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Keeping up with Christy

Preaching at the 9:30 AM service Sunday, December 3 at First Presbyterian Church in Virginia City.


 Preaching at the 11 AM service Sunday, December 17 at Valley Presbyterian Church in Bishop, CA

 

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Wednesday
Oct042017

Catch Me When I Fall

 By Visitor7 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

What are we to do in life…and in firefighting.

Catch Me When I Fall
a sermon by Rev. J. Christy Ramsey
Click the title above for a mp3 recording 

Audio from South Lake Tahoe Community Presbyterian Church, edited from a flawless transcription made by edigitaltranscriptions all errors are mine. 

Micah 6:1-8 &
Matthew 5:1-12

 

Sermons also available free on iTunes

I don’t know if you remember the first time you heard the Beatitudes, especially if you heard them from Luke, because Luke doesn’t mince words.  He just straight out says, “Blessed are the poor.”  Doesn’t even add that “in spirit.”  Straight out poor.  Have you ever, first time you heard that, did you say what is this guy talking about?  These people are not blessed.  I know blessed.  I seek blessing.  I know what it is.  It is carefree, not woe-foe.  And woe-foe is what all these are:  persecution, insult, mourning of all things.

Blessed?  Not blessed.  Jesus, something’s wrong there, either with our translation or maybe even with what I’m understanding blessed is about.  I know about mourning, and I know about crisis.  I know about persecution.  I know about insults.  I know about trouble.  And not because I’ve served the church as a pastor.  Not this church.  This church is wonderful, I know.  But because I served as a firefighter.  And we did fires, and we did heavy rescue, which means auto accidents.  We had 224, 55 both ways, one lane each way, and they didn’t really do 55 out in the country.  I know some mourning.  I know some grief.  I know some trouble.

 

We were on the fire department after a meeting.  It’s a volunteer fire department, and that’s an important underline there.  Volunteer, which means when that alarm went, we dropped everything and ran to the fire station to get in there.  You had five minutes to get on that truck fully geared because that truck was rolling in five.  When I started, I missed several runs and went to an empty – because I was not quick.  God bless them, they offered, they were trying to help me, they said, “Rev, here’s what we’ll do.”  Now, did I mention the church was next door to the fire house?  I still missed the runs.

 

They said, “Rev, here’s what we’ll do.  We’ll get out all this hose out of the back of the fire truck.  We don’t hardly ever need it.  We’ll put your desk right here in the truck, and your chair, and your computer.  And then you’ll be right here, and the alarm will go off, and then you’ll be in the truck.”

Well, from then on, I made those runs.  And we were talking to the guys, a new guy, about the volunteers and how we go, and go run, and there’ll be training, and it’ll be great, and oh, yeah, you need a partner.  And he said, “You know what you should do, you should go on the run with us.”  “I can?”  “Yeah.  Yeah, just come along, you should come, you’ll see, and then you’ll see, it’ll be great, and then you can do training and all that.”  So we’re talking.  And suddenly the room fills with beeps.  Beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep.  Our pagers off.  It’s a run.  We’re starting to move.  It’s like that poor prospect, he’s the only one stationary.  He’s in an eye of a hurricane.  Things are flying all around, we’re getting ready, we’re going.  We’re listening as we’re running.

 

Then in comes an EMT on our squad.  He comes in, and he just yells one word.  “Code.”  Well, now it’s like that hurricane went over an erupting volcano because now that means someone is trying to die.  We do not allow dying people after the alarm goes.  That is not allowed.  We gather up – we went from very fast to no time at all.  So instead of six people fully dressed in the cab ready to go, it’s going to be three people, the first three that threw their stuff in the truck, and we’re going to be on the move, and we’re going to be rolling as we’re getting in the truck.

 

And that poor new guy, seeing all this, he says, “Should I go?  Should I go?  Can I go?  Can I go?”  And he just got grabbed and thrown in the truck with the gear.  And he’s down on the floor, we’re all there, we’re rolling out, and I made that truck, God bless it.  So I’m in there.  He’s in there.  He’s on the floor.  And he’s, like, actually looking up at me.  And he’s saying, “What do I do?”  That’s what Micah says.  “What do I do?  What does the Lord require of me?  What do I do?”  And Micah has an answer, says God tells you three things.  And the way I learned it:  Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God.  That is what you do.  What, Christy?  No sexual purity code?  No things about righteousness?  No spiritual laws?  No things, credos that you have to say and believe these four things in the correct way?  No way to understand the ordination and unbroken line from the line?  Do justice.  Love kindness.  Walk humbly with your God.  Those three things.

 

Now, we’ve got to talk about them, of course, because I got time.  Do justice.  Now, justice has been perverted.  Justice has been watered down.  Justice has been changed into generic, been secularized, and I’m here to tell you I’m not talking about that justice.  I’m not talking about those criminals must pay.  I’m not talking about throw them away in the jail and lock them up and throw away the key.  I’m not talking about us being the number one country in locking up our people.  I’m not talking about that kind of justice.  I’m not talking about making them hurt, making them pay.  I’m not talking about they’re going to have to suffer as much as I suffered.  That’s not justice.  That’s not Bible.  That’s something else.

 

In Bible, justice means everybody has what they need to live.  You know a just society when everybody has what they need to live.  That’s justice.  Do justice.  Make sure everyone has what they need to live.  Do justice.  And that’s what we were about in that fire department.  You know, when that EMT, he didn’t have to come in and say a lot of words.  He didn’t have to say this is a really good person, a friend of mine, has lived a good and moral and upstanding life and has kids that depend upon him and has, through [indiscernible], quit smoking years ago.  You know?  None of this [indiscernible].  So we have to go and make sure that person has what they need to live.  No.  All he had to say, someone needs us to live.  Code.  That’s our code.  Someone needs us to live.  That’s done.  That’s it.  No more questions.  We are going to make sure they live.

 

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been on emergency services, but emergency service, you’ve got something called the “golden hour.”  You’ve got one hour between whenever you had a problem – the heart attack, car accident, whatever your problem is – you’ve got one hour from there to get into definitive care.  That means a hospital.  You’ve got one hour.  After an hour, your chances of recovery and survival go way down.

 

So in Ottawa, Ohio, God bless us, we had one hour.  But there’s a thing.  The hospital’s a half hour away.  So we’ve got a half hour.  Everybody else got an hour.  We got a half hour.  But we’re okay with that, really.  So we are – whatever it takes.  Because, you know, they could die without the fire department.  And we’re sad like normal people.  Oh, that’s sad.  You know, I didn’t know.  It was sad.  They died.  That’s happened.  But you didn’t call us.  Or they could actually die after we got them to the hospital.  We’d like a couple hours, maybe a day or two.  That’d be okay.  We’re sad.  We’re still sad.  But we say, you know, we did what we could.

 

But you do not die during that hour, half hour that we have you.  Whatever it takes to live, you’re going to get it because that’s us.  Justice.  Whatever it takes for you to live, we’re here to make sure you’ve got it.  So I made a visit of one of my church members.  And I only come up here once every six months, so you’re going to get, like, three sermons.  So I only come up.  So I made a visit to one of my church members.  She was trapped inside of her car that got hit by a semi on the highway.  It was a rather unique pastoral call.  And she was trapped in there, and we were going to have to cut her car, cut her out.

 

So for some odd reason, they thought I should be in charge of this call because I was the most senior, the first one there.  I learned my lesson.  I made them trucks, buddy.  So they said, what are we going to do?  We’ve got to cut her out.  Got to cut her out.  It’s going to take 20 minutes to cut her out.  We’re there working on it.  And he said, “We’re going to have to call a copter.  We have to call it.  Call the copter.”  “You want me to call them?”  “Do it, call it.”

 

So they call it.  That’s a $7,000 decision, then.  And you really don’t have time to plan and say, you know – now.  You’ve got to decide now.  $7,000.  In comes the helicopter.  Only question is, what do you need to live?  You’re getting that.  And you know what?  I did not know she was a member of my church until she was on that helicopter.  And they turn to me, go, “Boy, that’s really strange.  We’ve got a member of your church.”  What?  Because my job, my sole job there, besides making very difficult decisions, was to hold the door so when they cut it off, it didn’t fall on the leg that wasn’t hurt.  We try not to make it worse when we save people.  And I was, like, totally focused on her leg.  I was, like, holding that door:  the leg, the leg, the leg, the leg.  I didn’t know who she was until off she went, and it was somebody else’s, and we got her there.

 

Extreme example, but all our questions was what does this person need to live?  What has to be done?  Do we have to call in a backhoe?  Do we have to wake up somebody?  Do we have to do that? 

 Let’s do that now, get it.  No one dies on our watch.  No one dies on our call.  Do justice.  What do you do?  What do you need to live?  You’re going to get it, no question, because we’re a just society.  We’re the fire department.  No one dies.  You get what you need to live. 

 

The second one is loving kindness.  And it always is translated different.  Sometimes it’s show mercy.  It’s all sorts of things because we don’t have a good word for “hesed” in our English language, because it is God’s love to people, and that’s just a lot of things to figure out.  What is God’s love to – it’s just overwhelming.  It is what is unmerited, undeserved, no reason you should expect it.  You get all the love you need.  And here you go.  Guess what.  It’s about the fire department floor.

 

You know, Bob called me Friday to preach, and I said, “I’m going to go talk about the fire department.  I like doing that.  I’m going to do – you called me Friday night, buddy.”  So we’re down there, and the fire department started out in most towns as an insurance company in that it was insurance, fire insurance.  And they were really good with the fire insurance.  You bought the insurance, and they took a little placard – and you can see these.  Carson has some in the museum.

 

They took a little placard – the Historical Society goes, oh, yeah.  You take a little placard and put it on your house saying, “Protected by Company No. 14 Insurance Company.”  And that means that, when you’re caught fire, you know, they come in, “Oh, yeah, that’s us.”  You know?  But if they come and say, “Oh, too bad for you.  Oh, wait a minute, your neighbor’s got it.  Well, you’re good, but I want to make sure they don’t burn down.”  And this would literally burn down, but the neighbors would get it.  And there are stories of people coming out, trying to pay up their premium as their house is burning.  Such capitalism.  You know, oh, my goodness, supply and demand.  Imagine what you could charge for a premium, while the house was burning, for fire insurance.  Oh, that was a lovely system.

 

But we rejected it.  We said, no, we’re going socialist.  We’re going socialist.  I’m sorry.  We’re going to love you all, no matter what you did, paid your premium or not.  Gosh darn it, we’re going to put out your fire.  You don’t deserve your fire put out, but we’re going to put it out anyway because that’s the kind of people we are:  loving kindness, undeserved love that takes care of you when you’re in trouble.  I need some loving now.  I need water.  My house is on fire.  I need help.  Well, you didn’t pay up, so no.  No.  That’s not the fire department.  That’s certainly not God.  And that’s certainly not the way God wants us to be.

 

Love kindness.  Put out the fire.  Don’t be asking if they deserve it, or if they paid their premium, or if they’re in our club, or if they’re here according to the rules that we put in this year or that year.  Don’t ask them the questions.  You see they need some love.  They need some help.  Love them anyway.  I’m going to take care of you.  Yeah.

 

The last one’s a two-parter, sneaks it in there.  Did you notice?  The walk and humbly.  Both of those things are tough.  I know about humbleness.  I don’t know if you know about this.  But I was the Grand Marshal of the Humble Parade three years running.  Humbleness is hard because humbleness, I think for me, is admitting to the possibility that in some universe maybe parallel to ours, I might be wrong.  It’s very difficult for me, very difficult.  Usually right about now – my wife’s not here, but usually my wife is shouting “hallelujah” right here.

But it’s the humbleness, and I think that, you know, I might be wrong about that.  I might not have all the answers.  I might not be able to stand up all by myself all the time perfectly well.  I just might need some help sometimes now and then.  Humble.  And part of that humbleness is walking with God.  You know, did you see that’s walking “with”?  It’s not walking ahead.  Do you have people in this church – I’m not looking at anybody, you know.  Do you have people in this church that get out in front of God?  You know, God is here and there.  You’re way over there saying, “C’mon, God, you’re supposed to be over here.  Hurry up, God.”

 

You know that saying, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread?”  I think that fear may be the actual kind of fear in the Bible, the kind of the holiness, awesomeness, respectful kind of fear of God.  So angels are saying, you know, I’m just going to wait on God with that; you know?  You go ahead and run up there, fool.  But I’m going to walk with God on this.

My son Robert – I can tell family stories, too.  So my son Robert is different than my daughter Rachel.  And they just – they had little meetings and decided, oh, I’ll be this way, you’ll be that.  Okay, I’ll do this.  I’ll like that; you’ll hate it.  Okay.  So Rachel would never hold your hand, from birth.  You know, usually little kids will hold your hand till they learn they’re not supposed to, and they go, “No, I’m going to walk by myself, I’m can do it all myself, I’m a big girl.”  You know.  Rachel was like that from birth, could not hold your hand.  Oh, that child.  So we have Robert.  Robert, reach out for holding your hand.  Even through grade school – is Carter still holding hands?

 

ATTENDEE:  He does sometimes.

 

Sometimes.  But my Robert went all through grade school.  And he didn’t hold your hand.  He wanted to touch your hand, just palm the palm, like this.  And he says, “I like it when I can touch your hand because I can feel your speed, and I can walk with you.”  If you’re in front of God or behind God, you’re not walking with God.  You’re not feeling.  You’re not holding hands with God.

 

So you know we’re annoyed by those people that are way in front of God, going where even God doesn’t want to go yet.  But don’t be thinking that the people that are just back here standing where God has already left is any good.  You know, the people that say, “I am taking a stand for God.”  That’s almost never a good thing, you know, because it’s a walking thing.  It’s a walking thing.  You’re moving.  If you’re standing with God, you’re supposed to be walking with him.  The world’s not perfect yet.  I hate to tell you this.  Even in Lake Tahoe, which is pretty close to heaven.  Still not perfect.  God is still walking.

 

So if you’re taking a stand, God might be walking away from you.  Reach out your hand for God.  Be humble, saying, you know, God, I need a hand.  And that brings me on back to that scene in the cab of that poor prospective volunteer, on the floor of the cab, lots of noise, then he’s screaming, grown men trying to get dressed in a small area.  Not the most hospitable kind of place.  He’s yelling at me, “What do I do?  What do I do?”  And I looked at him, and I said, “Catch me when I fall.”  Because when you’re up on one leg, putting on your turnout, and there’s this humongous fire truck and a crazy man’s driving there as fast as he can because remember, no one dies after that alarm goes.  And he’s taking the corners just about up on two wheels.  Chances of falling over are pretty much close to 100 percent.  And sure enough, we’re whipping around a corner, and I’m on one leg, and I’m starting to go over, and I say, “Now.”  Two hands come up, push me back up straight.  And I say, “Good job.”  Humbleness, that someday we might fall, and we’re going to need someone to catch us when we’re going over.

 

Now, right about now you’re thinking, gee, Christy, those are great stories, and I love to stand here all day listening to you talk.  But what about those Beatitudes you just read, and you were talking about craziness?  Are we just going to leave them there?  No.  Because it turns out that when ministers have a hard time with the scriptures as presented, they go back to the original language and try to find another word.  Pro tip.  Always good.  So you look at it, and you say, well, what else does “blessed” mean, makarios?  What else could it be?  And you look, and you say, oh, here’s one.  Happy are those that mourn.  Happy are those that are persecuted.  Happy are those – that is not helping.  I know happy better than I know blessed, and that’s not happy.

 

But if you look a little bit closer, you can see it can also mean happy and blessed are in the aura in the region, and it’s like you’re going to be taken care of.  You’re going to be all right.  Things are going to be set right.  You’re going to be okay.  You’re going to be all right.

 

I sold computers also with a guy, Jeff Elliott, and he was a much better salesman than me, hit his quota every month.  And he would be constantly on the phone with people, and he’d say at least a dozen times on every phone call, “You’re okay.  You’re okay.  Yeah, yeah, you’re all right.  You’re all right, you’re okay.  You’re okay.  Yeah, yeah, you’re okay.  You’re okay, okay, okay.”  And I knew they weren’t.  I knew, no, we really screwed that up royal.  That’s not happening.  And, “Oh, yeah, okay.  You’re okay.  Yeah, we got it.  You’re all right.  You’re okay.  Yeah, okay, good, good.”  And he’d hang it up.  And then he would work to make it okay.  He would just be on fire to make that okay because he already told them a dozen times.

 

And I think that’s the Beatitudes saying, hey, it’s okay if you mourn.  It’s okay if you’re persecuted.  It’s going to be okay because we’ve got this community that I’m bringing together, that I’m working on, that I want you to be a part of, that’s going to catch you when you fall.  I’m working on this community that’s going to do justice, going to make sure that everybody has what they need to live.  I’m working on this community that’s going to be loving kindness, you know, like God, that’s just going to love you whether you deserve it or not and is going to be there when you need them because they love you.  Even though they don’t know you, they just love you, and they’re going to be walking with you humbly, and we know that we need, not only God, but we need each other because we’re all humble.  We’re not absolutely convinced we have all the answers, and we need each other to find out the truth.  It’s going to be okay.  It’s going to be okay.  It’s going to be okay.  

 

Friends, be okay.  Catch all the people when they fall.  Do justice.  Love kindness.  And walk humbly with God.  Amen.

 

Monday
Jul312017

Searching for Sunday

 

 

How to get alongside of the “nones” of religion and join them in humanity’s search for God.

Searching for Sunday
a sermon by Rev. J. Christy Ramsey
Click the title above for a mp3 recording 

Audio from Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Reno, Nevada in July 2017, edited from a flawless transcription made by edigitaltranscriptions all errors are mine. 

Acts 17:22-31

Sermons also available free on iTunes

 

Corn. So much corn. You cannot imagine how much corn there is in Indiana. You think you can? There’s more. There is so much corn there. I’m talking corn that grows up 10 feet tall. This is before GPSes. You’d need a periscope to try to drive because you cannot see anything but corn. And they think that’s normal in Indiana. I brought two children into the world. Well, I didn’t. I stood around and watched my poor wife scream, curse at me when she brought the kids in the world in Indiana. But they came into corn country. I’m telling you, there was corn squash. There was corn chowder. There was corn soup. Oh, yeah. There was corn casserole. Corn, corn, corn. In fact, in a small town you did not have to worry about locking your car doors anytime except August because, if you did not lock your car doors and roll up your windows, you would come back, and your back seat would be full of corn. It’s everywhere. And then once it was harvest, those little husks, the little husks which we call the “tumbleweeds of the Midwest,” they just blow everywhere. There’ll be corn husks there. You’d sweep it off your porch. Oh, corn, corn, corn.

Well, things came to a head, and we moved to Ottawa. A little less corn. Still a lot there. Lot of corn. And then I got the call. I got the call from my college roommate saying, “Let me pay you twice as much to work half as hard and get every weekend off.” And I said, “Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord. I hear you, Lord.” I’m going to Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where there’s no corn. Very little corn. Lot of coal, not much corn. So I took those poor, poor children from the small town rural environment with all they knew, all they grew up, and I brought them to the semi big city of Greensburg. And, yes, they had a bus service. I’m telling you, metropolis.

And I thought they were doing okay. Little bumps and bruises along the way, you know, because now they’re in the big city. We went there right at the beginning of school. And I thought they’re being all right. I think they’ll be okay. I think I was kind of excited. And my daughter Rachel, God bless my daughter Rachel, she says what she thinks very loudly. I don’t know where she gets it. Her mom is the most demure and quiet person you would want to meet. It’s a mystery.

Well, on one of these occasions when she said what she thought, because everybody needs to know it right now and at full volume, it happened with this. Richard? This happened. I don’t know if you can see it. But come autumn, she looked at the neighbors, and they had corn husks on their porch, tied up as decorations. She was freaked out on this. She asked them, “Why do you put trash on your porch?” And then they told her that, well, “We bought it for decoration.” She goes, “You paid for this?” She was totally freaked that there was husks on the porch. Trash, trash on your porch, and you think it’s pretty. What is wrong with these people? What has my dad done to me to bring me here?

What do you do? What do you do when someone values trash? What do you do when someone posts on your Facebook page, with a big thumbs up, trash? What do you do when you go to Thanksgiving dinner with a Trump supporter? What do you do when you go to that with a lover of Hillary? What do you do? Richard. You’ve got some choices. You can laugh, either out loud or the eye roll, very popular with the young people. You can laugh out loud at them. They don’t know what they’re doing. They know nothing. Ha ha, so funny, trash on the porch, and they pay for it, ha ha ha. Oh. Or you can yell. You can yell, either right at your screen or at them. You can yell and be angry and call them names. You big snowflake. You racist. You, oh. You are just whatever.

You can yell. You could leave. You can leave. I’m in groups, and I call up people, and I say, “Hey, we haven’t seen you.” You know, support groups where people get help, real help. And they said, “I can’t come anymore because, you know, I thought I knew her, and she voted for – how could she do that? I can’t come back.” “I’ll never go to Thanksgiving dinner as long as Uncle Art’s there. I just can’t stand his diatribes.”  You can leave. You can yell. You can laugh. Those are all options. 

This guy’s the problem. Public Enemy No. 1, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. Maybe our next President, the way things are going, who knows. He’s out there running for office. He doesn’t say that, but he is. But he has come to this great discovery. Have you seen it? Did you see it? Do you read the craziness that I read on Facebook and Twitter that talked about how Facebook wants to be the church? Did you see that? He didn’t say that; but, you know, that gets you clicking on the old Facebook things, which is, again, back to him.

But he had what he called the First Annual Community Facebook Summit. He’s trying to make Facebook into a big community. He says that he’s a little disappointed. He likes meaningful communities. He had a big summit. He wants everybody joined up in community. In fact, he changed the whole mission statement of Facebook, give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. That is Facebook’s mission: Bring the world closer together. And he points out – and he did this on the month that they got – how many people log into Facebook on a month? Not here, but throughout the world. How many people do you think? Go ahead, you can sing out. This isn’t a Presbyterian church….

What? Five million? That’s a lot. A billion? They’ve passed two billion. Two billion people a month. That’s not just people, you know, just had an account last year or something like that, or signed in to look at baby pictures. Two billion people a month sign into Facebook. And Mark is upset because only one out of 20 is involved in a meaningful community. One out of 20. That’s still 100 million people. That’s still a lot of people, Mark. And so he’s about trying to build community. And he takes a look at the church as a way to go about building community.

He says a church does four things. And this is Mark, not me, so don’t be grading on a curve because this isn’t the seminary answers. Four things, not the great signs of the church, we Presbyterians that are slumming it here at the Lutherans: inspire, motivate, give safety, and support. Inspire, motivate, help each other in times of crisis, and support each other in just the regular times. That’s what he’s trying to do.

I think that’s pretty good. Inspire. Give them something, there’s something better out there, something better you can do. You can be better. You can do better. Motivate. Come on. Let’s do it. We’re all getting together this Sunday. We’re going to go do this. Let’s go. Come on, you know you want to. And then safety. In times of crisis, how many times have you reached out to a church person, and they were there? I hope at least once or twice. I hope you didn’t have that many crises. You know? I hope so. And support in other times.

I remember when we moved to that Greensburg place it was so strange because, all the time in my adult life, when I moved to a new community, I was like, put right in a slot. You know? I had friends. I had a social life. I had connections. I had people telling me – I had, at one church, I had a hair appointment. I swear that he goes, “Well, I told her you were coming in to get your haircut because the pastor always goes to this one.” So it was easy. It was kind of creepy, but it was easy. And then I went to Greensburg, and no one – I couldn’t even get the water company to return my call, you know.

And my son – my son, great guy, great guy. He barely talks. Don’t know why. Me and Rachel, and then him coming along, there wasn’t any oxygen left. He got in a horrendous bicycle accident, horrendous. It seems that in Pennsylvania they have something that they don’t have in Indiana. It’s called, uh, hills, that’s it. And he discovered hills on his bicycle and had a terrible breakup. Oh, it was pretty – it’s a whole ‘nother sermon. We won’t go there. Come at 1:00. I’m going to guest preach, too. I’m just double hitting it today.

But I got in the helicopter with him, say, “I’m going.” He’s in the helicopter; I’m going with him. So I got the helicopter ride. And my poor wife – to Pittsburgh, which was 30 miles away. Because from the fire department, somebody goes on the helicopter, they usually don’t come back. And I was, like, freaking major and trying not to let my wife see it. And my wife, I just left her. And she goes, “I don’t know how to get to Pittsburgh. I don’t know where the hospital is. What am I going to do?” So she called our pastor, who found a church member to say, “I’ll take you. You just follow me. I’ll get you there.”

Support in times of crisis. Help in crisis. That was huge help. We support each other, too, don’t we? We support – I tell the kids, when they’re doing things, they want to do a presentation, they’re all nervous and some, and they want to talk about their mission trip or Sunday school, their project or whatever. They’ve got Girl Scout cookies. Whatever project it is, you’ll never find a more supportive community. Don’t worry about it. Get out there and just do your best, they’ll love you. Because that’s what we do. We support each other, even when we are not in crisis. This guy caught it, Zuckerberg. We don’t know if he’s a big church person. Don’t think so.

What does Paul do? What does Paul do when he goes to this place? Richard, got it? What does Paul do? I’ll get to that in a minute. Don’t freak. What does Paul do when he goes to this place that is very strange? This is like God Central. Every god that was any god would have – it was like, you know, a Walmart has that place, everybody goes to Walmart. You’ve got to be at Walmart. If you’re going to be anybody, you’ve got to go to Bentonville, Arkansas and have a little office there and be a – it’s like Athens in God times. Any god is going to be at Athens, going to be hanging out there.

And there he is. It’s like gods everywhere. Everywhere you look, there’s a statue, a shrine, a temple, something to gods all over, from all over the place. I’m telling you, what is it like? It would be like Paul was a community organizer in Trump Tower. With a press badge. Okay? It’s like that. That is how out of place Paul is there. The good Jew who’s now a Christian. And it’s a crazy hard place to be. What does he do?

Now, he could go around and say, “You paid money for this trash? We throw away this stuff where I’m from.” No. He connected with them. He says, you know, “I went around your city, looked at your stuff.” How respectful. “I see you are a religious people.” Isn’t that great? Great opening. “I see you’re a religious person.” We’re together on that.

And I even read some things. I read an unknown god. Can you sound that out, you Greek speakers in the congregation out there? Maybe we got one, I don’t know. Ag-nos-tic.

That’s agnostic god. Agnostic god, unknown god. Ever hear of the Agnostics? Ever heard of them? Don’t know? Maybe god. Maybe not. Don’t know. Spiritual, not religious. You know, spiritual not religious, that’s like saying I like water, but I can’t stand the plumbing. It’s kind of helpful to have the plumbing with the water, but okay. Go ahead, Richard, go on. There. You’d better know about the Agnostics.

Now, you look at religion in America, and I want to tell you right now, I’d like to declare an update on the war on Christmas. Failure, big failure. Not doing well at all. Because as we know, Christmas has surrounded Thanksgiving. It’s about ready to give up. And it’s on the march toward Halloween; you know. Christmas is winning; all right? We’ve got 71 percent; Nevadans, 66. Come on. Seventy-one percent Christian. Now, 6 percent is the other faith. You know, you go on – I don’t know if anybody’s hair’s on fire about all the Muslims everywhere, and the Hindus, and the Buddhists and the – oh, terrible. That’s 6 percent.

If you want to get your hair on fire, 23 percent, I think it’s up to like 27 percent in Nevada, are “nones.” Here’s where our hair should be on fire. Twenty-three percent have that unknown god in their front yard. Richard, go ahead and go on next. And you say, oh, what’s the big deal? We’re winning, 71 percent. Winning. And you look up here, and this is another chart. Oh, when Pastor Christy came he had charts, diagrams, all sorts of wonderful things. Greek. I tell you, Scott, he really did his homework because he only preaches once a year.

Anyhow, look up here. All Christians down. Going to the right is bad. I don’t know if I’m swiping right or left, but going to the right is bad. We’re going down 7.8 percent over the last seven years, 2007—2014. We’re down 7.8, all Christians. All Christians. All Christians. But look. Look at our friends. Well, you got all non-Christians, 1.2. Oh, hair on fire. But anyhow, look at all unaffiliated. That’s the nones. That’s the unknown. That’s the agnostics. Unaffiliated, nothing in particular, number one choice. They’ve grown 6.7. So the 6.7, 1.2, adds up to about seven.

We’re losing ground. And we’re losing it, not to the Muslims. We’re losing it to the nones. We’re losing it to the people that Paul met in Athens. We’re losing it to the agnostics, to the unknown gods. So we should figure out how we are going to talk to the nones, to the unknowns. And Paul’s speech before the assembly of the nones – and, oh, and, yes – should give us some examples. Go ahead, Rich. We’re going to be hanging on this for a while.

What does he do? What does he do, the community organizer with the press pass in Trump Tower? He tells them that he studied what was important to them. Have we done that? Have we gone around, living their life – I used to think the malls were the new temples, but those have kind of fallen apart. I’ve got to really think that the hospitals are our new temples, you know, and the doctors are the high priests and, you know, ooh, do-do-do, doctor tell me he fix me up, you know. And have you seen the new hospitals? They’re awful nice. You know?

But have you seen the idols? Have you seen what people worship? Have you seen where they put their face? To an unknown god. I’ve seen you’re very devoted – to your phone. I’ve seen you’re very religious – about keeping your phone online and charged up. Can we do that? Can we say something to him about what’s good about the nones? What we have in common?

And look how Paul goes on. Paul says, you know, we’re all here groping for God. It’s right there. Groping. Searching. Searching for Sunday. Something spiritual. Something more to motivate us, to inspire us, something that binds us together because we want to help someone. We’re usually good. Humanity is pretty good about helping, and we have to give a chance if we have something in common. He says, “We’re all in this together.” He doesn’t say, “Your stuff’s trash, my stuff is beautiful.” He says, you know, we’re all in this together. We’re all looking for God.

There was three qualifications to be a god in Athens, three qualifications. One, God had to have a house, a shrine, a temple, something where they can hang out. I tell you, I don’t know what was going on in the Mideast, but there was a housing shortage for God. You couldn’t get anywhere without houses of the holy. They were always building them everywhere. And if you remember, Abraham tried to build a house for God. And even in the New Testament, good old Peter tried to make little houses for Abraham and the Transfiguration and for Jesus and for Isaiah, Elijah. Houses for the holy, number one. Number two, you had to have a prophet, an advocate, a speaker, someone that can tell you, introduce you to the god, a host, someone to tell you about that god. And, number three, you had to do something good for Athens. Oh, come on now. We’re not going to have you come into our town unless, you know, we get a little taste, a little something-something that you can benefit us from.

And that unknown god altar was probably someone that something good happened in the city, and they didn’t know who to credit. So they just put up the, oh, whatever god. See, what Paul does with that, Paul uses their own philosophers and poets, quotes their own things. We are all offspring of God. He quotes their sacred texts back to them and says we’re all in this together. We’re all looking for God. And your own poet says that we’re all God’s offspring. You see, God made us. We don’t make God. Whew. God made us. We don’t make God. Like Abraham. You know, Abraham says, “Let me make you a house, God.”

And God turns around and goes, “No, I’m going to make you a house. You’ve got this all wrong, Abraham. I don’t need you. You need me. You’ve got this all wrong, Abraham. You’re not going to make me a house to live in. I’m going to make you a house, a dynasty. I’m going to make you a family. I’m going to make you a tribe. I’m going to make you renowned throughout all the world. I make you. You don’t make me.”

Paul flips it. He says, “I’m not here telling you that there’s another God, another house. Come and see mine. Mine’s the best. Let me introduce you to my god. I’m here to say I’m with you. I’m a searcher. I’m a seeker. I’m a knower. But I know where to go.”

Evangelist named Klein says evangelism is simply one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread. So if we can get off of this us/them, they’re horrible; turn off that phone, get off my lawn, which is the new get off my lawn; if we can get away from that and say “I see you’re very devoted to your friends. You want to stay connected. Even when you’re with real-live people you want to stay connected with, to your friends in high school, to your friends in grade school and your college friends and your friends from your move and all these on your Facebook, and you want to text them and let them know about you. I see you’re very connected, and you’re very interested in other people. I can see that in you.”

Isn’t that so much better than saying, “Get off the phone and talk to the person in front of you?” I think Paul would have done the first. “I see that you’re very interested in the lives and hopes and challenges of others. That’s good. I’ve got a place that does that at least every week.” Can we do that? Can we be like Paul in that crazy place?

This is a dinner. And maybe you’re trying to figure out, well, how does that be? How does that work? How does that work? Well, you see that there’s chefs, and there’s guests. And the chefs are there, and the guests are there, and they’re working together. And I don’t know how many of you have thrown a dinner party. I have this barbecue, outside barbecue.

I was talking to someone last week, and she was talking about, oh, I’ve got all the church people, of all things, I’ve got all the church people coming up, and that pastor’s wife won’t tell me how many people are coming. I’m going crazy. I need information. I need how many coming. Do I have enough food? And now there’s a kids’ program. What am I going to do with the kids? I don’t know what to do with the kids. And I’ve got food and the chairs, and the house is not clean, and we’ve got this broken down…

It is crazy being a host and trying to take care of everybody. Where if you’re a guest, what do you do? You have to please – you have to RSVP. That’d be nice. You know, you can ask, “Will there be a gluten-free option?” You can ask that. I mean, that’s iffy. I don’t know. Why don’t you just bring it yourself? Why not? Bring something – gluten-free, vegetarian often, whatever you need. Bring that along. And then you’re done. You’re a guest. You’re there to see what’s going on and to enjoy the experience and to see what the host has planned for you and enjoy the company of others. Such a different head.

I think so much time in the church is wasted about us planning the dinner party and being the host, like we’re in charge. Presbyterians, we know we’re not in charge. We’ve got that whole predestination thing going. You can’t upset us because it’s all in God’s plan. You know what the Presbyterian said when he fell down the stairs? He said, “Oh, thank God that’s over.”

I mean, what are you going to do? You’re not in charge. Presbyterians, our absolutely fundamentally bedrock thing, convinced that we are totally unnecessary to God. And we will fight you to the death on that one, that God doesn’t need us at all. And that is a proper attitude to have when we’re doing church in that we’re not trying to tell other people how to work and how to act and where to sit. We’re not making the seating assignments. We don’t have the little place cards saying you go here; you go there; and you “um” supporters, you’re out here in the kitchen, and shut up, will you? That’s not us. We’re not the host. We’re a guest. We’re groping for God same as you. Same as you. And God doesn’t live in anything we make. God is not limited to the stuff that, in our imaginations, that we come up to. We’re all guests. Next one.

And this guy again. Christy, I hate when you yell like that because I can’t get any sleep in during the sermon. Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg wants everybody in the community. He wants half of Facebook in the community, and he’s got one out of 20. He wants to get one out of two. And he had this big summit because he’s figured out how to do it. And you’re going to be shocked. You’re going to be amazed. You’re going to be – you’re going to say, “What a revelation. The man’s a prophet.”

He has figured out – and this is a lot of metrics, a lot of deep data-type stuff. He’s figured out that people don’t join meaningful communities. People, oh, sure, they’ll join, come see the funny kitten pictures, you know, yeah, everybody joins that. But meaningful communities for support, meaningful communities for responsibility and accountability, people do not join them. They don’t volunteer to join. Mark Zuckerberg has found that people join meaningful communities when they’re invited by friends. Oh. Have we ever heard that in church before? It’s not “Build Facebook and they would come.” No. People come to a meaningful community when they’re invited by friends. And that was his whole thing. You guys have got to invite people in order to have a meaningful community. And you know what he says about Facebook is right what we’ve been saying in church. People don’t join meaningful communities unless they’re invited by a friend.

So guess what. You want more people in a meaningful community, and you want them to join you? You know, don’t tell them what to do. Tell them what you’ve done and say, I’m with you. I’m groping with God, too. I’ve found a community that helps me with that, helps me be a better me. I’ve found a community that will inspire me to be the best person that I can be. I’ve found a community that will motivate me, that will come up to me and tell me, here’s something you do. Here’s an opportunity for service. Here’s something we’re doing this Saturday. Can you come and help us feed? Can you come help us pack? Can you come and help us with this mission? Motivate us. I found a community that will help me when I need help. I found a community that supports me in prayers and in material support and in time. I found all this. Why don’t you come with me to this meaningful community? Go ahead, Richard, go to the last one.

All right. So your challenge, your homework is to see beauty where you used to see trash. Huh? Yeah? Try to appreciate when they bought the trash and put it in a bundle and put it on their porch intentionally. See the beauty where other people see trash, where you, you used to see trash. Where you used to be “us” and “them.” Find something common that you have. Find something you can get behind, that you can admire, that you can affirm. “I see you are very religious. I see you are very connected. I see.”

My daughter keeps up with her high school friends, her college friends, her friends from farm country. I don’t. I admire that. Can you do that, too? Because we’re all groping for God. We’re all searching for Sunday. We’re all guests at God’s banquet. God bless you in your search for Sunday. Go out and find someone to search with you. Amen.

Wednesday
Mar082017

Closing Prayer at Presbytery

 

God be with those serving on our behalf
For those working with refugees
For those bringing  help to substance abuses and those leaving abuse,
For those bringing relief to flooded communities.

Let us leave hear but stay together
blessed by food and your spirit
matching the service of others
with our efforts to do good better

Redeemed by Christ
in whose name we serve and pray.

Amen.

Saturday
Jan072017

An Amazing Tapestry

 

My grandmother was a teacher by profession, but the lessons she taught extended outside the classroom. My grandmother was my hero. It was through volunteering in her 1st grade classroom that I developed a love of teaching. It steered me to my career as a kindergarten/first grade teacher today.

When I was younger I remember everywhere I went with grandma it was “Oh Mrs. Ramsey!!! Do you remember me?!” Of course she did and she would chat with them about their life and ask about their family. She was like a celebrity. She was able to touch so many people’s lives.

She treated everyone with dignity and respect no matter their age or ability level. She cared about everyone she crossed paths with be it the dry cleaner, a student, a church member, or someone in her own family. Grandma truly cared about people and was a champion for those who needed extra help in life. Growing up with her, my hope was that I too could make such an impact.

As I have grown up, I have realized what a weight caring so many can be. The extra stress and time it takes and how this extra effort and love can go seemingly unappreciated. However, my Grandma made all that caring and support seem so effortless. She rarely complained and always kept a positive demeanor. I don’t know how she managed it all. I struggle to extend myself the way that she did on a daily basis. Sometimes I want to wall myself off and just pay attention to my own needs. But then I will miss out on the joy of getting to know and care for others. I, like many others in this room, know this joy because of my grandma.

The time I spent with her growing up help shape me into the person I am today. I had the pleasure of getting to spend the last week of her life with her. I did not know that was the case at the time, but I feel so blessed to have had that extra time with her. I am amazed at the lessons and gifts she was able to bestow on those around her, even at the end of her life. It is truly a testimony to her character. It serves to inspire me to work even harder to be the person who is there for other people.

I didn’t understand it all as it was happening, but upon reflection I see the amazing tapestry of lessons she weaved to create a beautiful Christmas together.

She showed me it is ok to ask for help when you need it. She always stayed at least one step ahead of her illness, making sure plans were in place so she could remain as active as possible.  After 32 years of witnessing and receiving her compassion and love, I was able to reflect that back to her and help her. The woman that showed me what a joy it is to help people allowed me to feel that joy as I helped her. It isn’t often that you are able to offer something to your hero. My grandma gave me this gift.

She made sure Robert, Catherine, and I were organized and had a plan to host Christmas in her house. Robert had been following grandma’s lists to prepare for Christmas even before our arrival. Grandma had the foresight to make sure everything was in place so we could be successful. Where other people would have been overcome with helplessness, my grandmother had the fortitude to continue on in the same manner she had always lived her life. Her tenacity was inspiring. She continued to do her hair, makeup, and put together outfits to her last day. She wanted to look good and have a good time with those around her.

Even as her health declined, she insisted on having Bill, Jan, Cindy, Brian, Jenn, Chris, Catherine and myself together for a Christmas dinner. She taught a lesson in gratitude when she said it was important to her that she could repay the kindness to Bill’s family for all the times they have hosted her. Though she could not come downstairs to join us for dinner, she knew that having us all come together would create a special memory that we would cherish. Grandma knew this was her final party and she wanted to be surrounded by people who knew and loved her and that she knew and loved.

As my grandmother, Robert, and I posed for a picture in our silly Christmas getup, she made me promise that when I look back on this Christmas I will remember this moment and all the fun we had creating this day. That I would forget how sick she was and not let that be mark on the memory.

Grandma of course we will remember the joy and love we shared on Christmas. Your compassion and consideration for your family was reflected in everything you did, down to your last breath. You even made sure to wait until all your boys could be home. You always loved your family coming together and being the destination. I will remember you always as the courageous, empathic, and nurturing woman I love and respect. Thank you for bestowing these gifts and lesson to me and to all those you have impacted in your life.

 

By Rachel Ramsey, granddaughter

 

 

Saturday
Jan072017

Get In The Picture

Mary Lu Ramsey  

July 12, 1937 – December 27, 2016

Who here is NOT in a Mary Lu photo? Not so fast. She had 5,000 on flickr and many more waiting to be photoshopped: lighting corrected, wrinkles ironed out, beards evened up, bodies smoothed, red-eyes removed, basically making us look to all as only someone who loves us dearly sees us.

What do you say to all this? Not just to the unstoppable love of God, that Tom read from Romans but to that obituary on the back of the bulletin? She wrote it. What a wonderful life.

  • Sister, student, spouse,
  • artist, activist, advocate,
  • teacher, tutor, tech,
  • professor, photographer, presbyter,
  • musician, moderator, mom

and grandmom. Grand indeed.

Like, Tom, I have a favorite version of Romans 8. I like the alternate translation found in a footnote of the New International Version for verse 28. And we know that in all things God works together with those who love him to bring about what is good. God is the subject not things in this translation, and there is a partnership with those who love him to make all things good. I commend to you this understanding rather than the fake good news that somehow bad begets good, pain produces progress, or sadness is the seed of joy all by themselves like God was an cosmic insurance adjuster reacting to evil by making us whole again after damage and injury, paying us back so we can go shopping for new and better goods.

Instead, this reading matches up with the rest of the reading of God’s action in the world and our lives. And, it points out that how those that love God back, join God in loving the world into the good, a vast angel wing conspiracy for bring good into the world.

Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was a Presbyterian Minister who was ordained for children’s ministry on television. He was asked about how parents and teachers can help children deal with the horrors natural and human made that beam out for our screens. He shared what his mother did for him. She told him to look for the helpers. For the firefighters, rescue workers, medics, ordinary people who turn from their own sorrow to ease the suffering of others. Don’t focus on the chaos and destruction,  Look for the helpers, look for the helpers.

Speaking of helpers, my brothers Tom and Tim are here. They stepped up when needed. As always; as our parents did and taught us to do. There is one brother not here in body, Ric. Ric had a challenging life. Struggling with learning disabilities that made parenting and teaching him a struggle. How to behave, how to learn, how to read, things that came easy to his parents, things his brothers did well for the most part, were to him mysteries difficult to grasp, and he was difficult.

Did you read that after Ric was born, Mom went on from college to get her Master in Education with reading specialization, started as a part-time tutor for children with learning disabilities, which lead to a career teaching children who struggled with school how to read and learn. At the end she passed on her knowledge to another generation of teachers so they can give the help she struggled to find for her son Ric. Along the way she was a lifelong advocate for children with learning disabilities, strongly supporting Akron Area Association for Children with Learning Disabilities throughout her life, other than family, they were the last group she hosted in her home late this year, the aging activists she called the group. Did you see what she said about her education and training helping children with learning disabilities “her best teachers were her children”. Ric mostly I imagine. Mom was subtle like that, unlike her son who she NAMED JOHN.

I’m not telling you that all sadness and difficulty can be overcome, swept away, made all better. You know better. In fact, on the day she said everything went wrong, Ric, overwhelmed with life stopped struggling in this life and left it. Yet even in that horror we see Mom’s hope and work for the good and the better. We see Mom at Compassionate Friends helping others get through the hell of losing a child, giving the help she needed to others. Joining in with them in that vast angel wing conspiracy working for good with God. Look for the helpers when everything goes wrong, for the last 79 years you would most likely see Mary Lu…helping.

In 1907 a pastor, William Watkinson, wrote “it is Better to light a candle than curse the darkness”. A candle? In this and many other dark areas of life, Mary Lu was fireworks.

About those thousands of photos. When she was limited in what she could do, when breath was a struggle, she still wanted to photoshop, when she could not get to her desktop computer these last days her concern was not so much being bed ridden but that her notebook didn’t have photoshop on it.

Sorry Mom. I didn’t understand about those photoshopped photos. At the last when she couldn’t do all the good in the world she wanted, she turned to bringing the good out of even the most evil of photographs. Teasing beauty out of blandness, illuminating darkness, smoothing the rough edges in faces and bodies left by life’s struggles. Doing in photos what she did in life. Working for good in all things. Making the world a better place for those around her. Being the helper good people looked for.

When we look with fondness at all Mary Lu gave for children, church, and community, we remember the great gift given by God in Jesus Christ, who left heaven and came to us to show us how to live and die for others, as a servant for others. Because of his great gift, Mary Lu and we have life eternal.

Even though we know God’s power and love make Mary Lu as real and present to God as she ever was to us in this life. We still hurt, we groan inside too deep for words at her absence from our human senses. I have no prayers to answer the questions or fill in the blanks left by Mary Lu’s passing, we have to rely on God’s spirit to bridge that gap between the twin realities our aching loss and God’s amazing grace. For I cannot take away the pain that you feel at Mary Lu’s passing. For love and grief are different sides of the same coin, they are joined in this life, the only way to not receive grief is to reject the gift of love. Even Jesus wept at the passing of his friend, Lazarus. When we lose someone we love we grieve. So to deliver you from the grief you feel I would have to eliminate the love that you have for Mary Lu. You wouldn’t want me to do that even if I could. But what I can tell you that Mary Lu is at rest, free from the weakness of disease, and she is at home with the Lord, breathing easy.

Don’t let the grief of her passing end the spirit of kindness and helpfulness that Mary Lu embodied. Instead hold on that kindness, and honor her and Christ by joining with God bringing good, being a part of that vast angel wing conspiracy when folks look for the helpers, may they see you in that picture.

 

Granddaughter Rachel Ramsey had her own message.