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.

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