Monday, January 27, 2014

Epiphany III - The Call

Epiphany III
January 26, 2014
Fr. Philip Eberhart



Do you ever spend time wondering what the purpose of life is?   What the purpose of YOUR life is?  

I think we all have that innate desire for our life to have meaning and purpose.  The search for meaning has been the subject of countless writers, biographers and storytellers the world over for countless centuries.  It exists for all of us, as surely as the ache that we have inside for that "something more" - something beyond us, something transcendent.  Thus the "idea" that we call GOD is something that is "built in" to our core - we have an innate need to worship - so innate in fact that we do it automatically, kind of like breathing.

God, in creation, knit us together, the Psalmist tells us.  In that knitting, God placed within us threads of longing - longing to know and to be known by the ONE who created us.  We all have that longing.  We pursue that longing in a myriad of different ways and in a million different directions.

This morning's sermon is simply entitled, THE CALL.

It reflects not our search of the ways and directions of our heart's longing to know and be known, but the voice of the ONE, whom, if heeded, will answer that longing and fill us all with the meaning and purpose HE designed us to have.

At the root of the call that God has on a life is the love that God has for each of us and for our lives.  God designed us to be able to grasp that love - as the apostle Paul prayed it, "to know how high, and how wide, and how long and how deep is the love of Christ - and to experience that love in its fullness, though we cannot possibly grasp its fullness."  The New Living says, "Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God!"  It is an incredible, even an incomprehensible promise!  The love of God is so HUGE that we cannot possibly comprehend it - just to get a glance at it will change a life forever!

But there it is.  It is that glance, that grasp, as minuscule as it admittedly is, that changes everything.  Paul once again reflected on how that perspective changed things for him: 

After a long list of his accomplishments by birth and hard work, study and discipline, Paul says, "I once thought all these things valuable, but now I consider them worthless - quite like garbage or even dung, in comparison with the surpassing knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.  I have discarded it all that I might gain Christ and become one with Him! ... to KNOW HIM and the power that raised him from the dead - to come to suffer with him and eventually, to be raised like him from the dead.
Towards all this, Paul says, I firmly press - running so as to win the prize and receive this promise of life in Christ Jesus.

Friends, you see, - once we grasp the love of God everything else fades into the background - like a wash on a watercolor painting in contrast with the sharp lines of the love of God displayed on the Cross for all to see.

This is what we hear so clearly in Paul's testimony of his own life and his own call.  In our Corinthian reading this morning, Paul says it clearly:

Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

Paul's call was comprised of three elements:
The Gospel of Jesus Christ, The Cross, and The Power of the Cross
Our call is similarly structured, as is the call of every Christian in the world

==============
THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST
The Good News (that's what "gospel" means) of Jesus Christ
So what is the good news?

One of my professors and others have described it as Good News / Bad News / Good News:
Good news =  God created and loves you.  He designed you from the ground up!
                          He knows you "inside and out" - backward and forward, up and down.
                          Every thought, action, good and bad - He knows it before it even is.
                          And He loves you - with an everlasting love!  An unconditional love.  It just is.
and as one of my pastor friends, Gary Hines, says, "There is nothing you can do about it!"

BAD NEWS =  You (we) have told God to get away from us!  Leave us alone; don't mess with me.
                          I can do it myself!  We've done the exact opposite of what He says - disobeyed and rebelled.
                          Needless to say this caused a giant chasm!  Like the Grand Canyon except infinitely bigger!

[recently I watched a special about a tightwire walker who walked a wire all the way across the Grand Canyon!  True!]

                          NOT THIS GRAND CANYON!  There is no way for us to get there from here!  NO WAY ... in and of ourselves!

GOOD NEWS =  Jesus!  John 3:16 ... God so loved that HE GAVE!
                             He made a way for us to come back across.  A CROSS!  The only way across the divide is A Cross!
                             Jesus is the way.
==========
THE CROSS

We think that for God to straighten up our mess was a pretty simple thing!  But I want you to look at what it took.
The Almighty God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit, knew the end from the beginning - before creation God knew all
this was going to happen, and He made the provision for Salvation, even before Creation!  Jesus, was the "lamb
of God, slain from the foundation of the world."  The Son of God, was sent by the Father, to be born, to live and to
die.  

Wait a minute - GOD DIED? 

Yes and here is the secret to the power of the Cross:  God willingly gave himself up, in Jesus Christ, for our sin.
God took the sin of the world into His own heart, died to pay its penalty - the penalty which separates us all from Him.
He took our sin to the grave with Him and left it there, dead and gone.  Paid in full!  Jesus was executed on our behalf!

But that's only part of the story!

=============
THE POWER OF THE CROSS

The power of the Cross is the Resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus didn't stay dead - the grave could not hold him - death was
overcome - beaten!  Sin itself has lost its power, because of the Cross of Jesus.

One of my favorite moments in the Passion of the Christ is the moment that the soldier spears Jesus side on the cross,
and immediately he is showered with a spray of blood and water, as John testified.  Now that is probably movie license
but it is one of the most amazing moments for me - it is what it means for us to be "washed" in the blood of the Lamb!
And it happened in the movie to the very one who pierced our Lord!  

We are that one!  We are those who drove the nails and cast the lash at the whipping post!  We are the ones who cried out
for blood and who freed Barabbas!  We are the ones whom the blood of Jesus Christ was spilled by - and the ones that the 
blood of Jesus Christ was spilled for.

The Power of the Cross is the life that we have been given IN HIM.   "He who knew no sin, became sin for us, that we might become, In HIM, the very righteousness of God!"

This is the Power of the Cross.  This is the Good News of the Gospel.

So what?

Well the so what is that like the disciples that Jesus called in our gospel reading we are being called to "Follow Me, and I
will make you Fishers of Men."  I will make you fish for people!

Our opening collect says it this way:
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, 
that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works.

Friends, the Call that God has for each of us is this and simply this:  to tell the story.  Good News - Bad News - Good News

God has made a way for us to come back - to come back across the divide we created by our sin - to come by the way of The Cross.  To accept the work that Jesus has done on our behalf and to come back into a relationship with God, our loving creator.

That is what it's all about.  All of our life is so busy and distracted that we forget.
It's all about this one thing.

And today if you are listening and you've never understood this, or have never come to the end of this universal search for God and His love and meaning for your life.  You can come now.

All it takes is "yes, Lord, I believe and I receive your offer of salvation."
It is Good News!  Indeed.

Shall we pray:

"Lord Jesus Christ, You stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace."

I stretch out my arms and receive your embrace Lord.  No other has loved me the way you have loved me.  I receive your love.
(silence)

Now, so clothe me in Your Spirit, Lord Jesus, that I might reach my hands out to others, and to bring them to know and love you as I have.  I answer your Call, Lord.  Let me by a witness, by your Spirit's power, to your love and grace and faithfulness, all my days.

In Jesus name and for the sake of His Kingdom we pray,

Amen.

Monday, January 20, 2014

How Much More, Part II

Epiphany III
January 19, 2014
Fr. Philip Eberhart




Well, this morning I'm sure that many minds are on the battle that will be raging at Mile High Stadium at 1 p.m.  So I consulted the famous book, The One Minute Manager and looked to see of there was a way to do a One Minute Sermon ...

There isn't!  No Way!

I know some of you are disappointed, but I will make this as brief as possible!  After all, we're only talking about eternity, and its place in our hearts and lives today!
------------------


I want to follow on from last week's sermon, entitled HOW MUCH MORE?  We commemorated Jesus' Baptism last week and this morning's gospel lesson from John 1, tells the story a bit more in detail from John, the Baptizer's sign and adds some comments about the significance of the "sign" from heaven, the presence of the Holy Spirit as a dove, to the baptizer.  Here is what he said:

And John testified, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, `He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God."

John, the gospel writer and apostle, identifies statements made by John, the Baptizer.  John the Baptizer was beheaded by Herod while Jesus was still alive, so this testimony comes from those who were near John at the time, by name, Andrew for one, Peter's own brother.  This passage identifies him as John's follower or disciple at the time.  No doubt he saw the same things, when Jesus was baptized.  I believe that it was an actual dove that was sent as a sign, a kind of sacramental sign if you will, outward and visible, of an inward gift from the Father to the Son!  But a sign, for John and others who were nearby - not so much for Jesus himself.

And for me the point of extending this sermon into a series is that we need to think about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus just a bit more - especially as it applies to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives and ministries!  So the question remains ... HOW MUCH MORE?

John, the Baptizer, had a word from God.  "He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit."   It was a sign from God to John, in witness that this was Jesus, The Son of God.  John was the first in a long line of "eye witnesses."  And the first to make the public confession, "...this is the Son of God."

The point for me to ask the question again this week is to drive home the need we have to enter into the same fulness that Jesus had and that He offers us in, what John's gospel calls, "the Baptism with the Holy Spirit."  This phrase is used unanimously - by all four gospelers:  Matt 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16 and John 1:33.  A unanimous witness across the gospels that Jesus promises to be our baptizer IN< WITH< BY the Holy Spirit.  Any of those three words is allowed by the translators.

So the point is, this "baptism" in, with, or by the Holy Spirit is to be our every day experience!  Just like Jesus had and appropriated the power of God, through the Holy Spirit in His ministry, SO we are to experience and expect the immediacy and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we live out the Jesus' life in this world.

Now I want to take a moment to give you a brief survey of the "works" that Jesus did, by the Spirit:  and for brevity sake I'll limit the scope of our survey to Matt 4 - 9, mentioned last week.  The space of the INCLUSIO, that Matthew intended to be a snapshot of Jesus teaching and works:  Matt 4:23 - 9:35.   The very next verse begins this section with:

The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them.

He healed them.  Simple as that.  All in one sentence!

The next three chapters are called The Sermon on the Mount!  No great grand healings - just the deepest teaching the world has ever heard!  That is another, year-long sermon series!!

So we get to Chapters 8 and 9 of Matthew, if you want to turn there with me.  Just put your finger on the text and follow with me:

Jesus heals a leper, in the first three verses, (kind of jumps in the deep end first!!).  Then a Roman Centurion's servant, just by saying the word, according to the faith of the Roman!  In Vs 14, Jesus is at Peter's house and heals his mother-in-law - (always a good thing to have Jesus around when your mother-in-law is sick!).   And in v. 16 we read:

When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill.

Then they left and crossed over the Sea of Galilee to the other side.  While they were crossing they got caught in a passing storm, something quite common on the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus stood and calmed the storm, a demonstration of power and authority even over the wind and the waves.

Have you ever commanded a storm?  Any hands?

I have - twice!  Once at a Heavenfest Event and more recently at the Franklin Graham, Rock the Range event a few years ago.  Both were threatened with heavy rain and lightening storms, and both had groups of intercessors.  At Rock the Range they actually stopped the concert and prayed.  I was on a weather app on my phone at the time they prayed, watching the radar of the storm as they prayed and it stopped at I-76 and turned left, up the highway, around the Dick's Sporting Goods Park venue.  The same thing happened at Heavenfest a few years prior to that.  The storm actually split and went around us.  At the end of the evening, we were surrounded by storm clouds and lightning, but not a drop fell on the venue.

Coincidence?  Hmmmmm?!!  The disciples asked, what kind of man is this that the wind and the waves obey him?

Following that, you have the healing of the Gadarene Demoniac, the incident with the pigs and Jesus being asked to leave the area!

Jesus returns to Capernaum, heals a paralytic after forgiving his sins;  He calls Matthew, the tax-collector, and goes to his house for dinner - all quite controversial.  Teaches there that "I am not come to the healthy, but to the sick and the sinners" and about New Wine and New Wineskins...  By The Way - please don't think that your ministry, if done with Jesus' power, will be any less controversial !!  I'm just sayin.

While he was teaching, the ruler of the local synagogue, whose daughter lay ill, near death, came to Jesus and asked him to come.

As Jesus was going, the woman in the crowd, who had been bleeding for 12 years, was healed by "touching the hem of his garment."  Power "went out from him" -  Hmmmm?!!
What a coincidence!

He goes on to heal Jairus' daughter, who was reported to have died, and afterward heals two blind men there and a mute who was demon possessed.  We also see that controversy was brewing already in the barbs of the Pharisees, "He casts out demons by the father of demons."

and then the verse that is the end of the INCLUSIO:  9:35

Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.

Now this is a fairly short list of Jesus miracles, a sampling if you will. But its a good representative slice of his ministry:

Healings:  A leper, A Roman Centurion's servant, Peter's Mother-in-law, All before dinner!  After he returned from Gadara, a paralytic, Jairus's daughter, two blind men and a mute person - and by the way / or ON the way, the woman with the issue of blood for 12 years.  

Demonic oppression:  The passage begins with "they brought him many who were demon-possessed and he cast out the demons with a word" -  then there was the Gadarene demoniac, a pretty hard case with "thousands of demons" - so many that they caused the herd of swine to run into the sea.   (on a side note - we think this is probably the first instance of "deviled ham!")

Also we want to note that the demonic oppression was the cause of the mute state of the last healed man.  

This was a two day stretch - a snap-shot of Jesus life and ministry.  9+ physical healings,1 raised from the dead, 2 or 3 demon possessions,  Oh and a storm calmed along the way.  All in a couple day's work!

Do you see my point?

We are likely talking about a 48 hour period in the life of Jesus, the Son of God.  And my point is, friends, we have the same Holy Spirit and the same mission and commission from Jesus, that He had from His Father!

Look at the next three verses, no the next four verses

"Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.
Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few."
  "Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest."

and 10:1 

Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.

OK.  There you have it.   Authority.   The power of the Holy Spirit!    The compassion of Jesus!  A world white unto harvest - in which there is no shortage of sickness and oppression.

What are we waiting for?  

The opportunities are all around us just like they were all around him - in every day of our life.  
Those are the instructions:

"Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness."
"And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'"
"Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give."

Friends, this is the normal Christian life!  It is what we've been saved, called and empowered for.  From the first followers of Jesus down to us, with no difference!  The difference is in us.  Will we appropriate for ourselves the power and the legacy of the followers of Jesus Christ, the Messiah?  Will we?   Will you?  Or will we substitute excuses for EXOUSIA (Greek for Authority and Power - Jn 1:12)

HOW MUCH MORE?    How much more do we need the equipping of the Spirit to do the work of the Kingdom of God.  What we have seen and heard this morning is the command and expectation of heaven for us. It is our prayer in fact as we pray every week, some every day?   "Thy Kingdom come and Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven!"

So I want to pray this morning and ask you to simply place your hand on your heart.  I want to pray for a renewal of the power and of the gifts of God's Holy Spirit - for His fire in your heart - the fire of compassion, and open eyes to see, open ears to hear the needs around you.  I want to pray for our willingness, our availability and our obedience every day.

Will you pray with me - and if you want to participate in the answer, please place your hand over your heart:

Dear Jesus,

You have sent us.  But you have given us the equipment of the Holy Spirit as you send us.
  
Renew in us today - renew in me and in each one who is asking you this morning, the refreshing of the Holy Spirit - His presence in our lives and His power for our lives.  Lord we want to be Your witnesses, as it says in Acts 1, so Come, Holy Spirit and fill us anew with your presence and your power.  You are not reluctant to give, as we are reluctant to receive.  

Cleanse and forgive us for our fears - give us your Holy Boldness, the boldness Peter acquired on the Day of Pentecost.  The boldness the church prayed for in the face of persecution weeks later:  So we pray... ""And now, Lord, ... grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence,"
"while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.""

Shake this place and us, Lord, and fill us anew with the presence and power of your Holy Spirit.  Let your Kingdom come, Jesus,
here on earth, among us and through us, as it is in heaven.

Amen!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Epiphany 1: How Much More?

Epiphany 1
Jan 12, 2014
Fr. Phil Eberhart


(click title for audio)

This morning is the commemoration of the Baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan, by his cousin, John, the Baptizer.  The Gospel reading sets the scene for us, and John describes the event - His protestation to Jesus, Jesus insistence for the sake of "fulfilling all righteousness," and after the baptism in water, the full presence of the Trinity - Baptizing Jesus in the Holy Spirit and empowering him for His earthly mission.  The Father's voice in affirmation, "This is my Son, the beloved.  With Him I am well pleased!"

Friends, can I ask a question?

If Jesus, the beloved Son of God, who emptied Himself of his prerogatives as God (in Phil 2, Paul writes that "Jesus did not think of equality with God as something to be grasped for, but he "emptied" himself") -  Jesus emptied himself of his omniscience - his ability to know all things; of his omnipresence - limiting himself to one place as Jesus, the man.  If Jesus, the Son of God, needed the fulness of the Holy Spirit to fulfill his mission on earth, HOW MUCH MORE do we, His followers, need the Spirit of God to do the works of God and extend the Kingdom of God in our day?   HOW MUCH MORE?

When we read the gospel stories of Jesus, often times we assume that he knew things or did things because of his GOD-NESS - his all-knowing mind or all-powerful nature as God.  Never forget Philippians 2.  Jesus emptied himself - that is why this passage and this Sunday is so important for us to remember.  The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus was made like us in every way, except was without sin.  He felt all the weakness we feel; He felt all the temptations we feel;  He was hungry, thirsty, tired, lonely, abandoned, betrayed, --- and the list can go on and on.  

Jesus emptied himself by becoming a baby and growing up naturally - he didn't arrive full grown!  He was just like us!  Just like you and just like me, in every way.  Stop the tape and think about that for a minute!

---

Jesus needed the ministry of the Holy Spirit to fulfill his role as Savior, Redeemer, Healer, Teacher.  All of those things came to him as he relied on the presence of the Holy Spirit, given to him at this moment we just read about.  The instances where Jesus knows people's thoughts is a revelation from the Holy Spirit, - we could call it as Paul did in 1 Cor 12, a "word of knowledge" or a "word of wisdom."   The times when Jesus heals the blind, or casts out demons, or sets men free from leprosy or other crippling diseases, it is the ministry of the Holy Spirit, through Jesus, in His fulness, that can be seen!

I want you to get a grasp on this here this morning.  Jesus was not GOD, apart from our limitations, he was GOD in the midst of our limitation - because of the empowering presence and fullness of the Holy Spirit.

There is a phrase that I saw this morning in the sermon that Peter preached - in fact, he may have been the one to "coin the phrase" ---  That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: [Here's the phrase:] how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 

Luke sets this phrase in the mouth of Peter, within weeks or months after Jesus' ascension.  Matthew uses this same word picture, almost exactly, as a textual "INCLUSIO" - a literary device used to set apart the details of Jesus Ministry in Galilee from Mt 4:23 - 9:35 -  He uses that same phrase in both verses to set apart what is in-between as the core of Jesus ministry in Galilee, prior to his sending His disciples out in Mt 10.

Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.

It's interesting and compelling to me that in both Matthew 10 and Luke 10, we have the logical outgrowth of this ministry that Jesus was demonstrating and teaching along the way, from Matt 4 - 9.  Jesus came, not to do it all, but to share with us, with his disciples and followers, the ministry that He did - in the same way that He did it!!

Paul tells us that Jesus was the "firstborn among many brethren" - He was the head of a new kind of humanity - the instigator of a new race, called from every tribe, and tongue and nation - a race of Jesus' followers, called to look and act like Him, regardless of color or culture, of ethnicity or equality, regardless of lineage, longitude or latitude!  The season of Epiphany is all about this fact!  That ALL means ALL - the Whole world is included and invited:  "Whosoever will may come."  The banner on the front of the pearly gates!  God so loved ...?  THE WORLD.  No one is excluded of the invitation.

And friends, we are now the SENT ones.  What Jesus said and did next in those 10th chapters of Mt and Lu, is true for us today, just as surely as it was true for the original disciples and apostles.  What they had going to them, we have going for us!  What is that ... that special something that they had?   The Holy Spirit!

You all are familiar with the beginning of Acts - Luke's follow on piece, regarding the spread of the church/ the Kingdom, after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  What was the day called - fifty days after Jesus resurrection?  Pentecost.

Pentecost was one of the ancient feasts of Israel - 50 days (thus PENTE) after Passover - called the Feast of Weeks.  7 weeks in fact, the number of fulness.  There are sooooo many layers to this all, we cannot possibly even touch the depth of God's wisdom here.  But this is important, for the one promise that Jesus gave to his disciples, whose question was, "Are you now going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?"  Jesus once again said to them, "it is not for anyone but the Father to set those times and seasons by His own authority."  And then, here are some more of those PAY ATTENTION words:

BUT YOU!   Do you remember last week we talked about those kind of words and phrases:   Therefore!!  So that...  But now ...
here's another one:   BUT YOU...

"but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."

Some today ask the 'why' question:  "Why do I need the Holy Spirit?"  

Friends, if Jesus needed the Holy Spirit to complete the work of the Kingdom that He was given, HOW MUCH MORE do we need the presence and the powerful fulness of the Spirit of God, for the continuation of that work today?  HOW MUCH MORE?

I challenge you to look closely at the accounts of the ministry of Jesus in the gospel accounts and have the list from 1 Cor 12, 13, Rom 12, and Eph 4 close at hand.  You will be able to put names on the gifts and graces that the Holy Spirit gave to Jesus throughout his ministry in Galilee and down to Jerusalem - from his baptism to his death - Jesus was filled with the Spirit of God, not because he was God's Son, but because God was well pleased to be IN HIM by His Spirit and working THROUGH HIM by His Spirit.  Jesus was just like us friends - a vessel and instrument in the hands of His Father "whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power"  to "go about doing good, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, teaching in their synagogues and healing all who were oppressed with every kind of disease and every kind of sickness, for God was with Him."

This is our legacy and charge in the Body of Christ!  Do what Jesus did - How Jesus did it.  We have the same "equip-ment" friends, the equipping of the Spirit of God.  But don't ask, "Why do I need the Holy Spirit?"  Isn't it plain for us to see ...
If Jesus Christ himself, who made himself just like us here on earth, save the sin, needed the Holy Spirit to do His work and to complete the Father's will for him, HOW MUCH MORE do we need that same presence and power that has been promised to us and given at Pentecost?  HOW MUCH MORE?  INDEED!

Shall we pray?

God our Father, send your Spirit this day upon us, who wait for You;  Enlighten our minds and empower our lives, that we may be salt and light in the world around us, and that we may do the works of Jesus as He did, in the power of Your Spirit, teaching, healing, sharing Good News of great joy.  By your Spirit, reach out and touch the world in the Name of your Son, Jesus Christ through our hands - As you moved through Jesus, move through us, dear Father.  We offer ourselves as your vessels in this present world, that your Kingdom may come and Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  To the glory of Your Name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   Amen.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Epiphany 2014: God's Answer

Epiphany Sermon 
January 5, 2014
Fr. Philip Eberhart


(click above for Audio)

Happy New Year!  Tomorrow, Jan 6th is the Feast of the Epiphany - the icon of which is the visit to the manger of the Magi - the three wise men.  It marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas and moves us into the season of Epiphany.  The Season of Light -- of revelation - the revelation of Christ, specifically to the Gentiles - the non-Jews.  Those who Paul, in the previous chapter of Ephesians, said were ..."without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world."   That is a pretty good description of all of us in our BC life.

So Epiphany is the celebration of OUR coming to Christ and of the fact that this message is meant for the entire world!

I want to consider that in the light of Paul's letter this morning:   God's Answer to the problem of sin and rebellion in mankind - and our subsequent part in that Answer - as The Church of Jesus Christ.  God started answering before the question was asked - and God continues to answer today - January 5, 2014.

Turn back to the Epistle reading this morning, as Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, remarks about his calling and gifting from God, the Holy Spirit, to be who and what he was - AFTER he got knocked off his horse, blinded and ... well ... after God got his attention!  Paul went through a direct revelation of Jesus, on the road to Damascus, in the ministry of Ananias in Damascus and in Arabia in the subsequent three years.  We know little about that time, but I am sure that it was a very intimate time with the presence of Jesus - what the disciples had with Jesus in person, Paul had with Jesus in Spirit!  Literally, in and by the Spirit of God.  The difference was that the disciples got 40 days of time with Jesus "after the scales fell from their eyes," after the resurrection of our Lord - Paul had three years with Jesus, by His Spirit, after the scales fell off in Damascus.  Ever wonder why Paul is the author of almost 2/3 of the NT.  Jesus had a graduate student!  A PhD student, if you will.  His name was Saul of Tarsus!  Now Paul.  

Paul was a Jew of the diaspora - the dispersion.  He was born and grew up as a Jew in the Gentile world, in Tarsus.  Tarsus was in Cilicia, one of its main cities, a place of great learning on par with even Athens and Alexandria.  In modern day Turkey, Tarsus was the birthplace of Paul, but he did his "graduate work" in Jerusalem, at the feet of the great Jewish teacher, Gamaliel.  In his letter to the Philippian church, Paul lays out his pedigree as a Jew.  He called it "reasons for confidence in the flesh..."

Circumcised on the eighth day...
Of the stock of Israel...
Of the tribe of Benjamin...
A Hebrew of the Hebrews...
A Religious lawyer or Pharisee...
Zealous for his religion, so much so that he actively persecuted the Church.
Blameless, according to the righteousness that is in the Law !!

A pretty good pedigree for a Jew of the Diaspora.  But God had other plans.

After Saul was knocked from his horse on the road to Damascus, God spoke to Ananias, a believer in Damascus:
"Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake."

With that in mind - and the following three years of personal tutoring that he had in Arabia (cf Gal 1:15-19) - Paul begins his missionary activity as Apostle to the Gentiles.  He is a fascinating study.

Jump to the end of his ministry - during his imprisonment in Rome and before his death.  He is writing to the churches he has founded and where he spend a great deal of time, in the city and region of Ephesus.  This letter is, among his pastoral letters, one of the most precise summations of his faith in the gospel and its power for salvation - of what he refers to as the MYSTERY.
A mystery that he names in these verses:  that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

God's plan through the ages was to include all mankind in the redemption that came through the Jewish people;  from the first covenant spoken to Abraham, the purpose was that the whole world would be blessed through him!  That all of us would have "access" to the presence of God, through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit.  And this is the message of Epiphany in the church!
As Paul described us in the second chapter, I mentioned before:  "without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world."  But Paul follows this statement with one of his great two-word U-turns!!  BUT NOW...  [like THEREFORE, whenever you see "BUT NOW" you had better pay attention!]

But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph 2:13)  

Friends, the "mystery" is that this was God's plan from the very beginning!  Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, was intended to be the savior of the whole world - he was "slain from before the foundation of the world."  Paul talks about this over and over and over in his letters.  He ends one section that is perhaps the longest consideration of this in Romans 11 with these words:

"For just as you [Gentiles] once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience,
so these [Jews]  also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy.
For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all."
"Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! 
How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!"

Now, turn back with me to the reading from Ephesians for today:  
Ephesians 3:1-12


I want to pick up some of these phrases from Paul that recur and then turn to one final consideration.

This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles-- for surely you have already heard of the commission of God's grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God's grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

So what have we heard already:

Paul's work among the Gentiles was by Commission of Jesus Christ, personally -- The Commission of God's Grace

That, "the mystery was made known to me by revelation" - reference Acts and Galatians.

That this is the MYSTERY OF CHRIST:  that the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ through the Gospel.

Paul then goes back and restates these points again from a different perspective:

The gift of God's grace (Paul's commission) that was given me by the working of His power (in revelation by the Spirit)!   (reference Acts 9 and following)

Though I am least, this grace was... to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ  AND TO
make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;

Now some more PAY ATTENTION WORDS:   SO THAT...  (THEREFORE ....;   BUT NOW.... !)  PAY ATTENTION HERE!!!

So that... now what are the next three words?  This is a test!

THROUGH THE CHURCH

Did you hear that?   Say it aloud:   Through the church...    again:  Through the church ...       one more time:  Through the church!

Let me finish the sentence:
through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 
This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 
in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.
Here friends, is our part!  

We are to manifest ... to show the "wisdom of God in its rich variety"  - look around you this morning ...
you are looking at those who show "The wisdom of God in its rich variety"  

And to whom do we show it - this wisdom - "to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."

And how do we show it to them?   Does anyone have an actual bible open?  What is the next word beyond our reading?
Anyone?

THEREFORE!

What we have just heard is the setting - the preamble if you will - to the great Apostolic pastoral prayer of Paul for the church in the last half of this chapter

He prays for their (and by extension, our) life in Christ:

"for this reason I bow my knees...  
    [praying for] strength in your inner man, through the power of the Spirit ... so that ... 
      Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith ... 
          you may be rooted and grounded in love ...  
               comprehending the breadth and length, 
                             the height and depth of God's love ...
                    to know (by experience) Christ's love ...
                         to be filled up with all the fullness of God!"

This is how the whole world - including the principalities and powers of the air - will know of the "wisdom of God in its
rich variety!"   Through us, my friends.  Through the church.  look around you.  and say, "Amen!"

Let's pray -

Father, for this reason we bow our knees before you, echoing Paul's prayer for us:

Give us strength in our inner man, through the power of your Spirit so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith.
Help us, Lord Jesus, to subsequently be rooted down and grounded in your love, so that we may come to comprehend its
breadth and length, its height and depth - to come to know your love in our experience, day to day, and finally, may we come
to be filled up with all the fullness of God!

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we can ask or even imagine.  By His mighty power that is at work within us... To Him be glory in the church.   

That's in you and me, friends.  And in our community and fellowship, our corporate witness and life together.  

Glory in the Church - from generation to generation, for all time.  Amen.

Welcome to 2014!