Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Word Made Flesh

December 30, 2012
Christmas II
Fr. Philip Eberhart

 

 

The Word Made Flesh
  Audio File
 

 

Our gospel passage for this morning is one of the most beautiful and classic texts of all of scripture.  From it we understand in glorious terms WHO Jesus Christ is, WHAT He has done in His incarnation and HOW we can be a part of the work that is ongoing in and through us today.

 

There is so much here I want to dive right in.

 

WHO IS THIS JESUS?

 

John the beloved disciple was one of Jesus’ inner circle – one of his confidants, if you will.  And from that intimate place with the Savior, John writes to us, a gospel that is very different from the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

 

John was written with a kind of poetic and mystical flare as well, and it captures a side of Jesus, the Savior, that the other gospels don’t.  This begins from the first words, where, just like the first words of the Old Testament Torah, John begins at the beginning!

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

John gets right to the point:  Jesus, the Christ, is God.  The God of creation.  The God over the universe, from Whom all things have come, exist and hold together today.

 

John wrote his gospel in the latter part of the first century we’re told, and a great many gentiles had come into the faith by that time.  Here John uses a concept from Greek philosophers and expands it with O.T riches – The Word.  For the Greeks, the Word (logos) was an impersonal force that brought order to the universe – not unlike The Force of our modern day Star Wars movies.  The Word, as John uses it though is very specific, and much richer, as it encompasses all the writing of the Old Testament in regard to the Law – all that God has spoken for our benefit and direction.

 

Here, John uses the Logos of the Greek system to capture their imagination and expand it to see in it the light and the life of the one and only Son of God.  This one and only Son has now come, being made flesh and bringing to light the life of God, given to man. 

 

WHAT JESUS HAS DONE

 

John describes the work of the Word in terms like Life (ZOE) and Light.

 

What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

 

John uses the greek word for life, ZOE, which is the spiritual life – the life of God – rather than the life of the flesh, BIOS.  The force of the words remind us that God is the One, through Jesus the Word, who breathed the breath of life into us.  He is our creator and sustains us, at the level of our very breath!

 

And John continues, in v. 14 with these wonderful words:

 

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.

 

John uses the images of the Tabernacle here, from the ancient history of the Jewish people, when God dwelt with His people in the wilderness, as pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.  Jesus is said here to have come and “tabernacled” with us.  Jesus dwells with His people, just as He did in the early foundations of this People of God.  Now God is re-forming a people for himself – and He comes once again, this time in FLESH.

 

For John this was something not to be missed or underestimated!  In his first letter, he begins similarly…

 

We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning,[a] 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. 2 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. 3 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. 4 We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.(NLT)

 

John is adamant that we understand that this God has become a flesh and blood person just like us.  Not an apparition of some kind, not a day-dream, but a flesh and blood, sweat and tears, dust and thirst, kind of man!

 

This is the heart of grasping the meaning of the Incarnation – the en-flesh-ment of God in our midst.  John and Peter and James and the other disciples walked and talked with this man, Jesus.  They ate with him and laughed with him – they watched him live his life, as no other.  And later they wrote these words:

 

… we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.

 

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

 

Even Paul, who didn’t walk with Jesus in person, but had an encounter with him after the resurrection could write:

 

15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,[e]
16 for through him God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together.
18 Christ is also the head of the church,
which is his body.
He is the beginning,
supreme over all who rise from the dead.[f]
So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness
was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled
everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

 

HOW CAN I BE A PART OF THIS?

 

John tells us clearly that we are meant to be a part of all this as we come to believe and become “in Christ.”

 

Step 1: Believe and Receive

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

John acknowledges that we can encounter Jesus, and yet not know Him.  This was the plight of the Jews at the time of the incarnation of Jesus, to which John refers here.  But its not just the Jews who suffer from this kind of myopia – the whole world is blind.  What John describes is the spiritual blindness and unwillingness to see Jesus for Who He actually is.

 

We are willing to say he was a great, perhaps the greatest teacher of all time; His words ring through the ages as the most humane and gracious words spoken by man. Some even call him a prophet – more than just a teacher, but one sent from God! 

 

But these do not capture the truth that John is presenting here. 

 

The Very God of Very God – The Great ‘I AM’ of Moses encounter – the One who called Abraham and promised – The Creator from the beginning!

That GOD – YHWH – became a man!  As incomprehensible as it is, it is the TRUTH to which John points with almost every phrase.

 

And we are simply asked to believe in His name, Jesus.  To put our trust in this man, sent from God – this One and Only Son – and thus to be born from above, John would later tell Nicodemas.  Here in the prologue, he hints at it as well:

who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

 

You can be “born of God.”

 

But its not just mental assent to a proposition – saying yes, Jesus is the Son of God.  Trust is much more.  Assent is saying you believe that the chair will hold you up – Trust is sitting down on it.

 

Those who believe, must receive! 

 

When we receive someone, say into our home, we let them come in fully.  If I don’t want to accept or receive what a salesman has to sell me, I go out of my house and talk on the front steps.  If I’m buying something of value, I invite the agent or representative into my home, and we sit at the dining room table or in the study.

 

Jesus wants to have an intimate, person-to-person, heart-to-heart relationship with you.  You must receive Him into your life.  He is both Savior AND LORD.

 

And here is the promise:

to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,

 

Step 2:  Power to Become

 

What God is after here is you, lock, stock and barrel!  You, all of you, warts and all.

 

You see, the project is you!  And you, and you, and you, and you and and and and…

 

Each of us has been given an amazing gift when we come to believe in Jesus Christ and we receive Him into our lives as our Lord and Master.  We have been given the Power, the Right, to become Children of God – Sons of God, Daughters of God.

 

It’s interesting to note that the phrase “Sons/Daughters of God” is a Hebrew phrase, that indicates a character transformation – a change in the inside reality of who and what you are.  We hear James and John referred to as the “sons of thunder” or sinners who are unrepentant are sometimes referred to as “sons of perdition.”  The phrase captures the force of character that is inside a person – its both who they are and the way they behave.

 

So we have been given, now in Jesus, a new power and right.  The power to become “sons of God.”  The power to become like God in our character and action.  To become!  Say it with me, “Power to Become!”

 

But this is not a “once it happened and now I am” reality!  This is the ongoing project of God in the world – in our lives.  This is the project that Paul refers to in Romans 8 – that the whole creation is waiting to see – the “revealing of the Sons of God!” 

 

This is the direction that God is taking “all things that work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to His purposes!”

 

It is the transformation of character that follows in verse 29 of Romans 8:

 

“For God knew his people (you) in advance, and he chose them to become like His Son…”

 

This is the project and meaning of your life and my life.  There is no other project or task that God has for you to “do.”  He has something for you to be first!  Like Jesus!

 

We need to make Jesus our “magnificent obsession!”   If you must be OCD please be OCD about JESUS!!!  Let Him fill your field of vision, let Him capture your imagination, let Him dominate your thoughts and dreams. 

 

As we move once again into a new year,

 

let Jesus be your greatest love, your highest ambition, your only hope! 

 

Let Jesus be your last chance, your deepest pleasure, your shining example. 

 

Let Him be your course of study, your advanced degree, your promotion in rank. 

 

Let Him be your job security, your abiding place and your all in all.

 

Let us pray:

 

 

 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,

Have mercy on me a sinner.

 

Wesley’s Covenant Prayer:

 

 I am no longer my own, but thine.

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,

exalted for thee or brought low for thee.

Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things

to thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,

let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve: That's the way I'd have done it!

Christmas Eve, 2012
Fr. Philip Eberhart
 

That’s the way I'd have done it!
Audio File

 
A day or two ago a friend here at REZ emailed me a piece that Max Lucado did called “Gabriel” a few years back in his book, When God Whispers Your Name.  It’s kind of a take off of the old conversation between Noah and God that Bill Cosby did many years back. 
 

Gabriel is expressing his opinion about how this “God becoming Man” thing should happen!  At least he was expressing it to himself.  And Lucado inspired me…  So here you have…
 
“That’s the way I would’ve done it!!”

I mean it’s a no-brainer that God, when He comes to become a man, needs to make an entrance!  Right?

I mean the Psalms talk about thick dark clouds, peals of thunder, lightning bolts – you know -- kind of like the alien spaceship entrance from Independence Day, yeah!!  Nobody misses this event! 
That’s the way I would have done it.
 

Flaming chariot and upraised sword – looking like The King behind a flashing white herd of Arabians – like the Lippizaner Stallions or maybe even the Clydesdales from Budweiser!  Yeah…
That’s the way I would have done it.

 And they got the angel choirs right!  But shepherds?   Really?
 

And surely there was a better place to do this!   Surely!

Hows about … just before the ball drops in Times Square at midnight on New Year’s Eve!

Or better yet, how about at half time of the Super Bowl or the World Cup! Yeah…
That’s the way I would have done it.

 

Media coverage.  Tweeting. 
A Facebook Fan page so everyone can be a “Friend” of God!
Yeah, That’s the way I would have done it.
 

But no!  God had to have things His way.  He’s funny like that!
 
No flash, no smoke, no lightning bolts.  Just a bunch of angels …
and shepherds! 
I’ll just never get over those shepherds.  Really?  
Shepherds?   Really?



And God decided to come as a baby!   You kiddin’ me?

And not even a royal in a palace – just some girl who had been born into the line of David. I guess that’s pretty close, but the bloodline was so thin by the time it got to her… 

Well… that NOT the way I would have done it!

A young girl from a nowhere town

      (“Can anything good come from Nazareth?) 

Engaged to the local carpenter.  Wow. 

Almost as good as the shepherds!
Sheesh.

Are ya feeling me here?  I just don’t get it.

Why not do things My way? 

 
And in the silent night, God answers: 

Cause it’s doing things your way that got us in this mess in the first place.

 

 

The Christmas story, as unlikely, as unassuming, as unseen as it was and is, has held the world spellbound for over 2000 years.  The baby, grew up, and became a man like no other.  Because he was a man like no other!  God’s Only Begotten Son.

We laugh because of the life and the hope and the love that came into the world in the person of this baby, Jesus.

 The son of Mary and Joseph has taught us how to live our lives, as sons and daughters of God.  His Heavenly Father was doing it his way – every step of the way.

I think that part of the reason that God chose the ways and means He did for the appearance of His One and Only Son, Jesus, was that he didn’t want to do anything that would take away our need for faith.

Faith is an amazing thing!  First it is a gift of God, just like Jesus!  It is simply trust.  Trust in Jesus, the unlikely baby from Nazareth, born in a barn in Bethlehem, with his parents, the shepherds and magi and angels from heaven around him -  There is nothing but Him to hang your faith on.  Just like God planned it.

Nothing but the most incredible life ever lived! 

Nothing but the deepest words ever spoken!

Nothing but the greatest love we ever witnessed!

Nothing but the greatest sacrifice ever given!

There is nothing but Jesus Christ, the baby and the King of Glory to hang you faith on!

Just like God planned it.

 

Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Waiting on the Lord


December 23, 2012
Advent IV
Fr. Philip Eberhart


Waiting on the Lord
Audio File
  

Well, welcome to the second day past the end of the world!!  Apparently the Mayans were wrong,  or…  the calendar just ended.  I saw a cartoon of one Mayan asking the other why the calendar stopped there, and he said, “I ran out of rock!”

It may be just that simple, when it comes to the Mayans, and we get wrapped up in and mesmerized with fantasies, while the world around us laughs.

I also saw two other cartoons this weekend:  One had an absent-minded Jesus saying,

“That end of the world thing!   That was today?”  and another had Jesus saying, “End the world, 4 days before my birthday!  No Way!”

So once again we can get on with the living of life and the loving of others, as we have been commanded to do all along.

I think there is a reason why, over and over the Lord tells us in Scripture that “the day and the hour” are above our pay grade!  Once he even said they are above His, but are in the hands of the Father.

But this past week, has brought something to the fore for me, as I’ve talked with people about the end of the world (given that there was no real sense of fear here) – I’ve wondered what life would be like for us, if we lived our lives in expectation of His appearing?

This Sunday we center on the experience of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in our readings and songs.  There was one line that really struck me as I read through the readings this week:  the last line of the Gospel reading:

“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." 

This was spoken of Mary by her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of the prophet, John, the Baptizer, Jesus’ cousin.  And it was spoken of Mary, in the first few days or weeks of her pregnancy; in fact Luke has her going to stay with Elizabeth right after the Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel.  There is no outward and visible sign of the Lord’s fulfillment of the Angelic word.  

“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."

Waiting for the end of the world – let me say it a bit better – waiting for the coming of Jesus Christ in Glory for us in these days, is not unlike what Mary went through as she waited for His first advent. 

In effect we are “pregnant” with faith for the Kingdom of God to come.

Mary was incredulous at the things that were said to her.  Even the greeting, “favored one!” she pondered as she heard it!  

This morning I want to place us and today in the place of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

She has been given a promise, but there are no outward signs, other than this visitation and the words spoken to her at the Annunciation.  

When we think of Christ’s second coming, we have no outward signs to go by, other than His words, describing the times and the overarching attitudes of men and women.  No dates or even world events that can be collated with dates, for certain.  We are stuck with faith! 

Just like Mary, at the point of our gospel, all she had was faith. 

Have you ever felt that way?  Kind of believing against all the evidence?  I know I have.

And the angel’s words ring – “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

And Mary’s response to the angel is fantastic!  Would that our response to God and His promises would be like this:

Behold the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your Word.”

In the life of our parish, we have heard over and over again the Big Three for working in the Kingdom of God:

Willingness – Availability and Obedience;   all three here are in view with Mary.
 
As she goes down the road to visit with her cousin, Mary must have been awash in the moments with the Angel and awash in the promise of His words.  I think every mother is aware of these moments – of new life forming inside – even at its earliest stages.  There are physical changes that begin to happen very quickly.

But for Mary, the most significant change was the spiritual place she found herself in.

“Hail, favored one. The Lord is with you.”

Take a moment and do a personal inventory of your own spiritual position in relation to the Father, especially in relation to His favor on your life and His presence in it. 

You see, Mary was given a foretaste in this experience, of what we have been ushered into as a result of the birth and of the death of her child.

 

Favor

Was it that Mary was especially holy, that she had a special upbringing or special circumstances of birth herself – we don’t really know those things apart from legend.

What we do know is that Mary was a young lady, perhaps we would even call her a girl still, today.  We know that she was in the lineage of David, as was Joseph, her intended.
 
We know that this set of circumstances, pregnant before the wedding, was not considered by many to be a place of “favor” in that society.  Yet, here she was.

The most amazing feature of Mary’s walk for me, is her willingness:  “Be it unto me according to your Word.”

Val once asked me, “Could Mary have said, No!”  I have to say she could have.  We all have the capacity as humans to say No to God.  “No Lord” is one of my favorite oxymorons!  And Mary chose availability to God call, to His word concerning her, and she obeyed that word.

Favor is something that God bestows on us as a gift of grace.  His grace working in and through our hum drum, plain Jane life.  “God chooses us,” Jesus told his disciples, “and He calls us His friends!”  Amazing words.

And those words are words that have promise for us, the same promise that the words of the angel held for Mary 

“The Lord is with you.”

 

Presence

Jesus modeled this, as well as his mother.  Perhaps it is one of the things that Mary passed on from her parentage of Jesus – a dependence on the real presence of God in her life, for the fulfillment of His Word to her.  There was no other source possible!

Mary could not “help out” with this project!  

And we can not “help out” with the work that God is doing inside us – and we should not help out with the work that God wants to accomplish through us!

In fact, the more we “help out” the more we mess things up, in my experience.

So we need to keep in mind the theme of being “pregnant with faith and with the Kingdom of God” and know that this is not something that can be managed.

God’s presence inside us is accomplished by our out-and-out surrender, as I mentioned last week – Hands UP!!   It is surrender to God that opens our hands and our hearts to the movement of His Spirit in and then through us.

This is our inheritance and our bequest.  The Holy Spirit is the deposit – the down payment on our life eternal – in the here and now!  

So we must watch Mary, and model our life and our ministry after her and after her Son, Jesus, the Christ.

“… blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."

 

Let us pray.

Lord, we believe. 

We pray that like Mary, the Mother of our Lord, Jesus Christ, we may be enabled to hear your voice speaking and to trust in Your Word to us.  Give us patience to rest in your providence and provision.  Give us faith to believe. Give us grace to persevere in the face of obstacles and adversity.

Let your will be done for us, Lord, according to Your Word.  We declare to you our willingness ( I declare to you my willingness).  Lord, show me where my willingness to be yours and to serve you fades.

And move me, Lord.  Move me from willingness to availability, Lord.  Clear my head and heart of busyness and make room in my schedule for you and for your work!

And finally, Lord Jesus, help us, help me to be obedient – to do your work in your way and in your time, each day.  Let me not run ahead of you or lag behind you in my obedience.  Help me to keep in step with Your Spirit.

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

Amen.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Rejoice in the Lord, Always

December 16, 2012
Advent 3
Fr. Philip D Eberhart

 
Rejoice in the Lord!

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Canticle 9
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

Everyone, I think, comes to a place in their spiritual lives, where God allows our circumstances to overwhelm us.  We are kind of like someone who has fallen over a cliff and at the last second grabbed hold of a clump of grass at the cliff’s edge.  We call for help and a voice comes, “I’m here!”  “Thank you, Lord!” We reply.  “Please pull me up!” we ask. And the answer comes, “Trust me … let go!”

Now I don’t know about you, but my first response is “Is anyone else up there?”

It seems that every conversation, every reading, every circumstance this past week has contributed in some way to the formation of this message in me.

Our passages of scripture this week take us on a quest toward a view of how God views us in Zephaniah, the promises he makes regarding his people, and how we are to respond to both Him and to the circumstance of our lives that God continues to allow and use!

Our key word in the readings is Rejoice!  Rejoice and Sing praises!  And in our Gospel the message of Repentance, from John the Baptizer.  Repentance and Rejoicing. 

But how do these two things go together?  Repentance and Rejoicing??  I’m reminded of the title of a book I read one time by Mother Basilea Schink.  Repentance: The Joy-filled Life”  Mother Basilea is the founder of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, a Lutheran order that rose up in Germany, after the second world war, with the express mission of repenting for the atrocities of the Nazi’s against mankind, and particularly the Jews.

For Paul in his letter to the church at Philippi is very clear and directive, even on the heals of his expressed concern in the first three verses of this chapter about a dispute that has arisen between two women in the church, Paul is clear that they are to rejoice in the Lord.  He says it twice for emphasis, even emphasizing that He saying it twice.  So this is not just a command, it is a double double.  

Rejoice!  Let me say it again, Rejoice and for emphasis let me point out that I’m saying it again!  I want you to get this!  This is really, really, really, really … important.

Now what would you guess “always” means?    *always!*   It’s kind of like all!  All means ALL!  ALWAYS means ALWAYS!  In other words there is no circumstance out there that will push the delete button on this verse!

But Lord, do you know MY set of circumstances?  Do you know how bad it is?  Do you know what I’m going through here?  We’ve all said these words to God.  “Look at this mess!  God – how could you??”

After the Connecticut shootings this week, someone mentioned a friend, who asked the question again – If God is love and God is God, how can things like this be?

What is the meaning of our suffering in our world?  In our lives?  In MY LIFE?

Lord, WHY?  And there is silence.  But if we listen in the silence, we will hear or know without hearing a truth:  The Lord is Near. 

The Lord is Near!

Zephaniah and Isaiah both this morning let us know that this is the reality for God’s people.

The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;

 
Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.
 

The Lord is Near!  Do not worry about anything.  Be Anxious for nothing.
 
This is the same thing that Jesus said on the mountainside.  “How is it that by worrying you can add a single hour to your life?”   Jesus says that this is fruitless activity.  Worry is based on fear. Fear is the opposite of faith, and fear is cast out by perfect love.

The witness of scripture is unanimous here.  Worry is not a good and godly thing.  It steals, and kills and destroys faith.  And all of us do it!  All the time. 

So what is the alternative to worry?

If you don’t have this set of verses memorized, then I have an assignment for you.  Take your pen and circle the reading from Philippians this morning.  Tear it out and chew on it until it becomes a part of you.

This is a prescription and remedy for worry!

 
1.  Rejoice because the Lord is near!

             I’ve been talking about and looking at Gideon this week.  The angel came to Gideon when Gideon was a nothing – a big fat zero.  He self described as being the lowest of the lowest of the low in Israel.  But the first words that the messenger angel spoke to Gideon were, “God is with you / The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.”

Gideon’s response was a little like Noah’s;   RIGHT!

If God is with us, then why has all this happened to us?

We look around at our circumstance, when the messenger is calling us to look at whom?

The Lord!

When times are bad two things can fill our vision:   The problem or the solution.  And if all we can see is the problem then the answer is to begin praying and praising God that He is the answer.
 

2.  Focus in Praise and in Prayer!

            We must recall the times when we have seen God act, in our own past and in the history of God’s action with His people.  Gideon, asked the messenger, “Where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers told us about?”

            Did you know that for many of us, Gideon included the favorite form of prayer we use is “whining?”  Anyone?  Have you ever had a child around who has a habit of whining to get their way?  How does that work for them?  If it’s working for them, then the problem isn’t with them, its with you as a parent!  And God is a perfect parent!

This is why the command to Rejoice is way UP FRONT!  And we rejoice not in our circumstances, but in the “hope of glory.”  Paul says it best, in his second letter to the church in Corinth – talking about all the bad things that happened to him as he was being obedient to God’s call to go and preach the gospel to the Gentiles: 

 

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;…

All this is for you, Corinthians, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.  For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.  So we look not at things that are seen, but at things that are unseen!  Things that are seen are temporary; things that are unseen are eternal!”

Rejoice, The Lord is Near!!

Praise Him and Pray!!

3.  Surrender it all to Him!  Let your requests be made known to God in thankful prayer.

What is the international symbol of surrender?  Interesting!

What is the most common gesture of worship?  Hmmmm.

Same thing.  Amazing isn’t it.  But we hate surrender!  We hate admitting we are not in control.  And it is probably the biggest obstacle to success in the spiritual life of any believer that I can name.  With its roots down deep in our pride – in our personhood – and in our sinful nature.

Surrender is trusting God and leaning not on our own understanding.
Surrender is letting His Word be the light to my path – the lamp to my feet.
Surrender is taking my hands off; taking my plans off.
Surrender is coming to the end of my resources, my ability to fix things, my ability to                    manipulate, people and circumstances.
Surrender is a hard place to go and a hard place to be.  But is it absolutely necessary.

Why?  Because without it the next thing will never happen…

4.  Now the promise…

“And the peace of God which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

There may not be a more precious promise in here!

This is not just an “absence of striving” kind of peace, this is an active presence of God in our life that comes as a result of surrender to Him.  This is the presence of the Holy Spirit, our comforter and guide into all truth.  This is the God of the Universe coming into our hearts and into our circumstances and making all things new. RE-Making things in His image and after His purpose!

And our focus becomes HIM, not the circumstances.  And we end up where we started:  The Lord is Near!

Think on these things… And the God of Peace will be with you. (end of v. 9)

 

Let us pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, we set our eyes on you this morning.  We look to you, Lord, the Author and the Finisher of our faith.  And we see in you, Lord, all that is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.  You are excellent and worthy of praise!

God of Peace, come into our lives and into our circumstances this day.  We open our hands and raise them to you in surrender.  All that troubles us – all that hurts us – all that plagues us, this day, we give to You.  Come Holy Spirit and give us your peace.  Speak that peace of Jesus to our hearts.  Be with us.  You are our source and our reward.

In Jesus name we ask it, and for the sake of His Kingdom.

Amen.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Prepare Ye the Way!

December 9, 2012
Advent 2
Fr. Philip Eberhart
 

Prepare Ye The Way
(click here for sermon audio)
 

Malachi 3:1-2;   Isaiah 40:1-8;   Philippians 1:3-11;   Luke 3:1-6


Have you ever noticed that, when you are personally in crisis or in pain, it’s really hard to “lift up your eyes” and see that there is a larger meaning and purpose in life?  …that there is larger meaning, even to our pain and sorrow! 

There is more to this than the messes we get ourselves into!

Now maybe I’m the only one who lets things get into a mess, but I don’t really think so.

Messes happen!  Life happens – and life is messy.
 
So what IS the larger meaning in our mess?

Well as you can well imagine I get to deal with a particularly wide variety of messes, almost weekly it seems.  And over time I’ve come to realize that there are similarities in the messes, and there is often purpose that can be found in the middle of the mess!

Our scriptures and the overall theme of this 2nd Sunday of Advent is “prepare the way of the Lord.”  We’ve heard it several times already and will hear it some more this morning.

The phrase comes from the Prophet Isaiah, and he is quoted in Luke’s gospel this morning, as a pointer to the ministry of John, the Baptizer, Jesus’ cousin.

Advent is a time of preparation – but for what?

For the coming of Jesus Christ, - the remembrance of His first advent and the anticipation of His second!

But what I want to focus on this morning is the duty of preparation.  When life gets messy, as I mentioned, we tend to focus on ourselves, on our pain, on our dis-comfort, our dis-ease.  That is quite natural and quite toxic!

Most of us here in the state of Colorado, know the difference between mountain driving and driving on the plains.  The one is filled with curves, steep ravines, up and down, and in the right circumstances can be quite dangerous.  The other just the opposite, is straight, flat – a long drive in the same direction, to Burlington or to Kansas or Iowa!!  Believe me, I know!  For us, who drive we enjoy the mountains now, but the danger remains – just not to the same extent as those who were the first travelers through them.

I am a descendant of the pioneers for whom Donner Pass in N. California is named.  A wagon train party trying to make it to California that got caught in the snows of the Sierra’s north of Lake Tahoe – some 22 feet that winter.  They lived out the tragedy and danger of our mountainous terrain for those who are on foot or in a wagon. Even today, if one gets caught in such weather, in the mountains or on the plains, there is great danger involved.

The point of the story is that God uses the pathways that we are on to do His work in our lives.  I’m reminded that in the Chinese alphabet the word for crisis is made up of the two characters for danger and opportunity!
 
Paul said it well in his greeting to his friends at Phillippi:  “I am assured of this – confident of this one thing:  That the One who began a good work in you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ”

No matter what road you are on, or where you are on that road, as long as your eyes are on Jesus, He is working to do the good work He purposes in your life, in spite of and even through the circumstances you find yourself in. 

Let me repeat myself:
No matter what road you are on, or where you are on that road, as long as your eyes are on Jesus, He is working to do the good work He purposes in your life, in spite of and even through the circumstances you find yourself in.

The fact of the matter is that the purpose of His good work in you is always the same.

Is has little to do with your circumstances or even your ministry; it has everything to do with YOU!

Paul prayed for the Ephesians with these words:  “I pray… that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…” 

In the Inner Man!  That is the focus of Christ’s work.  The outward circumstance of your life and the forces at play in your work, your school, your relationships, even in your marriage, are used by God to get at “The Inner Man.”

You remember Jesus railing against the Pharisees one time told them that they were careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside they were full of robbery and self-indulgence!  (Mt 23:25-26)  The point of God’s work in our lives is the inside of the cup!
 

Look for a moment with me again at the epistle reading from Philippians 1.

Paul’s great love for this congregation which he founded and which partnered with him for the rest of his ministry, there and abroad, is very evident: 

For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.

Paul was their pastor!  He was the one who prayed with them and for them as they struggled through their own set of difficulties and as God worked in and through them in that first century – pre-christian era.

Paul goes on:
“And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” 

I believe that this is the direction that God wants to take us through our circumstances!

Overflowing love, always more and more
Knowledge and FULL Insight, no more groping around in the dark (ever feel like that?)
Pure and Blameless, the internal state of affairs of someone who has been formed into                 
      the likeness of Jesus Chris
Having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ

When I read that last phrase I was reminded of the reminder of the writer to the Hebrews in that famous 12th chapter:

Looking to Jesus, the Author and the Finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  You (on the other hand) … have no resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin;  It is for discipline that you endure;  God is dealing with you as a beloved child; just as earthly father discipline us for a short time … God disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in His holiness.  This is not a joyful experience, but filled with sorrow, yet the discipline trains us and afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (sound familiar?)
 

Now listen to the Therefore!

“Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, (anyone?)
and MAKE STRAIGHT PATHS FOR YOUR FEET, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.  Pursue peace and sanctification; don’t fall short of the grace of God!

Friends, there is grace for us who are in the midst of the circumstance of life, who are ‘under the circumstances.’   And I know without doubt that some are suffering in their circumstances today, and I know also that most of us have been there, possibly ALL OF US!

If you are there – if today the pain feels like you are in a fire, then listen to the prophet Malachi one more time:

He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap;  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi (those who worship Him) and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.

The God who created you is watching.  Not just watching but watching intently, the process that you are in.  When you feel you are in the fire, its because you probably are! But God is in the process too.  And He is carefully watching for something to come forth.

The refiner sits at the opening of the kiln and places the ore in the mold, begins to turn up the fire until the metal melts and as it melts the impurities that are on the inside begin to rise to the top.  The purifier takes a metal rod and scrapes off the impurities that rise to the top and discards them as dross.

So how can the refiner tell when the process is done?  Simple really.  When he can pull out the mold with the silver in it and look down and see himself in the reflection, the process is done!  He then pours the silver our of the refiner’s mold and into a cooling mold, in the shape He has determined.

That is the offering of ourselves that God is after, friends.  That He might see himself in the reflection of our lives and that he might mold us after His own image.  The dross, the impurities in our lives, act as a veil – a covering obscuring His image in us.

Listen to this one final verse from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth:

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.  But we all, with unveiled face (having the dross removed), beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed in the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”

 

Let us pray!

Come, Holy Spirit, come among us here.  We who find ourselves in the fire of your workshop are being prepared for all that you want to do in and through our lives.  Look intently, Lord Jesus, on our lives that, having begun a good work in us, you bring it to completion.  Let us be transformed Lord, from glory to glory into Your image, through the fires of our lives.  And keep us mindful of your care and compassion in the midst of the fire.  Prepare in us today, the way for Your Advent in our lives.  Through Christ we pray.

Amen.