Sunday, October 14, 2012

Trustees of the Kingdom

October 14, 2012
Pentecost XX 
Fr. Philip Eberhart


Trustees of The Kingdom
Audio file click here 

As I thought about this second sermon in our series for stewardship, I got stopped by the word itself – “stewardship.”  It’s one that we don’t see or hear much these days in our common every day, run-of-the-mill conversation.  We kind of have a foggy notion of what it may mean, but it’s often associated with sermons like this or that time in the TV program of your favorite TV preacher when “the ask” happens.

This morning I want to fill out the concept of stewardship a bit for us, but by using a different term:  TRUSTEE.

Many of us have had dealings in the legal world of one kind or another.  A trustee by definition is “one, such as a bank, that holds legal title to property in order to administer it for a beneficiary.”  Let me bring that down to our level this morning:  A Trustee is one, such as YOU, that holds legal title, that is power over God’s property, (Time, Talent, Treasure) – in order to administer it for a beneficiary (The Kingdom of God!)
 
Did you know that you are a trustee of God’s grace – of His gifts?  Have you ever thought about the fact that God has had to put ultimate trust in YOU?

Recently I’ve been talking to people about voting in the upcoming election, as many of us have I think, on one side of the aisle or the other.  The point is voting – taking part in the trusteeship that our constitution places in the individual, so that, as Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the face of the earth.”  We have a sacred trust which is coming due on us in about 3 weeks that determines the fate of that kind of government – and it happens every time the polling places are open, or every time the ballot comes in your mail box.  Not to vote in any election is an unconscionable dereliction of the trusteeship that our county has placed by constitutional mandate in your hands.

Likewise you have been given a sacred trust by God Himself as well!  God trusts in you! Now there’s a twist on our national motto!  But let’s look at a foundational few verses, that we usuaChrist Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

God has placed a deposit with you, my friend – a deposit of GRACE (God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense).

GOD’S RICHES

So what is the substance of the riches that God has placed in our care?

God is rich in MERCY  (Eph 2:4) 

Paul asks the Romans, “do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (2:4)

He goes on in chapter 9:  [God] endured with much patience vessels of wrath… and he did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us … !” (22b-24a)

God is rich in GLORY!

A little later in Romans, Paul again exclaims:  “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (11:33) 

God is rich in WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE! 

And back in the letter to Ephesus Paul repeatedly references these riches!

1:18    “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints”

2:7     “the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

3:8       “to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.”

4:19     “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory                             
              
in Christ Jesus.”
 

Paul later instructs Timothy with these words:

1Ti 6:17  “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.”

Friends, there are literally hundreds of references throughout scripture to the riches of our God, both in material wealth and in mercy, in gold and in grace, in cattle and coin, as well as in kindness shown to us by the grace of an unfailingly loving Father, through His Son Jesus Christ.

But we are told not to confuse the two types of wealth.  One type is flighty and uncertain, destroyed by moth and rot in time, while the other is timeless, held for us by God in heaven and given to us by Grace on the earth.

 

Where your Treasure, So Your Heart

Jesus, as He taught on this issue of trusteeship – of our position of trust as partners with God in the enterprises of the Kingdom – set up the account for us and made the initial deposit.

By His sacrifice of blood on the cross, Jesus won our salvation and gave us access to heaven and all its stores!  In Him we have our own PIN number!

Now we have to understand that this treasury work a bit differently than our normal bank account here at Wells Fargo or Keybank.  It’s different than your local credit union.

Your “savings” are associated with you have given away, NOT what you have put away!

In Luke 12, Jesus warns us of our normal way of doing business:

Luk 12:19-21  'And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry."' "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?'  "So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."

As trustees of God’s riches, we see “treasure” differently.  Just a few verses later Jesus concludes his statements with this wisdom:

(v 33)  “Sell your possessions and give to charity;  make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys.” 

As trustees of God’s riches we need to always be mindful that they are never “for us” as a personal possession, but they are for others, through us!  It is in this way that we make deposits of that treasure which is ours in God to an eternal account.

(v 34)  “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
 
Why do you think that Jesus made such a big deal out of the two-cents worth of the widow, as she was putting her little in the offering plate that morning, alongside those who were putting in so much more?

Because she got it right!  Her treasure wasn’t the two copper coins that she dropped into the offering baskets that day; her treasure was the Kingdom of God and the ONE who she trusted in for her sustenance.   Jesus singled her out to His disciples and made an example of her devotion and sacrifice, because “she gave all that she had.”  In that moment, she made a deposit in Heaven – in the Kingdom of God, the same kind that God is asking us to make.

Friends, the treasure we seek and which we have in Christ is not a treasure of this world, but a treasure of the Kingdom of God. Let’s go back for a second to the thoughts that Paul shared with his protégé, Timothy: 

I mentioned earlier 1 Tim 6:17:  “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.”

Paul goes on to fill out that thought:  “Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.” (18-19)
 

Let’s look at a couple of these thoughts a bit closer:

DO GOOD

Do you think that there is ample instruction in Scripture about what these two words might mean?  Do you have an idea of what Paul might be talking about when he says, “Do good!”?  Let your imagination run wild!!  In fact he says,
 

BE RICH IN GOOD WORKS!

Here is the work of the trustee in the Kingdom.  Here is a picture of the true riches that we have administrative responsibility for.

In our first reference from Ephesians 2:10 we were told that God “created us in Christ Jesus, for good works, that we should walk in them.”
 

BE GENEROUS AND READY TO SHARE

This is the character of the trustee of the Kingdom of God – generosity that is uncharacteristic of the world and its system of hoarding and selfishness.  How we approach our life of giving speaks volumes to those around us about who we are as trustees of God and His riches in the Kingdom.

 
STORING UP THE TREASURE OF A GOOD FOUNDATION FOR THE FUTURE

We have classes on building wealth – we have professionals who come alongside us to help us with our wealth building – all in the name of our future!  Our retirement accounts are of ultimate value and anything that threatens those “treasures”, threatens our foundation for the future.  But the Kingdom of God turns it all upside down – or is it upside RIGHT?

 
SO THAT THEY (YOU) MAY TAKE HOLD OF THAT WHICH IS LIFE INDEED!

Jesus told us that our life doesn’t consist in the things we own or make or wear – in the things that so easily pass away in the fire of trial or the end of life.  Our LIFE – life that is life indeed – consists of the treasure of the Kingdom of God and what we do with that treasure as its trustees.

Friends, We have commitment cards on the table at the back.  They are a tool for us who are planning for this next year, for the ongoing salaries and expenses of our life together.

They are a sign of your trusteeship.  You are a trustee of the Riches of God, made available in Christ Jesus.  What you do with those riches is up to you – you can be like the one sea in Galilee that has a inlet and an outlet, receiving and giving its bounty to the Jordan valley and river -  or you can be like the other sea in Israel – one which takes and takes and takes, but never gives. 
 
They call it the Dead Sea!

 

Shall we pray:

Give us grace, O Gracious God, to see and understand the riches you have given us in Jesus Christ our Lord;  Riches of Mercy, Grace, Wisdom, Knowledge, Redemption and Sanctification.  Make us rich in good works, O Lord, for your sake and for the sake of Your Kingdom.  Help us not to grasp that which we can never truly own, but to give that which is not ours, that we may gain that which is Yours, a lasting treasure held in heaven. Meet our earthly needs, we pray of Lord, by the grace of your hand that we may come to share in and do the works you have prepared for us to walk in.  Help us to continually see the treasure you offer which is life indeed and to set our treasure in heaven, that our hearts may there be set also.

For the sake of your Kingdom, Jesus and the fame of Your Name, we pray.

Amen.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Have Salt in Yourselves


September 30, 2012
Pentecost XVIII
Fr. Philip D. Eberhart

 
HAVE SALT IN YOURSELVES
click here for audio
 
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Psalm 19:7-14
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

 

     “Grant us the fullness of Your Grace” was the petitionary portion of our opening collect, our opening prayer this morning…” that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure.”
     Lord, that is indeed our prayer – for the Fullness of Your Grace – in our lives, in our church and in our land, today and in the days that follow, as we LIVE from the place of GRACE, and we pray, so let us be Salt and Light to those around us, that we may be known to shine Your Light and to be a people who bring Your Presence wherever we go.
In Jesus Name we ask it.  Amen

 

 

Living from the place of grace

I’m not sure that I’ve ever connected Grace with “salt” before in my thinking, but as I studied the scriptures this week, a link became more and more clear. 

Salt is an ancient, ancient symbol.  It is, in the OT, a symbol for the covenant that God’s people have with the Living God. (Num 18:19; 2 Chron 13:5) It is used to seal the making of covenant and to symbolize the keeping of covenant, with each sacrifice, as salt is added to the sacrifice.  Salt is added to the grain of the offerings, not to preserve it, but to symbolize the ongoing nature of the relationship out of which the sacrifices come!

Salt is still today, an important part of the symbolic items that Near Eastern peoples use to signify commitment to one another and continuity of relationship.  It is an emblem of fidelity and friendship, when you “eat of a person’s salt.”

In the NT, Jesus takes up the symbolic meaning and fills it in a bit more.  He uses it in his teaching to refer to the believing community itself (Matt 5:13ff);  He uses it to refer, in our reading from Mark this morning, to the character and condition of our hearts.  In Jesus teaching, it is symbolic of the kind of spiritual health and vigor essential to real Christian virtue and its ability to counteract the corruption of the world.

So how can such attributes be seen as connected somehow to “grace?”

Paul actually makes the connection, in his letter to Colosse.  Verse 6 of chapter 4 says, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”

In our readings this morning, both from the OT and in the Gospel we see this grace on display in Moses and Jesus attitude toward those who were accused by, shall we say, the “insiders.”  Both Moses and Jesus set an example of “letting their speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt”

Moses answer was, Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!"


Grace and mercy triumph over judgment in each of these examples, as the teacher in each case, draws a wider circle by Grace; one that includes those others who may not have come into the kingdom by our prescribed method or who are working in the kingdom, apart from our prescribed group!

Jesus, in fact, here gives us a stern warning against that kind of judgment – the kind that becomes a stumbling block for someone who is innocently following Jesus, doing His works, and believing in His Name.

This kind of thing is, in fact, one of the mainstays in the modern critique of the church – that we are judgmental and fake, having given up the necessary character and authenticity to speak with authority in our society and culture!  The Church has lost its voice!

Jesus asked the question of his followers, in fact, early on, in using the metaphor of salt!  In our reading, Jesus puts the question:  Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."

In the Matthew account of this same exchange, Jesus adds, “it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.”

And that is exactly the experience of the modern Western church that has been enculturated and that seeks to be more and more accommodating to the whims and whispers of the culture, rather than to the Words and Ways of God.

 
So, where does salt come from?

Where does the kind of inner “salt” that Jesus speaks of in these accounts come from?  How does one get “salty?”  What does that even mean?

I was struck by that phrase when I first heard it – someone described as “salty”  -  a “salty Christian.”

I asked one time, when a friend used that turn of phrase – she said:  “Its when you’re around someone and you come away from them thirsty for Jesus!”

YEAH!  That’s what I want Lord!!

It became a kind of cry of my heart.  And I think that that is the kind of cry that God hears and answers!

Look back with me at our Psalm for today:

Verse 10 is the chorus of the song we sing from these verses:

            More to be desired are they than gold,

            Yea than much fine gold,

            Sweeter also than the honey,

            In the honeycomb!

 
Where does the salt come from?

From Here:  (The Bible)  From the Word of God

Listen again to what we just read:

7

The law of the LORD is perfect
and revives the soul; *
the testimony of the LORD is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.

8

The statutes of the LORD are just
and rejoice the heart; *
the commandment of the LORD is clear
and gives light to the eyes.

9

The fear of the LORD is clean
and endures for ever; *
the judgments of the LORD are true
and righteous altogether.

Listen to the descriptors David uses:

Perfect

            Sure

                        Just

                                    Clear

                                                Clean

                                                            True

And to the effects:

Revives the Soul

            Gives wisdom to the innocent

                        Rejoice the Heart

                                    Gives light to the eyes

                                                Endures forever

                                                            Righteous altogether.

Salt anyone?

“By keeping them is your servant enlightened (or warned)

  And in keeping them there is great reward.”

And so we pray with the psalmist:

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

Be acceptable in your sight, O LORD,

My strength and my redeemer!”

So what exactly is the Salt that we are to get inside of us?

The Law of the Lord

            The Testimony of the Lord

                        The Statutes of the Lord

                                    The Commandment of the Lord

                                                The Fear of the Lord

                                                            The Judgments of the Lord
 
In Psalm 119:9, at the beginning of what is the greatest chapter in the Bible on the Bible itself, David asks a simple question:

 How can a young man (or woman) keep their way PURE?

And he answers:  “By keeping it (his way) according to Your Word.”

And in the two verses that follow:With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me wander from Your commandments.Your Word I have treasured (hidden) in my heart, That I may not sin against You.

That word “to treasure” means to hide or to store up.  Like “buried treasure.”

 
Have salt in yourselves!”

Where does the salt come from?   HERE, the Word of God

And how does it get inside us?   “Hear, Read, Mark, Learn, and Inwardly Digest” to use the phrases of the prayerbook.

Friends, if we are serious about our personal walk with God, about our corporate life as the People of God and about our National Life, as “One Nation, Under God”

Then this is where we must turn.

We live in the most biblically illiterate culture in the world.  How is that possible?

With the Bible being the best selling book of all time, so much so that they don’t even put it on the best seller lists, cause nothing else would ever even get a look in.

Every family and household in America has an average of 6 bibles.

And to quote a dear saint who will remain unnamed, “I have a stack of these things at home, but NO ONE ever told me I was supposed to read it!”

Read it friends!!

This Bible is the salt mine!!

Amen.

From the collect that I mentioned before, Let us pray:

 
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.