Sunday, January 29, 2012

Speaking for God - Epiphany IV 2012

Epiphany IV
January 29, 2012
Philip D. Eberhart

Speaking for God

Last week I made the appeal for us to keep the main thing, the main thing in this season of difficulty and transition that we are in in the Anglican Mission. This morning’s readings highlight the place from which we speak, as Christians in both the Church and in the world, to those around us.

Knowledge vs. Wisdom

The readings this morning have to be taken as a whole set. And the theme that is developed through them is the vast difference between “speaking YOUR mind and speaking the LORD’S MIND!”

In Deuteronomy 18 we see a promise and a warning from the history of Israel:
The Promise: I will raise up for them a prophet like you (Moses)… who shall speak to them everything that I command.
The Warning: “Any prophet who … presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak-- that prophet shall die."
A great promise and a stern warning … to the People of God.

How can you tell? Do you ever say things to others “in the Name of God?” Well, in fact, not many of us walk around consciously delivering “words” from the Lord. But have you ever gotten a “word” for someone? Sometime they come in the midst of conversations, or in random thoughts – you suddenly know that that wasn’t “from you.”

God uses us at times to BE His Word in a situation or with a person in their struggle. Most often that happens as we are simply, “living and moving and having our being” - IN HIM - along the way. But what if we were more intentional about that part of our Christian experience?

What if we were consciously seeking something “from God” for those around us? Do you think that God would respond positively? I do! If fact I think that God is on-tiptoe waiting for us to allow Him to manifest His love and care for others in the “words” we speak to them on His behalf.

Now I’m NOT advocating a kind of pompous “Thus Saith the Lord” approach. But I am saying that God is anxious to communicate His love to us and to others through us, in the course of our daily conversations and manner of life.

Here is the difference that is pointed out in our scriptures this morning between knowledge and wisdom.

If we share from knowledge, we think we know a lot and have a lot to share with others, whether they need it or not – and we think they always need it!
If we share from wisdom, we know that we don’t know it all, and that even what knowledge we have is probably “tainted” with our own flesh and desires.

If we share from knowledge, we overpower the other person with facts and arguments, trying to make them see our side.
If we share from wisdom, we listen to their side and ask questions that help them to come to new, and we hope better, conclusions about their life.

If we share from knowledge, its more about us and what we can deposit in their life or thinking to bring change.
If we share from wisdom, we know that change only comes from Jesus and we must lead people to Him, not us, for answers to their questions.

Do you see the difference? Have you experienced both in your life?
I heard a great story this week from a member of our parish, as we shared a bit at our last ALPHA class from last fall.

[A gentleman who works with one of our members here, is a landlord of several properties & has spent a great deal of time telling the horrors of rental property ownership. Late rents, torn up properties and all those headaches that go along with that business. It seems that over Christmas, in fact on Christmas Eve, he called a renter who was delinquent to tell him that he was going to have him evicted. As they talked, the renter said that they were on their way out to a Christmas Eve service somewhere. The reference to Christmas eve and church, reminded the land lord of our member here and that “he would probably not be happy with my evicting someone on Christmas Eve!” As a result the landlord gave the man grace, calling again after the holiday, finding out that a job was imminent for the renter and receiving full payment for the rents due and back payments for over due rents!]

Friends, I want to tell you that this is a picture of the main thing I was talking about last week. In some way, the member of REZ and the way he walks out his faith at his workplace had an incredible impact on his co-worker – without saying much at all.

I was struck by a verse from our Corinthian reading: Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.

From the New Living here: 2 Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. 3 But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes”

Or from JB Phillips translation: “1b-3 It is not easy to think that we “know” over problems like this, but we should remember that while knowledge may make a man look big, it is only love that can make him grow to his full stature. For whatever a man may know, he still has a lot to learn, but if he loves God, he is opening his whole life to the Spirit of God.”

Our psalm give us a hint as to the difference here between knowledge and it application in wisdom: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; *
those who act accordingly have a good understanding;

The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom

It is the fear of the Lord – reverence for God and humility before Him – that sets simple knowledge apart from its wise application in our life. Wisdom is knowledge applied with an eye toward whole-hearted obedience to God. And whole-hearted obedience to God and to His Word is the “fear of the Lord” applied.

It’s here that what people experienced in Jesus’ own teaching began: Jesus own life of prayerful obedience to the Father was the fountain head of His power and of his authority. “I don’t do anything except what I see the Father doing!” Jesus said. When did Jesus SEE his Father doing stuff? He saw it when he was in prayer and preparation for his day, away from the crowds.

How do you get the “words” that you speak to other people on God’s behalf? Just come up with them yourself? If we look at the warning I mentioned in Deut. 8 above, I suggest that you NOT do that. Its not from OUR knowledge, but from God’s Word that we are to speak.

Have you ever read something in your morning readings that came up again during the day: Just in the course of a conversation you were having, something someone said to you or something that triggered your memory of a particular verse or thought? This is how God uses His Word to speak to us and to others through us.

And when we know its from Jesus, we can speak with the same kind of authority that He spoke with. That still isn’t a “Thus Saith the Lord” statement from us, but we can preface our statement with, “you know I read something about that just this morning (or whenever) in the Bible: … “ OR “Wow, that’s really interesting. I prayed about something like that this morning!”

We open conversational doors as we listen to what others say and how they mean what they say. We speak to others on behalf of Christ and God, letting them know that God loves them and has them in mind. And once in a while, we get to hear that our presence or a memory of us or something we’ve said or done, has impacted the life of one that we are friends with or of a co-worker.

God’s design is for us to impact our world with His love! What we receive here in this fellowship and at this table is not for us, friends. It’s for them. That’s the main thing that we are up to.

May God richly bless us as we see to be wise in our words and ways, with those we love and with those we live with, at home, at work, at play – every day. AMEN. And AMEN.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

Epiphany III
January 22, 2012
Fr. Phil Eberhart

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Keep the Main Thing, The Main Thing!

Well, I’m back! I’m exhausted and frustrated and still needing a few days sleep, I think. I’ve posted my thoughts on your emails this morning and the article on my perspective on both conferences is on David Virtue’s website.

People are asking me now, what is our response? I will say it again, as I said it in my first response on my blog,
                 "Please also know that your "place" in the Anglican Communion is secure. We will pray for our leaders and wait on clarity in this situation, without proffering opinions or judgments about the actions heretofore. We pray that time will be the friend of truth and that things which are done in secret will come to the light, on both sides of the equation. I know that there are always two sides to any conflict and my experience has led me to also know that we are all broken and in need of grace. So let us give grace and prayer and time."

It is certain at this point that clarity has not been achieved yet. After attending both the Winter Conference and the Sacred Assembly in NC this past 10 days, I’ve come away with less certainty in most areas and way less clarity than I thought I had. Our leaders need our prayers and support now more than ever.

Just briefly here’s what I know I know:
1. I am a priest of Rwanda. That has not changed.
2. This church is an AMiA parish, waiting on clear direction.
3. Our bishop has stepped back for the moment, as a new direction is being discerned and as reconciliation is being sought with Rwanda. The Anglican Mission is being advised by its founding ArchBishops, Kolini, Tay and Yong Ping Chung, all very godly men who have established their track record in distinguished servant leadership among us over the past decade. No one is saying that this is the permanent solution.
4. We are going to wait on the reconciliation process being pursued by Archbishop Eliud Wabukala of Kenya and the GAFCON Council. This will address both the reconciliation and the structural questions that are questions of Anglican polity, I trust and hope.
5. Once clear choices are on the table, we will pray together for a season and make a choice if needed, but there is no time-line for that process, nor is there a need for quick action here.
6. I will pray and work for peace amongst our leaders at every turn, and ask the Lord of His Church to restore a biblical unity and direction to the AMiA and to the relationship with Rwanda.

Until then, I want to point to our collect this morning and to several portions from the reading, and say that we are to keep the main thing, the main thing! In my talking to people about Jesus, not one of them has asked me about who my spiritual authority is. Our business is to connect people to Jesus Christ and to His Kingdom!

Since when is strife in the church a NEW thing? This too will pass. Be at peace.  Stay in repentant and obedient prayer for our leaders “up top.” God will work out the details according to His plan. And of that I AM CERTAIN!

Read the collect with me again:
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Friends, this is the main thing! This is our vocation in the Anglican Mission! This is our calling as Christian believers!! Be on high alert as you walk around and talk to people for the CALL of our Savior Jesus Christ to proclaim the Good News of Salvation.

Epiphany is the season of revelation. It is the revealing of the mystery of God’s plan of redemption for the whole world in Jesus Christ. And the revealing happens through you! People are starving to know that God exists and moreover that He loves them and has them in mind – He has a plan, in the midst of all the “stuff” that life throws our way.

The revelation of God’s love and His plan for others, comes as they see you going through your life’s ups and downs, blessings and challenges, in relationship to God and in reliance on God.

The disciples in our Gospel lesson where engaged in their every day activities, fishing on the Sea of Galilee. Mark’s gospel takes a picture that is much larger and crops it into a small shot at the moment in time when Jesus invited the fishermen to come with him, to follow him as disciples, as learners from a teacher – and the subject matter, “Fishing 101” – but for people.

Intrigued? They were. And so they left their commercial nets and boats and began to walk alongside Jesus as he encountered life, as He taught in their homes and in the markets and synagogues. As he touched and healed blind and lame, lepers and all manner of unclean people, they watched and learned. The heard his message, “Repent and believe the good news.” The Kingdom of God has come near – its AT HAND. In fact, its right in front of you!

We bring that same message! The disciples followed Jesus for many months as He “went about all the towns and villages of Galilee, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” Matt 4:23; 9:35. But then we transition to a new phase of his public ministry. In Matt 10 and Luke 10, Jesus sends out the 12 and the 72 to go on ahead of himm with the words, “Freely you have received, freely give!” He gave them authority to heal and to drive out demons, and to say, as He did, The Kingdom of God is near you. “Repent, and believe the good news.”

This is our message and our method. This is our vocation as Christians. This is The Main Thing that we need to keep The Main Thing. Everything else is a distraction. All the stuff we run into in life in the world, even the stuff we run into sometimes in the church, must not detract our vision from the main thing!

Who are you praying for? Do you have a list of people who you’ve talked with over the past months who are on their journey? Are you encouraging them? Praying for them? Going for coffee with them? Do you send notes or emails? Do they know that you love them?

Evangelism isn’t a question and a prayer with someone – a stranger to you, although sometimes that happens. Evangelism is living your life on Mission – living your life On Purpose – God’s Purpose! Evangelism is living as a blessing to others, both in word and deed. “Church for the sake of others,” as Bishop Todd Hunter puts it. This is the main thing!

The main thing is the steps of Luke 10:

a. Live your life as a blessing and speak peace into people’s lives. It will get their attention

b. Hang out with them, eat with them, share your life and let them share theirs.

c. In the course of life, you will see ways that you can serve them, and meet some of their needs, in the name of Jesus. Do it. Do it immediately and cheerfully, and when they look at you and ask, “Why?”

d. Say, “the Kingdom of Heaven has come near you.”

Tell them the great news of God’s unfailing love for them – so much so that He sent His Son to give them eternal life, and you to meet their need.

I want to close this morning with a familiar prayer, from the words of St. Francis.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Perspective on Two Conferences

A Perspective on Two Conferences
Fr. Philip Eberhart
Resurrection Anglican (AMiA), Centennial, CO

As I fly home after a week of Winter Conferencing and Sacred Assembling, I have some time to reflect on, as Chairman Murphy says, "What I think I think." I am an AMiA priest of going on 11 years, a former network leader, and a careful observer and listener to both sides in this family squabble and potential "divorce." (I am a "world-class hopeful romantic" to borrow a movie line, but I fear the divorce may already have happened.)

That's what it feels like after all is said and done. I haven't actually decided if the divorce is final yet, but there are going to have to be some big changes for repentant words and reconciliation to turn into restoration. And there is alot more, as with any family dysfunction, that is not seen than is seen publicly. I am convinced however, that love actually does "cover a multitude of sins" so you won't find any expose' here. 


What I have discovered by listening is that there has come upon us a "perfect storm" made up of human failing, spiritual warfare, and genuine ambition, more or less godly in its genesis. I've discovered an array of relational mis-steps over years, from the lowest to the highest levels, the cumulative effect of which has been to spoil our "alphabet soup." There are no dissidents - well, only a few that can actually be identified - who are pouring fuel on the fire for ends that I don't fully understand. As I understand it the "back door" of AMiA has always been as open as the front - maybe more so!

What I have encountered at both of this past two week's gatherings is truckloads of sincere grief and a kind of foggy lack of clarity that pervades every conversation. Most are still unclear even about 'what' happened, let alone how. When we play with time lines in hopes of finding an analytical way through, we come face to face with our propensity to assign motives that demonize and villify others in the process of our "discernment". Not that discernment is a bad thing here, but we must be careful to discern what the Spirit is saying, mostly about my own sin, not the sin of others. It's never been very helpful to confess one another's sins, as it is the antithesis of James' admonition, moving us away from healing!


With these words we were welcomed to Houston's posh downtown Hilton Americas for the 12th Annual AMiA Winter Conference, of which I am proudly an alum of all twelve. From just a few churches and lots of us "tire kickers" at the first Winter "Homecoming" Conference in '01, through twelve years of the blood, sweat and tears of slugging it out planting a church, through "building the bridge as we crossed it," through network formation, re-formation, and expansion, through an ever widening Anglican missional enterprise, through partnership with other Anglican bodies and always in relationship with our beloved Rwanda - to a very "different" Winter Conference. Very different indeed!

Winter Conference, sans our Rwandan friends, save former Archbishop Kolini and the other founding archbishops, Moses Tay and Yong Ping Chung. Our beloved leaders and founders are once again among us - consolation for a moment that we are still "on track." But on track for what and to where? Chairman Chuck is the ever diligent visionary, pointing to a new way forward, as a "Missionary Society," with appropriate and compelling slides, charts and graphs at the ready. But lingering and nagging questions bubble up in the 'anglican' part of me. What is our relationship now to Rwanda, and what does the presence of retiree archbishops signify? I want to give them due honor and heed their admonitions to press on, but how can this be? Is ++Kolini separated from Rwanda too? Apparently, and tragically I fear. What else can it mean? I remember sitting with him at a clergy convocation as he recounted the pain and sacrifice associated with his work on our behalf over the past decade, and weeping. Now I weep again to think - once again he chooses us over homeland and retirement security?

And the message we hear is new. Sorrow for what has happened, but a sense of calling to go on ... even a broader calling to global church planting! Awesome! But what of our Rwandan relationships? I am a personal friend of His Grace ++Onesphore RWAJE because of the sister-to-sister church partnerships begun in '02. A decade of trips, work, care and love. I don't want to go forward without this relationship. Do I have to choose between parents?

Repentance, healing prayer, God's presence ... and the nagging questions. What are we now? Where are we now? Whose are we now? We know we belong to Jesus, and there is great solace in that, but... as Anglicans we believe that its BOTH faith AND order. Don't we?

I told friends who asked that I actually came away from Houston with more questions than I had when I went! And I was not alone. On the Sunday in between my intercessors could only weep and the whole church arose to prayer for my wife and I personally and for The Mission.


Only two weeks ago or so we found out that there was to be a winter conference, part the second. Just a day in-between. Time to fly home, change clothes, do church and fly out again. The other half of the family was doing their reunion elsewhere. Even the thought was sobering, like a "polar bear" dip in an icy Colorado lake! I understand the need to convocate, especially at times like these, so I begged my bookkeeper and she found the needed denarii for this additional three days. Thanks, Cheryl and my board.

It's been important for me to hear and see all that was being said and by whom. The Sacred Assembly (a great alternative to "WC-the sequel") gathered two Archbishops, Rwaje and Duncan, six bishops, three Rwandan and two US former AMiA bishops with a guest appearance by Julian Dobbs, an ACNA/CANA bishop. The assembly was hosted by Archbishop Rwaje and facilitated by Bishops Barnum and Glenn, along with a team of clergy leaders and the gracious gifts of hospitality at Church of the Apostles in Raleigh, NC.

Representive clergy and laity from 109 parishes gathered in what I would characterize as a repentant, grief-filled, introspective time of worship, teaching, exhortation and prayerful communion. Bishop Glenn commented, "Personal pain robs us of perspective, but worship restores it." We heard encouragement from ++Rwaje - "You are still with us. We are still with you. We have not left you."

From ++Duncan a sermon with humble beginning, "His church is not yet a spotless bride;" "we have sinned against each other;" "God works in all things for good..." but then he also reflected his personal pain at The Mission's (read +Chuck's) choices regarding full jurisdictional inclusion and participation in the ACNA, calling our "Personal Prelature" (i.e., +Chuck's working directly under and for ++Kolini as "Primatial Vicar") unanglican. Really? Wasn't that what all the provinces who rescued us, prior to AMiA or ACN or ACNA did? Then he went further, inferring our prior TEC days of undisciplined, ungodly, rogue bishops, by saying "It's a cruel thing to have to send our problem of discipline 8000 miles away." What does someone from the AMiA take away here? Wow.

The rest of the messages were generally challenging and encouraging. +Terrell and +Thad led gently with an eye to those who were double-dippers, like me - who attended both conferences - probably 15-20% of the conferees I had seen in Houston. Others from the Anglican Mission Center in Pawleys Island were there as well, Canon H. Miller, AMiA's Exec. Director, Bishop John Miller of AMiA and Canon Kevin Donolan, the AMiA's canon law expert. All were treated well, at least by the leadership of the meeting. We ended with a eucharist that held the seeds of the most hopeful time I've been a part of all week: The Prayers of the People became prayers of repentance - individual voices, repenting for specific things aloud to God, and the company gathered responding, "Lord, hear OUR prayer." I wept again. All the players were prayed for from Archbishops down. The sense of grief and sorrow was tangible. Perhaps this is our way forward!


So we have convocated, and spoken our minds and listened and prayed. Now what? Is there a way forward? and to what end? Is the goal to preserve the unity of the Body or to preserve the work of the individual groups? Is the divorce final? Are we able to move forward ... together - or will it be otherwise? As one friend put it, "This is a tragedy of the first order, and we are behaving like its a wake - a mixture of a funeral and a party."

Having gone through the Episcopal Turf Wars (some are still in them), I remember the feelings I had. Betrayal, grief, profound sadness at having to choose one set of friends over another, but the choices were clear then, "gospel" or "other." Here the turf wars are not gospel driven, and the choices are not clear. There are no clean hands that I can see, save perhaps our Rwandan primate. I trust ++Onesphore, my friend of almost a decade. I trust my Bishop, +Sandy Greene, the god-father of one of my twin daughters, and a friend of 20+ years. Here I am torn again. I am canonically resident in Rwanda, and my church is a member of the Anglican Mission, an Illinois 501-c-3 non-profit, licensed to do business in South Carolina. What are my choices? Go entirely with Rwanda and leave my bishop and friend of two decades? Go with The Mission and ... well ... we don't know just yet. Its unclear what a Mission "Society" is, at least in this particular setting. Nor is it clear how we are going to remain under Anglican authority, or with whom.

I think the most hopeful star in the night sky is the "family intervention" that began in Nairobi a few weeks ago. Could we pay attention to that meeting and its requirements? (See the Nairobi Statement by Archbishop Eliud Wabukala). Is it possible that this perfect storm can be recovered from? I still have hope at this point, but it is a thin slice of bread. In my heart, I really want to say what Bob Newhart said in his "psychologist" sketch many years ago, to the woman who had an inordinate fear of being buried alive in a box... "STOP IT!" If repentance means turning around, if reconciliation means coming together again, if restoration could lead us to a truly, biblical, united and missionary Anglican witness in the USA and around the globe, why not stop moving in directions that will not achieve the completion of the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we don't, God help us ... and that is where I'll stop it, as that is my sincere prayer and our only hope for the future.

Fr. Phil Eberhart