Sunday, August 31, 2014

Character that People Listen To

12th Sunday of Pentecost
August 31, 2014
Fr. Philip Eberhart

Character that People Listen To

Throughout this summer and now into the fall we're concentrating on what it takes to "get the Word" out, through our lives and through what we do and say to folks.

I think that perhaps there is no better place to start, to make a personal inventory of behavior that gets people's attention than in our Roman's reading, from Chapter 12, beginning at v. 9!

The character lists in scripture are daunting - something that almost no one, except Jesus himself, can "live up to."  We talk a lot here about the need to allow the Holy Spirit to work in your life and this is the work of the Holy Spirit in our life, to make us "look like Jesus" in our inside!

But here in Paul's letter to the Romans, the list is directly tied to the work of the Spirit, just verses before, and to our response to God in verses 1-2 of Rom 12.

This is the Practical Paul that we are reading now.  And the question we need to ask about these verses is this:  What are others looking for in my life that will show them the love of Jesus?  I believe that this section and perhaps Paul's section in 1 Cor 13 are the best outlines of behavior that give witness to God and His love.

Can we sum it up in two words:  Genuine love!

Perhaps its best for us to use the rest of the scripture passage itself to expand those two words.

Paul is not unclear in his language here, the verbs he uses are very strong language.  Likewise in 1 Cor 13:  Love does not act unbecomingly... does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth!  The people around us are looking for clarity and righteousness in our choices and behavior.  They want to see righteousness in action!

The early Christians were looked upon with disdain by the Romans, but one of the things that got through was the way in which the Christian community loved each other!  Today we are divided up into our little camps and clicks - exclusive to and of one another.  Is it any wonder that the world looks on and walks away?

Devotion to one another is almost totally unknown in our culture today.  When our culture encounters a people who are devoted to one another they sit up and take notice!  When we prefer one another in honor, what does that mean?  It means we prefer one another's company and love to honor one another - we rejoice to see one another and to hear about the good things that God is doing among us.

I've always been intrigued by the language Paul uses here - a language of competition:  Outdo one another in showing honor!  This is one of only two places in the NT where such competition is encouraged in the Church:  the other in Hebrews 10 where we are encouraged to "spur one another on to love and to good works." 

Paul is concerned for the fire in the fireplace!  As we all know, time takes its toll on a fire, and ours is not different.  It takes tending and stoking to maintain our spiritual fervor, our zeal for the Lord and for his people.  Even more so, I think, our zeal for the lost!  But it is by taking on the attitude of Jesus who was a servant for our sake, that we stoke and maintain our zeal in the Spirit.  Nothing causes us to be excited about Jesus more than seeing Him working through us in our day-to-day lives and witness.

Next the watching world will see how we suffer!
It is in the midst of our suffering that the hope of the gospel comes most clearly into focus - for us and to those around us. People will ask you about the hope that is within you - Peter tells us to be ready to share that hope, with gentleness. 
The qualities here are ones that give us a "testimony" of the grace and goodness of God, even in the midst of suffering.

I'm not sure that we can keep bad things from happening to us, either through the spiritual warfare we engage in or the natural course of our life events, we are subject to the fallenness of our world and the three things here are the most common experience we probably have!  

These things are not suggested behaviors for successful living!  They are keys to success in life - living in the way that God himself lives.  Living as ambassadors of reconciliation.
The generosity characterized here was a hallmark of the early Christian community, from Acts 2:42 forward!  It is no less amazing today to find a community that is open handed toward one another and especially toward strangers.


Paul is going from preaching to meddling here!  But I think we get the point, and perhaps the best point is to end with the invitation of Jesus to his disciples gathered:

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

The cross is the place of suffering for others, on the behalf of others.  This is where we are called to go, for Jesus sake, to follow Him.  The instructions seem pretty clear from Paul.

But we need the Holy Spirit to carry out the instructions!  Without His help these are just another set of heavy rules - WITH His help, we are taking on the character of Jesus and living as His Body!

May we so live as to be the kind of people that he talks about in these verses - to live the kind of life He challenges us to, in response to all that God has done for us!

Let us pray and commit our way to Him to be the people He intends us to be in His Kingdom by the power of the Spirit.

Let us 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.  So clothe us in your Spirit, that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you, for the honor of your Name.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Invitation and Response

Fr. Philip Eberhart
Aug 24, 2014
Eleventh Sunday of Pentecost

Invitation & Response

This morning's scriptures are the kind that make a preacher pinch himself!!  Matthew 16, the encounter between Peter and Jesus around the question, "Who do YOU say that I am?" and Paul's invitation to the Roman believers, in the light of all that he has written in the first 11 chapters of the letter:  Present yourselves as living sacrifices!  A perfect pairing of Invitation and Response.

And as we continue in our Adult Forum this morning with the arguments for the existence of God, I kind of have these questions on the brain!  In fact the readings couldn't have been better had I hand picked them for this morning!  Once again the Lectionary is amazing!!

Do you spend much time thinking about the "first order questions" of life? Actually most people, in my experience, aren't deep thinkers.  There is a kind of discipline of the mind that must be engaged to begin asking questions like "Why is there something, rather than nothing?"  "What is the meaning of my life that goes beyond the two certainties of life:  death and taxes?!!"  It sounds funny, but if your god is money, taxes are a threat to your religion!  If you fear death, then life takes on a different cause.

"What is the meaning of my existence?"  Why am I here?  Who am I?  Interestingly it sounds as though Jesus asked these questions in a different way:  Who do people say that I am?  Who do YOU say that I am?  Some might say that Jesus was having an identity crisis, trying to figure out who He was from the ideas of the surrounding thoughts.  But I think that Jesus was not like us in that way!

Too often we search for identity in the opinions of others about us.  It's not who I know myself to be that counts, but who I believe YOU think I am, that counts in my psyche.  It is a pre-teen reality that many never grow out of.  We constantly careen and ricochet through life, bouncing off of one opinion or another, like the wild bumper car ride at the carnival.

Why was Jesus asking the questions in this way?

Who do people say that I am?  Jesus was seeking an understanding of the people's comprehension of Him and His personhood to that point.  He was doing a test poll with the disciples.  And he heard back from them:  "Some say John the Baptist (back from the dead), some say Elijah (prophecy coming true), some say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets."   In other words, no one knows for sure - lots of guesses!

Who do YOU say that I am?  Jesus turned to his most trusted, inner circle and asked the same question of them?  Still taking a poll?  NO!   Why?   Because this is THE "First Order" Question of our lives!

It is THE First Order Question of every life on the planet.  It is the handle on the doorway to eternity!  The key to the entrance - the narrow gate and way that Jesus Christ claimed that He Himself was!  There is no more important question we may ever ask!  Or Answer.   So...


The polling today brings back the same mixed reviews as in 1st century Palestine: 

Some say Jesus was a myth, the invention of fertile religious imagination - the perfect man, the great teacher... they hold Jesus in reverence as a great teacher, moralist-par-excellence!  Nothing can compare with his Sermon on the Mount for moral platitude.  

Some say Jesus was just an extraordinary man, endued with the Spirit of God and enabled for a time to work wonders, but dead now.  No longer a force in the universe!

Some say Jesus was a Son of God, among many sons of God - speaking for the God of the ages in his age, but having no relevance in our own. He is "a way," but not THE WAY.  In fact its bad form to even claim that such exclusivism was Jesus intention.

Some say Jesus was a loving presence in the world, who showed acceptance to all, no matter their station in life or pet sin.  This "Jesus" is used by people to justify the acceptance of all kinds of behavior, with no call to change or renewal.

BUT, Jesus asks us:  Who do YOU say that I am?

The question always comes back to us!  We must make our own confession - no one can do it for us!  The invitation is for YOU - "Who do YOU say that I am?"

Let me tell you, if this is not a question you have settled in your mind and heart, then today is an extraordinary day!  As the scripture says, Today is the DAY OF SALVATION.

Yes I said SALVATION.  That is the weight of the answer you are about to give.  This isn't a Sunday School quiz!  This isn't about what you think!  Your opinion of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  This is about what you hold to be true in the innermost sanctuary of your soul!
And the answer you give, shapes the whole of your life.

Jesus turns to you and looks you full in the face and asks you, up close and personal, "Who do YOU say that I am?"  What is your response?  Let's sit with that question for a minute.

(silent time)


Peter said what we need to say!  You see its not about who we "think" Jesus is - its about who Jesus thought He was!  Who Jesus KNEW he was!  Peter's confession wasn't just a good answer in the moment - a lucky guess?  It didn't come out as a question, "You're the ... Christ? The Son of the Living God?"

It was Peter's confession of who Jesus knew himself to be:  

THE CHRIST = the Messiah, the promised and anointed ONE sent from God to redeem mankind back to God as the sacrifice and atonement for our sins and wickedness.

THE SON = God's One and Only Son, given in love for the world, that all who believe in Him and confess His Name, shall not perish but have eternal life!

OF =  sharing the same BEING with the Living God!  How did the creed writers put it?  Very God of Very God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father.

THE LIVING GOD = The visible image of the invisible God, made alive among us, to touch, to hold, to talk to, to hear from - who continues in life, after the crucifixion and resurrection, eternally present in Spirit and in intercession for each of us!

That is WHO we must say that HE IS!  And if we say that then the invitation is given to come higher up and further in.  Turn to Romans 12.

Paul writes his "gospel" in these chapters of his letter to the gentile church in Rome.  He establishes our need for God and God's solution in Jesus Christ.  He establishes the work of God through Christ to the gentiles and then back round to the Jews.  He has just scaled the mountains of God's grace for the Gentiles and His never-failing love for the Jews.  And now he turns to our response.  Let me paraphrase a bit, adding pieces from different translations:

I beg you, brothers and sisters, urgently appealing that, with your eyes wide open to all the mercies of God, you make a decisive dedication of your bodies and present your whole selves [both soul and body] as a living sacrifice, holy and fully acceptable to God, well pleasing to Him in fact, as this is the most reasonable, rational and intelligent service you can render in thankful worship for all that He has done for us.

Any questions?  

Again ... from The Message:
So here's what I want you to do, God helping you:  Take your everyday, ordinary life -- your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life -- and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him.  

Friends, this is our most reasonable response to the question, "Who do YOU say that I am?"

Just a few chapters earlier Paul tells us that it is with the mouth that we confess, "Jesus is Lord" and it is with the heart that we believe, "God raised Him from the dead!"

Sso have you made YOUR GREAT CONFESSION - as Peter did in our reading?  Have you settled the question of who Jesus is, once and for all?  If not, now is the time!  NO better time!

I want everyone to bow your heads.  If you have never made this confession then pray with me:

Jesus.  I believe you are the Christ, The Son of the Living God.
I believe you lived and you died for me.  I believe that you were raised by God on the third day
and that you give me New Life.  I offer you myself - all of me, Lord, for all of you.  Thank you, Jesus, for loving me so much. Amen.

Now if you prayed that prayer, I want you to share that with me.  Raise your hand or stand or let me know at communion by holding your hands together like you are praying when you come to receive the bread at communion.  Do something to say, "I made a decision today."

You have answered the most important question you can ever answer.  and Today is the day of Salvation.  Hallelujah.  

Amen and amen!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Jesus' Call: From Comfort to Partnership with God

Pentecost 9
August 10, 2014
Fr. Philip Eberhart

Have you ever been invited outside your comfort zone?   Now I want you to note the words I used...

INVITED =  This is something that isn't required for salvation!  Being invited by the Lord is something special -  we are asked by Him to come along on a special adventure -- something that is out of our ordinary pathway or even out of our ways and means!

But God occasionally invites us to come along on one of His projects.  Often the projects that God calls us to are outside our comfort zone!  Now, you must realize that God has no comfort zone?!!  Why is that?    Because there is nothing that is impossible to Him, so there is no fear.  You see, our comfort zone has more to do with our fear than with our faith!  Our comfort zone exists, because of what we believe to be possible - because of what we deem to be reasonable - because of what we allow in order to be safe and ...  comfortable.  Because friends, we have to admit, in the end ...   it is ALL ABOUT our comfort!!!

Now, of course, I'm talking about the boat!  The boat was a fisherman's comfort zone!  It's not that fishermen can't swim, but why would you want to swim, in the middle of the night, on a stormy sea?  That's crazy!  But I want you to notice something about the exchange between Jesus and Peter ...  Whose idea was this anyway?  This was Peter's idea!

You know, when you read passages like this in scripture, sometimes its fun, its interesting at least, to spend some time trying to put yourself inside the mind of the actors in the passage.  What was Peter thinking?  Some might say he wasn't!!!  He was just his normal impetuous self, leaping before he looked.  Ready, Fire!, Aim !!!

Peter was the outspoken, go-off-half-cocked, sometimes right, sometimes really, really wrong - um -  "leader" of this band of brothers and friends who Jesus had gathered to himself as disciples.  A pretty rag-tag crew, made up of fishermen, zealots, seekers, followers and a tax collector, for good measure!  Peter was filled with the same mixture of faith and fear that we all have!  Sometimes his faith was loud and clear and sometimes his fear overwhelmed him - in this story we have the two, in almost a laboratory environment!  Both can be clearly seen, almost examined along with their fruits: the one the ability to walk on water; the other the likelihood of drowning!

So Faith and Fear - the polar opposites in our gravitational life.  The forces of gravity we are very familiar with, right?
Anyone here every defy the law of gravity?  It's not really something you can defy and have the outcome come out well, in my experience.  I tried it about 16 years ago on a stairwell in the mountains.  It didn't end well!  Gravity wins! every time!  That why it's called A LAW!

It can only be naturally overcome by the operation of another law ... a HIGHER law.  A law which, in its operation,supersedes or overcomes the power of the original law. But even then, in our natural world, the other law has to have the right conditions to overcome gravity - people overcome gravity in water everyday by strapping on waterskis and applying the higher law - the law of lift - which requires something outside to act on that which is being lifted.  In the air, the plane is lifted by the same forces - the lift of the Bernoulli principle and Newton's second law of motion.  I know its complicated.

Faith here is different, it's super-natural.  The faith of Peter in the story this morning isn't the application of these laws in order to "walk on water"!  The faith of Peter is applied to supersede the natural.  It's natural to sink when your feet touch the lake!   Ever notice that?

So let's talk for a minute about the impossible thing that God has invited us into:  Partnership with Him.  Peter wasn't just out of his comfort zone - he was asking Jesus to help him do the impossible!  Have you ever prayed Peter's prayer ... ?    Lord, if you don't show up here, we're sunk!!l  You know that there is a difference being out of your comfort zone a little bit and what Peter did here!  Right?

Friends, Peter acted on faith that he could do what he saw Jesus doing?  Just like Jesus said, "He did what He saw the Father doing!"  We are invited by Jesus into THAT kind of activity!  We are invited by Jesus into the supernatural world of faith.  And this is where we leave our comfort zone - the boat!

NOW I want to shift the analogy from the boat to the church.  This is our boat, friends.  And Jesus is inviting us outside the walls of safety and into the adventure of mission with Him.  And this is a supernatural mission - the kind that Jesus himself was on, while here on earth.  With all the stuff He did!

In our Roman's passage this morning, Paul asks four questions of us, his readers:

"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
But (1) how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And (2) how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And (3) how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And [finally] (4) how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? 

In Paul's argument we have a tendency to make that beginning statement about the last part, but his emphasis here is on the first word... EVERYONE.


EVERYONE - All means ... ???

EVERYONE means ????

So we need to, by faith, answer the hows in our own life and for our own self.

How are they to call on someone in whom they have not believed?  or of whom they have never heard? 

Of course the answer is they cannot.

So now, how are they to hear and believe?   By proclamation!  That's where you and I come in... where we get to partner with God in the great work of salvation.  As the Body of Christ, we are being invited by Him to get out of our comfort zone and walk with him in the deep water of the world around us, to proclaim Him so that others can hear and believe.  Salvation is not from us, but we get to tell about it.  We get to invite others to experience Jesus as alive!  And not just as resurrected and alive, but as LORD.  Lord of all!

But there is one last piece here.  HOW CAN THEY PROCLAIM UNLESS THEY ARE SENT?

So the final question this morning is are you willing to jump out of the boat of your comfort and ask Jesus to invite YOU into the adventure of being SENT by Him into the world to proclaim the Good News of Jesus and His love, to touch and heal in His Name, and to bring people who do not know him, to the knowledge and love of him, for the honor of HIS NAME?

We are all invited by Jesus!  Peter was the only one who got out of the boat!

How will you answer Jesus invitation to walk on the water with Him?

Let's pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, you extended your arms of love 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 forth in love, might bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you, for the honor of Your Name.  AMEN.

If you want to be sent, put your hand up...

Jesus, you see the hands here this morning.  In the Name of Jesus, I commission you and send you as ambassadors of Jesus Christ, to PROCLAIM HIM as Risen from the Dead and as LORD of all.  You are commissioned to proclaim the truth of Jesus that others may hear and believe.  With Isaiah and Peter, we answer your call - your invitation, LORD - to get out of our fear and move into our faith, trusting in You to provide the ability to walk on the water, if we will only get out of the boat!

Let the adventure begin!