Sunday, May 12, 2013

King of Glory, King of Peace

Easter 7
May 12, 2013
Fr. Phil Eberhart
 
King of Glory, King of Peace
Audio File

Happy Mother’s Day -  We will have a blessing of our mom’s during the Prayers of the People this morning and we have 4 dozen roses here at front and at the back for all of our ladies here this morning.  Please take one as a sign of our love for you and who you are in our midst at REZ as women.

I wanted to say that up front because I’m not going to preach on being a mom.  I hope you are not disappointed, but I want to preach on Jesus!  The first line of our opening prayer this morning kind of captures my theme for this morning:

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven.

This last Thursday, as I mentioned last week, was the Feast of the Ascension – the day in the church year, 10 days before Pentecost, when we mark the ascension of Jesus from the Mount of Olives into heaven.

A few verses from the 1st chapter of Acts captures this moment:

So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."

Of course we also have the words captured at the end of the gospel of Matthew as well, though its not clear that it was at this moment, it is clearly a commissioning, as Jesus said:

Jesus came and told his disciples, "I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  (NLT)

Last week we talked about the great and precious promises of God, and this week I want to talk about the ONE who promised…  who promises.  The One who died to be the ground and the guarantor of the promises of God to His People.  The One who now sits at the right hand of God making intercession for His Church, His Bride – We the people, -  We His People, here on planet Earth!
 
Paul captures the weight of this in several places in his letters as well:  In Philippians, the second chapter, at the end of the Kenosis passage he says:

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

And in his letter to the church in Ephesus also:

God put this [His] power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Friends the scriptures are replete with these references to the exaltation and the eternal power of Jesus Christ – of his position at God’s right hand – and of His universal power and presence with us now, by His Spirit, to effect the work of the Gospel and the spread of the Kingdom of God among men on the earth.

The Gospels and Acts are clear records of all the things that Jesus, as Luke puts it, “began to do and teach.”  But we need to know that Jesus isn’t finished, not by a long shot!  

Because of what Jesus started while on earth and commissioned before He left the earth and empowered from Heaven after leaving the earth, by His Spirit – we are encountered and empowered and engaged in the most exciting adventure in the history of humanity – my friends, we are a part of the church in the last days!

What we see in the latter chapters of the book of Acts, from our reading this morning and from the book of Revelation, that we’ve been hearing for several weeks, are the echoes of this series of events that we are in the midst of right now. The Ascension and Exaltation of Jesus Christ to his place in heaven, above every throne and name that is named – the waiting on His empowerment in these 10 days and the oneness that the infant church experienced in this time, I believe, set the stage and became the crucible into which the Holy Spirit was poured!

This church was expectant and desperate at the same moment.  They had been given a colossal commission by Jesus as He left them and He made it clear in his very last words to them, that this was not to be done in their power and their strength, but that the promise of the Father was the missing ingredient – the secret ingredient for them and for the mission of God in the world, to which they were commissioned and sent – to which WE are commissioned and to which we are SENT.

I hope that you realize that all this is not just a history lesson!  The Ascension of Jesus Christ to the eternal right hand of the Father in heaven – the Oneness He prayed for and bestowed on them in prayer – that they experienced in this 10 day period together – and the outpouring of the Spirit of Jesus, by the Father and the Son, on the Church was for one continuing purpose, until Jesus comes again!

This outpouring is the coming of the power of God, in a Person, to enable, empower and accomplish the work of the Gospel of God – the work that God has purposed from the “foundation of the world” – the reconciliation of the world to God, through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, presented in heaven for the atonement of the sins of the world, and Jesus sat down at the right hand of power and glory, and together with the Father, sent His Spirit into the Church to give us the power to GO.

Friends, we do NOT GO in our own power or our own authority to do the work of the Kingdom and to spread the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ.  This is still the work of the Trinity! 

The next two Sundays will highlight that fact – we will celebrate the coming of the Spirit next Sunday on Pentecost and the persons of the Trinity on the Sunday after Pentecost.  As we go, we go in the Name of and in the authority of the whole Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Jesus was clear in His commissioning of us.  And throughout the whole of scripture we see the whole action of the whole Trinity involved -  sometimes its difficult to distinguish a differentiated personhood because they are SO ONE – they are the model, in fact, of the prayer that Jesus prayed for the Church in our gospel today.

Listen again to the first part of our Gospel, from The Message:
Jn 17: 20-23 I’m praying not only for them But also for those who will believe in me
Because of them and their witness about me.
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them, So they’ll be as unified and together as we are— I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them In the same way you’ve loved me.
Friends, our unity – our oneness in Jesus Christ – is not optional equipment, no more than the Holy Spirit himself is optional equipment.  As I said last week, a prof of mine at ORU, said one time, “Having the Holy Spirit in your life is not like the choice of a deluxe or standard interior in your car … it’s the choice of whether or not you want the car to have an engine!”

In the same way, the choice of our oneness – the choice of unity with one another is not the choice of our outward trim and appearance packages, it’s the drive train and the wheels – Friends, it where the “rubber hits the road.”  It is through our unity, a visible and visceral unity – a tough unity that pushes through our differences and irritations with one another, that takes Jesus seriously when He says to us “Love One Another in the same way I have loved you.”  It takes the injunction to be in right relationship – to be “at peace with all men, as far as it depends on us,” – it takes it all seriously.

A breach in our ONENESS is a breach in our OBEDIENCE – it is a breach in our defenses as the Church.  

The picture of unity in Paul is the Roman Phalanx  - a side-by-side armored column or line advancing in the same direction.  In Paul’s treatise on spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6 there is no armor for the back side – if enemy forces penetrate the forward movement of the line, then the line collapses and moves to a back-to-back formation that is covered on all sides and able to defend from all side.

Jesus told us, in regard to our personal relationships, that the moment we had or know of anything coming “in-between” us as believer that making that right – making peace or restoring peace, is the first order of business, even before worship.

This is the reason that the peace is where it is in our service – after the confession and before the communion – giving us opportunity to respond to the conviction of the HOLY SPIRIT in our lives, when something is wrong between us as believer, to go and make it right before we come to the Lord’s Table.  Do you see the priority and necessity?

Anyone here ever had a flat tire?  What do you do with a flat tire?  Fix it / replace it. On the spot!!  And if you can’t do it you call someone who can, right now.  AAA.  I’ve been a member for nearly 20 years!!!  It’s that immediate… it’s that necessary… for us to tend to the relationships in the Body of Christ.  Why?

Listen to these words:

 The Spirit and the bride say, "Come."
And let everyone who hears say, "Come."
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

Friends, it is our witness that is at stake and if our witness, then the salvation of the world!  God doesn’t have a plan B!  If you cannot come to Him and to Each Other and to the World with Willingness – Availability – and Obedience, then we are incomplete in our witness – incomplete in our unity – incomplete in our worship.

I have to come back again and again to those three ingredients for our life.  David prayed, “Lord, uphold me with a willing Spirit.”

Let’s stop for a minute here and just do a “willingness check.”  Ask God to search you, He knows you already, and to reveal any places where you are unwilling to be his ambassador – to be in relationship to Him or to His Body – any place that you have tried to hide from Him.

Lord, I confess my places of unwillingness …  unwillingness to be a servant as you were … unwillingness to give of my time, or my talent, or my treasure to see Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven … unwillingness to be reconciled to one who has hurt me or to go to someone I have hurt to ask their forgiveness.  Lord I confess my pride and stubborn heart.

….

A little deeper we go to an “availability check.”  

Lord, I relinquish my “lordship” over my time and schedule.  Most of us don’t have complete control of our own schedule, but within our boundaries we always have some ability to choose.  Lord help us to choose You and to choose your way each day.  Show us ways and times to focus on you as we go through the paces and places of each day – as we meet with people, co-workers, business associates or those who serve us in the marketplace.  Help us to be available to You first, Lord and then to the needs of those we meet day-to-day.

….

And finally, an “obedience check.”

Lord, I acknowledge You as Lord!   I bow my knee and I confess with my mouth, “Jesus is Lord.”  (say it if you mean it)…

Lord means you own my life, my days, my nights, my waking, my sleeping, my working, my playing – you own it all, LORD.  Help me to live my life FOR YOU … in Your service and employment above all else.  Open my eyes to see the power you have given me and my ears to hear your voice whispering as I go through my day.

And when I hear you, help me to say, “YES LORD.”

YES LORD.

Amen.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Great and Precious Promises


6th Sunday of Easter
May 5, 2013
Fr. Philip Eberhart


Great and Precious Promises

When we hear talk about the “blessings of God” our western minds almost inevitably rush to the material side of our life.  The Psalmist this morning is undaunted in his prayer: May God be merciful to us and bless us, *
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.  And he ends with: May God give us his blessing, * and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him. 

Do you ever ask God for His blessing?  Almost constantly, for me!  Most of the time it is a prayer for some plan of mine that I’ve concocted and I come running to God and ask Him to bless my plan and to be with me in my endeavor.  Have you ever done that?

But our readings this morning show us a different kind of picture.  Something other than that “bless me and my plan” kind of thing that we here in the US seem to live in constantly.  This morning I want to paint a picture of the vast expanse of God’s loving plan for us, as we have it portrayed in the readings we’ve heard here this morning.  We need look no further!

David in Psalm 67 give us a good starting place to list what he considered to be some of the blessings of God:
The light of his countenance
His presence as He comes to us
His ways known upon the earth
Saving health among all nations
His judgement with equity and
Guidance of the nations of the earth.  And finally…
The earth’s increase (its fruitfulness).
All of these things are the “blessings” of God – only one, the very last, is “material” in nature in any way.  All the others are presence-based;  the blessing of God is His very self, present with us. 

Our readings from Acts 16 and Rev. 21 & 22 are further extrapolations out of that presence-based blessing.  Paul in Acts is in the midst of a missionary journey, planting churches in Asia Minor when God interrupts his plan.  If you have your bible today, turn to Acts 16 with me.  I want to set the stage a bit by looking at the verses just before our reading:
Then they went from town to town, instructing the believers to follow the decisions made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.  So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day. Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.
Paul was going about his plan, but his plan was being thwarted.  Dr. Luke writes this from the hindsight of his memory of being along on this trip (you can see the shift from a “they” to a “we” account in these verses) because he joined the traveling band after they came to Troas.  The transition verse if the first verse of our reading, Paul’s vision in Troas of the man of Macedonia extending an invitation to “come and help us.”

My point in all of this is that sometimes God’s blessing may include a change of course for us!  It may include some frustrating days as we experience, like Paul, the “preventing” of the Holy Spirit.  Did you know that the Holy Spirit also has that gift?  John Wesley called it “Preventing or Prevenient Grace” – He applied it to those baptized as infants – taken into the community of the faithful and held there by the community and by the Holy Spirit’s ‘preventing grace’ until they could make a ‘confirmation’ of the faith of those who presented them for baptism.  Here Paul is experiencing the “preventing” grace of God’s Spirit in the direction of his ministry.
During this time he makes two significant additions to his team:  Dr. Luke as we previously mentioned, the historian/physician who would document the Gospel and write the Acts of the Apostles;  and Timothy, in 16:1, a son of mixed parents, both Jewish and Gentile, from Lystra where Paul had preached on a previous mission trip.  Paul’s ministry was expanded and solidified in these few transitional verses;  the scope of his mission was expanded to another section of the continent of Europe and the expansion of the Kingdom of God was at hand.

Can you see the “great and precious promise” of God’s presence and His guidance at work in the life of Paul here?  He does the same thing with your life.  God calls and guides us today in the same way as he did Paul, and Timothy and Dr. Luke.
Through relationships and circumstances, through visions and callings in the night, God communicates and guides us in the pathway of His work and in the furtherance of His Kingdom here on earth.  Are you listening?

And our Gospel from John this morning, actually carries some of these great and precious promises for us:  This one is worth a memory verse designation:
"Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.  Jn 14:23  Say it with me.  First the reference…  Jn 14:23.  Then the verse … ( -- ) then the reference again:  Jn 14:23.
And Jesus goes on in this part of his final discourse to his disciples with the promise of the Father, that Dr. Luke references:
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, `I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe."
The ‘Promise of the Father’ as Luke refers to it, is the very presence of Jesus with us in the person of the Holy Spirit.  Here Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit, who He calls the Advocate (other versions use the word Helper), the Greek work is “paraclete” – one called alongside to help or aid / one who advocates for another as in a court room / an intercessor, -- Jesus-other-self, is going to be sent upon his departure to the Father and this Holy Spirit will do specific things:

He will “teach you all things” and “bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”  How many things?   ALL Things.  And how much of what Jesus said?  ALL that I have said.

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.

What a gift!  The Peace of Christ that we will share with one another in a moment is His last gift to us while on this earth.  It is other-worldly – it is from heaven – it partakes of the Kingdom of God, his Sovereignty – His kingship and his presence – so….

Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

These are very important words for these days in which we live and the days which I believe are coming.  We need to have eyes that look up – beyond the shenanigans of our government and lawmakers, beyond the forces of nature unleashed in the world, beyond the financial mire we seem to be caught in --- look up!
Peace I leave with you;  MY PEACE I give to you.

Jesus goes on: 
You heard me say to you, `I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe."
I am going away AND I am coming to you!   HUH?  WHAT?  HOW?  How can you go away and come to us at the same time?  But its true.  What Jesus is doing here is getting them ready for next Thursday!  What is next Thursday, May 9th?  Anyone?

ASCENSION DAY!

It’s His ENTHONEMENT DAY!  Jesus ascended to the Father and took His place at the right Hand of God after 40 days of hangin out with the guys and gals in the upper room, and at the sea shore and at the mountain top.  Jesus is gone and we are told to wait.  Wait for it…. Wait for it…. Wait for it.  10 days of waiting and prayer together in unity at the instruction of Jesus.

I’m always challenged by that 10 days.  We can barely get folks to commit to an hour and I get comments when we go to an hour and 15 min.  We have a challenge to get people to commit to an hour of prayer once a month, much less 10 days of non-stop prayer together.  I experienced 4 days of prayer in a retreat, it wasn’t non-stop, but that 4 days shaped the ministries that are still impacting this city nearly 15 years later!  Things that make you go, “HMMMMMM !”   I wonder if there is a correlation between 10 days of intense and focused prayer by those apostles and believers in the upper room, and their readiness to receive the Promise of the Father on the day of Pentecost?   Just something to think about!!

And finally, our reading from John’s Revelation gives us a glimpse into the final promise – the final destination.  You know when you get on a plane the pilot comes on and says, “Welcome to flight ###, to ________________.” Why does he do that?
Because the destination matters!!  Right?

Well this passage in Revelation is our pilot, announcing the destination.  The final and greatest promise of God is the home He has prepared for us that will be with Him for ever.  What a glorious sight, what a glorious city!

No need of sun and moon, for the glory of God is its light…
All the nations and kings of the earth will bring their glory to it…
Gates are always open
There is no night
The glory and honor of the nations will be there.
No unclean thing, no abominations or falsehood.
The river flows through it – the Water of Life, flowing from the throne of God
Fruit trees on both sides, 12 kinds of fruit, producing every month!
Leaves for the healing of the nations.
Nothing left over from The Curse will be there!

It goes on and on, getting better and better, sweeter and sweeter with every word:

The throne of God and of the Lamb.
Servant (that  is us) in worship
We will see His face
His name will be on our foreheads (remember your baptism?)
No more night, no lamp or light will be needed, or sun
For the Lord God will be their light, and
They will reign forever and ever.

Are those promises good enough for you?  Something to look forward to?

But there is a line here that I skipped over… maybe you caught it.

ONLY THOSE WHO ARE WRITTEN IN THE LAMB’S BOOK OF LIFE.

Is your name in the Lamb’s Book of Life?  You say well… maybe?  Or can you say a definitive YES!  If yes then you are an inheritor of all that we’ve been talking about this morning.  A child of God with the right of inheritance. 

If your answer is maybe or even NO it can be a certain YES. 

Just two verses to end here today:
Jesus Christ, who knew no sin, became sin for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God!  And  To as many as received Him, to those who believe on His name, He gave the right to become Children of God.

Today, if you are unsure if your name is “written in the Lamb’s Book of Life”  and you would like to be sure, please pray with me:

Lord Jesus,
I’m sorry for the things I’ve done wrong – the ways I’ve messed up my life.  It’s not just the way things have happened to me, its me, Lord – I’m the problem!  Thank you that you died to set me free and to bring me home to You.  Please take my life, take my heart, take my mind – take all of me, and make me into the person you designed me to be.  Please write my name in your book, Jesus.  In your name I pray.
Amen.π

If you prayed that prayer today and meant it for the first time, when you come to communion this morning, I want you to approach not with an open hand but with your hands together like so…  We will give you a prayer before you receive the elements of communion and we want to speak to you further about this decision.

All of us, need to make this decision – and it’s really a daily decision, made new every morning, to be His and to follow hard after Him.  Let us commit ourselves anew today to His word, His will and His ways.   Amen and Amen.