Sunday, March 31, 2013

Resurrection - A New Life for Us

EASTER SUNDAY 2013
March 31, 2013
FR. PHILIP EBERHART
 

WHAT’S NEW WITH YOU?
 

As I was preparing for the Good Friday service I was watching a scene from the Passion of the Christ – the one where Mary is waiting in the alleyway and Jesus is about to pass by on the Via Dolorosa.  I was listening to the song that goes with that scene from our stations, SILENTLY, and I came to the place where Jesus has fallen the first time and

Mary runs to his side.  He looks into her face and says, “Behold, I make all things new.”

The interesting thing is that Jesus isn’t recorded as having said that while he was here on earth – not to his Mother on the way to Golgotha, not to the disciples in the upper room, not to those who were watching him on the Cross.  He did say it however.   It is in the final verses of the book of Revelation.  It is the reigning and returning Jesus who says it in Rev 21:5.  Mel Gibson appropriated it for the movie for a dramatic effect, and it got me to thinking about that word…    NEW.

Resurrection Sunday is something new – something that never happened before … or since!  It is something that is so new, that it continues to rock the world – to shape history – to mold mankind, into something … well…  NEW.

This is a thread that runs through the testimony about Jesus and I want to explore it for just a few minutes here with you this morning.

Have you ever felt brand new?  Many of us wish we could!  We would love a second chance at something – a clean slate.  A new start is almost a dream isn’t it.  It feels too good to be true.   We are covered up in the dirt and grime of our past – like I used to feel after coming in from working on the tractor – we had one with an open seat, no cab for comfort and working the dry field kicks up a lot of dust – I would come home looking like a dust monster, and then mom would fill the bath tub about half full and I would just soak until the water was murky…  but I was clean and new.

That is the image we have in this word that is used so many times in so many ways in the New Testament’s testimony of Jesus and the effect he has on our lives.

Jesus gives us a NEW commandment, “to love one another.”  This time with the caveat,
(As I have loved you).  Yikes.  Oh yeah, that’s new alright.  New indeed.

Jesus institutes a NEW Covenant – a covenant of love and a NEW meal as the sign of that covenant in the midst of the covenant community.

Jesus gives us a NEW life – telling Nickodemus that we must be born from above – that is born again – not like a natural birth but like a supernatural one, kind of like Jesus himself had in Bethlehem – but He does it inside of us, at the very moment that we receive Him as our King and Lord.

We are told to be RENEWed in the Spirit of our mind – or to have our thoughts entirely transformed
by His thoughts!  Its only in this way that we come to know what the Will of God is for our lives.

Paul in Ephesians 4 tells his hearers to Put on a NEW SELF which he then goes on to describe:  which, in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” 

Do you get the idea that thee is something NEW going on here?

The Resurrection of Jesus is the key to all that NEWNESS.  There is newness on every hand almost as we read through the pages of the bible.

So hows come I don’t always feel good and new!

 
Well isn’t it interesting that Mel Gibson had to borrow the words from a time still ahead of us and put them in Jesus mouth on the way to the Cross.  It’s all about the timing.

Paul tells us that when we come to Jesus, in that moment we are a new creature;  old things are done and passed away;  new things have come.

But I sure do struggle with some of that old stuff, for being soooooo new!  What’s that all about?

Just like Mel we have to bring the victory of Jesus from the day of His appearing, into the present, into the daily grind of our lives -  in the movie Jesus said it as he was carrying the cross to Golgotha!  And we have to say it, in the middle of our own way of the cross.

In Scripture there is a difference between what we can see and what it real.  Did you know that?  There is a difference sometimes between what you feel … and what is real!!


Any one else ever???

These words of Paul in 2 Cor 3, 4, 5 are important for us to grasp onto as we consider the import and the power of the Resurrection in our lives.  Listen to some of the phrases that Paul uses –

You are a letter of Christ, … written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.

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

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves… afflicted, not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being MADE NEW day by day.  For momentary light affliction is producing for us and eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

We walk by faith, not by sight ;

We have stopped looking at people and life according to the flesh;  we once did that with Chrishimself, but no more.  Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature;  the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

And finally,

God made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Now that’s a NEW THING!

The point my friends, of Easter and of the Resurrection, isn’t for a “pie in the sky bye and bye” hope, though that is certainly a reality as well.  But the power and the force of the Resurrection is to be appropriated day to day, in the oldness and staleness of our every day, hum drum lives.  If it doesn’t become real to us here, its not going to be real there.

So, as I invited you into a holy Lent, I invite you into the adventure of Easter.  Into the NEW LIFE that God has purposed for you to live with Him – in partnership and in vital day to day connection – in relationship with Him.

Our New Life, our born from above life is real – its more real than the struggles we face and the problems we have.  I know that they feel real, but the comparative weight of our suffering and trials weighed against the eternal weight of glory with Jesus Christ our Risen Lord and Reigning King – our troubles are like a feather!

Set your eyes on Him, my friends and you will begin to know the power of the Risen and New Life that He promises us.  Its not all pretty and its certainly not all instant, but it is REAL.   The Lord is Risen!  The Lord is Risen, INDEED.   Alleluia!! Alleluia!!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Incarnation & Passion

Palm Sunday 2013
Fr. Philip Eberhart
March 24, 2013
 

Palm Sunday – Incarnation and Passion
(Audio Sermon File)
  

This morning the scriptures themselves bear the weight of the story.  From the Old Testament in Isaiah 50 and Psalm 31 to the passage on the Kenosis from Paul’s letter to the Phillipian church – to Luke’s telling of the Passion story, we hear the voices and the story of both the incarnation and the passion of Jesus.

It seems like only last week that we were celebrating Jesus’ birth!  But it is very real and appropriate for us to consider his birth and revelation to the world – His Epiphany – in the light of the cross.  Everywhere throughout the scriptures the sense prevails:  FOR THIS HE CAME.

From his ignoble birth in a barn in Bethlehem, escaping death quickly because of a dream his father had, making their way to Egypt and then back to backwater Nazareth.  Jesus grew in obscurity in his father’s carpenter shop, learned that trade most certainly, went to the synagogue and the local rabbi’s school.  We are only told that he grew in stature and in favor with God and with man during those years.

 

INCARNATION 

Jesus, became man, just like us, save for sin.  Like us in every way; he was tired, he ate and drank, he laughed and wept, he prayed and listened to his Father.   But even more than the outward physicality of the incarnation, was the inward identification:

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race to sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature!

Our nature – just a few lines from Psalm 31

I am in trouble, my eye is consumed with sorrow, and also my throat and my belly.
My life is wasted with grief, and my years with sighing, my strength fails me because of afflictioin, and my bones are consumed.
I have become a reproach … a dismay to those of my acquaintance, … they avoid me.
I am forgotten like a dead man … useless as a broken pot.
I have heard the whispering
Fear is all around.  They plot to take my life.

Jesus was familiar with these words and the words of Psalm 22. 

The words of Isaiah 53 describing the Suffering Servant:

“For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” 

Jesus’ eyes were open going into this week.  Just the passages I’ve mentioned would have alerted him that something horrible was ahead of him, something he would want to pray for release from, as he did in the garden.  It’s only human!

And Paul’s opening words in Philippians 2, leading up to the passage that is our reading are compelling, inviting us into to same kind of self-forgetful life of sacrifice and service:

Just listen from The Message:

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.”

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus!”

In Jesus we have our perfect example, for all of our life.  That is what all of this is about:   Jesus came to live the life that we were meant to live, by virtue of our creation by God!  And he did so, for the three years of His ministry, we see the embodiment of God in Flesh – Paul tells us in the letter to the Colossian church that what we see is “the image of the invisible God.”

We are told to be imitators of God, and how do we do that:  by looking like Jesus!

Jesus was “equal with God” but did not hang on to that status in selfishness, but emptied himself.  That process of “kenosis” was Jesus choice – there was a submitted obedience because Jesus was, as John the Baptist, observed, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  He was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”  Think of it – God set this in motion before the act of creation, knowing that the creation would turn from Him, God made a way from before the foundation of the world!  And Jesus said, “Yes, Father!”

When Jesus said, “I AM the Way”  he had in mind this conversation that happened millennia before the first fluttering of the Spirit of God over the face of the deep.

 
 
PASSION:

Our gospel this morning tells the story:  The story we are all so familiar with, from years and years of hearing it, of telling it to our families, our children, to others.  The story of the incredible love of God and of His Son for us.

The passion of Jesus is the centerpiece of the table.  Never has such love been on such display.  In the words of The Message again:  He lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that – crucifixion!”

This week we come to relive those days in Jerusalem.  On TV tonight and next Sunday night we will see the details acted out, on Thursday night we will come and celebrate the Last Supper evening and the act of Footwashing – the sacrament of selfless service.  On Friday night – GOOD Friday – we will see and hear the passion in pictures and video and song again- why?

So that in some small way, in our minute grasp of these things; of incarnation and passion, we might experience the majesty of His love for us as He went to the cross and died, and that we might prepare for the utter triumph of Easter.  But we must partake of the utter defeat of the crucifixion, first.  There is no other way.  We must walk the way of the Cross – the Via Dolorosa.

And its more than just a commemorative week this week, as our scriptures indicate.  We are to “let this mind be IN US which was also IN CHRIST JESUS.”  Friends, what we partake of this week and throughout the Christian Year and in the Liturgy is the stuff of BECOMING. 

Our focus is on HIM, Jesus Christ, the Lord.  Jesus Christ, My Lord

So I challenge you – I invite you, once again, in the name of the Church to the observance of a HOLY WEEK.  Let’s turn up the heat.  All that we have been doing in observance of a Holy Lent, needs to be sharpened and enhanced as we observe a HOLY WEEK. 

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and
meditating on God's holy Word.

Remember the words from Ash Wednesday?

Self-examination
 
Repentance

Prayer
 
Fasting and Self-denial

Reading and Meditating on God’s Holy Word.

The ingredients for a Holy Lent are the same ingredients for a HOLY WEEK !!

Let it begin this Passion Sunday, as we have heard once again the story of his death and as we enter again into the contemplation of those Mighty Acts that have won us our freedom from sin and salvation through Jesus Christ. 

Let it begin anew as we take on the mind of Christ, in willing service, available to Him for the needs to others moment by moment and day by day, and finally as we become obedient, as he did, through the things that we suffer.  The way of the Cross is still the Way of the Cross, my friends.  It’s not a magic transformation with pixie dust – it is the blood, sweat and tears of obedient following in the footsteps of Jesus, all the way to Calvary.   As one author put it, “A long obedience in the same direction!”

This is what we are invited into by Jesus and the Apostles.

This is what I invite you into as we observe and live this HOLY WEEK together.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desires not the death of sinners, but rather that they may turn from their wickedness and live, has given power and commandment to his ministers to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the absolution and remission of their sins. He pardons and absolves all those who truly
repent, and with sincere hearts believe his holy Gospel.

Therefore we beseech him to grant us true repentance and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him which we do in this Holy Week, and that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure and holy, so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Seedtime and Harvest

Lent V
March 17, 2013
Philip D. Eberhart

 
Seedtime & Harvest

Coming from the farm country, I’ve always had a love for the soil and for the culture that is on display in the Holy Scriptures.  Seed plays a prominent place in the life of the People of God and in the lore and the teachings of the Bible, as well as in the teachings of Jesus himself. 

We are familiar with many of the passages throughout the Bible – just the simple word “seed” is found about 100 times throughout the scriptures, most prominently in the teachings of Jesus in the Parable of the sower and the soils.

Seed is symbolic in significant ways throughout the scriptures:

It is seen as PROMISE, or POTENTIAL

It was seed that God created in the beginning and fruit-bearing plants that each cast seeds into the ground.  The laws of God take this into consideration, and in planting a vineyard or a fruit grove, Israel was forbidden from eating its fruit for 3 years, then the 4th year was given away as a gift to the Lord.   Only in the fifth year could the owner of the vineyard begin to enjoy its fruit!

Seed is connected to planting and harvest.  The agrarian peoples knew the cycles of the seasons and the dry and the wet seasons each year for their land.  There was a connection to the land for them in very real ways. 

This morning I want to remind us of the purpose of seed and how it is defined for us today, in our concrete jungle.  We have separated ourselves from the practices and only know the fruits of the harvest.  We go to the grocery store and have come disconnected from the land and its part in this process.

This morning I want to look at what ‘seed’ stands for and at the law of sowing and reaping that we see in nature and in scripture.

Seed is used in Scripture in two basic ways – 

In the Old Testament, we see the progeny of the patriarchs, especially Abraham, referred to as “seed.”  The promise of God to Abraham was that his ‘seed’ would outnumber the grains of sand on the shore, or the stars of heaven.  That is, of course, all that would come from his joining with his wife, Sarah. 

The OT is also clear that ‘seed’ is God’s provision for His people.  From the first creation of seed-bearing plants to the provision of manna, which is described as being like “coriander seed,” God was using seed to teach His people about provision from Him.

Seedtime and Harvest were the bookends of life in the Middle East, as they are in much of the world, even today.  Those times were the benchmarks of God’s blessing or God’s judgment on His People through the provision of rain and growing weather and a good harvest.

But for God, the question of faithfulness was not on his part but on the part of the People of God.  It’s always been that way.  God has set the seasons and the times – the seedtime and the harvest time – the growing season, and it is God who sends or withholds the rains, both early and late.  Perhaps there is something for us to take note of, even in the simple acknowledgement of God as the giver of the blessing of seed.

Of course the other image that we have of seed is in the Seed of the Word.  The Parable of the Sower shows us a picture of a farmer out broadcasting his seed – and as a farmer myself, I would say that the sower is sowing foolishly.  He is sowing not on prepared ground, but mostly on soil that is unprepared, hard, rocky, or thorny with weeds all around the seed. 

That’s why I feel that it is almost as much a parable of the soils and a parable about the sower, but I want to look for a minute at the later.

The Sower here is the Lord, God or Jesus himself as he passes through the world casting out the seed of truth to all kinds and conditions of men.  The sower, in this instance, is not concerned with the where as much as he is concerned with the what.  The parable itself challenges us to examine the “soil” of our own hearts and consider the kind of soil that we are personally:  

Hard pack soil – No seed can penetrate – it is taken away by birds and eaten immediately.

Thorny soil -  that which is taken up by the cares of life, worried about this and that; unable to give the seed any attention (water) in his/her life.  Thus the seed is choked out.

Rocky soil -  shallow soil that hasn’t been plowed or made ready in any way for the seed. Had it been “examined” in the least the rocks and lack of depth would have been discovered.

Or Good soil – the kind of soil that has been examined and broken – plowed up – in order to make it ready for the seed – optimized for the seed is a way that we might talk about that soil today!

Of course its clear from experience this past year that soil and planting are not all there is to it.  Weeding and watering come along the way as we move toward the harvest.  Nothing is more irritating to me than driving along the highway and seeing a wheat field that has green weeds sticking up through the ripening wheat.  Jesus used such a parable as well for the presence of the world in the midst of the church – the parable of the wheat and the tares (weeds).  We will have to save that for another day. 

The final things I want to consider this morning is the law of God behind all this imagery that Jesus uses and behind the ways that God seems to see our giving as seed.

As I was in university and seminary, Oral Roberts was constantly teaching a doctrine called “seed faith.”  I have come to be suspicious of that, because I saw how it was used to manipulate people to give, and for many years I rejected it outright, but I cannot dismiss the clear implications of the statements of Paul and of Jesus that equate seed with our giving and our faith. 

Jesus uses these two in a comparative form – equating the faith needed to move a mountain with the size of a mustard seed.  So he didn’t say that faith itself is a seed, but that it is like a seed in its size.  There is a comparison in the area of size.  In other words, it only takes the smallest amount of faith to do great things, friends.  That is the point of the parable and the comparison. 

Paul, as he talks about seed in 2 Cor 9, is clearly, by the context, equating seed with the gift that the church in Corinth had promised to Paul for the Jerusalem church and their Jewish brothers and sisters.  Paul had apparently been telling others about the gift being gathered in Corinth and was now reminding them to “make good” on their promise.

What Paul makes reference to here is what I call the Law of Sowing and Reaping: 

2 Cor 9:6
            Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

To which any 10 year old will say, “Well, duh!”  How can it be any other way?  We know that there is a direct correlation between what is put in the ground and what comes up!  This is not rocket science!

But Paul here is talking not about the planting of seed in the ground, but about the sowing of a gift – a bountiful gift – with those in need around you.

V. 7 puts it squarely in each of our own consciences – “as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  I looked up the Greek word for cheerful and it’s the root word for our word “hilarious!”

And God is that kind of Giver, because the next verse seems to indicate that He will be the supply for that kind of giving!

V. 8:  And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;

It is God’s intention that we partake in this Law of sowing and reaping that He has set into the universe.  Why?  For HIS GLORY. 

Look further along at vvs 9-11 & 15

“…as it is written, "HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR, HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOREVER."

Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”

Friends, God wants us to be givers.  It is good for us and it is good for Him!  It gives us freedom and it gives Him glory.

We must take note of the law of sowing and reaping.  That God’s word is seed for us and even that it is seed IN us.  We must prepare a place – a heart of good soil – in which that eternal, imperishable seed may fall and grow up to eternal life.

We also need to take note that God sees our giving and money as seed for good works, and he is willing to increase the store of our seed, not for our comfort and expenditure, but for the glory of His work in the world.

I think it’s dangerous to use the money we give as a kind of ‘bribe’ to get something from God, and sometimes that the way that the “seed faith” teaching is used or at least, the way it comes across.  But the fact remains, clear from scripture, that God equates our money with seed that can be planted and harvested.  And where there is no planting, there is no harvest.  It’s that simple.  Those are the rules.

That being said, there is one final word:  This area of giving is the only one where we are invited by God to “test him.”  Jesus, when he was being tempted by the devil in the wilderness, as we heard in the beginning lessons of Lent, was taken to the pinnacle of the temple and told to jump, because “God will send his angels to bear you up, lest you bruise you foot against a stone.”  Jesus quickly responds that we are not to “test the Lord our God.”  And David prays that he will be kept from “presumptuous sin.”

This one area God invites us to test him in:   Can I out-give God? 

Malachi 3 is clear that God throws down the gauntlet for us.  Not as a seed of faith but as an act of love and obedience – giving hilariously out of extravagant love for Jesus, we place ourselves in the target sights for God’s challenge.  See if I will not pour out on you a blessing you cannot contain!

The answer is NO!    NO, you cannot out give God!      Let us pray.

Eternal God you are the giver of every perfect gift that comes down from heaven.  You are the supplier of seed for the sower and bread for the eater. You are our eternal supply and we ask you to make us into that kind of church – one that sees and knows you to be its Lord and its provider, Jehovah Jireh!  Make each of us a giver like you, Lord, laying our lives down for each other, and awaiting the provision of God and His promise.  Thank you Lord Jesus, for Your indescribable gift of yourself to us – make us like you.

In Your name and for the sake of Your Kingdom we pray,

Amen.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Seeing With Heaven's Eyes

Lent IV
March 10, 2013
Rev. Philip D. Eberhart
 
With Heaven’s Eyes 

As I began to read and pray through the readings for this morning, I was arrested by the first phrase in our Epistle reading:

From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view;

Someone might ask, “What other point of view is there?”  And that is what I want to explore with you this morning.

We are about midway through the season of Lent this Sunday.  Two weeks to Passion Sunday or Palm Sunday and three weeks to Easter. 

We are engaged in a look inward during this season, at our thoughts and our habits of mind and body, at ‘things done and left undone in thought, word and deed.'
 
We are encouraged to ask the hard questions of ourselves during this season; to do the examination of our motives, our intentions – to allow the Word of God to do its work in us “piercing to the distinction between thought and motive, desire and intention, bone and marrow.”

God wants to do a deep work in us and this season is our remembrance of that fact.  But God is working that work of transformation at all times and one of the areas that God wants to transform is the way we “see.”

Jesus opened blind eyes while here on this earth, but the ministry he pointed to in his job description in Luke 4:18  from Isa 61 points to more than only physical blindness that Jesus was dealing with.  Repeatedly Jesus speaks of both a physical blindness and a hardness of heart in the same breath.  Paul even conflates the two in his Apostolic prayer for the church in Ephesus:

I pray that the eyes of your hearts may be opened. 

I think it’s really interesting that for Paul, the first evidence of his encounter with the living Jesus, was actual physical blindness.  A kind of reversal of what many encountered when they met Jesus for the first time!  He had to sit in the darkness for some time before Ananias came to baptize him and to pray for him for his healing.  Paul came face to face with his own blindness when He met Jesus and received his sight back at the hands of the living Jesus, moving through the Body of Christ.

It’s on that thought I want to dwell for a bit this morning as we think about what Paul is talking about here in this second Corinthian letter.

From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view;

Just what is our human point of view?
 
Well, first of all our viewpoint is earthly – earth ‘bound.
 
We see people as flesh and blood: we see sexually, we see racially, we see politically these days, more and more.  Where there is no spiritual light in a person there is only darkness.  There are vivid descriptions of those who are both IN the world and who are OF the world in Scripture.

Paul in Galatians 5 talks about the works of the flesh vs. the fruit of the Spirit –

Peter talks about those who “indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority, daring, self-willed … reviling where they have no knowledge … suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong… eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin.”

John is clear in his first letter:  (2:11)  But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” 

It is clear that our purely earthbound view of people is fraught with harm, and that we need the light of the Gospel of Christ to give us a different viewpoint from which to see people.  In the chapter just before our reading this morning, 2 Cor 4, Paul makes the case for such a blindness and what he calls “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

My point here is not that we need to see people as sinners and convey on them the judgments prescribed by God – that is God’s business; it’s above our pay grade friends!  My point here is that we need to see this kind of darkness in ourselves, as we seek God for His light in our own lives and in our view of those who are around us in the world.
 
We need the prayer of Paul to be in full effect in our lives: 

“…that the eyes of your hearts may be enlightened, that you may know the hope of His calling to you; the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints; and the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.”


The second way in which our viewpoint suffers is that it is time-bound!

We do not, most days and in most ways, have or take an eternal view of things or of people.  It is easy for us to value things and use people, rather than the reverse, which is God’s way – to use things and value people.

When we begin to see, with the eyes of heaven that Paul prays for we see with eyes of hope.  When we let ourselves be earthly and time-bound our hope often gets crushed.  This is one of Paul’s big three:  “Faith, Hope and Love, these three remain!...”  It is a sign of love for others when we “hope all things” for them, but that loving, bearing, enduring hope is what gets crushed when we let our eyes fall from a heavenly vision of people to an earthly vision.

With the eyes of heaven we see the riches of the inheritance that God has in the saints – in other words, we see the worth that God places in the people around us, especially those in the household of faith.  Look around you and ask God to let you see people in the Body of Christ this morning as he sees them!  It will rock your world!!

When you come forward and receive communion this morning as you receive the bread, think “this is the sign of the worth that God places on my life and the lives of those around me.”  God so loved that He gave His only Son!!  You are worth a lot!!!

Finally with the eyes of heaven, we see the power of God in those around us.  God has placed His Spirit in the other members of the Body here today and each one of us partakes of that gift which is the Holy Spirit – it is the promise of Jesus to each one of us.  You may have a greater or lesser awareness of God’s presence in your life, just as you do of the Lord in the lives of others.  I pray that you come to a greater and greater awareness of God’s presence and activity in and through you each and every day… and in the Body of Christ – those who believe and with whom you share this life IN CHRIST.

 

Now I want you to turn, if you have your bible (please bring your bibles to church)
to the chapter of our reading, 2 Cor 5.

I want to set this statement and those following it in a context of Paul’s argument here.  One thing that popped out at me when I looked through this passage is that there are five “therefores” in these 17 verses from 1 to 17.
 

Paul is saying

1.  We have a heavenly home – a building from God, a house no made with hands, eternal in the heavens (v.1)

2.  We struggle to be clothed with this heavenly home in the here and now – we groan, being burdened,… so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. (v.4)

3.  This is God’s doing, His work – by the Spirit, who is the pledge toward his finishing the work in us.

 
THEREFORE (1)  WE ARE OF GOOD COURAGE, WALKING BY FAITH NOT BY SIGHT.

 
THEREFORE (2)  WE ARE AMBITIOUS TO PLEASE HIM, KNOWING WHAT IT IS TO FEAR HIM

 
THEREFORE (3)  WE PERSUADE MEN, CONTROLLED BY THE LOVE OF CHRIST, WHO DIED FOR ALL MEN AND ROSE ON THEIR BEHALF.

 
THEREFORE (4) WE VIEW NO ONE ACCORDING TO THE FLESH, AS WE ONCE DID JESUS, BUT NOW NO MORE.


THEREFORE (5)  IF ANYONE IS IN CHRIST, HE IS A NEW CREATURE; OLD HAS GONE, NEW HAS COME!!
 

THEREFORE (6)  WE ARE AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST – GOD MAKES HIS APPEAL THROUGH US:   “WE BEG YOU … BE RECONCILED TO GOD!”


Six “therefores” in 16 verses. 

Don’t you want to know what they are there for?

God wants us to view our world, our work, our lives and each other, from His viewpoint – His vantage point.  Do you remember the verses from Isaiah 55:

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than you thoughts.” 

So how do we gain this perspective of God – the perspective of Jesus Christ – His viewpoint, His worldview?

I think Isaiah heard the answer from the Lord in the same chapter!

"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;  So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” 

Friends, we are ambassadors of heaven – and the Kingdom of God in our world today is like an embassy on foreign soil – you are sitting in the Embassy of Heaven right now.  When someone on that foreign soil wishes to make an appeal for asylum or even for a visit, he must come to the embassy and apply – make his appeal. 

But more than that, this embassy is one which actively seeks those who want to come within its walls.  We are the ambassadors of Heaven, you and me – each one of us, as we “live and move and have our being” – are representatives of Jesus Christ, who has given Himself up for everyone we meet.  And we are aware of this fact as a primary motive and as the overruling truth of our lives. 

Therefore!

            … we are filled with courage, walking by faith, not sight.

            … we are ambitious to please Jesus, knowing the fear of God.

            … we are persuasive, motivated by Jesus’ love for every person

            … we are not persuaded by earthly ways of thinking about people

            … we are sure of the new creation that God works in people

            … we are ambassadors reaching out with Christ’s own love and passion.

Why?

“For He (Jesus) who knew no sin, God made sin on our behalf, so that we might
become the righteousness of God in Him.” 

Amen.

 

 

I want to be quiet for a couple of minutes to let that last verse sink in to our consciousness and into our conscience.  Join me please.

Let us pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace.  So clothe us with your Spirit, that we, reaching our hands out in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of You, for the honor of your name.

Amen.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Moses, Before and After

Lent III
March 3, 2013
Fr. Philip Eberhart


Before and After

 

You can’t watch television these days without coming across advertising programs for weight loss plans, …  about every other channel… right?

And one of the big things with the advertising plans is a before and an after picture.
Some of you have those kinds of pictures!

Today I want to paint such a picture for us -  of Moses.
 

Before and After

Our reading this morning is the moment in Moses life that was the fulcrum – the turning point of the before and the after.  And its here I want to spend a few minutes – then look at the life of Moses before this moment – and the life he had after this moment.

Of course, the moment from our reading this morning is his encounter with the very presence of God, the Creator.  “Take off your shoes for the ground on which you stand is holy ground.”  We don’t get the sense that this was some kind of dream or even a waking vision he had while in the desert, but an encounter with something supernatural that drew him in – drew him near out of curiosity, if nothing else.

As Moses came near, he became aware of the What – the Who that this encounter was with.

Let’s look at the first paragraph of your reading from Exodus 3:

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up." When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." He said further, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

What do you see when you look at, when you read or hear this story?

Extraordinary: Even in the annuls of biblical history an encounter of this kind with the presence of God was out of the ordinary.  Abraham had visitors he described as angels, dreams of smoking firepots and burning fire -  Noah heard a voice of instruction in the building of the Ark.  The other patriarch’s had various kinds of encounters with God, but none were of this type – none this direct.  Moses alone stands as one who was summoned into the presence of God who is, the writer of Hebrews tells us, “a consuming fire.”

Personal:   When God caught Moses attention with the fire and he came near to see, God called him by name:   “Moses, Moses!”  In each case when the presence of God encounters us, God calls us by name.  The God of the Universe knows your name.  He is a personal God who knows you personally – intimately.  And loves you in that same way as well.   And Moses responded.  “Here I Am, Lord.”  Sound familiar?  We sing the song of surrender and partnership with God by that same name.  It was the response of young Samuel, the great prophet of Israel who anointed David as king.  It is the response of Moses at this encounter with the Burning Bush – the presence of the living God.  Simply,

Here I Am.  “Lord… you have my undivided attention!”

HOLY:   God warns Moses immediately to keep a safe distance … and to remove the shoes from his feet – as a sign of the holiness of the Presence of God that he found himself in or near.  In our culture we rarely find a place that evokes this kind of response from us – or that should.  A few weeks ago, as Bishop Ken Ross was doing his very first ordination at Wellspring I sat near him on the front row.  After the processional, as he sat listening to the Word read, he bent over and took off his shoes and preached barefoot.  I know Ken well and know that that is his custom.  And I was reminded of, and the purpose of that for him, is to remind himself – that “this is holy ground.”  

Here where we are, when we are gathered together in Jesus’ Name, is holy ground.  God is worthy of our reverence and respect – of our shoeless entry into his presence.  Just as a reminder of His holiness and the promise of His presence, perhaps we need to consider taking our shoes off from time to time.

Familiar:  God, the creator, wanted Moses to properly identify the Whom of this encounter – the Thou who was talking to him – who had drawn him aside and who was calling him to a special work.  We will see this even more clearly later in the reading.  Here God sets Who He is in the context of the history of His dealings with the ancestors of Moses, the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Moses understood clearly and responded appropriately!  And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”

This is a right response when we encounter God’s presence!  You recall the story of the calling of Isaiah, the great later prophet of the exile.  His response to encountering God’s presence in worship in the Temple was, “Whoa is me… I am undone!  For I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.”

Though God knows our name and call it, and though God reveals His Name to us, yet that familiarity does not afford us the right to stand unrepentant, or on our own merit, in the presence of God.  We will always be UNDONE. 

And what came next:

Then the LORD said, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt."

Call:  God doesn’t just show Himself to Moses as a courtesy or for Moses upbuilding – so that he will feel good!  God encounters us in order that we might be clear on our marching orders!  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “when God calls a man (or woman) He calls them to ‘come and die.’”  Moses was no different.  This was God’s response to the cries of his people in the slavery of Egypt, something Moses was intimately familiar with and where Moses already had “skin in the game.” 

The Call of God is filled with promise!  I have come down to deliver them … and to bring them up … to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…”

The Call of God is not without risk!  This isn’t nobody’s land God is sending them to.  It’s the land of all the peoples who inhabited the land of Palestine. – Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites and Hivites, - oh, and the Jebusites.  All of whom Moses was familiar with from his days in the palace of Pharaoh, as the peoples of the land of Canaan.  Fierce tribes with many warriors.

So the call had Moses mind reeling.  Not to mention the risk and utter impossibility of freeing slaves en masse from the clutches of Pharaoh, but God has his eye on the “land of promise.” - Which wasn’t their land yet!  And then, Moses hears it:

“So come, I will send you…”

Moses gets the orders – and immediately the discussion begins:

Have you ever had a discussion with God?  The sentence begins with BUT!

Sound familiar?  All too!

But, Lord!  Or  “No, Lord!”  our famous oxymoron!

“Who am I, Lord, that I should go up to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

This is one of a long line of what I call the “Who Me? Club.”  In fact, if your response to God’s presence and call in your life is not something along this line, it’s probably just another good idea.  Moses responded this way, not because he was afraid, but because he knew the enormity of the task and the cost of what was being asked. 

And God’s Answer:  I will be with you…

God’s presence with us is the answer to the question.    If you look at that promise, it appears many times through scripture, almost always in the context of this kind of encounter or challenge.

What God requires of us and calls us to do, we do WITH HIM.   He does With US.

God’s call is accompanied by His Presence.

Now Moses was not done with the questions…  as if to begin to justify or wiggle out Moses tells God that the Israelites are going to ask him, “Who sent you?”

And God’s reply – God’s Name is one of the most significant passages in all of Holy Scripture.  God’s name is the name of being -  I AM.   Or  I AM Who I AM.

Not easy for us to understand, as if it should be. 

God here gives Moses what we know as the Tetragrammaton.  The four-letter, unpronounceable word that is the word that prophets and scribes through the ages have so held, that when written, the scribe had to go wash first, come back and write the letters and then go wash again.

An unspeakable Name -  YH-WH
What we have added vowels to in order to get Yahweh or Jehovah.

You’ve heard me say “It’s good to have a friend, better to know his address.”

Well here its, “It’s good to have a God, better to know His Name!”

The Existing One. 
“Thus shall you say to the Israelites, “The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.”

 
Before and After

Moses was the shepherd, keeping a flock in the desert of Midian for his father-in-law.

But God encountered Moses, the child of choice, the child of privilege, raise in Pharaoh own household by his own daughter.  God chose Moses after Moses ran away after killing the Egyptian.  Moses ran.  But God came after him.

God’s plan and call on us is from before our birth.  It runs through all the circumstance of our lives and it comes with a promise.

I will be with you.  Jesus said it too, “I will be with you, even to the end of the age.” Here is the key to the after for Moses and for us.  I will be with you.