Passing the Light 
Sunday, October 29, 2006, 07:00 AM - Sermon
Matthew 6:19-21
Hebrews 11:29-12:2;12-13

The modern Olympics include bringing the flame from a torch lit in Greece where the original Olympics were held to the site of today's games. Usually the torch is carried by a relay of runners accompanied by escorts and cheered on by onlookers. It is a link from events of thousands of years ago, carried into the present day to give light to millennium old values of excellence in athleticism and peaceful cooperation among peoples.

Contrast the carrying the light of the torch over miles and millennium to the flickering light of flashbulbs that dominate our lives: the scandal of the day, the crisis of the hour, the celebrity of the moment. Instead of following ancient values in our daily walk, we have the urgent blinding us to the important, the transient covering over the eternal, and the urges of the body eclipsing the gifts of the spirit.

How can we be torchbearers in a flashbulb era?

First we can reach out to take the torch from those who carried it in the past. The stories of faith in the scriptures are examples to us, but also the faith of our father and mothers. We do that today with our All Saints Day observance. What good and faithful activities did they give their time, talents, and treasure to? What values can we find in their generation that we want to pass on to our generation? Further, their faithful witness in the past should encourage us as a cheering crowd encourages athletes. They had challenges and obstacles of their own yet they manage to do good and remain faithful. We can do the same in our time. Listen to the crowd. Pay attention to others.

We need to be the connection to others. As technology of cell phones and ipods tempt us to carry our personal spaces with us into public spaces we are in danger of losing touch with others around us. Not just the voices of the past, but even the voices of the present as we ignore those around us wrapped in our own conversations with invisible folks and substituting a self-chosen soundtrack to the song of humanity that surrounds us.

Next we can move from the moment to the movement. The instantaneous media amplifies and reflects back to us the anxieties of the moment. A new study grabs headlines, a disaster fans fears, a celebrity stumbles and we are blinded by such flashbulbs, forgetting that we are carrying a torch in a marathon. Only when death intrudes it seems do we stop and take the long term view, review life and purpose instead of appointments and commitments.

Stephen R. Covey tells us one of the habits of highly effective people is to begin with the end in mind. He has a striking image of a funeral, your own, when he asks his readers to imagine who will be there and what will they say. He asks them to imagine one from work, one from family, one from your church, one from neighborhood, and a friend and what they would say at your own funeral 5 to 10 years in the future. Of course, the lesson is to work so they will say what you would like to be remembered for after you are gone…when your race is finished and you join the great throng of those in heaven. Looking back at your life, before it is gone is help to have you get out of reacting to the moment and joining a long-term movement toward making a better you and a better world.

Where looking at the crowd that carried the torch before us looks to the past for inspiration and hope; looking to the goal line, the finish line, the destination for our souls of the kingdom of God calls us forward in hope toward the future.

I dream of a Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church where every room is used everyday. Where children are helped and sheltered, where regular folks and poor folks pool their resources to get good inexpensive food from angel food. There are thousands waiting in a church parking lot for hours to get food to help make ends meet. Good hard working folks that can use a break. I dream there will be a time that they would wait here in our sanctuary. Singing hymns and being warm. I dream that when folks look back at Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church they will say, they helped people, all people, not just themselves.

We have past and future. I like to include the present. Here's one you probably haven't though of. Put your money where you want your heart to be. It is a strange relationship. But where your treasure is that is where your heart is as well. Unions ask us to do this when they encourage us to Buy American. We all know the dark side of this, when we buy a new thing, like a car, or a fancy phone, and then it breaks. I always dread getting a new car, because I know that sooner or later I'll bump, chip, or crash it. That first one is the hardest. I remember the sinking feeling when I came out to my car, just a few weeks old, to find the windshield smashed. Why was I so upset? No one was hurt, it was drivable and fixable. I just had put so much treasure into it…my heart was there also.

How often do we say something is important to us and then not commit money to it? I know you will tell me about things money cannot buy, but stay with me on this. Prayer doesn't solve every problem, neither do Mission and Outreach or Worship but no one ever angrily dismisses Prayer, Good works, Worship with the argument “But you know, prayer isn't everything, you should give money as well!” Jesus here tells us not to look for our heart where are prayers are, not where our service is…Jesus, not me, says our hearts are where our treasure is. A quick spiritual inventory would be to look at our bank records and see where our money goes, for there goes are hearts as well.

There is good news! Stewardship is not a burden, not an obligation, not our fair share. It is putting our money where our hearts are. If you want to be more spiritual, more connected, more giving, in short if you want your heart to be moved, move your treasure and your heart will follow. We don't have to wait until death rips away our pretense and reorders our values from the temporal to the eternal. You don't have to stay in the past remembering the great things others have done. We can be a living memorial today putting our lives in order of where our hearts are, so that when we are gone, others will light candles for us and say, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter the joy of your master.”

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race set before us.

Copyright © 2006 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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Wednesday, October 25, 2006, 08:36 AM - Extra Christy
MySpace is a social networking website. According to Alexa Internet, it is currently the the fifth most popular website in the world with over 100,000,000 accounts. (yes, 100 million) The site reportedly attracts new registrations at a rate of 230,000 per day

That is a lot of people claiming their space. Even I'm on MySpace:

MySpace encourages folks to have pictures and links to their friends on their web page, making room in MySpace for others. Some say that is the best part of MySpace, getting into each other's spaces.

I was reminded about having others in MySpace when I read a quote of Henri Nouwen in Arthur Paul Boers' book Never Call Them Jerks:

...[C]ommunity is primarily an interior thing. Everybody has to have a space inside you...People have to know that in your heart that there is space for them.

Paul talks about having this kind of space in 2 Corinthians:

...Do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.-- 2 Corinthians 3:1b-3

Paul may not have known about MySpace, but he knew the most prized real estate is the space we give to others in our heart. When folks look at your many others do they see there? Are they introduced to Christ by looking in your heartspace?

Hope you add a friend to your heartspace today!

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Serving God in an Advisory Capacity  
Sunday, October 22, 2006, 08:00 AM - Sermon
Job 38:1-7 (34-41); Mark 10:35-45

Temptations of being a disciple. We have heard of the Temptation of Christ, but how many have heard of the temptations of being a disciple? I'm not talking about the popular ones, sex, drugs, and chocolate, but ones that are particular to believers.

Patrick Lencioni in his book “Five Temptations of CEO” is helpful at looking at the trouble the first disciples fall into and the temptations that await all those who follow Christ.

Our disciples fall for the first temptation of a leader: To value status over achievement; To look at ways to preserve or enhance status rather than do the job well. Folks like James and John who succumb to this temptation are looking for the next job instead of doing their current one. Or, if they are at the top, they are looking to keep their status doing well instead of making their company do well.

Christians fall prey to this constantly. What better status to fight to achieve and struggle to hold on to than eternity in heaven? When we focus on the hereafter, we lose touch with the here and now. The whole division of the world into the saved and the unsaved feeds into this temptation: How can I get saved instead of what is God saving me for? As we see in our Gospel, being saved rather than being position as Jesus' buddy turns us back out into the world to be a servant. For Jesus says that we are here not to be served but to serve.

Christians too often want to be served. We want folks to follow our way God instead of being the way for them to God. We want folks to come to church instead of the church coming to them. We want people to straighten up instead of us bending down. We value our status over our mission.

In his answer to James and John, Jesus demonstrates how to avoid the second temptation listed by Lencioni, that of choosing to be liked over holding others accountable. How easy would it be for Jesus to say, sure boys, left and right hand it is! James and John would have been happy and liked Jesus. Instead Jesus shows leadership by holding them accountable instead of seeking to have them like him.

Note how Jesus refocuses James and John from status seeking to their job, their calling in religious terms. Not where they are called but to what they are called: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink; or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” Will you do the job, not what status will you get. After getting them to agree that they are answering the call, not looking for glory; he accepts their decision and tells them that status is not for him to grant. Ouch! Accountability instead of Likeability. You have a job to do. To follow me. How are you doing with that?

For the third temptation we have to jump to Job. In today's reading we get God's poetic answer to Job's nagging questions about Why? The third temptation is the “Why” question, the desire, the need to have all the information before acting. Job wants to know WHY and HOW the universe runs. God sings his answer giving Job way too much information. The universe and God's will is not just more than we imagine, it is more than we can imagine. We are tempted like Job to demand to know, to see the grand purpose in all so we can know our place in the universe, the meaning of our actions, our very lives. If we only knew everything that God did…we would be Godly…the first temptation of the snake in the Garden of Eden…come eat the fruit and you will know all and you will be like God.

Mike Leonard in his book “The Ride of Our Lives” gives voice to this temptation. He wishes that we could see our life from the air. So we can know where our paths lead, what present decisions lead to future happiness…how long suffering will last…where our paths lead us, but he ruefully admits, we are limited to what we can see from the ground. Where obstacles block our view and limits us to the present view. If only we could know everything…then we would have perfect choices and perfect lives.

As God tells us in Job, we are not given all knowledge to know how to act. We are given enough knowledge to act. In scripture, in church teaching, in the witness and gift of the Holy Spirit, we can act faithfully, morally, without knowing all of God's plan. In fact, that is the only way to act faithfully, is to NOT know everything that God is up to. There is no room for faith in certainty. It is only when we don't know it all, when doubt is very much with us…and we act anyway is when we act faithfully. To be holy and good when it is unknown how holy and good will help us or others is the essence of a faithful life. To await or demand certainty before acting in business or in faith is to doom one to inaction and frustration.

Does it surprise you that the disciples were angry with one another? You might have missed it. Here are the apostles, saints for some of us, this should have been the best church ever! Yet here we have 85% angry at 15%. Sounds about right, in any church controversy, about 10% are one side, about 10% are on another side and 80% wish the both of them would shut up. Yet Jesus doesn't fall for the nice-nice temptation…valuing Harmony over Honesty. Groups that have a standard that we hide our feelings and all get along, miss the opportunity to hear all ideas and lead to bad decisions and a lack of ideas. Here anger expressed was an opportunity to talk about the choice between status and servanthood, about the difference between the kingdom of God and human kingdoms. If the disciples had pretended all was “fine, just fine” they and we would have missed this teaching and call to a better way of life.

The last temptation is the most Christian. To value Invulnerability over Humanity. The temptation to seem invincible, invulnerable. Yet here Jesus rejects the superhero status, telling us that he has come to give his life as a ransom for many. To be Christian is to be vulnerable, to hurt and to feel pain. We have a leader who is the most human, the perfect human who gave his holy, blameless life as a perfect sacrifice. This is a temptation for the young, I believe. As we get older our vulnerability is all too apparent, and outstrips our ability to hide our weakness and our errors. Christ could have chosen to be a superhero, crushing his foes. He could have chosen to remain in heaven, never taking on the limitations, temptations, and deprivation of humanity. But he chose humanity over invulnerability. We can be real with him, for he knows what it is like to be real, to have pain, to suffer the death of a loved one, the betrayal of a friend, the injustice of society. To be like Christ we too have to be real about our pain, our humanness, the hardness of life. As Christ is real to us, we need to resist being a superhero to others, but let our humanness show, so they can be human too and find the God who is with us in our humanity.

How can we serve God in other than an Advisory capacity? Borrowing from Patrick Lencioni
Focusing on serving instead of status
Seeking accountability instead of likeability
Acting on faith in God, not seeking certainty
Valuing True Honesty instead of False Harmony
Being human together with our God, instead of playing superhero

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Life and Death Matters 
Thursday, October 19, 2006, 03:09 PM - Church
Luke 15 has a familiar story often called the Prodigal Son, where a son is lost to his father and then restored. A better name would be the Loving Father, who lets the son leave with his inheritance but never lets go of his love for his son. At the end of the story, the father runs to greet the returning son, lovingly welcoming him back rejoicing because “He was dead…and is now alive”. This recalls the beginning of the story. For by asking for his inheritance and leaving, the son treats his living father as dead.

Death is a familiar visitor to Christians and the good faithful folks at Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church. We do not flee from death in fear. It is a testament to our faith that our sanctuary is packed for services on the occasion of death. It is there we hear the declaration: “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave, we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” Christians gather at death not just to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of the deceased but to witness to the resurrection, the power of life after death. Death does not destroy the meaning of a life or end relationship. Instead Christians look with sure hope to the resurrection, where what was dead, is made alive; where the lost is found; the broken, restored.

Yet we still have tragedies when one says “You are dead to me” and cuts off relationships to pursue a broken life without the loving ties that bind hearts in Christian love. Two area sessions are seeking to take the Presbyterian churches they inherited away from the Presbyterian Church (USA). It saddens me that neither session chose to be in conversation with Eastminster Presbytery prior to such extreme actions.

Philip Yancy in his book, What Is So Amazing About Grace has a story of a park naturalist checking on the recovery of ground sterilized by the heat and ash of Mt. St. Helens volcanic eruption. In the middle of a desolate dead landscape he found a lush green patch of wildflowers, ferns, and grasses. Looking closer, he saw the green patch of growth was in the shape of an elk. The dead body of the elk had given life back to the lifeless land.

The rumors of the death of the Presbyterian Church (USA) are as short-sighted as the prodigal son demanding an inheritance from his still living (and loving) father. Like the loving father, we hope for resurrection and restoration of the lost; ready to run to embrace and welcome family members home. We still have Christ's love left to give this world and when, and if, in God's time, we are gone; we will leave life, love, and hope behind in our relationship with each other, the world and God. Alleluia!


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Bring Your Suitcase! 
Wednesday, October 18, 2006, 04:32 PM - Extra Christy
A college student I know went to a suitcase dance last month. Everyone was to bring an overnight bag to the dance because the winner of a raffle at the dance will be whisked away by chauffeur for 24 hours of pampering at a local spa.

I wonder how many students brought their suitcases to the dance? Were any empty, brought just to blend in with the others?

Made me wonder if we are packed and ready for our prayers to be answered, or if our faith is a hollow container unable to take us where our prayers call us.

I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.- Matthew 21:21- 22

Hope your bags are packed!

Photo by annumi on Flickr Used by permission

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