Think of things worthy of praise: Be an Encouraging Christian Christy argues the Light of the World is Green not Red.
Green Light Christians
a sermon by Rev. J. Christy Ramsey
Click the title above for a mp3 recording
Audio from South Lake Tahoe Community Presbyterian Church on April 17, 2016, edited from a flawless transcription made by edigitaltranscriptions all errors are mine.
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Why do we need green lights on the traffic signals? If they were important we would call them “go lights.” But we call them Stoplights.
If you take away the green light at the bottom, what difference does it make? I mean if there wasn’t a traffic light, you’d just go anyway; right? It’s like an automatic green. Why do we have those things? Oh, my goodness.
I think I need to turn to an outside expert, one that’s not so close to the situation, in fact an actual alien, to explain why we have traffic signals.
In the movie “Starman”, the Starman comes and learns about humanity, and he’s an alien, he’s driving along, and there’s a yellow light, and he just floors it, right through it. And his terrified passengers yells: “I thought you knew what you were doing. You told me you watched me. You told me you knew how to drive by watching.” The Starman responds, “Oh, I watched you. I learned everything: red light stop, green light go, yellow light go very fast.”
That’s not true, in case any of you are out there thinking, oh, that’s what the preacher said. No, yellow means stop, actually, especially if you’re ever in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and there’s a yellow light. You can get a ticket for not stopping. Friends have told me this. You’re supposed to stop at yellow.
What is the good of a green light, yellow light, red light? Red is stop; yellow is caution, warning, slow down, look out, maybe stop. You’re in the danger zone. Green means go, but we go anyway. You know, there’s people like that. Especially Christian people are like that, aren’t there? There are red light Christians; there are yellow light Christians; there are green light Christians.
And you know the red light Christians. I think H.L. Mencken was thinking about these red light Christians when he said that “Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone somewhere is happy.” Red light Christians. Now, we don’t have to go – we don’t have to go to current things, Christians who say stop, stop, stop. We can go back in time. Christians are always being stopped. Christians – those Puritans, they tried to stamp out Christmas. Tried not to let that happen. There was a fine if you didn’t go to work on December 25th, or if you were caught celebrating at all. In America, in New England, Christmas was banned as un-Christian, pagan, terrible, awful thing. Stop. Stop it.
Women wearing pants in church. I remember that. Oh, that was a huge, huge eternal hellfire issue. Jesus wore a dress but I don’t know if that had anything to do stopping the pants. Christians are always telling you, stop, stop, this has got to stop. I mean, now we’re at, I think we’re – I think the holiday that we’ve got our sights on is Halloween now. We’re trying to stomp that out. I’m not sure. Sooner or later we’re going to have a Halloween season in the church and in another couple of generations, and the church will be decorationed in orange and black four weeks before Halloween. And it’ll be okay.
Stop doesn’t always work. And I’m not sure that’s the best witness into what Jesus wants to us doing, to be stoplights. But if you listen to some people, they will tell you how you shouldn’t do this, shouldn’t do that. No dancing. No smoking. No gambling. Not in Nevada. Never hear that in Nevada. But no, no, stop, stop. You know, being just Red Light Christians doesn’t work.
I know a little about red lights. When I was a volunteer firefighter, we sort of had a love/hate relationship with the red lights. We’d love them for other people, but we weren’t too fond of them ourselves. You know, when you’re driving a couple-ton truck full of water, as the truck drivers reminded me constantly, water just doesn’t stop instantly. It keeps going even if the truck stops. So you just can’t slam on the brake, Christy. This isn’t a car. Oh, they got after me. I had a remedial fire engine driving I had to go to.
When I started at the fire station, and you know when you start a job, am I the only one, when you start something, you don’t ask every question right away? Do you say, well, I’ll ask about this today, and I’ll ask about that tomorrow, and then, you know, you sort of ration them out; you know? And after about a month I asked them a question had been bugging me since day one.
Right on the inside of the old fire station, about this high up, very inconvenient, there was this old-timey light switch, the flip kind on a metal box light switch, right there. But it was way up here. And it had this old yellow paper over it. And the paper, in black magic marker it was written, “Do not use.” Why is that switch up there? Why is there a paper over it saying “Do not use?” What in the world?
Well, after a while I got up courage and asked one of the old-timers. And I said, “Hey, what’s that switch up there? The one that has the paper over it saying ‘Do not use’?” He explained: “Oh, that switch. Huh. That turns all the lights in town red.” Maybe they ought to lock that up or something, but no. Oh? There’s more! He continues: “Yeah, we don’t use that anymore. We used to, and then they had that right-on-red law. And now it doesn’t stop traffic, so we don’t use it anymore.” Even turning every light in the town red doesn’t stop people. Red lights don’t always work, and even when they do, they don’t work for long.
Well, what about those yellow lights? You know that we’re – you know that we’re kind of, sort of, you know, saying no, but we’re saying we’re not going to be mean about the no? We’re going to be kind of nice about the no? How about the yellow? Yellow light Christians, how about them folks? You know those folks. You know, they’re, you know, what’s the biggest yellow light in our history and our life? Well, I think it’s the “don’t ask, don’t tell,” that one. That’s kind of a yellow light. It’s wrong, but just don’t talk about it. As long as you don’t talk about it, it’s okay, but not really, you know, it’s kind of the – that, that didn’t work real well. That did not work well. People were tortured, actually tortured so that they would tell and get kicked out of the army without benefits, without any status at all. Yellow Lights are ignored too often to really work.
And, you know, all the folks that say not yet, too soon, too much a hurry, we’ve got take this slow. You know, the oppressed people, the people that are suffering, the people that are under the thumb, they never say that. They never say, oh, it’s too soon. Yeah, I can wait another lifetime, another generation, another decade. The yellow lights, whoa, wait, wait, wait, don’t do that yet. It’s too much; you know? Doesn’t work for folks waiting to go into equality or yearning for relief.
What about the whole slippery slope thing, where they say, if we allow this, well, then, this will happen, and this will happen, this terrible thing would happen. You don’t want this terrible thing, do you? Well, then you’re against this reasonable request. Yeah, yeah.
You know the slippery slope now? You know what the one is now? They’re going to check your birth certificate before you go in the restroom. And you thought you were mad at TSA delays at the airport. You know, what about now? “Please allow an extra hour before going to the restroom so we can check your birth certificates. There’ll be a line.” Who has that job? Is that a big problem? They said, well, you know, it’s to keep the women safe.
Well, no women ever said that, I don’t think. Women are not safe anywhere. I’m sorry to break it to you. It’s not a bunch of assaults in a public restroom that’s a problem. Safety for women is everywhere. It’s even in their own homes. I am totally for safety of women. I am totally for safety of everyone. I don’t care what gender you are assigned, could be, was, will, whatever is your identity. I am for your safety, and that bathroom birth certificates are not safety for anyone. I say safety for everyone, everywhere, all the time, in all the rooms and outside not just in one little restroom for one gender. That’s ridiculous.
But that’s yellow lights; isn’t it? The slippery slope? This is, oh, if we allow this, then terrible things will happen, and women will be assaulted everywhere. Got news for you. Already happening. Let’s work on that problem and not on this little red herring yellow light thing here.
There was a religious professor in Grove City College, very conservative college. I went there. I get props for that. But he somehow slipped in. I think he might have been a sleeper agent for the liberals and any day he was going to be activated. But he was there, and he was talking about slippery slope. And he says, yeah, that’s why I’m against curbside trash pickup. I’m totally against that because once you allow them to take stuff off your property at the curb, next they’re going to be coming up to the yard and taking the bicycles and throwing them away. Next they’ll be up to the porch and taking the patio furniture and throwing it away. Next they’ll be coming in your house and wheeling out your appliances and putting them in the trash truck. You don’t want the government stealing your appliances, do you? Well, then you’re against curbside trash pickup. He’s no longer there, you know, that kind of stuff. Yellow lights do not put Christians in the best light.
But, you know, some of them are good. Red lights, red lights. Yellow lights, some of them are good. I’m okay with – I’m okay with some things. You know, stop the violence. Yeah, big red light on that. Stop, stop fighting. Stop hurting people. Stop discrimination. Stop a lot of things. I’ve got a big red light on those. And, you know, yellow lights are good, too. My wife, is a physical therapist. And most of her stuff I – she’s going to correct me later. But most of her stuff is get people up and walking. I mean, that’s a huge, huge change in your quality of life, if you can get out of bed and go places you need to go, even in the house. And she says, you know, fear of falling, that’s very handy. You really need that to learn how to walk and how to move around. You need the fear of falling. That’s a big yellow light. Whoo, watch out. That’s not safe. Grab onto a bar. Use your walker. Do whatever you need to do. Do not fall. Big yellow lights. I’m good with yellow lights. Some of the yellow lights.
But back to why do we have green lights? You know, I was worried about this. This was bothering me. And again, Bette Lynn gave me the answer. She goes, “Well, if you didn’t have the green light, you wouldn’t know if the traffic light was broken or not.” Well, you know what you do at a broken traffic light. Let’s see how well – what do you do if the traffic light’s broken, like a power outage?
PASTOR RAMSEY: Four-way stop, thank you. No, it’s not go as fast as you can and beat the other people, as some people think. It’s a four-way stop. So if we didn’t have the green lights, everything would be a four-way stop because you wouldn’t know, is that working or not? Is the other people seeing red or not? I don’t know. But a green light, a green light says, I got you. It’s okay. I’m on it. I’m on the job. I got you. I got the others on red. Come right on in there. Yeah, you’re good. Encouraging. If there’s anything worthy of praise, if there’s anything good, think about these things: big green light. It is not necessary. You should go on your own. But, boy, does it help to go when you have a green light smiling at you.
If you don’t see a green light, you just might stop because you don’t know if it’s okay to go or not. You might think that traffic light is broken. And you know, the same is about Christianity. If all the people hear are red lights and yellow lights about stop, don’t do this, don’t do that, oh, this is a sin, oh, this is awful, oh, this is going to hell, oh, the culture is terrible; or yellow lights, oh, we’d better not, we’ve got to watch out, these people are coming, things are going to happen, things going terrible, but we’ve got to watch out, we’ve got to protect ourselves, we’ve got to preserve ourselves, yellow, they’re going to think Christianity’s broken. Because they never see a green light from us.
Yet we do have green lights. We just don’t tell anybody. We’re full of green lights: baptism, big green light; weddings, marriages, big green light; go and coming. And then funerals, even funerals, green lights. It’s not that bad. It’s not over. It’s not a stop for us. The message of funerals should be a big green light, that death is not a stop. And even the littler celebrations. Not just hatch, match, and dispatch, which is the ones we’re good at, but also all the little events, the membership and confirmation class where we say yes, to seekers joining Christ’s church; we signal that we believe in you, we accept your promises. Commissioning to missionary work and mission trips. Ordination and installation of officers, yes. Go, go and lead. Do that thing. Choir recruitment, yeah, you can come up and sing. We’re all for you, yeah. Big green light. You’re supposed to sing. You’re supposed to lead. Go. Do it. Encouragement.
We do that, but we don’t tell anybody. We think the most important things are the red and the yellow lights, the cautions and the don’ts and the stops. Where I will tell you, and as our scripture says in Psalm 23, the most important things are saying I am with you. I go with you to the darkest valley, the most enemies. I have a table for you. I’ve got a place for you. Don’t worry. Green light. I got you. Come on.
You know, we do not call Jesus Christ is God Stop Us. A Divine Red Light. We do not say that Jesus Christ is God Warn Us. A Holy Yellow light. What do we say? We say Emmanuel, God With Us. God Go With Us. Green light. That is our identity. We’re here so that you can be blessed to be a blessing. We’re here so that you can be forgiven to forgive. We’re here that you can go through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil. God’s got you. Big green light.
Two more stories. So back to the firefighters. You never see anybody more serious about something than a dedicated volunteer. I mean, an employee can be dedicated. But a volunteer has to be really dedicated because they’re volunteering, so they’d better have a good reason to be there. Everyone has to take a test in Ohio to be a volunteer firefighter. I accidentally became a volunteer firefighter and had to take the test. Look at this body. Not the fabulous fit specimen of the firefighting caste.
They said, “Okay, okay, okay, Rev, come on. We’ve got to take this test.” It’s called the Firefighter Agility Test. What they want to know is that you’re not going to screw them up on a fire run. That’s what they want to know. So you’ve got to climb up a ladder – and climb down – without freaking out. You’ve got to be able to be blindfolded and crawl around in a maze without freaking out. You’ve got to be able to pick up this huge big dummy and carry him out over your shoulder, without falling down and having to be rescued yourself. These are things they want to know before you can do before they go through fire with you.
And so John Love, one of my great mentors, was reading off the official Ohio regulations for these tests, da da da da da da da. Very serious guy. Da da da da da. He’s a funeral director. They lean toward serious. Da da da da da. He’s reading them all out. And at the very end he says: “And in all these tests, we are not allowed to physically assist you. But we are allowed to cheer.” And what? He said “cheer” in his serious funeral director/firefighter captain voice.
And that’s what they did. They weren’t allowed to help me, but they were allowed to cheer. “C’mon, Preacher, you can do it, you can get up there. Oh, you’ve got this, you’ve got this. Only a little more, Go Rev Go!” They were there all the way through. Got me through it. We aren’t allowed to help you, but we’re allowed to cheer.
Another guy, big mentor in my life, Jerry Gordon, great, great Christian, great, wonderful guy. He and I split up the Salvation Army for the county, doing that together, great guy, helped each other out. He was the one that was the mentor for my daughter in confirmation, helped her and led her through making a public decision for Christ. A real special bond. Great guy. And he wanted our small church to do Relay for Life. And when they do Relay for Life in small towns, really, it is a serious business. None of this 12-hour jazz. It was all weekend, buddy. And everybody’s going to be out, every team is going to have someone on that track all night long, buddy. We’re going to do it right.
So I thought, yeah, he’s a little ambitious, you know. So I said, “Hey, Jerry, Jerry, I’m with you. Jerry, put me down for an hour on the track, your worst hour. Whatever you can’t get, put me down, I’ll be there for you, buddy.” He goes, “Really?” Because, again, you know my physique is an issue for endurance tests. And I said, “Yeah, really, really. I want to do this. You’re going to have trouble. I know you’re going to have trouble with this getting enough people in the night, and whatever hour you need, I’ll be there, I’ll do an hour. I can do an hour.” And he, “All right, all right. You sure?” “Yeah, I’m sure.”
I got, like, 3:00 a.m., buddy, 3:00 to 4:00 a.m., walking around the high school track, 3:00 to 4:00 a.m., walking around doing this, you know. Da da da da da, da. Oh, it is dark, dark, dark. And I’m tired. So I get out there, and Jerry’s there. I go out there, lap one. Out from behind the scoreboard, Jerry Gordon, “Go Christy, go Christy, go Christy, yay, yay, go Christy.” I jump a little and smile, Okay. I’m kind of sleepy, walking around.
Next lap, behind the food stand, out pops Jerry “Good job, go, way to go, way to run. Yeah, you’re the man, you’re the man.” Every lap he’s jumping out from somewhere different and yelling at me. One time he came out of the Porta-Potty. I am still kind of freaked out about that. You know, Jerry could have slept. He could have taken the hour off. He could have done that, I would have gone around the track anyway. He wasn’t allowed to help, but he was allowed to cheer and that kept me from stopping.
I hope you do that. I hope there’s people in your life like Jerry Gordon and John Love that, even if they can’t help you, and I hope they help you, but I hope they’re always cheering you on, saying, “Way to go. Good job. You’re doing well.” You guys are doing well as a people and as a congregation. And I hope people keep telling you that all the time. I hope they don’t say, “Oh, haven’t you got a minister yet? Well, tsk, tsk, tsk.”
You know, I hope that people are saying you are doing great with mission trips. You’re doing great with worship. You’re doing great with Bread & Broth. You’re doing great with all these programs that you keep going without a minister. You are doing great with welcoming and worship and music and outreach, doing all – so you’re doing a seminar the end of this month and opening it up to the community. Something that even Presbytery take notice of, and that’s not easy to do, to get Presbytery to take notice of you in a good way. Yeah, they’re even sending money down to you for that. So good on you.
And I want to encourage you. And I want you, when you think of things, when you think of how the church is going, when you think about how your life is going, I want you to think about the scripture. Is there anything, anything, anything worthy of praise? Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure. Anything worthy of praise. All the good things.
Think about these things. Be green light Christians. Know that you can go and tell other people they can go so they don’t think the church is broken. So they don’t stop everywhere, saying, well, I don’t know, is it good or not? I don’t know. It could be red or yellow, I don’t know. But you say green, yeah, you’re welcome here. Yeah, you belong here. Yeah, we’re glad you’re here. Yeah, you’re okay. Yes, we love you just the way you are. And yes, use any bathroom you want. Not a problem here.
I want to leave you with a Presbyterian minister from Latrobe – Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Fred Rogers did his ministry in Pittsburgh, as Mister Rogers in “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,”. I was blessed to be in his home church as interim for 18 months. Got to meet the neighborhood. You know, all the characters in the neighborhood were from his family, his extended family. And Daniel the Tiger used to come up and talk to me about the sermon. And it was so neat because they kind of look like the puppets. It was so neat. And so many good stories about Fred Rogers, how wonderful and caring and loving he was.
I want to leave you with this video. Go ahead and do what Mr. Rogers tells you, for 10 seconds and the rest of your life. And that’ll be the end of the sermon.
Edited from a transcript by eDigitalTranscriptions
[Fred Rogers Acceptance Speech for Lifetime Achievement Award– 1997]
Thank you. Thank you. Oh it’s a beautiful night in this neighborhood. So many people have helped me to come here to this night. Some of you are here, some are far away and some are even in Heaven. All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, 10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are, those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life. 10 seconds of silence. I’ll watch the time.
[10 Sec Pause]
[Mister Rogers] Source: LYBIO.net
Whomever you’ve been thinking about, how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they’ve made. You know they’re kind of people television does well to offer our world. Special thanks to my family and friends, and to my co-workers in Public Broadcasting, Family Communications, and this Academy for encouraging me, allowing me, all these years to be your neighbor. May God be with you. Thank you very much.
“speech transcript from lybio.net .”
Transcipt differs from the recording with some exclaimations removed and some patter while I checked my notes edited out.
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