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The Right Way to Right a Wrong 
Sunday, September 7, 2008, 11:41 AM - Extra Christy
Matthew 18:15-20

In our scripture reading, did you notice the three steps that Jesus gave for conflicts? The first was to talk to the person directly, not to win an argument but to restore the relationship. The second was to talk with witnesses, not to gang up on the person, but to ensure the community got trustworthy information and that BOTH offender and victim made a verifiable effort to resolve the problem. The final step was to not to let one person hold the whole church hostage -- to move on as a church and let the offenders live with the consequences of their decision to go against the group.

Listen to how our Book of Discipline explains the purposes of having church discipline in addition to the secular courts. Our church listens to Jesus! Here are three that match up with our scripture.

…to bring members to repentance and restoration;
— Go privately

…making clear the significance of membership in the body of Christ
— Go with Witnesses

…to restore the unity of the church by removing the causes of discord and division;
— Go on your Way

— Presbyterian Book of Order D-1.0101

An upset in the church leads to a movement to fire the pastor. In the turmoil, a couple from that church goes to visit another congregation. They are met on the church steps and told, “If you are here to worship, you are welcome. If you are here to act as you did in the other church, you are not welcome, because we like our pastor.” Go to them directly and offer them a place if they behave.

The man had a weary wisdom that came from living through a long march of years. “We had a different way to handle wife beaters back then.” he said. “When we saw what was happening, a bunch of us men went over to his porch. We told him we didn't hit our wives in this town. He never raised a hand to her again.” Go to them with witnesses.

A consultant was called in because a group and the session were at odds about how the church should go. Instead of judging winners and losers, he proposed a special worship service of reconciliation between session and the families. All were personally invited. All the session and all but one family came and rejoined the congregation. The one family said in tears, “I just can't”. They realized that the church was going forward so they ceased their phone calls and emails and went to another church. If they refuse to listen to the whole church let such a one be no longer in the group.

You may choose different sides, or want a different outcome over the stories I shared, maybe more harsh with some or more lenient with others. I told them not to take a survey over the rightness of the outcome, but to talk with you about the power of community in conflict.

Jesus knew this. He also knew that goal of conflict resolution was not voting down or up, or the power of right over wrong, but of restoration of relationship. “If the one listens to you, you have gained a brother!” Not “You have won the argument!” Or the crowd votes with You! The goal is reconciliation and restoration if possible, fair warning after the first effort and finally moving on with common life if we cannot agree.
Too often in personal life we are stuck. We don't make the first effort to talk directly to the person seeking reconciliation and restoration to family. Instead we focus on the argument on winning or blaming. Jesus can save you a lot of heartache and low level anxiety by going to the person and reaching out for relationship instead of winning. You are going to help the relationship and regain a family member.

People with a good relationship can withstand more conflict than those without, for they tend to the relationship and maintain the connection, not just the issue of the day. They also seek understanding instead of winning, for they value the relationship. My long-time friend was so angry with me once. She was spitting mad. And I spit right back. I told her boss I was worried about her and she thought I should butt out. I told her she could be mad at me, and even hate me, but I was not going to let her kill herself without getting her help. Then we went to lunch. We are still friends because we talked to each other.

The second step is to help and protect. It is so that everything can be witnessed -- not to gather a lynch mob. When things get so tense you can't trust one another, you can try again with witnesses so that folks know you did try to do the right thing and restore relationship, no matter what the other might accuse you of doing. It also helps keep you on task. “…This is being recorded for quality assurance…” works in visits with live witnesses as well as electronic ones. You know you have to make the effort and a credible effort when someone is listening.

I know a teacher whose students come from Spanish-speaking parents. Because she doesn't speak Spanish, she had to modify her class management plan slightly. One of the consequences for disruptive behavior requires misbehaving students to call home, admit what they have done and ask their parents for suggestions on how to behave in order to improve learning. The modification is that another student now stands by the phone and witnesses the call. The witness pokes the student when the call goes off-topic to encourage a complete and accurate account. Go with witnesses for your protection for the protection of others and also to encourage you to make your best effort…quality control.

The third step moves from helping to protecting. The whole church tries once more and, if unsuccessful, leaves the person there and moves on. They don't stay and fight with the people who are not on board; the congregation moves on. The choice was made and it should be respected. This is a good scripture for those of us who tend to nurse long-term grudges or mull about hurts from years ago. Some folks just aren't ready to make up yet. Our job is not to fix them; that is the job of the Savior of the world: --Christ not Christy --Jesus and not just us. Neither is it our job to give up and let a few sabotage what we are doing and what we are about. You have to go on with your life, not go on with the fight.

In your personal life you may have to make arrangements with the court or law enforcement. Perhaps, in extreme cases, you may need a divorce lawyer or you may need to move to your own place into order to move on with your life as you answer God's call. If you have sincerely sought out your offender to heal the riff between you, if you have enlisted help from others to witness your best efforts at reconciliation, then you will find peace as you move on without that person and that conflict.

Jesus doesn't promise a stress free life. Christ doesn't make everyone perfect right away. Christianity is a relationship, a way of life. In the midst of disagreement, we seek to honor the relationship in the conflict, to be true, honest and open in our dealings, and to accept that sometimes we need to move forward even when others want to hold us back.

Honor everyone, seek reconciliation, be true, open and honest with those with whom you disagree; seek the best for the entire community and you will be with Christ even when righting a wrong.


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The Right Way to Right a Wrong 
Sunday, September 7, 2008, 08:00 AM - Sermon, Podcast
Matthew 18:15-20


This message 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.


In our scripture reading, did you notice the three steps that Jesus gave for conflicts? The first was to talk to the person directly, not to win an argument but to restore the relationship. The second was to talk with witnesses, not to gang up on the person, but to ensure the community got trustworthy information and that BOTH offender and victim made a verifiable effort to resolve the problem. The final step was to not to let one person hold the whole church hostage -- to move on as a church and let the offenders live with the consequences of their decision to go against the group.

Listen to how our Book of Discipline explains the purposes of having church discipline in addition to the secular courts. Our church listens to Jesus! Here are three that match up with our scripture.

…to bring members to repentance and restoration;
— Go privately
…making clear the significance of membership in the body of Christ
— Go with Witnesses
…to restore the unity of the church by removing the causes of discord and division;
— Go on your Way

— Presbyterian Book of Order D-1.0101

An upset in the church leads to a movement to fire the pastor. In the turmoil, a couple from that church goes to visit another congregation. They are met on the church steps and told, “If you are here to worship, you are welcome. If you are here to act as you did in the other church, you are not welcome, because we like our pastor.” Go to them directly and offer them a place if they behave.

The man had a weary wisdom that came from living through a long march of years. “We had a different way to handle wife beaters back then.” he said. “When we saw what was happening, a bunch of us men went over to his porch. We told him we didn't hit our wives in this town. He never raised a hand to her again.” Go to them with witnesses.

A consultant was called in because a group and the session were at odds about how the church should go. Instead of judging winners and losers, he proposed a special worship service of reconciliation between session and the families. All were personally invited. All the session and all but one family came and rejoined the congregation. The one family said in tears, “I just can't”. They realized that the church was going forward so they ceased their phone calls and emails and went to another church. If they refuse to listen to the whole church let such a one be no longer in the group.

You may choose different sides, or want a different outcome over the stories I shared, maybe more harsh with some or more lenient with others. I told them not to take a survey over the rightness of the outcome, but to talk with you about the power of community in conflict.

Jesus knew this. He also knew that goal of conflict resolution was not voting down or up, or the power of right over wrong, but of restoration of relationship. “If the one listens to you, you have gained a brother!” Not “You have won the argument!” Or the crowd votes with You! The goal is reconciliation and restoration if possible, fair warning after the first effort and finally moving on with common life if we cannot agree.
Too often in personal life we are stuck. We don't make the first effort to talk directly to the person seeking reconciliation and restoration to family. Instead we focus on the argument on winning or blaming. Jesus can save you a lot of heartache and low level anxiety by going to the person and reaching out for relationship instead of winning. You are going to help the relationship and regain a family member.

People with a good relationship can withstand more conflict than those without, for they tend to the relationship and maintain the connection, not just the issue of the day. They also seek understanding instead of winning, for they value the relationship. My long-time friend was so angry with me once. She was spitting mad. And I spit right back. I told her boss I was worried about her and she thought I should butt out. I told her she could be mad at me, and even hate me, but I was not going to let her kill herself without getting her help. Then we went to lunch. We are still friends because we talked to each other.

The second step is to help and protect. It is so that everything can be witnessed -- not to gather a lynch mob. When things get so tense you can't trust one another, you can try again with witnesses so that folks know you did try to do the right thing and restore relationship, no matter what the other might accuse you of doing. It also helps keep you on task. “…This is being recorded for quality assurance…” works in visits with live witnesses as well as electronic ones. You know you have to make the effort and a credible effort when someone is listening.

I know a teacher whose students come from Spanish-speaking parents. Because she doesn't speak Spanish, she had to modify her class management plan slightly. One of the consequences for disruptive behavior requires misbehaving students to call home, admit what they have done and ask their parents for suggestions on how to behave in order to improve learning. The modification is that another student now stands by the phone and witnesses the call. The witness pokes the student when the call goes off-topic to encourage a complete and accurate account. Go with witnesses for your protection for the protection of others and also to encourage you to make your best effort…quality control.

The third step moves from helping to protecting. The whole church tries once more and, if unsuccessful, leaves the person there and moves on. They don't stay and fight with the people who are not on board; the congregation moves on. The choice was made and it should be respected. This is a good scripture for those of us who tend to nurse long-term grudges or mull about hurts from years ago. Some folks just aren't ready to make up yet. Our job is not to fix them; that is the job of the Savior of the world: --Christ not Christy --Jesus and not just us. Neither is it our job to give up and let a few sabotage what we are doing and what we are about. You have to go on with your life, not go on with the fight.

In your personal life you may have to make arrangements with the court or law enforcement. Perhaps, in extreme cases, you may need a divorce lawyer or you may need to move to your own place into order to move on with your life as you answer God's call. If you have sincerely sought out your offender to heal the riff between you, if you have enlisted help from others to witness your best efforts at reconciliation, then you will find peace as you move on without that person and that conflict.

Jesus doesn't promise a stress free life. Christ doesn't make everyone perfect right away. Christianity is a relationship, a way of life. In the midst of disagreement, we seek to honor the relationship in the conflict, to be true, honest and open in our dealings, and to accept that sometimes we need to move forward even when others want to hold us back.

Honor everyone, seek reconciliation, be true, open and honest with those with whom you disagree; seek the best for the entire community and you will be with Christ even when righting a wrong.


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He Knows My Father 
Wednesday, September 3, 2008, 07:10 AM - Extra Christy
I met someone Sunday because I knew her father.
While we were in Israel we met the man in charge of all the arrangements for our tour. He greeted us with the question, "Who is from Ohio?" Two of us raised our hands. When he found out I was from Akron, Ohio. He beamed, "My daughter works in Akron, Ohio! At the Waterloo Restaurant!" We agreed it was a fine restaurant and talked about the creampuffs as big as your head and milkshakes a yard tall.

So this Sunday, I went to the Waterloo Restaurant and asked the server if I could talk to Mona since I had met her father in Israel. She came over and we talked about her father and the lamb at the family restaurant in Bethlehem. After she left, the server came back and said, "She is very excited." She is telling everyone, "He knows my father!"

Here are two people who have little in common except both knowing "the father" and a bond is formed. Gives me hope that all those who claim God as father can be united someday for no other reason than, "He knows my Father!".


Knowing the Father

"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. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." -- John 14:1-7 (NIV)

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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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