business at a deficit?” I was the only one to raise my hand. As a congregation we are more than making an efficient product at a fair price. We trade in community and not commerce. We don't give a list of restaurants to grieving families here for a funeral; the deacons and others bring food and prepare a meal for them. We provide for miracles in community not by commerce. If you want miracles, you cannot buy them at the market, you must find them in community with others.

From Competition to Connection
In Mark's account the disciples looked around and found five loaves and two fish, which they decided were nothing in the face of thousands of hungry people. Jesus didn't stop at looking around, he looked up and thanked God for what was given. For miracles to come, we have to turn from competition over scarcity to thankfulness for God's abundance grace. When we believe there isn't enough for everyone, we compete. When we decide our needs are met, or wants are fulfilled, we thank God. Jesus saw there was no need to compete for the small amount of food, for with a connection to God there was enough to give thanks.

On her last game as a senior at Western Oregon in the a championship game Sara Tucholsky hit her first ever home run, but running past first base, she tore her ACL and had to crawl back to first base. None of her teammates could help her and the umpire said putting someone in would count the home run as a single. So Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace of Central Washington, the opposing team, carried Sara around the bases so she could have her home run count. Where homeruns are usually greeted with cheers and screams, the crowd was moved to tears at youth who went from competition to connection. (there is video on YouTube)

For miracles to happen, we have to look beyond competing with each other to get our fair share to thankfulness for our connections with God and each other.

From Calculation to Congruence
In the NIV version of John gospel, there is a great quote from the disciple, Philip, "Eight months' wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!" Jesus ignores the calculation and goes ahead and shares the food with the disciples and directs them to continue the sharing. Despite Philip's earnest and accurate calculation, everyone is fed and there are baskets left over.

The cost of raising a child is over a quarter of a million dollars, there is some range, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the basis of studying 5,000 households, says it is above $15,000 a year to raise a child. If calculation was all we depended on, no one would be a parent. Commitment to a quarter of a million dollars! Ridiculous.

But Jesus calls us to miracles that come when we go beyond calculation and act in congruence with what we believe. Couples do that when they believe they should and want to be parents and Jesus did that when he share what he had and directed his disciples to do the same, even though the calculations didn't support the act, acting in congruence of what he believe and taught demanded it.

We did that here this summer, when the calculations told us we only had 5 or 6 kids that could come to Vacation Bible School, we went ahead and held one anyway and welcome up to 50 kids to the church and to the lessons of being God's helper on this earth. A miracle of multiplication that was possible because we did count on what we had, but counted on God.

When we act out our faith, follow where Jesus directs instead being ruled by cold calculations, we can see miracles, the feeding of thousands with a few loaves and fishes or the raising of a child in a loving home.

Conclusion
Technical fixes are easy. I fix computers because it is a puzzle that has an answer, unlike the human drama and challenges I work on as a pastor. Feeding 5,000, effectively using food supply, is a problem of logistics compared to the miracle I think happened that day.

People moved from their own convenience to commitment to people and Jesus' way.
People moved from reliance on commerce to trusting enough to become a community.
People turned from individual competition in scarcity to cooperation and connection with others.
People looked beyond the calculations and brought themselves in congruence with Jesus trusting in the abundance of God.

I believe the food was in the pockets of the people. The miracle, a mighty one, was getting them to trust each other and God enough to take their hands out of the pockets and participate in a miracle where all our fed with plenty left over. We don't have to look for holy baskets or multiplying fish for miracles, for miracles are in our pockets.

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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Sit Down  
Wednesday, August 13, 2008, 06:22 AM - Extra Christy, Radio
Sit Down is more than a canine command and a guard against classroom chaos. It is a good thing to do when you are lost! Tony Nasuta, a leader in search and rescue operations shared several steps at a recent Kiwanis meeting. (You can review them all here at www.christyramsey.me)

After stopping, looking around, looking for landmarks, and calming down, the fifth step to get found when you are lost is to: Sit Down.

If you are sitting down, you are not going to wander deeper into the woods, further from home, and away from rescuers. When you sit down, you have found a place and stopped being lost for the moment.

A minister arrived at a meeting late. Asked about his tardiness, he said he got lost, and every time he gets lost he stops in a diner, sits down and has a cup of coffee. He claimed that when he gets up, he isn't lost anymore. Sitting down can make a strange place your place, a little piece of found in a world of lost. Maybe that is all we can do and that's enough.

Hope you get to sit down and find yourself today. Amen.


Sitting Down Brings Help

Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, 'I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.' The disciples said to him, 'Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?' Jesus asked them, 'How many loaves have you?' They said, 'Seven, and a few small fish.' Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Those who had eaten were four thousand men, besides women and children. -- Matthew 15:32-38 NRSV


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