Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Grace of Giving

October 7, 2012
Pentecost XIX
Fr. Philip Eberhart 

The Grace of Giving
Click Here for Audio
As we begin in this month to begin looking toward next year it is time to talk about all of our favorite subject:  money and giving.  But I want to begin what will be a three week series by talking about our need for giving, not God’s need or the church’s need for your money.

Because the first is an illusion – God has no need for your money.  And some may wipe your brow here and go, “whew!”  Now THAT’S GOOD NEWS!! 

Why?  Because God thinks He owns it all!!  He thinks He made it all, and is still the one who is running the universe!! 

God thinks that everything we have, from our most basic needs for breath, for food and clothing, for a roof and meaningful labor – even the beating of our hearts – God thinks is from His hand!  Every good and perfect gift,” James tells us, “is from the Father of lights.”

God is in fact the first and consummate giver!  He gave us the world and all that is in it.
David the Psalmist sung “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have set in their courses… O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth!”

And God continued to give, ultimately, in His Son.  We all know the verse:

“For God so loved the world, that He GAVE…” 

 He gave substantively!   “His one and only Son!”

He gave purposefully!  “That whosoever believes in Him, should have everlasting life!”
 

The Church’s Need

Many of those who complain about the Church today, say that all they hear about in the church is its’ need for money!  I have to ask where are you listening?  If you listen mostly to televangists and TV preachers, you’re probably right!  That’s is because the media they have chosen is a very, very expensive media to work in.  And the best, make a minimum of having to ask for support, but it is a reality of the medium.

But TV preachers and evangelists and para-church ministries, are not the local church!

I believe that you are supposed to be planted somewhere.  Your commitment to Jesus has to be specifically lived out in His Community – there are no Lone Ranger Christians, as popular as he was.  Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto!

Jesus sent us out as disciples two-by-two and Jesus said that the basic unit of the church was a gathering of two-or-three, gathered in His Name!  That kind of church is light and mobile, but soon there is more than three or four.  Here in America we are experts at accumulation. And soon the church has a pastor and staff and perhaps a building or two, a campus, if its large.  And a need – growing need.

This is true of large and small churches alike, especially in an economy like the one we find ourselves in.  This sermon is being preached across the land during these months and all of us are trying to survive this downturned economy and the fortunes or mis-fortunes of jobs gained and lost, of lives uprooted, of people moving from place to place in search of new opportunities.

So the church does have a need, but God…!  BUT GOD! 

But God wants us to focus on Him.  Our psalm this morning begins and ends with a strong affirmation:

            O Lord our Governor, how exalted is your Name in all the world!

On that basis, we order our lives; we orient our lives and our worship in reference to God!  We prioritize our lives based on His priorities and we follow the pattern of His own giving to us, in response to it. 
 

OUR NEED TO GIVE

I want to go back to what I said about God’s pattern of giving, from John 3:16:

 
FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD:

Over and over again, through the prophets of the Old Testament, the people of Israel were warned by God and to shun idolatry.  I don’t have time to go into all the verses in the OT about the dangers of idolatry.

What we worship matters and the “god du jour” – the god of our age, especially in this super wealthy country of ours is money.  Like the despised tax collector Zacchaeus in Luke 19, our attitude toward money is going to undergo an amazing shift, as Jesus draws near.  “Zack” had a change of heart, a dramatic change of heart, as Jesus came to his house! 

Jesus love was his motive force!  We find him in places that his friends were uncomfortable with – with people that were the outcasts of his day – both rich and poor, both sinners and saints.  Why?  He said it as he was teaching at the house of Zacchaeus:

“But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

Jesus SO LOVED Zack that he went to his house – Zack SO LOVED Jesus, that he gave, in response to Jesus love.

So why do we NEED TO GIVE?  Especially where we are like Zack, we need to give as an expression of our love for Jesus;  in response to His love for us, and for the world.

Why do we NEED TO GIVE?  We need to give to be free from the “love of money.”  Zacchaeus was freed that day, not from a prison of keys and bars, but from a prison of greed.  He had a change of heart and it issued in a change of action.

GOD SO LOVED … THAT HE GAVE!

Giving is the natural outflow of love.  It is simply what happens when we love, someone or something.

 

HE GAVE HIS ONE AND ONLY SON!

Earlier I said that God gave substantively!  Very substantively.  God gift wasn’t money as ours is … God’s gift was Himself! 

That is the priority that God wants us to have as well.  We don’t give God money in return for services. If we did that, I would require each of you to turn in your tax return to the church and we would expect an amount equal to what you pay for other’s services in our culture.

Of course what I’m talking about is our policy of tipping!  I’ve talked with some of my favorite waitresses and waiters around the city, and asked them about their tips.  Here is how it breaks out:

10% - I did a poor job
15% - I did an adequate job
18% - I did a good job

Isn’t it interesting that God’s requirements in the biblical tithe, 10% – if it were a tip, would mean we think God has done a poor job!

Just some food for thought!  Pardon the pun.

God gave of his substance – He gave of WHO HE WAS.  And Jesus, Paul tells us, came willingly, in obedience to the Father and in love for the world!  Jesus came as a servant of us created beings – in fact He became one of us, fully and completely!!

Your giving cannot simply be in monetary terms, back to God!  Right after the story of Zach in Luke 19, Jesus turns and tells the crowd the parable of the talents.  Now for them a talent was a measure of money, but for us, interestingly, talent has a much more personal meaning, but one which still applies.

God gave of WHO HE WAS.  Of His substance, in giving Jesus, His one and only Son!

What are you ready to give back to Him?
 
Our traditional three legged stool of giving says it this way:  Time, Talent & Treasure.
In our day and age all of these must come into play for us to be adequate givers in the Kingdom of God.  Our substance in this day is not just monetary, it is substantive to give your time and it is equally substantive to give your talents – your gifts of talent and ability, to God!

 
Finally, GOD SO LOVED … THAT –

God’s giving was on purpose! 

“That whosever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Do you give on purpose!

Paul was clear that each one should “purpose in his heart.”  That means that you decide what to give and where to give.  If its not something that comes from a free choice to love and respond to God’s gifts in your life, then … why give?

But if you know God’s love and God’s provision in your life

If you know God’s faithfulness, morning by morning

If you hear God’s voice, through the Word and through His people, -- perhaps even sometimes through the message of the preacher

If you love Jesus and want His Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.

Do any of those describe you?  I think that they do!

If so, then you must give!  Not as a chore or duty, not as a tip for services, but as an offering of thanks and as a partaker in the great work of God in His Kingdom.  The Bible talks as much about money, as it does salvation or healing!  And God isn’t in need, nor does the Church need your money!  Our provision is in the Lord alone.

But you need to give, in order to be free and in order to say, “Thanks.”

May we pray?

Almighty God, whose loving hand hath given us all that we possess: Grant us grace that we may honor thee with our substance, and, remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of thy bounty.  Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favor, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy Name, and finally, by thy mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Seeing Jesus, Our King


November 25, 2012
Christ the King Sunday
Fr. Philip D. Eberhart


Seeing Jesus, The King

Our culture, and especially our Christian church culture in America – evangelical culture in particular – have so often emphasized the humanity and identification of Jesus with our weakness, that we forget WHO HE IS.  We have a kind of amnesia when it comes to the real power and the real position of Jesus Christ in the universe.  He is our big brother; He is our advocate;  He is the lover of my soul – no mistaking that, BUT … He is soooo much more that JUST those things.

To be sure Jesus Christ came to be incarnate – en-fleshed – among us.  John is very clear in chapter 1 of his gospel:  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." 

Equally so, in his first letter, John writes,  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life - the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us - that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

Jesus was made like us in every way, except in sin:  He hungered,  He thirsted,  He got tired,  He slept, prayed, cried, suffered.  Just like us.  When you include what He went through on the cross, he suffered way more than almost any of us will ever suffer.  All for our sake – for you and for me! 

The Suffering Servant and the Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild, are pictures that we see when we look at the Jesus record in scripture; how he was with the children, how he was with the weak, the lepers, the blind, the woman caught in the act of adultery.  Neither to I condemn you – go and sin no more!”

But if we only see this earthly Jesus – the savior of humankind, who relates to us as servant and elder brother, first-born from among the dead, who is touched with our weakness and a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  If we look only at those things, we begin to lose some of the power of the message.

So we have put in the Christian Year a Sunday – this Sunday – Christ the King Sunday, to ponder and remind ourselves, before we start the contemplation of His coming as a babe, and of His soon returning, of WHO IT IS THAT WE WORSHIP!

 Turn with me to the 1st chapter of The Revelation of St. John:

I want you to travel with me to a cave on Patmos and like the wardrobe of CS Lewis, through it, to another place – a Kingdom place.

What we have in the reading from Revelation this morning is the prologue to the letter that John the Apostle wrote out of the vision he had.  Let me read the vision

here in the 1st chapter and then we will come back to the prologue that we have in our bulletin.  (beginning at V. 10) close your eyes…

Rev 1:10  I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet …

Rev 1:12-18  Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.

Are you there yet?

With John we are standing not in a cave on an island in the Mediterranean ocean, but in the very throne room of God – and the description is of the risen Christ, the King of the Universe and Lord of all.  Now I would be overwhelmed, like John was as he fell down at Jesus feet.  And I believe that falling down at Jesus feet is entirely appropriate worship, at any time and in any place.

Want a further glimpse of this room?  Come with me to the 4th chapter: 

Rev 4:2-11

      At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.  And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.  From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind:  the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight.

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!"  And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."

Do you hear the echoes from heaven?  Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”  “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Do you hear the echoes in our own worship here? 

Are you there yet?  Here from the next chapter:

Rev 5:5 – 14

… behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals." And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."

 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped.

I just want you to be there!

I want you to get a grasp – TO GASP!!! – to have your breath taken away, with the glory and grandeur of heaven and the worship that is constantly going on there and the place that Jesus, the ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’, has in that worship!

Now let’s come back to our prologue to the letter of Revelation… 

The One whom we worship is Three –

            The Eternal Father:  “Him who is and who was and who is to come”
            The Holy Spirit:       “and from the seven spirits who are before his throne.”
            The Only-begotten Son: “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

Then John adds more about Jesus:

            To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father; to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen!

Are you there yet?

The danger we are in, friends, is that of trivializing the God of the Universe and the Son whom He sent on our behalf, to testify to the truth, as Jesus said to Pilate.

We get so wrapped up in our own lives and in the things of this life, this world, that we get amnesia, we stop remembering WHO it is we worship and the position that He has in heaven – in the very throne room of God. 

As Paul puts it in Philippians 2: 9-10

“Therefore, God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the Name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”
Our response in worship and in the Eucharist is to remember with thanksgiving the mercies of God -  in fact that very word we use in our Eucharistic liturgy and each time we do, we at the altar bow:  “Do this in remembrance of me.”

The $50 word that goes with this phrase is from the Greek word “to remember”:

Anamnesis.

Isn’t it interesting how similar its opposite sounds:   AMNESIA  to not remember!

Which is it for us?  Which is it most often for us in our day-to-day lives?

Are we remembering or are we forgetting, Who it is we worship and why?  Who we are and What has happened to us in Christ?  Why we are here and What we have been sent to do?

Listen to that last phrase about Jesus from John’s Revelation again:

            To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father; to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen!

Do this in REMEMBRANCE of Me!

Are you there yet?

================================

 

Let’s pray:

 

Join me once again in our opening collect for today:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords:  Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule;  who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.   Amen

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light:  Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation;  let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, you Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.    Amen.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Access to God, the Father

November 18, 2012
Pentecost XXV
Fr. Philip Eberhart

 
Access to the God the Father
Audio Blog

This morning I want to highlight a few of the verses from our reading from the letter to the Hebrews.  First of all, just take a listen again to the verses we just heard in Hebrews, written in the Message:
 
19-21 So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body.
22-25 So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

All of this is dependant on one verse at the beginning of the reading – from verse 14:

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

Again from The Message:

By that single offering, he did everything that needed to be done for everyone who takes part in the purifying process.

Perfected for all time!

And in the reading the writer of the letter actually defends the statement by pulling from the promise in the Prophet Jeremiah, Chapter 31:33-34.  Jeremiah promises a New Covenant with the people of Israel – a promise that is topped off with the statement:  And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins!”

What a promise!  A clean slate forever.

So what do we do with that?

Ultimate Thanks-living!

The writer to the Hebrews has some thoughts that are some of the clearest and best, regarding our response to the amazing grace of God here!

Therefore!  There is that word! 

In the light of a permanently clean slate – and no further need or even a possibility of offering anything to God to atone for our sins – in THAT light:

 

Therefore!

There are some things that arise from the statement:

1)    We have confidence to enter in

One of my very favorite bible words is the word “access” – what we have been given through the sacrifice of Christ – as our reading puts it:  by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh) – what we have been given is ACCESS!  

ACCESS TO GOD – right into the very throne room.

A story is told of a soldier who needed to get in to see President Lincoln to deliver a message during the War between the States, but who was turned away at the White House gate.  He went to the park across the street and sat down, frustrated.  Soon a young boy came up and asked him why he was there.  He explained his mission to see the president and the young boy said simply, “Follow me.”  And the two proceeded to a back entrance to the White House grounds, walked right in past the guard post and into the White House, up right into the Oval Office, and into a high level meeting, with no opposition or challenge, much to the soldier’s surprise.  He was introduced to the President, with the words, “Dad, this soldier has something he needs to tell you.”  The young boy was Todd Lincoln, the son of the President- who had total access to His Father.

We have total access to God the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus has opened the way for us to come to God!  We have total and complete ACCESS.

Paul said it this way in Romans 5:1-2

5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

And the word that the writer to the Hebrews uses here for “confidence” is also translated “boldness,  Openness or Freedom to speak” – there is the sense that we have been ushered into the very presence of God and are given the freedom to speak freely with Him about anything on our heart.

 
2) The One who ushered us in is Our Great High Priest, Jesus Himself. 

This whole section of Hebrews is making the parallel between what Jesus has done and the ancient practices of Temple Sacrifice in the Old Covenant.  The imagery is unmistakable here:

 

            We enter by the “Blood of Jesus!”  (The Lamb who was slain –                                                       Who takes away the sin of the world)

            A “High Priest” is involved – also Jesus Christ!

            Our hearts are “Sprinked Clean” – a reference to the sprinkling of the blood                                   on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant, done yearly, to cleanse                               the people of their sins for that year!

            Our “bodies washed with pure water” – the symbol of the ritual washing as a worshipper
                             prepared himself to enter into the Temple worship.

 

So Now What?

 Let Us Come!

 The Table is open and this is our representation of all that we are reading, here at the Table of the Lord Jesus, set for us and welcoming us and all who will boldly enter into the promises that God has given in Jesus Christ!

 The Blood is here – The broken Body is here!!

Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith.
 
Friends, when we talk about Anglican Sacramental Theology and what is happening at on this table as we consecrate bread and wine, and as we come this is a key verse for us to know and remember!

We don’t believe either extreme about the sacraments:  What we do here is not JUST a remembrance of Jesus death, a memorial service, if you will, each week.  It is not just a SIGN of the Kingdom of God come among us.

But neither is it the ACTUAL FLESH AND BLOOD of the Savior, made new in the cup, as if by magic, to be venerated, worshipped and adored.

As Anglicans, we believe that Jesus is present here in a REAL PRESENCE – that He has made a way for us to ACCESS His presence by faith, through the use of these sacraments of bread and wine – by His design they are a “means of grace.”

Each and every time you come to this table, you have the opportunity to meet with Jesus in a special way, as you approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith!  You have been cleansed inside and out, by His Spirit in baptism and by the very water of baptism, and you have ACCESS.  What a glorious reality!!!
 

Therefore!!!!  LET US …

HOLD FAST to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful!

Our hope does not depend on us friends, it depends on the One in whom place our faith!

When you get on a plane it is not YOU who are flying – though we say we are “flying here or flying there!”  You place your faith in and enter into fully a plane, that takes you where you are destined to go for that trip.  At DIA, the plane you get on determines the destination you end up at!!

So it is with Christ!!  You are IN CHRIST as a Christian and you can hold fast to that reality and hope without wavering – the faith is the same as what you use when you go to DIA and get on a plane to fly somewhere.

AND…
 
LET US consider how to provoke one another!!
HA.   Often I don’t need to do much considering to do that!! 
Oh, but we are to provoke one another in specific ways!

Provoke one another to love and to good deeds
Don’t neglect to meet together (for worship), as some are in the habit of doing.
Encourage one another!

Provoke each other to love and to do good
Get together and worship, daily, weekly, as often as you can.
Encourage one another!

Anyone here need encouragement from time to time?

Anyone here need to be provoked to be the best you that you can be!  For Jesus… for the sake of the Kingdom of God!

We pray every week, “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”

This is how it comes friends.
In our midst – as we come boldly into His Real Presence;
As we receive grace from His Body and His Blood;
As we come to worship together, daily and weekly

People wonder why they are depressed and discouraged after they have been away from the hope of Jesus for a while.  Have you ever taken a coal out of the fireplace and placed it on the hearth?  What happens?   It goes cold quickly and black.  Place it back in the fire and what happens?
It catches fire again.

22-25 So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

Amen!! And Amen!!