Friday, April 6, 2012

Lenten Series on ACTS 2:42 - 4 Part Series

Lent 2March 4, 2012
Fr. Philip Eberhart


Taking Aim,  Part 1 of 4:
The Apostles' Teaching


“They devoted themselves… to the Apostles’ Teaching”



Lent is a time for us to recalibrate.  For us to make sure of our foundational points – The points by which we measure our life and living – by which we can find our if we are “on target.” 

There is a show on the History Channel that I enjoy watching once in awhile.  It’s called Top Shot.  Men and women compete in teams with all kinds of weapons, on all kinds of targets, in an elimination competition until there is one left on each team and finally only one who is named Top Shot at the end of the show.  There is always lots of human drama in the competitive natures as they compete and are eliminated, but it always comes down to who is the best a “taking aim.”  Whatever the weapon du jour, the one who is most adept at taking aim, is the one who will eventually win the title Top Shot.

Lent is a time for us to take aim.  And our marks are like the four hash marks inside the lens of a scope on a rifle – a circle with 4 marks at top and bottom and side by side.  Before doing anything with a weapon, you must “sight-it-in.”  You must make sure that the sighting for the weapon is true – that it can hit what it’s aimed at.

I have 4 weeks left in Lent so I’ve decided to talk about the “hash marks” on our scope as Christians here at REZ.  I want to help you “sight-in” your life so that you can become a “top shot” in life as a follower of Jesus.   It is true that if you aim at nothing, you will fall for anything, because friends, if you aim at nothing, you will surely hit it!!

THE MARKS

So what are the marks of our scope?  There are four points of reference that we take as the “cross-hairs” of a sight or scope.  For us as Christians, these four marks are found in the first sentence after the account of the day of Pentecost in Acts 2.  In Acts 1 and 2 we have the account of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church – the sermon of Peter on that day and the response of those who heard, as they were “cut to the heart.”  Peter’s response is our marching order for Lent:  Acts 2:38
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

They baptized three thousand that day in Jerusalem and the very next verse give us the pattern – the target scope – for the life that they lived together as a community of faith:
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

These are not new words here among us.  We’ve heard them as the marks of our life together here at REZ for almost 2 years now.  But still I think, we need to be refreshed and challenged in our “taking aim” by using these four marks of our common life in Jesus.


The Apostles’ Teaching


When we say “The Apostles’ Teaching” our default position is to inherently substitute in our minds, “The Word of God.”  And broadly speaking, we are indeed talking about what is our modern translation of the Bible, but this morning I want to more narrowly define what we’re talking about, within the canon of Holy Scripture, when we say “The Apostles’ Teaching.”

Of course the very first and best source of this is the sermon of Peter, just prior to these verses at the end of Acts 2.  Peter, the fisherman; the one who denied Jesus 40 days earlier, and ran away from him for fear of soldiers and servant girls – that Peter, now stands on the front steps of the Temple gate and preaches a sermon that 3000 respond to by being baptized and joining the company of the committed, who spilled out of the Upper Room that morning as the Holy Spirit was being poured out on the Church on Penetecost.

What did Peter say?  Let’s turn to Acts two if you have your bible with you:

Peter explains the present phenomena that they are experiencing by referring back to the promises of the Old Testament Prophet, Joel.  So the Word of God is his reference point – his starting point in teaching about what they are experiencing, but it is just his starting point.

Peter begins to interpret the ancient prophetic voice in the words of the prophet Joel and of others, like David or Isaiah,* in terms of Jesus Christ.  He refreshes their recent memory, by bringing Jesus of Nazareth – his activities, his teachings, his life and his death – into full view.
22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[d] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

After quoting from David’s psalm 16 he continues:
                                 29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”’[f]

36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

Here is the root plant, if you will, for the vine that became the New Testament.  Peter and Paul and the other Apostle’s shared as they went, the truth of Jesus of Nazareth and the facts of his life, death and resurrection from the dead.  This is the core of “the Apostles’ teaching” that we are referring to in Acts 2:42 – this is what the early Christians “devoted themselves to.” 

So what are the facets of this early teaching of the Apostles?  Of Peter, of Paul, of Philip, of Matthew, of John Mark, of Dr. Luke or the Apostle John:

1.         God has sent a message and a messenger to earth, one flesh and blood person: His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, of Nazareth. 

2.         Jesus is a man well known to you, both in the force of his life and in the facts of His death.

3.         And now, God has raised this Jesus, from death to life in resurrection and we are witnesses of it.

4.         And, now you must make a choice – a choice of believing or not in the message, the life and the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  All of your future history depends on this choice!

 5.        Therefore, repent – change your mind, and be baptized in the Name of the Lord for the remission of your sins, and you will be saved.

6.         Further, you will receive the gift – the Holy Spirit of promise as a gift of the Father, through the Son, for the living of His life, in and through ours, both individually and as a Body, in Him.

So our first mark of the life of the Gospel is this message of Jesus, his life, his death and his resurrection from the dead.  This is what we see here in Peter’s first sermon and what we see throughout the “kerygma” of the early church.  We find these sermons scattered across Acts and in the letters of Paul and the other apostles to the churches of the first century.

Perhaps its is best encapsulated in Paul’s letter to the Romans, beginning in his greeting in the first chapter:

1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. 6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

And Paul ends that section of his Roman letter with these words:

                        For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that
                        brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the
                       Gentile.  For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a                          
                       righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written:

                                “the righteous shall live by faith.”

Spend some time this week, and look through the book of Acts and the letters of the Apostles for the Message, the core teaching of the early apostles of Jesus.

Acts 3:11 ff;  Acts 4:8-12; Acts 5:29-32;  the whole 7th chapter of Acts is Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin; Acts 8:31-40; Acts 10:34-43;  Acts 13:16-41;  Acts 17:22-31;  and finally, Acts 26, Paul’s defense of his gospel message before King Agrippa.

All of these passages contain the elements I’ve outlined, what is known in Greek as the Kerygma – the message of the gospel.  This is what the believers of the first century were devoted to, and this is the message that “turned the world upside down.”

So the first of our sights is this message of the Good News of Jesus Christ, as Paul says in Romans 1:
2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures
3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David,
4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.

Let us pray.

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The Kerygma “Message” of the Gospel through Acts





Acts 2:14-36

Acts 3:11 ff; 

Acts 4:8-12;

Acts 5:29-32; 

the whole 7th chapter of Acts is Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin;

Acts 8:31-40;

Acts 10:34-43; 

Acts 13:16-41; 

Acts 17:22-31; 

and finally, Acts 26, Paul’s defense of his gospel message before King Agrippa.

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Lent 3
March 11, 2012
Fr. Philip Eberhart

The Gift of Koinonia

Acts 2:42     And the believers devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers.



The word for fellowship in the New Testament, as we look again, at the four marks of our Christian Life from Acts 2:42, is the word “KOINONIA.”  This occurrence of the word in Acts 2 is the first of 20 times we see the word that is translated as fellowship, community, common life, sharing, contribution, communion – there are several facets to explore.


A FELLOWSHIP … OF THE SPIRIT

You have heard the doxology and blessing that we use from time to time from the end of the 2nd Corinthian letter:  “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the  love of God, and the FELLOWSHIP of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.  Amen.”

Paul again, in his letter to the Philippian Church inquires of them: 
“Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?  Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.  Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”

This “fellowship” that we have with one another is a gift from the Spirit of God.  His is the motivation and He is the milieu for our fellowship.  It is the basis for the unity that Paul speaks of in his Ephesian letter:

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love.  Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”

The fellowship of the Spirit is given to the Body of Christ as a gift, but must be maintained in the fragile vessels of our relationships with each other.  Therefore we must look to Jesus as our model and to His Spirit at our motive power for living this “life together” that we are called to.

… COMMUNION TOGETHER
Paul also uses the word to describe the action of the Church as it comes to the Lord’s Table together.  In the act of “communion” we embody a shared life in Jesus Christ:

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”

John, the apostle, uses this same language as he talks about the life we have together in the Body of Christ:
“We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” 

John continues just a few verses on, making the claim that it is our fellowship, our life lived in common – in close proximity – that acts like the blood in the body, cleansing the body of impurity (sin) :

“This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.  So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.”

There is a connection between our life lived together, and the effectual working of the Blood of Jesus, cleansing us from sin.  It is where the spiritual reality of cleansing takes on its actual fulfillment in our lives.  And it happens in the midst of our “koinonia” fellowship!

… IN HIS SUFFERINGS
The other significant reality about this common life is that it is a common life lived in the “sufferings of Christ.”  Paul makes this point in his cry in Philippians 3:
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Paul understood that we all have a “share” in the sufferings of Jesus, and that it is there we learn, as Jesus did, obedience, and are made into His image.

… IN PARTICIPATION AND CONTRIBUTION
Many times in the letters of Paul we see that the believers are asked to contribute to needs beyond themselves.  The word KOINONIA is used here as well, to signify the act of contributing to the needs of others – the act of participation in the shared life of the Body of Christ.  We participate in the sharing as we open our own hearts and our hands to give beyond ourselves. 


All of these facets of the word “fellowship” shows a rich picture of our common life – of our life, lived together.  And they are the out-working of the very commandment of Jesus, to “love one another as I have loved you.”  It is here that we take on the self-less character of Jesus, who lived his life “for” other – for the sake of others.  Likewise we are to live lives of selflessness, out of our own intimacy of relationship with Jesus, as we enter into the horizontal aspect of our relationships with others in the Body and with those that we meet in the world.

Our fellowship is a deep, committed, shared life lived in common with other believers, into which we invite others, who are coming to faith.  It is the working out of the commandment of our Lord to “love one another” and the words of Paul and the other New Testament writers, as they all speak of the priority of relationships in the Body of Christ.  It is the life that is described by the “one anothers” of the New Testament:

Be at peace with one another

Wash one another’s feet

Love one another, as I have loved you.

Love one another with brotherly compassion

Outdo one another in showing honor

Live in harmony with one another

Let us not pass judgment on one another

Welcome one another

Instruct one another

Greet one another with a holy kiss.

Comfort one another

Agree with one another

Through love, serve one another

Bear one another’s burdens

Be kind to one another … forgiving one another

Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ

Teach and admonish one another in all wisdom

Increase and abound in love for one another

Encourage one another, and build one another up

Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.


You get the idea I hope.  This life we live together is a “one another” life – and that is the essence of what “fellowship” means in Acts 2:42.  It is out of this “one another” kind of life that the community and shared, common life we read about in the verses that follow verse 42, springs.  They counted nothing that they owned as their own property.  That is not a forced communalism or communism, it is a voluntary giving – the “one another” kind of life, instead of the “me first” kind of life that we are used to in our culture.

This kind of shared life, in fact, turns our consumerist culture – our “me first and me only” culture – on its head.  It stands out so far from the prevailing self-centered and self-promoting norms, that we cannot help but be noticed, if we but do it, even a little bit!

But it is this kind of committed, common, shared life that we are called to by Christ himself and by the witness of the entire New Testament. 

I pray that you will find yourself in a place among us, where the “one another” life – the shared life of our KOINONIA – calls you to deeper levels of commitment and to deeper levels of sharing, as we become friends and family together in this, the Body of Jesus Christ.

Amen.


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Lent 4
March 18, 2012
Fr. Philip Eberhart

Eucharistic Hospitality

Acts 2:42 – 47
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe[e] came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Last week we talked about the gift of KOINONIA /  FELLOWSHIP that the Holy Spirit bestows on the Body of Christ and that we safeguard in the glass and pottery vessels of our relationships with one another.

We heard a list of the “ONE ANOTHER’s” from scripture that bear on our life lived together -  I want to start there as a bit of a reminder this week:  Just with the listing of adjectives:

Be at peace;  Wash feet; Love, as I have loved you
Love with brotherly compassion; Outdo in showing honor;
            Live in harmony; Do not pass judgment; Welcome; Instruct;
Greet with a holy kiss; Comfort; Agree together;
Through love, serve; Bear burdens; Be kind … forgiving!
Submit, out of reverence for Christ; Teach and admonish, in all wisdom;
Increase and abound in love; Encourage, build up;
Confess your sins & pray that you may be healed.

The kind of love that is demonstrated in these descriptive adjectives present us with a picture of an extraordinary kind of people – that live and love one another out of the gift of the HOLY SPIRIT.

Just a couple of other reminders from scripture:  Paul, to the Galatians (5:22-23)

The Fruit of the Spirit:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

And again, to the church at Colosse: (3:12- 17)
12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

And Peter, in his second letter (2:5-8)
5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue,[e] and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities[f] are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.


All of these verses serve to remind us of the priority of the Character of Jesus in the community that bears His NAME in the World.  But the question is HOW do we live that character out in ways that are winsome and that draw people into the community.

Jesus said it fairly simply:  Love one another as (in the same way that) I have loved you!  And so this morning I want to make an application of these commandments of Jesus to our life as a community.   In the community of the first Christians in Acts 2 we see a pattern of life lived in public worship and in family meals, including the Lord’s Supper – in the Temple daily and “from House to House.”  This pattern can be seen throughout the NT, in Paul’s travels and ministry to the Gentiles, in his letters to the churches he founded, and in his defense of his ministry, both before the apostles in Jerusalem in Acts 15 and later, before Governor Festus and King Agrippa, as Paul was being taken to Rome in his final days.

Both the Temple worship and the gathering in homes were twin features of the life of the Christian community of the 1st century – and when the temple threw them out they went to the public buildings, squares – the Resurrection Chapels, storefronts, and public gathering places to proclaim and celebrate the Message of Jesus.  But their life was always marked by this movement from Public to Intimate and back.

And so our life today is marked by the regularity of our gathering, though in a much less frequent way.  Public Worship is here on Sunday, weekly or perhaps even once or twice a month -  Intimate worship & meals together are more frequent for some here at REZ, less frequent for others.

I think you can see the pattern clearly that was lived in the early community:
Acts 2:46 – 47a 
 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people.


Here we see two kinds of food that was the community’s stock in trade, so to speak:

The food of the Lord’s Table and the food of the family table.  And both were of great importance in the lived life of the community – they were actually seen to be the same food.  The family table was an extension of the Lord’s Table.

Now let me pause here and clarify something about the family.  How many of you have seen the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”?  This movie is a hilarious, and poignant portrayal of the difference between a middle eastern or Mediterranean family structure and a western family structure – in fact that is the underlying theme of the whole movie – How can the two be joined?

The differences are striking!  Our western family is what we call the Nuclear Family, mom and dad and 2.3 children – that’s two kids and a dog!  In the Greek and older Mediterranean cultures, like the Hebrew culture, the family is not simply the Holy Family – it’s the extended family too.  Its usually a group of 20 – 50 people who live their lives in close proximity and relationship to one another – who have a sense of their belonging to each other and who take part in one family business venture. 

Some today are translating that to the culture of the church – recovering this sense of community that is available in a medium sized group that relates to one another more frequently, in meals and in shared work / shared mission in the world.  These are being called Missional Communities.

 Our own history in the Anglican Church is marked by the rise of just such communities in the work of St. Patrick in Ireland, whom we just celebrated yesterday!  His method was to bring a band of dedicated Christian believers alongside a community, set up a monastic community along side the rural town, outside its walls, and then to engage the community leaders and people in the meeting of their needs, for education, for healing, for food.

I was struck as I read this week about Patrick and this community, by the incredible similarity that they had to the early Christians in their model and methods: 

From Hunter’s book, “The Celtic Way of Evangelism” let me just read an excerpt:
Put yourself in the place of a seeker, a refugee, or an abused teenager who has been invited to visit a monastic community, and you have found your way there. What would you likely experience?  You would meet a “porter” stationed near the monastic community’s entrance, whose chief role is to welcome guests and introduce them to the rest of the community. The abbot (pastor), and everyone else, would welcome you with “all courtesy of love.” The abbot (or abbess) would gently inquire about what had prompted your visit (and so begin the ministry of conversation), would read a scripture for you, offer a prayer for you, and extend the “kiss of peace.” The abbot would wash your feet (from your journey by foot) and would show you to the guesthouse – which would be managed by a caring brother who would give you your bedding.  You would be included at the abbot’s table at meals; if the abbot was in a period of fasting, he would break the fast – for the abbot has no higher priority than ministry with guests.  You would learn that the monastic community’s highest commitment is to hospitality to strangers, seekers, pilgrims, and refugees.  The Benedictine Rule 53 mandates, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’”


Hunter goes on to describe the process of conversation and prayer that follows; of scripture study and worship daily; and of the process of coming to believe among the people of this community.  He contrasts that with our so Western formulas that often force a proclamation (down someone’s throat), have them say a prayer, and then slap them on the back as a friend!  We wonder why evangelism is a scary proposition!  The question is whether we want people to behave before they can belong, or if by belonging, they come gradually to behave differently.

Friends, I am positing something here today that is ancient – and that is new again. It is something that we must recover if we are to reach the generations and people of our post-christian, post-modern world.

People are no longer interested in facts and propositions – in power point presentations and pages of notes.  They are interested in Facebook and YouTube – life lived – moving pictures – video rather than stills.  Even better, invite me to eat with you.  Let’s meet up – hang out.  Share life.

And the community that we share in is expanding as well – I live in a family of 4, but that has expanded, with two gone and 4 more now with us, another family of 4. So we are now six – and people are saying “how do you do that?”

We are even amazed at something as simple as opening our home to someone we love who is in real trouble.  Let alone a stranger who we don’t know.

The Benedictine Rule applies to us now, just as it did when Jesus first said it and when Benedict first applies it.  “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

What does welcome mean for us?

How can we become to the world a manifestation of welcome by the Father of LIFE?  How can we become known for hospitality towards one another, but more so, to others, whom we don’t yet know, and who, perhaps, don’t yet know Jesus.

What if we welcome people to His Table?  The Table of Jesus, our altar is the Sacramentum of Welcome – Jesus extends his hands as we break the bread and says anew, every week, “Come!  Come and dine at My Table!  Come and take the Bread of Life – come and take the Wine, my blood shed for you for love of you.”

But what if, our tables in our homes and the tables we share at restaurants around S. Denver took on the character of welcome we feel here on Sunday?  What if, day by day, we gathered together and broke bread together, receiving from God’s hand with glad and sincere hearts?  What if we invited people into that life, that experience?  What if our meals were punctuated with prayer and scripture – if eating together became a place and time for sharing what God is saying to us today or has been over the past couple days?

Eucharistic Hospitality is this kind of living my friends.  It was the kind of living that the early church did and they “turned the world upside down in a generation.”  It was the kind of life that St. Patrick and his band of believers engaged in in Ireland, and the whole land was won to Jesus in three generations!  Today there are over 6000 place names in Ireland alone, that begin with or contain the word “cill” which is the old Gaelic word for church.

The hospitality of the community of St. Patrick is a lively model for us today, as we move into the Facebook generation that is looking for relationship, but does not know how to do it deeply or with meaning.  Eucharistic Hospitality is our way of opening our lives to be lived WITH EACH OTHER - welcoming others into that ‘koinonia’ community of love, marked by the Word of God, by prayers individually and together and life lived together, practicing the “one another’s” in a fellowship that is lifting up Jesus for the world to see.

Welcome to REZ.  May we more fully become the kind of community that we describe here today and may those who come find a home among us, in the love of Jesus Christ and the fellowship of His Spirit.

Amen.

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Lent 5
March 25, 2012
Fr. Philip Eberhart

The Prayers of the Saints
Part IV in Lenten Series 2012

Have you ever wondered what might happen if we really got ahold of the power that is available to us in prayer.  I think is was Malcolm Muggeridge, writing in the early part of the last century, who said, “The biggest problem that we have in prayer is the apprehension of WHO IT IS that we are praying to!”  The “magic” of prayer – the power of it, isn’t dependent upon us, but on WHOM it is we pray TO.  However we must say, in our day and age – an age of distraction and noise, that the Power of Prayer is effected by our simple lack of it, most of all.
The verse we have been studying is, of course, Acts 2:42:
“And they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
This is now the fourth in the series of the four elements of the life of the early Christians after the Day of Pentecost.  And today we are centering on Prayer or The Prayers, depending on your translation.  Both of those are needed, I believe, in the life of the believer and in the life of the community, for us to begin to see the Presence and the Power of God in any discernable measure, in our midst.
Prayer is by definition, simple communication with God, our Father.  It is taught and modeled by Jesus, who through prayer, as we do, stayed in a constant contact with his Father, referring to His own leadership for His own ministry, while He was here on earth!  Jesus clearly said,  “I do nothing that I do not see my Father doing!”
Jesus Himself, the Son of God incarnate, went away to pray – he found solitary places and times with great regularity – away from the disciples, away from the crowd, alone with God to refresh and to redirect Himself – orienting his face and his life Godward!
You know, we said a moment ago that prayer is relationship in application – it is conversation.  Conversation with our Father, who is the God of the Universe!  We have been granted ACCESS, through Jesus Christ, to the Father – the ULTIMATE power in the universe, who wants to hear us, because He knows us fully and loves us fully – so fully that He gave His one and only Son, Jesus, to die in our place so we could have the “right” to come to Him in prayer and in relationship!  So we could be reconciled to Him and walk in Peace with our God, just as Adam and Eve did, in the quiet and cool of the day in the Garden.  Prayer is the greatest Privilege we have!!  It is also the greatest Power we have!! 
Prayer is what connects us to God’s throneroom.  Rev 4 and 8 both describe the prayers of the saints as incense that rises before the Father in the Throne Room of Heaven. 
Let’s make it a little more real and accessible for us in the 21st Century, shall we?
What if God had a FACEBOOK Page?
First, would you “FRIEND” God?  And second, would He “FRIEND” you back?
I know that some here don’t actually have FB pages but I think the analogy is quite striking for people in our day and age; especially for younger people.  Isn’t it interesting that Abraham was called a “Friend of God!”  And Moses was someone who scripture tells us in EX 33:11 that “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.”
What I want to do is to make the case for “conversation” with God.  It’s a personal, intimate, one-on-one sharing of your life with Him on a daily basis.  Much like we
“post” on FACEBOOK, the ups and downs of our lives, the needs for prayer and the causes for celebration – God wants to see us on His Page and for us to have Him on our Page!  Its an identification thing.  God says He wants to be OUR GOD and for us to be HIS PEOPLE.  Prayer is the way that we access that REALITY in our daily life.
The Lord woke me up at 4:30 one morning last week with an acronym for prayer.
Prayer is
P – Present * Physical
R – Reality
A – Already
Y – Yielding to
E – Eternal
R – Reality * Revelation

There is a corporate reality to Prayer as well.  It is two fold.  First Prayer is the means by which we come close to one another in Spirit in the Body of Christ.  Apart from living with someone, prayer is the only way for us to come to know someone at the heart level in the Body of Christ.  And the more we pray together, the more we know one another – it is a direct proportion – a quantitative proportion.
That is why this formula, if you will, in Acts 2 is so powerful, and the life of the community that issued from the Day of Pentecost had such impact on people’s lives and on the world around them.
Just look at what followed the verses we’ve been looking at:
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer.
We note from the verses in chapter 2 and this verse in 3:1 that the community, Jewish community, had a regular set of “hours” at which prayers were observed in the temple.  Peter and John were going to Temple Prayers, about 3:00 in the afternoon.  It is safe to assume, from other scriptural references, that not only was 3 p.m. a prayer time so was 9 a.m. and noon.  Does anyone else here see any parallels with our own heritage as Anglicans.  Where would we find such a heritage?
OH, in the Book of Common PRAYER!
Friends, this is the reason I’m an Anglican!!!  I came to Jesus at the age of 10 because of the story of Scripture, but I fell in love with the Anglican liturgy at the age of 19, in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer!!  And its not the beauty of the language in the book that matters, it’s the Heritage of Prayer that it passes on.
HOW MANY OF YOU HAVE A PERSONAL Book of Common Prayer that you refer to and know how to use?  I must say that as Anglican’s, if there is one thing that should and could empower a life of prayer for us, it is our own BCP!
I get offers and approaches almost weekly from people offering devotional “helps” – books that break down the scriptures into bite-size morsels and offer a place for reflection, journaling and prayer.  And I never get them, because we already have one – We have had one for nearly 500 years!!
I’m part of a group of Pastors who pray together a couple times a month for revival to come to our city – God has put before us that we are to become, individually and together, a HOUSE OF PRAYER.  Jesus said it when He cleansed the temple of its moneygrubbers, “My House shall be called a House of Prayer for All Nations!” 
We are a HOUSE OF PRAYER for the Nation we live in and for the Nations of the World.  We are to be a House Of Prayer, individually, for our neighbors and neighborhoods – like a LIGHTHOUSE of PRAYER on our street.  We should know what the needs are around us – (neighbors know these kinds of things) and we should pray into them out of genuine love and care for those who live around us.
And finally, prayer is warfare!  We heard it last week in Cheryl’s class on Ephesians 6 and many have been living it this week.  We have had three surgeries, another two pending, two of our intercessors got sick this week, Val and I got ran into as we sat at a light the other night … we’re doing something right!!  You’ve heard me say that PRAYER ISN’T PREPARATION FOR THE BATTLE – IT IS THE BATTLE!
Prayer is Present Physical Reality Already Yielding to Eternal Reality and Revelation!  I hope you held your finger in Acts 3, because this is a perfect example of that:  Peter and John were headed to the temple for the three o’clock prayer service.  As they come, a lame man is being set out in his customary place for begging each day, at the “beautiful gate.”  When he saw Peter and John, he asked them for some money.  Peter said, “Look at us!”  Thinking he was to receive alms, the man looked at them eagerly.  Peter then said, “Silver and gold I don’t have, but what I do have I freely give you:   In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!”  Then Peter, grabbing the man by the hand, pulled him to his feet, which were instantly healed and strengthened.
Prayer is Present Physical Reality Already Yielding to Eternal Reality & Revelation!
Prayer is Protection!  Paul tells us in Philippians 4: 6-9
Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.  And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me--everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
 
Prayer is Present Physical Reality Already Yielding to Eternal Reality & Revelation!
Prayer is the Battle and we are the Battleground!  Our lives, our circumstances, our finances, our loved ones, our homes and jobs, our health.  Paul reminds us of our part in the battle in Ephesians 6:18 – The Primer on Spiritual Warfare:
 
With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,
 
Over and over again in Paul’s letters  we see the phrase “DEVOTE YOURSELVES TO PRAYER!”  He uses words like “laboring earnestly”,  “entreaties, petitions and thanksgivings,”  “continue in entreaties and prayers night and day.”
Peter tells us that “the end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.”
This is serious business, my friends!  Prayer is not something we tack on to the few minutes we have in the morning for God or the last thing we do before going to bed, or a few sentences memorized before we eat.  Prayer is the main business of the Kingdom and as such, it deserves our continual attention, because
Prayer is Present Physical Reality Already Yielding to Eternal Reality & Revelation.
Prayer is not preparation for the battle… IT IS THE BATTLE!!
Amen

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