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Breaking Christmas Chains 
Sunday, November 30, 2008, 11:17 AM - Sermon, Christmas, Podcast
Luke 1:67-79

Pastor Christy introduces Morley's Ghost from Dickens' A Christmas Carol and examines ways to break the chains that hold us down.


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.

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podcast.christyramsey.me. Also available on iTunes. Search for the podcast ExtraChristy.

Every been with someone in chains? I have. When I was a chaplain in prison, the residents were chained when they arrived and when they left for court. The chain I remember most, wasn't immediately visible. A inmate share with me his study of Genesis. He looked at the King James Version of the Bible as carefully as any Hebrew scholar studied the original text. He had lined out the meaning and genealogy of Adam and Eve with a care of cousin looking for an inheritance. I was amazed at the time he put in this scholarly pursuit. What I didn't know was that he was forging chains for his soul.

On our second visit he revealed to me the reason for his research. He had to prove he was of the line of Cain, surviving in the flood of Noah and as such he was doomed to be evil and imprisoned for it. Genetically and theologically, for him, he was evil without hope of redemption. I remember realizing in horror that the prison he had made with his own chains for his spirit was deeper and darker than the walls and wire that surround our bodies. It is not so much that there are chains; things that hold us back. The surprising part is that we forge our own chains. We put them on and then lumber around, bemoaning our faith.

Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol is the story of a man in chains that prevents him from the joy of Christmas, the joy of life. On Christmas Eve he is first visited by the ghost of his business partner, Jacob Marley, who died seven years earlier:

When the frightening specter of Marley's ghost confronts the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, he is weighed down with a long, heavy, chain. “It was long, and wound about him like a tail' and it was made (for Scrooge observed in closely of cash boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel.” When Scrooge inquired about the chain, Marley replied, “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

Then Marley asked Scrooge, “Is its pattern strange to you? Or would you know the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this seven Christmas Eves ago. You have labored on it since. It is a ponderous chain!” — from Humbug to Hallelujah and A Christmas Carol

What chains you down? What stops you? Economic chain down many. A study came out this month in the United Kingdom. One in four Britons are still paying off last year's Christmas' expenses. Christmas chains of debt. Debt can chain us down on a personal level. Not just credit card debit from living too high. Folks who have lost their job are chained by a mortgage they cannot pay and a house they cannot sell. They cannot get out of bed, because of the self forged chains of debt. Even, the mighty Summa hospital had to stop construction of the Crystal Clinic on East Market because it cannot get financing at reasonable terms.

I've talked to people suffering from the effects of smoking or alcohol or other poor health habits. They say they cannot believe they let themselves get this bad. They see the chains that slow and hold them down, and they realize that they are of their own making.

Some chains that keep Christmas down are unrealistic expectations. We have expectations that everything will be sweetness and light in our family gathering, even if the entire history of our family predicts otherwise. When something is less than perfect happens, we feel everything is ruined and but the chains on to stop any hope of recovery, redemption, or rejoicing.

Priorities can be chains, if they are the wrong ones. Putting one's work above all else can chain one to a job a prevent a person from a life full of love and loved ones. It is tempting to just make a living instead of getting a life. Marley warns Scrooge and us about this danger of missing what our true business is: making ourselves the best person we can be, who Christ calls us to be. How can we do that? Marley tells us:

Scrooge asks, “Why do spirits walk the earth?”
It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men and travel far and wide' and if that spirit does not go forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me! —and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth and turned to happiness!

Christmas reminds us that we were created for community, for fellowship, for love. Like Scrooge however, we can lose sight of this fact, think that business is an end in itself, instead of being a means to care for others.

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” — From A Christmas Carol &From Humbug to Hallelujah

Humankind is our business, according to Marley's spirit. There are a lot of people out there, churches, political action groups, public speakers, who will tell you what Christian business is. They will give you a list of issues to support, of people or practices to oppose, even how to vote. There are people that will distill the entire witness of scripture and salvation history into a certain vote on a single issue in a one election. Some will have rules of living that they claim is the business of all Christians and if you don't follow their list of rules…you aren't Christian or biblical. All these people are putting more chains upon you, like my friend in prison to study scripture not to find out how to be free to love, but to justify the chains to which he bound evil to himself.

I keep coming back to Matthew 25:31 and following. God judges the entire world. God does not judge the world by which candidate they supported. God does not judge the world by which version of moral laws they imposed on others. God does not judge the world by how they voted on a proposition. God does judge the world on how they cared for the sick, the lonely, the imprisoned, the hungry and the naked. Those who helped are welcomed into the kingdom, those who did not are banished. This is how chains are broken. By making others are business. When we stop putting ourselves first and only, the selfish chains we forge are broken, because when we help others remove their chains, our fall off as well.

You want a modern day Scrooge tale about how you can move from humbug to hallelujah? There is a movie playing now called, Fireproof it is about firefighters, but mainly it is about two people caught in hellfire of a marriage. Ever thing is going well for them. Nice jobs, lovely home, friends and parents in their lives, good health, all should be fine and happy. Yet they cannot stand each other. They cannot speak without insult or hear without hurt. All is argument and anger, the bond of matrimony is a bond of acrimony. They go after each other all the time.

In this move there is a movement from humbug to hallelujah. Struggling to love over 40 days like Scrooge struggle through the night, one of the couples works on a 40 day challenge of loving his partner unconditionally. He decides to love her no matter what. Even when the flowers are thrown away. Even when the special dinner grows cold and uneaten. No matter what he loves her. And by following in the footsteps of Jesus who loved unconditionally, the chains that were binding and choking them fall away and they are back in love.

What chains are keeping you back? Whatever they are you can get rid of chains: By loving one another, by reaching out to others, by being connected to neighbor and stranger, by going out among the world and making humanity your business. Then the chains will fall away and you will move from humbug to hallelujah.

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Excessive Pay 
Wednesday, November 26, 2008, 06:38 AM - Extra Christy
I've been applying for a executive job in a large financial firms. I figure I can lose billions of dollars and I would do it for half their salary!

The grumbling over overpaid executives of companies our tax dollars are bailing out reflects our concern about earning what we paid. Well, more honestly, our concern that others earn what we pay them <wink>

There is a story read every Thanksgiving in churches about 10 lepers seeking to be healed by Jesus. Jesus told them all to go and show themselves to the priest in the Temple. On their way, they found they were healed of the disease. One of them turned around and went back to thank Jesus, while the others continued on the to temple to show themselves to the priest.

One of the lepers saw the healing as a gift from God, not something to be earned by a trip to the Temple and a visit with the priests. He didn't earn his healing. He received it as a gift and thanked God instead of crediting his obedient work.

Jesus approves of this former leper who didn't do the ritual work for healing, but thanked God for the unearned gift of health.

Starting tomorrow, practice thanks giving instead of trying to earn what God freely gives.

Happy Thanks Giving to God.

Thanksgiving
Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"

When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests."

And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him-and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well." -- Luke 17:11-19 (NIV)

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Thanksgiving Prayer 
Monday, November 24, 2008, 08:00 AM - Prayers
for Color Our Rainbow Academy banquet

We come together in thanksgiving.

Thanks for this place built with love cementing each brick. Thanks for Color Our Rainbow staff who hold hands and hearts every day.

Thanks for families that care for one another through the years.

May this food give us nourishment to extend shelter with open hands and hearts to care for the all members of the human family.

Bless this meal and these people so that we will be blessing and a reason for others to be thankful tomorrow as we are thankful today. Amen.


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Sowing Seeds 
Sunday, November 23, 2008, 08:00 AM - Sermon, Podcast
Thanksgiving Sunday
2 Corinthians 9:6-15

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.


Now is the time to be thankful for the harvest. I want to talk about the next harvest, planting seeds. How does one get to the harvest celebration? It is the end of a process that beginnings with a seed.

Harvest Requires Sacrifice
A farmer told me that he was very excited because he was going to grow corn for the seed company. Growing seed corn pays better than sweet or field corn for market. I couldn't understand what he was saying. You use up the seed when you plant it, right? Then my wife, who grew up closer to the land than I did, patiently told me, “when you plant a seed, you get back many more seeds in the harvest…each kernel in a corn cob is a seed.” Oh.

It seems strange. Are you hungry for more corn? Don't eat the corn you have but plant it in the ground, tend it and your seed will grow into a whole cob full of corn in the future. Sacrifice today leads to bounty in the future. It is hard to do to bury food for the future when you are hungry now. It is living in the future instead of the present.

…researchers at Xerox Corp. invented in the 1970s lots of computer technology Xerox never used. Computer workstations, networks, and graphical user interfaces were all invented by Xerox just in case the world traded paper for computer screens. And since the world is still hooked on paper, the only result of this research that Xerox bothered to exploit was the laser printer — the only part that actually involved paper.-- Robert X Cringley


To have a harvest, you have live in the future. Deny yourself now to prepare for a harvest in the future.

Harvest Requires Risk
A farmer I knew introduced himself as a professional gambler. He figured every year he gambled on the weather and the markets to make his living raising corn and soybeans. Thank God for gamblers like him. Without them, we would be hungry. Hording food, so safe in the short term, guarantees that food will run out when the horde is exhausted. Risk some of the resources to plant for the future, and you can continue indefinitely renewing your food supply.

The Great One Wayne Gretzky knew about risk.

He is the only NHL player to total over 200 points in one season—a feat he accomplished four times. In addition, he tallied over 100 points in 15 NHL seasons, 13 of them consecutively. (Wikiopedia)

His philosophy is in his most favorite quote, “You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

RCA first invented and then dropped the liquid crystal display. RCA made this mid-1960s decision because LCDs might have threatened its then-profitable business of building cathode ray picture tubes. Forty years later, of course, RCA exists only as a brand name licensed from GE by Thomson, the French electronics giant, and LCD displays — nearly all made in Asia — are everywhere.

The successful harvest is built on taking a risk, not just one or two, but multiple ones several times knowing that that is the only way to score. A lot of seeds make a big harvest (2 Corinth 9:6)

Harvest Needs Room to Grow
Go to any other non-tax supported gathering and you will find tickets, a bill, or admission charge. We resist making a fee for church services. We rather have a cheerful giver that God loves than a pouty payer that buys just enough religion to vaccinate him with protection from evil without getting the full disease of faith.

Growing up various youth groups had car washes for fund raisers. One of these I learned was that you got more money when you didn't charge. When we charged a dollar or two that is what we got, but when we worked for donations, we got $5, $10, even $20 or more. Sure some wouldn't give that much, but the majority would cheerfully help out DeMolay or the Youth or whoever happy to give rather than agreeing to pay.

An indoor gardener knows that a plant is limited by the pot it is grown in. Want a bigger plant? One help is to have more room to grow. Allow the growth. I was talking to a person with a fish pond, they told me that by making a bigger pond, the fish will grow bigger, because there is more room. Our Book of Order used to say the Lord's Supper will be held at least 4 times a year. Guess what? The minimum became the maximum. When the minimum was removed, over the years, most congregations moved to an average of 12 or more communions a year, a threefold increase by removing the limitation.

New groups, new opportunities, new ministries, multiple worship opportunities, will make room for a bountiful harvest.

To have a big Harvest allowing for bounty. In your heart, in your imagination, in your pot, in your pond, in your mind.

Harvest Requires Thanks
I suppose you can have a harvest without thanks, but it would be hard. Who cannot be happen when all are safely gathered in? We don't do that enough in the church, or the world. So thank you, thank you for supporting an imperfect church in an imperfect world with an imperfect pastor. Thanks for making a harvest possible

By sacrificing now for later
By risking temporary security for eternal reward
By making room for God to grow his blessings


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A Football Job 
Wednesday, November 19, 2008, 07:34 AM - Extra Christy, Radio
I do like to watch football. High School live and Steelers on DVR (I skip the 30 seconds between plays!) I can't imagine playing on that field. I would have trouble running the plays, even if there were only offense on the field!

But that is not how the game is played. Even with the best planning and great effort you can still fail to make your goal because the other team is also on the field, and they are doing all they can to stop you.



I thought about my life and work. I often expect the field to be clear of opposition when I make my brilliant plays. I'm surprised to find there are other players on the field that are not on my team!

A major part of the game is how a team faces opposition, the third down play where the first two downs didn't get the job done or the quarterback that runs a pattern and throws an accurate pass even when large determined men are running toward him trying to knock him down.

I suppose the greatest come from behind victory is the resurrection after death by Christ. Even with all the opposition evil could bring to the field, Jesus got up and made the saving play.

I hope you continue toward your goals despite opposition. If you suffer on your way to do good and be better, remember that is what happens when you're on Jesus' team.

Play Book

And he said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. -- Luke 9:22-24 (NIV)

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