Prepare The Way 
Wednesday, November 29, 2006, 11:08 AM - Extra Christy
Route 22 is being rebuilt and doubled in sized about 20 miles from my home in Greensburg, PA. A massive project that includes raising valleys and lowering hills to make a straight path for the 4 lane road. They have been working on this section for over a year and still have a year to go.

I like to travel this way to see the massive amounts of earth being moved and some unusual sights. One is utility poles perched on individual 12 foot high pyramids of earth. The ground was lowered and leveled before the pole was removed. So until the new poles are set and strung, they are firmly planted in the air, were the ground used to be.

Advent begins a week after Thanksgiving this year, so it isn't lost in the feasting festivals and shopping storms. Advent is a time of preparing the royal road for the coming of Christ the King. The prophet Isaiah is quoted in the Christmas stories of the gospels:

In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. - Isaiah 40:3- 4

As I drive by those stubborn utility poles, useful before but now in the road; I think about what I have yet to move to make way for Christ rolling into my life. Holy habits that no longer serve me or God? Pride in the Past that needs to move over for future Glory? Although I imagine Jesus would be forgiving and not lean on his horn in frustration, I hate to think my unreadiness was sending the King on a detour.

I hope you join me in holy road building this Advent

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How to Make a King 
Sunday, November 26, 2006, 07:00 AM - Sermon
John 18:33-37

Why can't Jesus answer a simple Yes/No question? Are you King of the Jews? Yes or No.

Instead we get a question as an answer. “Do you ask this of your own, or did others tell you about me?” Jesus has to ask this because his kingdom is not of this world. It is not brought about by force as kingdoms of this world are made, otherwise Christ's followers would have fought for him. Christ is king by invitation only.

Who do we make king? It is hard for us to relate to a king, we have been without one as a nation for over 230 years. Who rules us? Who is our leader? In the tradition of the divine right of kings, what is the God decreed order of our world? Who do we say the king is?

We cannot imagine the craziness of calling Jesus king instead of Caesar in the first century. Caesar was everywhere. Neo, that lapsed Presbyterian preacher of Brian D. McLaren in A New Kind of Christian says it this way:

The biggest, most powerful reality in those days is the regime of Caesar. Jesus comes along and basically says that Caesar is no big deal at all; the real big deal is the regime of God the empire of God. And not only that, he says that the kingdom of God is right here, right at hand. (p. 106)

He was the everyday reality of life, it was like saying to fish, this ocean isn't really that important, what is really important is the water of God.

We are heirs of the modern world view, with all the wonders produced by its mechanistic, consumeristic, individualistic, and controlling ways. We want to take the amazing reality of the kingdom of God and divorce it from all context, distill it to “abstract principles, universal concepts, and disembodied abstracts.” (p. 106) When Matthew writes about the Kingdom of Heaven, we rush to move the kingdom from the here before us to the hereafter. How can we get the reality back into the kingdom of God, how can we put Christ back into the kingdom that is at hand, that is right here among us?

Our author McLaren also has his character Neo tell us that maybe Jesus wouldn't use Kingdom language if he was here today. Since commerce is much more important than government, maybe Jesus would talk about the “enterprise of God”, perhaps the internet would be the basis for Jesus talking about the “world web of God” or the “network of God”. Other possibilities would be the “family of God' or maybe since media is so much a part of our lives, is there anywhere you can escape a video screen? anywhere that someone doesn't have ear buds playing? maybe the “story of God” the “adventure of God” the “music of God” or the “soundtrack of God”, God's playlist? What is your all-consuming reality? Whatever you pretend it is, it isn't. The all consuming reality is God.

A popular candidate for kingdom in this age is money and commerce. Maybe Jesus would proclaim the coming of the economy of Jesus as Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity talks about in his book, Love in the Mortar Joints, summed up in the motto: no more shacks , where everyone has a decent house not because they have earned a decent house, or it is our business to provide decent houses to the masses, but because everyone should have what is necessary for life, not based on what they earn!

Rev. George Yandell, an Episcopalian, has a story about Millard Fuller and the economics of Jesus.

Millard Fuller, the founder and driving force of Habitat for Humanity, met with a group of potential Habitat builders many years ago. The group was enthusiastic but tentative because starting a Habitat affiliate is an expensive proposition, since Habitat doesn't charge interest on the mortgages. The group had huddled around a calculator before the meeting, running the numbers on what they needed to get started. They had decided nothing could be done without at least $6,000 in the bank. When Millard walked into the room for the meeting, the first thing the group told him was that they only had $3,000 of the $6,000 they needed to start their efforts. Millard leaned over and looked at the group with a seriousness only money-talk could muster.

After a moment's silence, Millard said soberly, “Let me tell you something very important. Listen carefully. The whole future of what you're about to do rests on what I am about to say. It would be absolutely reckless and irresponsible and injudicious for you to start your Habitat affiliate without at least $1 in the bank. To start with anything less would be ludicrous.” The group laughed nervously and Millard grinned as he said, “Habitat is founded on the economics of Jesus, which was manifested in the feeding of the multitudes. Here it is: You take what you have- one dollar- and you give thanks for it and then give it to the Lord to be blessed. Then you step out in faith.

Pilate and Jesus have a difficult conversation because each has a different understanding of how one makes a kingdom. For Pilate it was one of political power and military force. For Jesus is was a way of living, of who or what people make themselves subject to, a part of, “who THEY said was their king” not what others said, not what the military power said, not what the economics said, not what the systematic theologians said, but what was real day to day, hour to hour of the people, what was at hand, real.

When we feed the hungry…………….We make Jesus our King
When we help the young and old………… We make Jesus our King
When we house the homeless………. We make Jesus our King
When we visit the sick……………… We make Jesus our King
When we welcome the stranger………. We make Jesus our King
When we help the helpless……………. We make Jesus our King
When we give time, talent, and treasure for the benefit of others……… We make Jesus our King

Is Jesus the King of the Jews? Is Jesus your king? Is Jesus Christ, your economy, your career, your nation, your playlist, your ocean? If you said Yes, Jesus has just begun with you, the next question is whose answer is that, culture's? the pastor's? your parents, your spouse, your church? Or is it your life?

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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Trash or Treasure? 
Wednesday, November 22, 2006, 09:53 AM - Extra Christy
In the Fall, a young girl moved to the big city from a small farming town. She saw a holiday decoration which included a bundle of cornstalks on a friend's porch. She exclaimed, "Who put trash on your porch?" She was stunned to find out that city folks pay for field refuse!

That someone's trash is another's treasure is a theme in the Bible. The following Psalm is applied to Jesus several times; Jesus, rejected by the crowd, is made by God into the salvation of humanity.

I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. - Psalm 118:21- 23

One of my favorite poems embodies this surprising overturning of what we judge as valuable:

Death came to me one evening
and heavens doors opened wide.
With kindly grace St. Peter came
and ushered me inside.
And there to my astonishment
were folks I'd known on earth.
Some I had labeled unfit
and others of little worth.
Indignant words flew to my lips
words I could not set free
For every face showed
stunned surprise,
no one expected me!

Hope you are thankful for God making treasure out of what we reject as trash!

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Are You Weary of Worry? 
Sunday, November 19, 2006, 07:00 AM - Sermon
Posted by Administrator
Matthew 6:25-33

In his book, A New Kind of Christian, Brian D. McLaren has a character, (a Presbyterian Pastor!) includes these two contrasting world views:

Story one goes like this: Once upon a time, the universe banged into being for no apparent reason and with no apparent purpose. Someday it will end and there will be no one left to remember it ever existed. In the meantime, we live and die, and that's about it.

Story two begins with a Creator who designs the universe to produce life. The Creator cares about everything he has made, including us. The Creator reaches out to us in many ways, constantly inviting us into a relationship of trust. When we die, we enter into the Creator's presence so that in some sense this life that we now live is a prelude to a dimension of life that never dies.—page 86

Now both of these stories cannot be true. If you believe the first, which begins with a bang and ends without a whimper…no wonder you worry about what you will eat, what you will drink, or what you will wear. There is no higher or deeper meeting in story one than to survive and pack as much pleasure in your life. The final end of life is your end, to be fed and watered and dressed up nice.

But if you believe the second that begins and ends with a loving Creator: Your worries move from internal temporal realities to external eternal values. We can look away from our bellies and strive not for comforts of the creature, but the cares of the Creator: his kingdom where his will is done on earth as in heaven; and his righteousness where all people as the psalmist says: [are] like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.” Psalm 1:3 Where the relationship between God and humans, and among God's people is right, true, and just.

The prayer following this entry moves from the big bang world view to good God world view. From worry and thanks about me and mine to consideration of all of the Creator's children. From our food, our friends, our job, our health, our surroundings and our rest from our labors, to the hungry, the lonely, the jobless, the sick, the earth, and God's work to be done.

The big bang world tells us that what we have in this world while we are alive is all that we will ever have. The Good God world view tells us there is something to seek beyond this world; a set of standards that is other worldly.

In Big Bang we want to gather more and more here on earth and are thankful when we do. Our thanks stops at our bellies. For us and now are all there is. The Good God world tells us there is meaning beyond us and now. There is meaning beyond our life and the things we need to preserve it.

I imagine God calling an account of church's life. What have you done with what we have given you? Well, we kept the building well-maintained, the carpets new, and the place clean. That may be expected for the Big Bang Bunch but the Good God Group needs to go beyond. I would want to tell God that we wore out two sets of carpet due to the running feet of children who need a safe place to stay during the day. I would be proud to say we wore out the whole church serving the people of Akron! While it wouldn't be a source of thanksgiving here if we did that, in the Big Bang world where everything that counts is here, it would be a source of thanksgiving in the next world of Good God which this life is but a prelude, not a complete opus.

If this is all there is, if Big Bang is right, worry is all around us. We have a limited time to grab all the gusto we can. We might miss something. If Good God is right, we have more to worry about than the momentary pleasures and brief distractions of this world, we have a part to play in the eternal good plan of God, where justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

Another freedom from worry is that the second world view, Good God, has a different final chapter in the story we are writing together. I sometimes tell folks who see the world getting worse that I have peeked at the last chapter of the story and God wins! Somehow, God bends everything to his good will. God has no enemies because even those who work against God, by God's providence, are ultimately part of his good and graceful plan and purpose.

Last Monday, I was eating at Julian's, and he called out to me the good news that the Steelers had finally won! I told him not to tell me anything more because I hadn't watched the game yet. He didn't tell me anything else other than it was a good game. So I watched the game with a lot less yelling and gasps because I knew who won. I didn't know how or by how much, but I knew despite the injuries, missed field goals, penalties…the Steelers will win, I didn't have to worry. Neither to Christians, God wins. I don't know the score, I don't know how close it will be, I don't know about the setbacks and heartbreaks on the way…but I do know God will win.

We are constantly in danger of making this world the only world. We fight against that temptation when we do things that only make sense in a Good God world view. Striving for others, planting trees that won't bear fruit until long after you are gone, helping children who we may never see in the pews of any church, doesn't make sense in the Big Bang world, but it does make sense in the loving Good God world.

Strive to live in the Good God world, thankful that we hunger and thirst for righteousness and not just food and drink, free from worry because you know the final score.

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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A Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Sunday, November 19, 2006, 06:30 AM - Prayers, Sermon
O Creator and God of All,
We give thanks for all that we have.
For our food, we give thanks.
Help us to remember those who are hungry.
Instill in us the goal to feed all of your people.
For our friends, we give thanks.
Help us to remember those who are alone. Instill in us the care to bring others into our circle.
For our job, we give thanks.
Help us to remember the jobless.
Instill in us the resources to find jobs for all.
For our health, we give thanks.
Help us to care for those with health needs.
Instill in us the focus to provide all with needed healthcare.
For the beauty of nature, we give thanks.
Help us to remember that we are stewards of creation.
Instill in us the wisdom and will to care for our planet.
When we sit to rest and think that all is well,
stir us up to know that your work is not done.
Instill in us the heart to love all as we serve all. Amen.

Written by Dr. Michael A. Petrochuk (Saint Paul's Episcopal Church)
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