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God's Sense of Humor (A Family of Many Colors) 
Sunday, September 20, 2009, 06:33 AM - Sermon, Podcast
Posted by Administrator
Numbers 12:1-15
Acts 8:26-36

Working Through Issues of Race


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.


Transcribed by Marissa Hoover from a sermon by Rev. J. Christy Ramsey on Sept. 20, 2009, Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church, Akron, OH

Numbers 12: 1-15:.… Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he'd had married….

In Numbers we have a leader of the people who, because of race issues, gets criticism about his leadership. Thank goodness we've come far from that today! It's a very interesting scripture in Numbers 12. The interesting part isn't the race issue, not that Moses' own family – Aaron and Miriam, his brother and sister – objected to a mixed marriage. We need to remember that a mixed marriage, back then, was pretty serious because, not only was she not of the Hebrew people, but she was a Cushite – an Ethiopian, of dark skin. Aaron and Miriam, his family, were the most upset among all the people. Don't we see that today? You'd think that the families who love them would be the most accepting, but they are the most condemning. Look what happens and how God handles the situation. The author of Numbers says straight out it was because of race, but that's not what Miriam and Aaron say. They don't say, “Look at him. He married this black woman.” They made a very correct statement. They formed it in a question. They say, “Does God talk to Moses only? Does he not also speak to us? It was true; God had spoken to Aaron and Miriam. God handles this by actually speaking to Aaron and Miriam. God addresses their concern. “Yes, I have spoken to other prophets and yes, Moses is special and these are the reasons. I speak to him clearly, not in riddles. I speak to him face-to-face. He sees my form and not a dream like others. Then he leaves. The Lord answered what was said about Moses being special. He seems a little annoyed that it was brought up, but he addresses it. “Why did you not fear speaking against Moses? Why did you not fear and respect my prophet?”

God doesn't stop there. The thing about God is that when you ask him one thing, he'll tell you and then he'll tell you things you don't want to know but need to. God says, “You know I know what you're going through. I know this is because of you're upset--not because of his leadership ability--although that is a legitimate issue and I will address it. I know what's really in your heart and you're really upset. Now, he could have made Miriam black so she would know how it feels to be an outcast. That would have been an easy thing to do., but God made her white. He made her so white, they thought she was diseased. Leprosy back then was any kind of skin discoloration or rash on the skin. They didn't have any sophisticated techniques back then to find out what these were. If you had any kind of skin problem you went into quarantine. God says, “You think white is so good – I'll make you whiter than snow. God pointed out the fallacy of judging someone's character by their skin color. “Look, you're as white as snow. You're not good – you're diseased.”

Race is a big problem in America. It's part of our heritage, our history and our legacy. Now, not every argument or disagreement in society is racial. Not every issue has racial motivation. Don't get on that train! There are legitimate concerns. Just like God, we need to address those “legitimate” concerns at face value. We need to say to people respectfully that these are the reasons I did what I did and these are the reasons you should respect it. But we should not ignore the intensity of the objections. Why are you so mad about this? Why does this consume you so much? Both of these need to be addressed. People say it's free speech. We can say what we want. That is absolutely true. For centuries, it's one of the things service people have fought and died for. To quote Andrew Manis, “I believe in free speech but how long till we white people start making racist loudmouths as socially uncomfortable as we do flag burners? How long until we white people stop insisting that blacks exercise personal responsibility, build strong families, and educate themselves enough to edit the Harvard Law Review and work harder to become the President of the United States – only to threaten to assassinate them when they do.” Andrew Manis is in Macon, Georgia. He knows something about racism in our history.

What's the answer? One answer is to see everything as race. People say if you even bring that up you're making things worse. You're seeing black against white. Another answer would be to say, “It's nothing about racism. We should ignore it.” We should be like Stephen Colbert and not even see race. We should ignore it all and discount it and be upset about using the race card and never let anyone say anything is racism. Those two extremes are the problems. Either say it for everything or say it never. I believe we have to follow what God does: to respectfully talk about the issues at hand but also address the motivations that make it so passionate and important to people. Here's a little bit of what former President Carter said. “I think the overwhelming portion of the intensity demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man. I live in the South. I've seen the South come a long way. I've seen the rest of the country that shared the South's attitude toward minority groups, at the time, particularly African-Americans. That racism inclination still exists. I think it's bubbled up to the surface because there's a belief among many white people – not just in the South but around the country – that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It's an abominable circumstance that grieves me and concerns me very deeply.” That's Jimmy Carter, the winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize for bringing peace closer between Palestinians and Israelis. He knows something about how people get along.

What's the answer? The answer I think is the same as that of our friends at Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Step 1 is to acknowledge it. The first step in overcoming a problem is to say that I participated. I know that I have racist views that you cannot help when you have grown-up in America and have them unconsciously below the surface. I have to fight them and work with them. First thing we need to do it to look at it and to say what we have done and make sure we can struggle and rise above it because none of us wants to be this way. If you ask any of us, all of us want to judge one another not by what they look like, but how they act and the content of their character. First thing we have to do is say, “Yeah there's a little bit of racism in all of us. Black, white, yellow, red, blue, green, orange, purple- we got it in all of us.” It doesn't mean it causes everything and it doesn't mean it causes nothing. It means just a little bit of everything. As Presbyterians, we believe that sin taints everything we do -- that nothing we do is perfect and without sin. We believe that everything we do is a little less than what God wants us to do. Yet we struggle to be better than we are every day, better than yesterday and not as good as tomorrow. We have to do that with racism as well. The New Testament lesson has a strange encounter between Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch. The Ethiopian eunuch was wrong on several counts. He was not a Hebrew. He was a disabled person – which you know back then meant you could not be a holy person. He worked for the government – which as today, is a horrible thing. All those things working against him and he asked the question that still is in front of us today. “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Instead of Phillip listing all the reasons, when they come near to water, he baptizes the eunuch.

We're working on community for this fall. One of the things we have to work on is to figure out how we can have community with people who are different from us. It seems that we are now with those churches – and I say this to our shame – that have found that we make community by gathering people who are like us together and putting off people who aren't like us. We make our little citadels and our fortresses. We say we're going to heaven and to hell with the rest of them. This is something we have to struggle against and something we have to repent of as a church. It doesn't mean everything we do is color biased, but in everything we do, we have to make sure it is not controlled by bias. There is a lot of hope. The nation is grand. I look at the Armed Forces and the strides they have made when they were forced to desegregate. Look at our own work here at Goodyear Heights. We've become less uncomfortable with people who aren't like us. It's tough to do, but I believe we are trying to do it. I believe we are making progress. I believe that Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church can be an example – not only to the community – but to this town and to the nation -- to provide an example of how to welcome people that are strangers. We answer the question, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” with the answer: Nothing! – Welcome!

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Hope for Revenge is a Poor Trade 
Sunday, August 30, 2009, 06:00 AM - Church, Sermon, Podcast
Posted by Administrator
Today's Bible Readings: Romans 12:14-21 & Luke 6:37-38

The road OUT of hell is paved with forgiveness.


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.



Below is a text version transcribed by Marissa Hoover and edited by Mary Lu Ramsey. Pastor Christy thanks both of these volunteers for their ministry.

Is there unforgivable sin? The Bible gives only one unforgivable sin – blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is when you deny the one thing that can save you and restore you. If you deny what can save you then you won't be saved. Our lists of unforgivable sins are probably much longer. I'm sure there are several factors to determine whether lesser offenses can be forgiven. Someone pointed out that we don't forgive sex offenders. We don't forgive them because we require them to register for the rest of their lives.

How can we tell that we are forgiving someone? Are there sins that are unforgivable? What determines whether or not someone gets forgiven? There are several ways that people have used over time about forgiveness and about whether someone deserves forgiveness. One way to tell is if they show remorse – are they sorry? Another way is through repentance – the eternal way to change what they are doing. For some, this is what we want to see in forgiveness. Others of us want a pound of flesh. We want to be paid back and them to be punished. We want them to feel the hurt and the horror that they did. We want them to suffer as their victims did. Maybe when they've paid their debt then maybe they will be forgiven. If there is violence that occurs or a crime that is committed or something awful that happens, we often feel that it is the states job to exact vengeance and punishment. We use the statement, “You have committed a crime against the state.” Murder is not committed by one family against another or by the victim's family against another. We say that it is against the laws of the state, so we're going to prosecute you for it – you owe us money and fines and several years of your life in prison. If the crime is committed against us, is it the state that needs to go after that person? Is it the state that has been harmed?

I've been trying to think of the greatest and biggest forgiveness that I've seen and I come to two of the greatest horrors from the end of the last millennia – South Africa and Rwanda. Here we see violence, terror and genocide on an unimaginable scale for Americans. Americans missed what was going on because it was so awful no one could believe the things that were happening. Over a million people were killed – 10,000 people a day. What do you do for forgiveness in a situation where neighbors rose-up against neighbors and took knives to one another? What can you do to forgive? So Africa had a longer experience of injustice, power and persecution. People were uprooted and moved. People were denied their birth rite. They couldn't vote. They were killed by terrorism. They wanted to cause terror and frighten them and they caused people to betray one another – using spies, killing and retribution. It went on for decades and no one could sort it out. People just disappeared. Where's forgiveness there? Rwanda started prosecuting people for was crimes. Then people wouldn't say anything. Then, after five years, they convicted less than twenty people. Hundreds of thousands of deaths went unavenged. No one knows what happened to them. There is no way a handful of people killed over a million people. That's what they got in Rwanda because they went for justice of retribution. They wanted to get them.
South Africa, on the other hand, went for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In the west, we didn't think they knew that they were doing. They said what they wanted was the truth. We want to know that happened to our sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. We want to know. They said that instead of going after someone or punishing someone, they just wanted the truth. If they come and tell the truth, they get amnesty. They get excused not only from criminal penalties but also from civil penalties. They listened to both victims and perpetrators. They came and told the truth and the commission gave them amnesty. One might say that justice fails to be done.

We contend that there is another type of justice. The concern is not for retribution and punishment. The concern is for healing and redressing of unbalances and the restoration of broken relationships by seeking to rehabilitate both the victims and their perpetrators – who should be given a chance to be reintegrated into the community he has injured. This is by far the more personal approach, regarding the offenses that happened to persons and whose consequences are a rupture in relationships. In the scripture reading, it talked about what you get if you forgive. It says if you forgive, you are forgiven. If you give, it will be given to you. If we give in to hatred and all the things that are wrong and seek to get the balances the offender gets another victim. The perpetrator has another life he's destroyed.

If we come to a place where our only hope for the future is revenge, then our life has been taken over by the perpetrator. If we repay evil for evil, instead of giving good for evil, then we have been sucked in by evil. Then we have become what we hate the most. As Christians there is a little bit of faithfullessness. If we go after vengeance for ourselves – because Scripture tells us that vengeance belongs to God – God will get you. If you believe God is good and that God is working for goodness in the world and trust in God then you don't have to seek vengeance. Now, I'm not saying you won't want to because that's the normal, human reaction. Which is more courageous? Which is more spiritual? Which is more mature and harder to do?

There was a story about a little girl that is abducted on a camping trip and is later found tortured and dead. That really happened to a family and their story is included in Bishop Tutu's book. The woman, who lost her seven year old daughter, Susan, met the killer and told him she forgave him. This is how she describes the experience. She says, “I have finally come to believe that real justice is not punishment, but restoration. Not necessarily to how things use to be, but to how they really should be. In both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, from where my beliefs come, the God that rises up to them is a God of mercy and compassion. A God who seeks not to punish, destroy or put us to death, but a God that works constantly to help heal up, rehabilitate and reconcile us. Restore us to the richness and fullness of life for which we have been created. This is the justice I wanted for this man, who had taken my little girl.” She spoke at the sentencing and was able to get the death sentence reduced to life in prison for the man who killed her daughter. She said, “Even though I wanted to kill this man with my bare hands, by the time of the resolution of his crimes, I was convinced that my best option was to forgive.”

She says that in the twenty years she has been working with victims, she has found this to be true. Anger, hatred, resentment, bitterness and revenge are all death driven spirits and they will take our lives. The only way to be whole, happy and healthy is to forgive. Some of you will wonder, “Doesn't that let people take advantage of us?” My answer would be that forgive and forget is not the message. I'm not saying to trust a person who stole your credit card or to marry a person that beat you. I'm saying, forgive and remember; remember who you are; who you are meant to be; who you want to be and who you should be. How do you know you have forgiven somebody? When you have truly forgiven someone, you wish the best for them. You wish that God would be gracious to them. Then you will be at peace with them. You don't have to let them back into your life or trust them. You do have to give up your thoughts on revenge and vengeance. If you don't forgive then you won't be forgiven.

We'll be showing a clip from the movie Gandhi at the eleven o'clock service. The clip shows a clip of Gandhi fasting for violence. When the violence breaks out in India, Gandhi stops eating until the violence stops. One of the men that had been fighting in India comes up to him and tells him to eat. He says, “I am going to hell and I won't go to hell with your death on my conscience. Now, just eat.” Gandhi said, “Only God decides who dies. “ The man said, “I am going to hell because I killed a child. I took his head and I bashed it against the wall.” Gandhi asked, “Why?” The man said, “The Muslims killed my child so I killed one of theirs.” Then Gandhi said, “I know a way out of that hell. Find a child, whose mother and father have been killed and raise him as your own. Make sure he is a Muslim and raise him as a Muslim.”

The way out of hell is to restore things: not to balance the scale again in retribution and vengeance, but to restore relationships and to work for the restoration of creation as God would want it. That's the way out of hell – follow the path of forgiveness.

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The Answer to Prayer 
Sunday, August 23, 2009, 06:00 AM - Sermon, Podcast
Posted by Administrator
Psalm 100 & Luke 11:5-13
Click to see scripture.

How God answers prayer.


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.



Below is a text version transcribed by Marissa Hoover and edited by Mary Lu Ramsey. Pastor Christy thanks both of these volunteers for their ministry.


The sermon today is about the answer to prayer. Has anyone ever had an unanswered prayer? The picture on the front of the bulletin shows a man waiting for the phone to ring – and it never does: unanswered prayer. In our scripture it talks about seeking and asking. More importantly it says that if we seek, we will find; if we knock, the door will be opened; that if we ask, it will be given. How does that stack up to your experiences? Some of you might have learned that it is true but I'm sure that would be rare among you. Some of you might say that you've learned not to ask for those tough things or impossible things. Some of you'd probably come back with a classic answer that I've been knocking, seeking and asking; but God's not ready to do that just yet – I just need more patience.

I believe that it doesn't go into this deep, underlying part of this message. It doesn't talk about cause and effect or a mechanical view of the universe that somehow you can push a button or pull a lever and get back what you need. What it does show you is how you can be related to God, and what you have to do to ask and seek or knock. You have to believe that there is something out there worth asking and seeking or knocking. You have to put yourself out there. You have to go out in relationship. You have to show some faith in that there is good in the world. The last line of Psalm 100 is saying, “Hear, Israel, God is good. God's steadfast love endures forever.” If God's steadfast love endures forever, then you can confidently seek, ask and knock.

What if you never ask, never seek or never knock? You would be without relationship and wrapped up in yourself. You wouldn't be able to do anything in relationship. There is this great drug awareness commercial. It has this little girl that goes and asks her dad for a puppy. So, her dad goes and gets her a puppy. The next one, the girl is a little older and she asks if she can stay up late and he says, “Yes.” So, it goes on and each time the girl is a little older and taller. Finally, as a teenager, she comes to her dad and says, “Dad, I'm having some friends over. Can you buy us some beer? We'll stay right here to drink it and you can watch us.” He says, “No.” She says, “I hate you! You never give me anything I want!” The dad just looks at her.

My son, God bless him, had an hour between the end of school and the beginning of band practice. Those of you who are parents know that this is a recipe for disaster. One day, my son was walking to the store with his friends after school and he looked up because I was honking the horn. I was there in the parking lot between the school and the store. So, I took him and his friends to the store. So him and his friends get out and get what they want and come out and I had got them ice cream to eat. Then I gave them a ride back up to the school. All his friends got out and then Robert turned and asked me what I was doing there. I then told him, “I want you to know that at anytime, any place I can show up.” I told my kids, “I'm not your friend – I am your parent. My job is to keep you safe and to make you a decent human being. Now, if you don't like me because of it or you're mad at me about it then, too bad. If I have to go through your room every night, read your diary, look under your bed, check out all your friends, or call the police on you to keep you safe then that is what I will so. I don't want to hear that I invaded your privacy because I'm telling you now that you have no privacy and you have no rights. I'm in charge of keeping you safe and making you a decent human being; and, I'm going to do whatever it takes to do that.”

My daughter went two weeks without speaking to me. It was lovely. She thought it was a punishment. Our argument was over phone usage. We don't know it and when we think we know how everything works – our right to privacy or phone usage - then we get mad when it doesn't work out the way we wanted. We get sucked into the idea that we can pull a lever or push a button and get the results we want. One of the great tranquilizing drugs of all time, “Valium”, would not be approved today. It's tested more rigorously today against placebos – sugar pills. Neither person in the study knows whether they get Valium or a sugar pill and more studies show that there in no difference. More pills are being washed out because their no better than a sugar pill. It's a sugar pill with people telling you it's a drug. It comes with a brand name and color – and it's sugar. It won't do anything.

It turns out that cause and effect isn't everything. It turns out that relationship is the basic unit of the universe. When people have some relationship with the doctor they find the placebo effect goes up. It does better than a multi-million dollar drug. So when you compare cause and effect to relationship there isn't one. That suggests to me that there are things working in this universe that we do not understand and I call that God. I know that God is good and that he's looking out knowing that at any moment, God could pop up on the road and say, “What are you doing here?” Relationship is the essence of prayer. There is something called quantum entanglement. It is the understanding that just because you open a door, step through it and an alarm goes off, doesn't mean your stepping thorough the door caused the alarm to go off. It was just a coincidence.

When we look at results of prayer and unanswered prayer we're due or when we bought into the limited understanding of the universe that science wants to try out, the only things in the universe are things we can fit inside our head and understand - when we start to measure prayer to that - then we have already lost. Prayer, in its essence, is relationship. It is the belief in something good that somewhere you can risk yourself. Somewhere you can ask, you can seek and you can knock. There is goodness in relationship and in trust and in going out with others. That is a prayerful life. There was an experiment done on prayer. So the scientists make sure there is no relationship between the people – the study showed prayer didn't work.

One scientist turned the question around and asked, “What if prayer is relationship?” So they studied only happily married couples. They electromagnetically isolated each of them to try to find a spiritual connection. So they showed the man a picture of his wife for 10 seconds. They told him to think good thoughts about his wife or say a prayer for her when they showed him her picture. The wife was hooked up to machines and monitors that show your body's and brain's responses. The study showed that within two seconds of the picture being flashed in front of the husband, the wife's brain's response spiked. There is no way cause and effect did that. They say that the chance of that happening is 1 in 11,000. That tells me that cause and effect doesn't explain everything. Ask, seek, knock – not because of what you get and not because of the rewards of it; but, because of the relationship it testifies to - if you are with people when they need you and are there for them, and you believe that ask, seek and knock makes a difference, you believe that life is worth living, you believe that God is good and gives good things to his people.

A pastor friend of mine was devastated when, after she found the perfect church, she was voted down. She was really upset because she felt it was the perfect church for her. She was serving another church at the time. She went to their meeting and said to the Presbyterian Church Session, “My contract's up next month; we should probably talk about what's going to happen.” They said, “We don't have to talk about that.” They gave her a letter on church letterhead that was signed by everyone. They said that because of her greatness and compassion and leadership, we have come to find you to be an excellent pastor. We have decided to ask you to stay with us as the pastor. We will work out things such as travel. We want you to stay here, with us. I said, “What if that other church had said, “Yes?” Then you would have been torn between the two churches. God has spared you the agony and God's mercy did answer your prayer.

Yesterday started the holy month of Ramadan for our Muslim brothers and sisters. I'd like to close with a poem from a Muslim author about prayer.

“I asked for wisdom and God gave me problems to solve. I have asked for prosperity and God gave me brains and 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.

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Cutting Corners 
Sunday, August 9, 2009, 06:00 AM - Sermon, Podcast
Posted by Administrator
Deuteronomy 24:19-22 and Luke 21:1-4 Click to see scripture.

Cutting Corners teaches us to leave some of what is ours for others, for once we were the others.

The CORRECT message is NOW 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.


Some ideas from Corner in the Nooma video series by Rob Bell

This is a unedited transcript of a message given without notes transcribed by Marissa Hoover (thanks!)

Cutting corners. Literally, we're talking about cutting corners in, Deuteronomy 21, in that when there is a field that is planted, it is absolutely commanded by God not to harvest the whole fields – to cut corners. Don't take every bit, leave some out there. If you see that you left something, than your to leave it for the alien, the orphan and the widow. It doesn't make any sense at tall, it's totally wrong, very unfair, and I'm even going to say unAmerican. Why should folks that have nothing to do with the production of wealth, share in it? Why should those that have not worked, those that have not contributed, those that do not own the field have any call , claim or part of the fruits of the labor? God isn't fair, though, is he?

I served at a church, in rural Indiana, for ten years. If you wait long enough in Indiana, the Farm Progress Show will come by you. The Farm Progress Show is the greatest show on earth if your a farmer. It is like a state fair on steroids. This is when all the companies come and bring their greatest and best stuff. They bring their combines, their seed and everything else that they want to show you. The Farm Progress Show alternates between the three ' I ' states – Illinois, Iowa and Indiana.

One of the years that I was in Rochester, Indiana, we were blessed with the Farm Progress Show – right there in our town. You never saw better looking fields of corn in your life. They all had their signs up about what seed they use. For the Farm Progress Show, they cut off the first three rows so you can see how great they looked.

We served at the dining tent of the Farm Progress Show. One of the days, I was on the coffee truck and those farmers like their coffee so hot, it's still bubbling when you hand it to them. While we were out there serving coffee, we were looking at the greatest and best combines that they have. I'm talking combines with tractor treads on them. On every one of these combines, they went and harvested a field and they didn't miss a thing. Behind them, all of the farmers walked – picking up the corn cobs. They would look at it to see if there were any kernels left on because that was money left on the ground. The best combine is the one that stripped the corn cobs bare and got every single grain into the truck. That's America but that's not the Bible. The Bible says, “Don't do that. Leave some of what is yours, leave some of what you produce, leave some of what you have paid for and grown for the orphan, the widow and the alien – the illegal immigrants in your land. Socialism?! It's just spreading the wealth around to others. What do we think about that?

If there was a debate, it would be great to talk about what claim the orphan, the widow and the alien have on us. Some people would say, “No, taxes are too high.” I always wanted to ask them, “How high should taxes be?” Would they say zero? The Bible says, “Don't take it all.” Is Capitalism the answer? I'm going to talk about something I know in honor of our guest organist.

The fire department use to be a capitalistic enterprise. They use to place these metal medallions on the sides of peoples houses. These medallions said which insurance company was in charge of fire protection for that house. You bought insurance for your house for fire and each insurance company had a fire department that would come and put out the fires at their houses.

Now, if you didn't have insurance or you had the wrong insurance, they didn't do a thing. As a matter of fact, they would put water on their houses on either side to protect them from the one burning next door because they were insured. It was a very capitalistic system. They had no understanding or motivation to keep the fire from spreading. As long as they kept it off of their properties it was fine. In fact, sometimes it would get comical. If they came to a fire and there was some kind of argument as to which insurance company was in charge of that house; the firefighters would actually fight among themselves over who would put out the fire. They told me in Philadelphia that at times there was

more water on the firefighters than on the other fire company than there was on the fire. It seems a little silly to us – at least I hope it does.

So, we decided to socialize the fire department. We decided that even though everyone doesn't pay the insurance rates or the same company, we believe that it is something the community should provide for every citizen – that no one should have to burn like that. If there is a fire burning anywhere in range of that department, it should be put out to preserve life and property – no matter whose it is. Society seemed to have survived that transition from Capitalism and competition over to community action or being Socialistic is what they call it now. We seem to be better for it.

It's part of the Bible principle that says, “Even those that don't have anything, have a claim on something. If we give into the idea that everything we have is ours and take it all out to the corners, than the corners will be all we have because we are putting ourselves all by ourselves. There is no relationship with the community. You may think of a lot of reasons not to give: other peoples acts, the way other people are, and what people should do. The best reason to give is what it does to you – not them. If you do not give to others, if you are not connected to others, if you do not cut corners so that others will have a little space , you will become a self-made person. That is the smallest package ever made. You'll become just put-up in your own castle with no connection to anything around you that is important. We give for many reasons, but mostly to say we are all part of God's creation

We'll talk about something that is going on now. We are the only country, of the ten industrial countries in the world, that does not provide health care for all citizens. You are telling me that we can't afford it?! You're telling me this while we are paying twice as much as they are for our health care. Gallapol says that more Canadians are happy with their system then Americans – even though we pay double. Fox News put out the same study, but theirs showed that all the other countries were happier with their system than we are with ours. They can get same day, evening and weekend appointments. I'm telling you that we are already rationing our health care. It's called insurance policies and it has caused a billion to pay. In America, 1 out of 4 people don't have a medical procedure done because of cost. It doesn't happen in other countries.

Leave some around the edges for the poor. Leave some around the edges for the widows, the orphans and the aliens in your land. If we cut the corners and take every bit for ourselves, we're going to be standing alone in that corner. No one deserves to be left to die in a house that's burning around them – whether that is a physical house or hell. You cannot explain to me or tell me that we're the only country that can't afford it – if all of the others can. We're better than all those others. I believe that much in America and I believe that much in Scripture and the Bible that tells me not to take everything for myself; but, to leave some for others so that they may have what they need to live. So that I am connected to others and not standing alone in the corner. Amen.

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Lifiting Burdens 
Sunday, August 2, 2009, 06:00 AM - Sermon, Podcast
Posted by Administrator
Originally Worship Rites

Amos 5:21-24 and Matthew 23:1-8 Click to see scripture.

Right Worship is not just Ritual Rites, but how we live our faith with justice and righteousness lifting burdens instead of adding them.

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.


some ideas from Sunday in the Nooma video series by Rob Bell

Thanks to Marissa Hoover for transcribing this message!

We're going to talk about burdens today. We had a great experience at Presbytery this past week. We were at a great church named “New Community Church” in North Lima. It's made from an old plant nursery. In reclaiming the space, they've got greenhouses and gardening programs. They even have an Urban Gardening Program in Youngstown. However, the whole meeting was marred for me when the Committee on Ministry got up and proposed this long, long thing that we had to sign and if we didn't do it we would be relieved of our position. I figured it must be some really serious stuff. Some of the stuff was failure to come to a mandatory meeting called by the Executive Presbyter. If I don't go to a meeting, I could be fired. Well, that seemed a little extreme. It also said that I had to come with grace. Now, that is going to be even tougher than actually showing up – if you know me. It's, also, going to be really tough because according to the thing, I was the only one required to come with grace – everybody else could be nasty. So that makes it even tougher.

The thing that really got me was that they said that you were required to take all your time off: at least two days off a week and use all your time off. Now, I don't know if you've totaled it all up, but that's eight Sundays a year. That is really tough to do. I got spoiled and you got spoiled when Sue Tinker and Bo Schneider were with us. I could ask either Bo or Sue to preach for me and there wouldn't be a problem. Then they went off and got their own churches! We are having the hardest time getting someone to come in to sub for me. Yet, here they are saying I have to take all eight days off or I'll be fired.

So, I wrote back. In fact, I wrote back more than they sent out. I had three, single-spaced pages showing them the errors of their ways. I was a little upset with them about several things. One of the things I did say was, in the words of the great Oliver Hardy, “Why don't you do something to help me?!” I pointed out to them that the pulpit supply list they have on the Web -where we find preachers to sub-hasn't been updated in at least six or eight months. How about going to the Joseph Badgers Meadows Camp and saying, “Can you give our pastor a price break so he can take a couple days off in the Sabbath House every year?” What about when you visit and talk to session instead of just telling them that they need the reports to get in and that they need to fill out the forms? Why don't you tell them the basis of why it's important for ministers to take care of themselves and to take the time off and offer them ways that they can do that? How about doing something to help me?!

You always need to watch – at least I do - what makes you angry about in other people because it's usually the stuff you're doing. It is probably an issue in your own life. So, I thought about where all of this was coming from, and came to the conclusion that it's burdens laying on burdens and not lifting a finger – it's all about the church. Just try this: every time you read “Pharisees” substitute “Presbyterians.” – it's the same thing. The Pharisees were the religious party of the good people. They were the people who upheld the law. They were the ones who went to service every Sunday. They were the ones to follow the rules. They were the ones people looked up to –“Presbyterians.” Presbyterians lay on burdens – heavy burdens, and don't lift a finger to help.

I know you're sick of hearing about it, but, coming to church is an amazing thing to try to do. There are seven doors on the church and only two are open – the front and back. You have to know to park around back. It's just simple things like that. There are burdens about people coming in and how they should act. I think perhaps a lot of it is “leftovers.” Some people who are on television, people that get national media or are on the radio think that everyone is like that. They think all the churches are like that. So, a lot of the burdens that people feel when they come into a church and especially sanctuaries, maybe we didn't put there – but they are there. What if our job was, instead of to burden, was to lift these burdens? What if we got the people that aren't acting right to be better?

You know what really annoys me? It is when Christians get together to pass a law to make other people act Christian. That's going backwards. That is like saying, “We give up – the Gospel is no good!” The Christian Church as a whole got a black-eye over the marriage controversy in California. Christians from throughout the nation threw money into California to change California's laws on the basis of their own beliefs; to tell Californians that we're going to give money so you all follow our standards of life. Even though it has nothing to do with us, we are going to change your laws to make sure you behave correctly. That is going to come back and kick us bad and heavy for years and decades to come – it already has. So, why don't you do something to help me?! Why don't you do something to help weddings and marriages instead of running to the law books?

Here in our own town at an abortion clinic, there is a guy with a $37,000 medical bill because he got beat up trying to protect women who were going into the clinic. He was doing something legal and he wasn't going there to have an abortion himself. He was just trying to help people. Sometimes I want to ask, “How many ribs would Jesus crack?” What a black-eye Christians got!! Oh, those are those Christians. If you don't agree with them, they'll beat you up and send you the hospital. We have got a lot of work to do!

I think about worship and about what we do in worship, whether it's good, bad or indifferent. We talk a lot about that in second service. What do we do in second service? We're going to be eating pizza and talking about: what is important, what is good, what is helpful in worship, what does relation show, what brings us closer to God and what brings God closer to us throughout service. There are times I think to myself, “Man, what are we doing that our services and Sunday school classes aren't full? When I use to go to Cedar Point, I saw signs on different rides that said, “two hour wait.” People would actually stand there and wait. Why isn't worship like that?

I have had one time that I had people in line for worship. I was coming back from visiting a young man named, Garrett. I had told the youth leader that Garrett had had a terrible accident with a brain injury and that he was in a coma. I told him that I was going to Pittsburgh to see him -- an hour and a half drive. I would go see Garrett and then drive back for service with the youth group. I asked him if he could get the youth group together by 7:30pm so we could pray for Garrett and let everyone know how he was. The youth leader said he'd have no problem doing it. He was the only person I told; so it was all on his shoulders.

So, I left and I timed myself pretty well. I got there and saw Garrett, prayed with him and talked with his family. Afterwards, I came zooming back and thought I was doing really well because it was only 7:00pm. I arrived at the church to find people waiting at the front door on a Tuesday night. There were young people standing outside of the Presbyterian Church at the door that hasn't been used in 30 years. There were about a dozen of them there about half an hour early. So, I asked them, “Are you here for Garrett?” “Yes!” they said. So, I took them around to the back door and went in and started setting up chairs in Fellowship Hall. We figured around fifty were here and as we turned around another 50 people came in. We had almost the entire high school there including the football team and the teachers. All I told was one guy.

We had to move into the sanctuary. The lights and sound system were neither one on; however, we still had a worship service, prayer and anointing –all 100 kids came forward for anointing. So, I wondered, “What was it about that?” They had a burden and we offered to lift it. They were hurting and we offered healing. They were alone and we offered community. They didn't know what to do and we told them what they could do. We told them how they could keep in contact with him. We had a website and they could send him messages and was keeping them updated.

That poorly planned and not very well executed, constantly changing worship service was perhaps one of the best examples of what worship is about. It is about making relationship between one another and with God, and about lifting burdens. We need to be constantly thinking about what burdens people and how can we lift them. We spend too much time asking how to get people to come and do committee work, or how to get them to come and fill-up the pews or how to get them to be Presbyterian. We're putting heavy burdens on and we're doing nothing to lift them. Christians need to stop putting burdens on people as we've done throughout religion's history – all the way back to Bible times and beyond. It should be about lifting the burdens to help people. Amen.

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