Sermon for Oct 31, 2010
Fr. Philip Eberhart
A COVENANT GOD - A COVENANT PEOPLE
This morning, the eve of All Saints, tomorrow November 1st, is our celebration of “Covenant Sunday.” Covenant is a very big topic for a single sermon or a single day. Covenant is what God has been doing ever since the Fall. When Adam and Eve didn’t ‘get it’ God began to devise a plan to recreate, to restore, to redeem and reconcile the whole of His creation to Himself. That plan was put in place the day that Adam and Eve were sent from the garden. Everything in the God Story – His—Story—points to the truth of God’s plan and design to reconcile and restore… US… to himself.
Friday evening and yesterday we heard, at a leadership retreat in Castle Rock, this plan of God’s taught as a model for our movement into the flow of God’s action through the ministry He calls us to. Our presenter, Tom McGee, outlines three movements in the action of God in History: Creation - Covenant - Co-Mission. Covenant is the centerpiece of the plan of God – a plan to restore the whole creation by redeeming a people unto Himself through the reconciliation accomplished in Christ, and calling us to join Him in Co-Mission as His ambassadors.
Covenant is what God has been up to all this time!
From Adam to Noah, to Abraham and Moses, through David and down to Jesus, who is God Incarnate, becoming the Covenant sacrifice – The Way, The Truth and the Life! And through Jesus, we get in on the act now, at the end of the show. Its like a long play on stage, that in the last scene invites all of those in the audience up on stage to take a part! We are in the last few moments of the play, friends. And God has invited us onto the stage to play our part!
Covenant is the centerpiece of God’s action in the world and Christ is the centerpiece of God’s Covenant with us and with the world. The last line of our Gospel reading this morning is the CRUX of the matter – The “Cross” hairs: In reference to the salvation of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, the most despised figures in all of Israel at the time of Jesus, he said: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Here we see all the elements of what we are saying today. Salvation came to Zacchaeus through his faith in Jesus, as a son of Abraham (the covenant people). Jesus also said to Zacchaeus and to all of us, “as the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” We are invited up onto the stage to take our part in the action of redemption as ambassadors of reconciliation – joining God in His mission – a co-Mission with Him.
So what has Covenant looked like through the ages as the play has been acted out through His-story?
First: Covenant looks like God choosing a person – a people. Adam, Noah, Moses, Abraham; all were chosen by God. God is the initiator of Covenant, not us. God is the principle actor on the stage! Covenant is God committing to His creation and His people, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” We understand covenant is unbreakable, at least so it is from God’s perspective. It is a Covenant of Unfailing Love -- Hesed in the Hebrew language. The words we heard last week arise out of this kind of unfailing love for His people: “Fear Not, I have redeemed you. I know you by name and you are mine!”
Second: Covenant looks like being set apart. “You will be my people, and I will be your God” are the words with which we are invited into this special relationship with the Living God! What a promise! And these words ring through the whole of scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, over 200 times the words My People occur. This set apart relationship is with a people – together. Peter put is well when he described us as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.”
Third: Covenant looks like a call to be more than we are. “Be all you can be” is the US Army’s recruiting slogan. God’s is “Be more than you can be!” The list is long and distinguished of those who were called to be more than they could be, in fact, almost all of the players on stage throughout the whole of the play are such!! The cast is made up of harlots and rebels, of cowards and thieves – and that is just in the human lineage of Jesus! Friends, we fit in easily with this cast of characters in the bible, from the patriarchs down to the disciples of Jesus, the human story – the human side of this equation – is one of falling completely short of the standard and being made MORE by God’s amazing grace. Think of Abraham, who passed off his wife as his sister because of cowardice, not once but twice; think of Gideon, the no account son of a no account tribesman, by his own accounting “the least of the least of the least”; think of Jonah, who ran from God’s call to preach in Ninevah, cause he hated the Ninevites! God has to send very special circumstances to get his attention, he finally obeyed and then when successful, he pouted in the desert! Think of Zacchaeus, or Peter, the holder of the Keys to the Kingdom, hailed in one breath by Jesus and called a “satan” in the next.
Friends, thankfully, the Covenant does not depend on us! Hallelujah!! Hallelujah!!
But nevertheless, God invites us into Covenant with Himself. Just as Jesus invited Zacchaeus out of his tree-top perch, and entered his house and broke bread with him, he invites us to come down, to invite Him in and to sup together at table.
And how did Zacchaeus respond? Immediately and willingly! This tax-collector and sinner, despised by his neighbors and countrymen, came down in one jump and welcomed Jesus into his home. He responded with generosity toward Jesus, with repentance towards those he had wronged, and with 4-fold restoration where he had injured others by his greed. “Salvation” took up a dwelling in his house!
And let me note here that, as was His custom, Jesus didn’t let the fact that Zach was hated slow him down as He went in. There were no special conditions, apart from his own acceptance of Jesus’ request to dine with him, for Jesus to come into his house. Jesus didn’t “lay down the law” to Zacchaeus! And there are no special conditions for Jesus to come into your house, but for you to accept his invitation! As John later reminded us in Rev. 3: I stand at your door and knock!
Each of us has a door only we can open.
Is Jesus on the inside of the house of your heart? Or on the outside, still knocking?
Just a simple question.
But I think its important to also note that that letter in John’s Revelation was written to a whole church – perhaps The Whole Church, with the voice of Jesus speaking outside our door: “Behold I stand at the door and knock! If you hear my voice, Church, and allow me entry, I will come in and sup with you.” “You will be My People, and I will be Your God!”
Those words echo throughout The Word. And by them we are called by God, through His Son, Jesus Christ, to be a special, separated people, identified with Him and with His purpose of reconciliation and redemption and restoration and renewal in the world. Until that Day when Jesus returns and the whole of creation will be made new again.
Listen from the Message to Paul’s assessment of our call, our Co-Mission:
14-15 Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.
16-20 Because of this decision we don't evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don't look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We're Christ's representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God's work of making things right between them. We're speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he's already a friend with you.
21 How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God. (2 Cor 5: 14-21)
And how important is our role in this equation now? How important is our role on the stage at the end of the play. Let me read on in 2 Cor 6 for just a few more verses:
This is entitled: Staying at our Post!
1-10 Companions as we are in this work with you, we beg you, please don't squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us. God reminds us, I heard your call in the nick of time;
The day you needed me, I was there to help. Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped. Don't put it off; don't frustrate God's work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we're doing. Our work as God's servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we're beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we're telling the truth, and when God's showing his power; when we're doing our best setting things right; when we're praised, and when we're blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.
11-13 Dear, dear Corinthians, I can't tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn't fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren't small, but you're living them in a small way. I'm speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!
God has extended the invitation to you: “Come down and let me come to your house today” - Let me, the God of the Universe, set with you at your table and eat. Will you invite Me in as Zacchaeus did? Will you offer me the hospitality of your table as I have offered you the hospitality of Mine?
If so come. During the prayers come. Not in a rush but deliberately, as we pray for the world and one another. Come.
I’ll be standing here to give a blessing as you present yourselves, your souls and bodies to God. Everyone pray with your eyes wide open this morning. Pray for those who are coming forward to respond to Jesus call to Covenant. Jesus’ call to Stand. Jesus call to Be His Ambassador. To be His People, Together, here at REZ.
Let us Pray.