Sunday, March 22, 2015

Let Our Hearts Be Fixed

Fr. Phil Eberhart
5th Sunday of Lent
March 22, 2015

LET OUR HEARTS BE FIXED...

Every once in a while the collect / the opening prayer that we use for the day captures a phrase or lets us say what it is that we are about in a clear, crisp set of words.  That is the case this morning:

"Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found;"

I don't know who wrote this one, but it captures so much in one or two phrases that I want to spend a few minutes looking at them, and our scriptures and others that take us toward the realization of this prayer.

This morning, as we always should, we start with GRACE!
Some have called grace "God's Riches At Christ's Expense" -- I prefer to think of it in other terms - God's Riches AND Christ's Extravagance!

I don't know if you've stopped in the whirlwind of what the prayer calls the swift and varied changes of the world - in the whirlwind of life - to consider the GRACE of GOD in your life.  If you have, in almost any circumstance you will uncover a well of gratitude.  I can't think of all that God has done in and through my "illegitimate" life without breaking down in weeping and thankfulness for His GRACE and His Love.

We start with God's Grace mediated to us in Christ's Extravagant Love, His body broken and His blood shed for each of us.  Enough for the whole world - and it was the fulfillment of our prophet's word this morning: 

 I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah...
 I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Paul lines out the difference between the old and the new covenants in the early chapters of Romans.  He captures the change in the middle of the third chapter:

[Rom 3:19-23 NLT] Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard.

BUT NOW, GOD...

Before it was us, But Now... GOD.   GRACE!  It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, Paul tells the Ephesians.  And not even that is from yourself, it is a gift of God. 

But the gift of grace is not a freedom to do what we want!  It is a freedom for the work of God in your life and through your life.  Let's look again at our prayer from the beginning:  Grace "to love what you command."  Where do we find what God commands?

Let's look for a second at our Psalm this morning:
in the first and third verses we have the key, and these verses themselves are memory verses in the Navigators' Topical Memory System. Read  vss 9 and 11 with me...
9
How shall a young man cleanse his way? *
By keeping to your words.
11
I treasure your promise in my heart, *
that I may not sin against you.

I memorized it in the KJV
    Wherewithall shall a young man cleanse his way? 
    By taking heed thereto according to Thy Word.
    Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee.

Friends, you remember the hand, right?  I want you to remember the hand...
Hear, Read, Mark, Learn and Inwardly Digest. The only way to be able to "grasp" the Word of God is to 'inwardly digest' this book.  The Prophet Jeremiah, in the midst of his wrestling with the nation of Israel says to God:

[Jer 15:16 ESV] 16 Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.

Do any of you have a favorite food?  One that you call "comfort food"?  Some of you see the recipe posts that Valerie, my wife, puts on Facebook from time to time.  Those are "comfort" food - I'm not sure who is getting the comfort, cause I am sure not!  But if you have a favorite food, you want to eat it ... right?  You want to fill up on it.

How much more this food?  The Word of God!  The Bread of Life. The Living water! all the things that Jesus said HE was!   

What is it that you truly desire?  The Grace of God is given to us to "love what You command"  and to "desire what You promise."

Do you desire what God promises?  Our knee jerk reaction is probably, "Well, duh!"
But can you name some of the promises of God?  What promise are you holding on to right now?

>  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!

>  He will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus !

>  For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future.

>  Trust in the Lord with all you heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

How about this one?

>  "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Oh, I think let's stop there - we kind of flinch at that last "promise" - Isn't it so?  For us in the west "the promises of God" has such a positive ring.  We, even today, know so little of suffering for our faith.  Those times are changing and we need to be prepared to change with them.  God give us your grace so to do.

Let's finally turn to this last phrase:

that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found

Just three quick things:

1.  Swift and varied changes of the world?   Anyone?  Hands?
        ... yeah I thought so.  We are experiencing a world that is changing at an exponential rate right now, and not for the better.  The belief that if we just keep on keeping on that things will get better and better is a lie.  The humanist manifesto is built on sand!  And we can see the hurricane coming!

2.  So where is your HEART FIXED?  Is it fixed WHERE TRUE JOYS ARE TO BE FOUND?
     
      In our Psalm from this morning David repeats this formula:
v. 6 Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.

Or how about the promise of Prov 3 again:
v. 5-6  Trust in the Lord with all your heart;  Lean not on your own understanding;  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.

Or how Paul expressed the realities of his ministry in 2 Cor 4
[2Co 4:7-11, 15-18 ESV] 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. ... 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 16 So [therefore] we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Or the writer to the Hebrews, in the face of their struggles:

[Heb 12:1-3 ESV] 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

So let our hearts surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found!  Looking to Jesus the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith.  Consider HIM, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

Friends, we are given the gift of Grace - God's Riches And Christ's Extravagance - through faith in Jesus, and God even works that faith in our hearts, it too is a gift.  So let us hold fast with a firm grip on God's Word, which is 'fixed in the heavens' and is the place where Jesus Christ reveals Himself to us day by day.  He is the only "source of eternal salvation" and it comes "to all who obey him." 

Let's pray the collect again one more time:

 Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Colorado Anglican Society: Baptism & The Holy Spirit

Baptism & The Holy Spirit
Fr. Philip Eberhart
Colorado Anglican Conference
March 13-14, 2015

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The opening sentences of our baptismal service come from Ephesians 4:

                     There is one Body and one Spirit;
People              There is one hope in God's call to us;
Celebrant      One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism;
People              One God and Father of all.

[Eph 4:4-6 ESV] 4 There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-- 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Baptism is an individual choice of obedience to the commands of Christ to His Church and to the historic practice of the church, indeed of the whole people of God, per his instructions. 

Peter urged people who were coming to faith to "be baptized, every one of you for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit"

Our purpose in this workshop this morning is to explore the role of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Baptism.  As I said in my intro sentence on your schedule, 'the Spirit is the main ACTOR, on us and in us, throughout the whole process of coming to Christ, as well as the process of growing in Christ.

Baptismal water has no magic.  If blessed water could save, all we would need to do is to go sanctify a couple of fire engines and "baptize" everyone - no matter what their faith was or their practice afterwards.  Baptism is a sacrament, and as such it partakes in the nature of a sacrament:  "It is an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace." It becomes effective in our life as we come to the waters with faith - sincere, authentic faith.  

Baptism is, in the words of the Prayer Book, a "means of grace."  It is the way that the Holy Spirit initiates us into the Body of Christ - by the power of the Holy Spirit we are made very members incorporate in the Body of Christ, the Church.

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So what is the role of the Holy Spirit in this sacrament?

1.  The Holy Spirit is the agent by whom we are drawn to Christ in the first place.

[Jhn 15:26 ESV]
26 "But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

[Jhn 16:7-8, 13 ESV]
7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: ... 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

It is entirely by the divine agency of the Spirit that we are enabled to come to the truth and perceive it as such.  By the Spirit we are set free indeed.

[2Co 3:16-18 ESV]
16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

It is the Spirit's working, His wooing, His teaching and convicting us that brings us to the point of the early Jewish believers who found themselves "cut to the heart" and asking "what shall we do?"

[Act 2:37-39 ESV]
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" 38 And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself."

In our moment of confession and conversion it is the Holy Spirit who is applying the words of Jesus, issued from the cross - "Father, forgive them.  They do not know what they are doing." - the Spirit applies the forgiveness of Jesus to me and to my sins, personally and completely

Baptism then is our response to His grace and faithfulness - in obedience to His Word  and example.  We come at his invitation to the water.



2.  What is the Holy Spirit doing as we go into and under the water of Baptism?

     A.  Baptism is a symbol of our obedience to the call to repentance.  It is prefigured in the Old Testament by the waters of the Red Sea at Passover and by the Bronze Laver, called the bath or the sea, in the Tabernacle of Ancient Israel.  
Paul in writing to Titus of this process says:

[Tit 3:4-7 ESV] 
4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Paul refers to baptism here as "washing", prefigured by the bronze laver at the entrance of the Temple/Tabernacle in ancient Israel - it is the "washing of regeneration".  Some have inferred that there is instrumentality in this washing - that the washing itself regenerates the new believer, but it is clear that the washing here is symbolic while the renewal - the actual regeneration - is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Professor A.T. Robertson puts it this way:

"Here, as often, Paul has put the objective symbol before the reality. The Holy Spirit does the renewing, man submits to the baptism after the new birth to picture it forth to men."
Robertson, A.T.  Word Pictures in the New Testament, Titus,  http://www.ccel.org/ccel/robertson_at/wp_titus

The washing is a symbol of our repentance and ...

    B.  Baptism is a symbol of our identification with Jesus.  Turn with me to Romans, chapter 6:

[Rom 6:3-5 ESV] 
3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

As we are baptized, we "go under" the water in an identification with the death of Jesus and his entry into the tomb.  Some argue here for only a total immersion, but I believe that puts too much weight on the instrumentality of the water - the point here is the symbolism and obedience to "undergo" baptism, as a symbol of identification with Jesus death and resurrection.

Yes, and resurrection.  Identification with Jesus is not complete here without the work of the Holy Spirit which Paul refers to in the letter to the Ephesians:

[Eph 1:16-20 ESV] 
16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

Like at Jesus' own baptism, we have the entire Trinity present in this transaction - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - as we reciprocate what He did at the Jordan in identifying with us in baptism.  We are buried with him, symbolizing both the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, and we are placed "EN CHRISTO"  - IN CHRIST; identified with Him in both death and resurrection, in regeneration and renewal, by the IMMEASURABLE POWER of the Spirit, at our baptism.

We have to pause a moment to take in the depth and height and length and breadth of this action by the Spirit of God.  

Paul continues to talk about this as it is foundational for the whole Ephesian letter, for his whole theology in fact:

[Eph 2:4-7 ESV] 
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Over and over again Paul refers to our 'status' IN CHRIST.  It is perhaps the greatest theme he has throughout his letters and it bring me to my third and final effect or working of the Holy Spirit in our baptism.

     C.  Baptism is the beginning point of our life-long INCORPORATION IN CHRIST.  


By the power of the Holy Spirit we are made "very members incorporate in the mystical Body of Christ", as our Prayer Book service says.  It is by this power that we are made "members one of another" in Romans;  that we are "built together as a holy temple, for the indwelling of the Spirit of God" in Corinthians;  that we "grow up into Him who is the Head, from whom the whole body...grows and builds itself up in love." 

In fact, let's turn to that 4th Chapter of Ephesians again.  We started here at the beginning of this talk, in the first verses that talk of the Unity of God, the Oneness of which we all partake - the words we use at the beginning of the baptism service:

                      There is one Body and one Spirit;
People               There is one hope in God's call to us;
Celebrant      One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism;
People               One God and Father of all.

This chapter of Ephesians is the pinnacle of the letter, the mountain peak to which all the climbing leads, and to which all the "in Christ" references point.  Here we find the ultimate purpose of baptism and its ultimate result and end... incorporation into the very fullness of the full stature of Christ!  Let's read from vv. 11-14

[Eph 4:11-14 ESV] 
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

The project initiated at baptism is just this!  "building up the body of Christ ... to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ".  This is the life-long project of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and in the Church.  It is the focused work of those who are leaders (and we all partake in some measure in these motivational ministry giftings) to equip the saints, that is each other, for the effective work of ministry.

The next two verses give us a complete picture of this process in body terms:

[Eph 4:15-16 ESV] 
15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Here Paul turns to the practicalities of this process, and ends Ephesians with the nuts and bolts of relationships, anger, marriage, family relationship, spiritual warfare and all the gritty realities of our life "IN CHRIST."  All of this is set in the setting of the verses above, in the unity of the Body of Christ - itself a gift "of the Spirit" (v. 3) - and in the working of the Spirit's gifts to each member of the Body (v. 6), enumerated in v. 11 and designed to work together as "joints" - places where separate muscles and bones are held together by the tendons (the word for unity in v. 3 and 13, by the way), as the Holy Spirit "holds us together in unity", in the diversity of our gifts and the focused ministries that grow out of their exercise.

Let me conclude, with this practical note and a challenge to us all.

As we live out our baptism in the nitty gritty of our every day life, we are fully equipped andempowered by God's Spirit.  We have been obedient to him in repentance, undergone the washing of regeneration and are being renewed by that same Spirit.

We are fully identified with Him, in both death and resurrection, again by the instrumentality - by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the sacramentum of water.  Through this we are incorporated into Christ Jesus - not a change of clothes, but a change of address!  We no longer belong to this world or ourselves, even to our spouses or to our jobs, we belong to Christ and are "very members incorporate in the mystical Body of Christ."  

As such we are all given the "motivational" ministry gifts of Ephesians 4:11 in varying degrees according to our roles and personalities, as God has designed us.  By that design, God has both equipped us and placed us into His Body, and we are held together by the ligaments (unity) of the Spirit of God, so we can work effectively together, for the building up of the Body of Christ in love, until we all reach the full stature of Christ.

My challenge is this:

Take time today, as you consider these truths, to look around you - to see who you are joined to by these ligaments of unity.
Friends, the physiology of the body - our physical body - teaches us that we grow strong, not by ease but by exercise.  Our bones and muscles must have exercise, resistance, pain at times, rest at times, to fully come to their peak function.  Movement in fact, is a study of resistance as we live bone to bone, muscle to bone, ligaments holding the two together in the tension of their work. 

It is no surprise to God - in fact it is by His design, that we "rub each other the wrong way."  Unity and Diversity are part of the same organism, by design!  They must be held together in tension and fully exercised among us - we are different from each other, but we are in this together!  God celebrates this fact and this process and is fully engaged in it with us.  The cartilage that sits between the bones in this Body is His Shalom.  His peace is the object that makes it all work together - bone to bone is not bone-on-bone, there is a cushion of PEACE - call it "the bond of peace" (v 3) that we must strive to keep, according to Paul.  

So to sum it up, as baptized people, we are called and gifted and placed In Christ.  Our part is obedience, forgiveness, love of one another, even when rubbed the wrong way.  We are "members one of another" with all our warts and humanness, all our errors and sins.  We must constantly appropriate our baptismal "washing" - as Jesus washed Peter's feet, from the daily dust, we must wash our feet - allow our feet to be washed, as a renewal and re-signing of baptism - hmmm, "resigning" from our self efforts and giving ourselves anew each day to His power to make us live, in fact, EN CHRISTO.

Let's join together in prayer:

From the prayer over the water:
We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.
Therefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his 
fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

From the prayer after Baptism:
Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of
grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.

And finally from Ephesians 3:
Now, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named, that in keeping with the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  
Please stand together:
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. And the Blessing of Almighty God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be with you and remain among us all, now and forever.  
Amen.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Butterfly Effect: The Myth of the Dark Ages

[ NOTE:  This talk was delivered at a monthly meeting of "The Butterfly Effect," a gathering sponsored by www.Revive1787.com.

 Video of the session may be found at the website there.

 The video referred to below is from the Acton Institute, third in their series, "The Birth of Freedom" entitled "The Myth of the Dark Ages" ]

===========================

First, I want to say thank you to Randy and Dan, to Fr. Theron and all the others who so faithfully have worked to bring together this forum, for reflection and action together as people of faith and conviction.

I want to begin with a prayer this morning by George Washington, from the flyleaf of a current copy of the 1599 Geneva Bible:

O eternal and everlasting God, I presume to present myself this morning before thy Divine majesty, beseeching thee to accept of my humble and hearty thanks, that it hath pleased thy great goodness to keep and preserve me the night past from all the dangers poor mortals are subject to, and has given me sweet and pleasant sleep, whereby I find my body refreshed and comforted for performing the duties of this day, in which I beseech thee to defend me from all perils of body and soul.

Direct my thoughts, words and work. Wash away my sins in the immaculate blood of the lamb, and purge my heart by thy Holy Spirit, from the dross of my natural corruption, that I may with more freedom of mind and liberty of will serve thee, the ever lasting God, in righteousness and holiness this day, and all the days of my life.
Increase my faith in the sweet promises of the Gospel. Give me repentance from dead works. Pardon my wanderings, & direct my thoughts unto thyself, the God of my salvation. Teach me how to live in thy fear, labor in thy service, and ever to run in the ways of thy commandments. Make me always watchful over my heart, that neither the terrors of conscience, the loathing of holy duties, the love of sin, nor an unwillingness to depart this life, may cast me into a spiritual slumber. But daily frame me more and more into the likeness of thy son Jesus Christ, that living in thy fear, and dying in thy favor, I may in thy appointed time attain the resurrection of the just unto eternal life. Bless my family, friends & kindred unite us all in praising & glorifying thee in all our works begun, continued, and ended, when we shall come to make our last account before thee blessed Saviour, who hath taught us thus to pray, our Father...

Amen."

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The video this morning has jarred us a bit to reconsider the actual fruit of the Middle ages, the so called, "Dark Ages."  Popular history pins a kind of dark veil over this period, looking at its excesses and aberrations, not its accomplishments, its inventions or its progress.

In the broad strokes of human history, the Middle Ages was a time of reconstruction, roughly from the fall of Rome in 500 to the Printing Press in the early 1400's.  It was at the end of these 'Dark Ages' that you had such things as the Chart of Liberties and the Magna Carta, which prefigure our own Constitution and Bill of Rights here in America!

But these documents rose, not out of thin air, but out of the cultivation of individual freedoms, property ownership and rights, rights of inheritance, and merchant craft that rose during the Middle Ages.  "Free enterprise" has its roots in the Christian notions of property ownership, of our stewardship of God's gifts, and in the very concept of the "Imago Dei," the image of God that is in us by virtue of creation.

It is these concepts that began to take root in the post-Roman world and to slowly change the ways things had been done for millennia before that.  The value of the individual before God arises out of a proper creation theology, and leads us to the "inalienable rights" enumerated in our own documents, of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

One of the statements from the video that captured me was the comment by Fr. Robert about the "Christian notion" of the Incarnation.  In his gospel John says of Jesus, that "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."  

What was happening during the Middle or Dark Ages was this process of enfleshment or incarnation.The principles of God's Word were sinking into the soil of the culture of Europe in the post-Roman world, growing and bearing fruit.  Principles like God is creator of all, and God created it all "good."If we look at Genesis 1 it is plain what God thinks of His creation!  As that sunk in to the soil of the culture, it began to bear the fruit of art and architecture, in the medieval buildings and great cathedrals of the Middle Ages.

The music of the Middle Ages for the monastic and later, cathedral settings, was polyphonic music, known as "organum". What started as chant for the Psalms, later developed into the "Organ" music of Mozart and Bach, but the groundwork was done in the Middle Ages, as people sought to worship God acceptably and with greater and greater beauty.

The principle of creation also extended, as we heard in the video, to the sciences.  From mathematics to astronomy, from banking to farming and metallurgy, the principle of creation took root and came to fruit in the work-a-day life of the Middle Ages.  This was the INCARNATION of the gospel into the culture!  It was the Church being salt and light - effecting the culture around them.  Doing what the Church is supposed to be doing.

Another concept that was sinking in, along with a creation theology is the concept of the Imago Dei, 'the Image of God.'  The idea that man is more than just another animal - that mankind reflects the image of the creator and as such can be - indeed, should be creators in our own right.  We were beginning to see in creation an order that was perceptible - something that could be studied and that, when studied, would yield knowledge about the world, and knowledge about the Creator of that world.

The Psalmist David said it best:  Psalm 19:1-4

"The heavens proclaim the glory of God.  The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day the continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world."

Paul, the Apostle, echoes this in his letter to the Romans:
Romans 1: 19-20

"They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature.  So they have no excuse for not knowing God."

As we wind down this morning I just want to make an application and a couple of recommendations.

1.  I want to challenge us today to be the kind of people as Christians who INCARNATE the Gospel in our culture.  How can you and I be the good news of Jesus Christ with skin on?  How can we BE the gospel of Freedom in and through Jesus Christ?    

      A.  Recommendation one:   Hold every individual you meet as sacred.  Now I have to say that that's easier with some than with others - and sometimes you have to stare to see the image of God - sometimes long and hard.

But I like what C.S. Lewis said one time:
"There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat!  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors."

        B.  Recommendation two:  Be a seeker of Truth!  Jesus was big on truth.  In fact he claimed to be The Truth - and he went on to say that, "if you obey what I say, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  Freedom, friends, is grounded in truth.  We can never be truly free and be slaves to falsehood and lies.

 Commit yourself as one who is to INCARNATE the Word of God - the life of God and the love of Jesus, to be a seeker of Truth - the Person first, Jesus who is The Truth and then the actuality, lived out in every day life.

Listen for a moment to a passage from Isaiah 58, verses 6-12, from Gene Peterson's paraphrase, the Message:

6-9 “This is the kind of fast day I’m after:    
to break the chains of injustice,   
 get rid of exploitation in the workplace,    
free the oppressed,    
cancel debts.

What I’m interested in seeing you do is:    
sharing your food with the hungry,    
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,    
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,   
 being available to your own families.

Do this and the lights will turn on,   
 and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.    
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.   
 You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

A Full Life in the Emptiest of Places

9-12 “If you get rid of unfair practices, 
   quit blaming victims, 
   quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry    
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,    
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.    
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—   
 firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,   
 a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,    
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,   
 restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,    
make the community livable again.

Friends, the fact is that the Church and the political system are really close together in what they desire for culture.  We get to that place by being people who INCARNATE the good news of Jesus, His love and compassion, His gift of himself to us and to the world.  Our cultural responsibility to Freedom is met in the consistent actions of loving people and seeking Truth, in every circumstance.

Let's pray for a moment:

God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ;  grant us grace so to live in this society and culture that we are examples of your love and ambassadors of your Kingdom, living in such a way as to bring Heaven to earth and to do your will in all we do and say, through Christ's name and by the power of your Holy Spirit.

Amen and amen.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Map

Second Sunday of Lent  (click for podcast audio)
March 1, 2015
Fr. Phil Eberhart
___________________


The Map



Can I ask you all a question?

Why, if Peter figured prominently in the writing of this book (the Bible), which we believe he did, through his nephew John Mark, who wrote down the "eye-witness" testimony of the apostles, of which Peter was appointed head by Jesus himself...

If Peter figured as prominently as all that, why in God's green earth would he allow such a story to be put into print? 

He took Jesus aside and rebuked Him as Jesus talked about the ultimate goal and ultimate suffering that He would - indeed that He must - endure at the Cross of Calvary in Jerusalem.

Peter's own blindness is fully exposed, here and over and over and over again, throughout the narrative of the Gospels.  And not just Peter's, but the whole lot of the disciples we a band of men who "by in large" we have to say, DIDN'T GET IT.

They didn't get it here in our gospel this morning.

They didn't get it when Jesus was asleep in the boat, and he woke and calmed the storm around them with a few words of command to the wind and waves.

They didn't get it when he told them to feed the multitude with a school boy's lunch - five small loaves of meal and two fish.

They didn't get it, even in the upper room after Jesus died.  They REALLY didn't get it then!  They were in hiding for their lives, Peter himself the chief of the lot, who denied Christ in the midst of the trial three times, as foretold by Jesus himself.

==========

Friends,

I want you to consider these facts, when as I heard again, this past week, the claim is made that the church wrote this book and thus we cannot trust it to be accurate in its claims about Jesus Christ.

Over and over and over again, the 'learned' in our culture take the hammer of human reason to the anvil of the Word of God - they apply human logic and humanistic reasoning to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and dismiss the claims of Jesus on the basis of a belief that somehow the disciples and the early church we in the fabrication business!

Friends, nothing could be farther from the truth!

Has anyone here watched the 80's movie, "Romancing the Stone" -  Joan Wilder, the romance novelist, comes into possession of a map, which initiates for her an adventure in Colombia, South America as she traces the clues of the map to find a rare gem stone, El Corazon.

Let me ask you another question:  If you had a map to the greatest treasure that is able to be found in all of life, and someone wanted to keep you from it - wouldn't it make sense that they would try their hardest to discredit the map itself?

Let me tell you that humanity has an enemy - one who is sworn and bound "to steal, to kill and to destroy."  And our enemy has made a special target of this book, the Bible, to bring discredit and confusion about it to the minds of men and women throughout the ages.

But I want to come back to my original question in that light:  Why would Peter and the other apostles, the leaders of the church, allow the stuff to be written about them and their blindness to who Jesus was and what His mission in the world entailed - about their cowardice and cluelessness - about their betrayal and befuddlement - about their "three stooges" - actually 12 stooges appearance in the pages of scripture.  Why?  Can anyone answer that question for me?  Why?

Because it is all TRUE.

On the face of eyewitness testimony, the fact that the disciples didn't excise the sad parts of their story, but tell it with bald faced sincerity, is actually one of the greatest testimonies to the veracity of this manuscript.  We get to see the disciples in all their glory - warts and all. 

Likewise we get to see Jesus himself in all His glory! And isn't that the point of the thing?

===================

Over and over and over in this pulpit I talk about the truth of scripture - and we here at REZ, I think, for the majority of us, I can say actually believe this is the very Word of God - as Paul later says to Timothy, It is "God-breathed." (2 Tim 3:16)
Paul goes on to say that it is not only inspired by God, written by Him ultimately, through the instrumentality of almost 50 different human authors, across 4 millennia and as many cultures, in two or three ancient languages...

It is the study of a lifetime, whether you are pro or con - the Bible stands as an anvil that is strewn about with worn out hammers - some that have sought to discredit it and damage its claims of truth - some that have used it in the fire of forge to mold the hot steel of both plowshare and pruning hook, the pointed edges of sword and spear.

It is called by the biblical writers in fact, The Sword of the Spirit, and it claims for itself both eternity and temporality, the ability to divide between thoughts and intentions of the heart, cleaving down into the bones and marrow of man.

Friends, it is this Word of God, the sword of the Spirit, that provides for us a solid ground of faith to stand on.  It is the place we must come to in order to KNOW GOD - not in some mystical, far off, disconnected way but as the apostle John describes his eyewitness experience of Jesus Christ:

"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us!"  

Later in his life he wrote these words in reflection on that time:

This is from the Phillips translation of 1st John, chapter 1:

1-4 We are writing to you about something which has always existed yet which we ourselves actually saw and heard: something which we had an opportunity to observe closely and even to hold in our hands, and yet, as we know now, was something of the very Word of life himself! For it was life which appeared before us: we saw it, we are eye-witnesses of it, and are now writing to you about it. It was the very life of all ages, the life that has always existed with the Father, which actually became visible in person to us mortal men. We repeat, we really saw and heard what we are now writing to you about. We want you to be with us in this—in this fellowship with the Father, and Jesus Christ his Son. We must write and tell you about it, because the more that fellowship extends the greater the joy it brings to us who are already in it.

My friends, the point of all this is to, once again - some might say I am a broken record - to once again say that the record of these books - 66 in number, written over nearly 5000 years, by many many human hands, in many many human tongues, is indeed the VERY WORD OF GOD!
And Jesus said that those who HEAR MY WORDS and OBEY THEM are like the ones who are building their houses on a bedrock foundation.

Jesus himself said, these are the words that testify of Me.  And the point isn't the words but the ME!  The point is to bring us into the relationship that we are built for, from creation's hand!  God made us to be in relationship with Himself!  That was the whole point of the creation in the first place!!  And God is still intent on that purpose.  To bring us back into that original relationship, through the mediation of His Only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  We cannot get back to God on our own - Jesus Christ is the Way.  We cannot find truth by searching for us in our own mind and strength - Jesus is the Truth!  We cannot live our lives with God's purpose and meaning apart from Jesus, who is The Life!

But we have to say YES.  YES TO GOD and YES to his provision for all this to happen, His Son Jesus Christ.

John said it this way, Listen again:

"We want you to be with us in this -- in this fellowship with the Father, and Jesus Christ his Son.  We must write and tell you about it, 
because the more that fellowship extends - the greater the joy it brings to us who are already in it."

I want to ask you to bow your head right now.  Many who are hearing my voice this morning actually do believe that Jesus is The Way, The Truth and The Life!  But some have believed the one who casts doubt on the truth of the map and thus on the truth of the Son of God Himself.

It's funny - Jesus said those words to his disciples, who at the end of three years of teaching, and going about with Jesus, we just as clueless as before!  Why would they write stuff like this, if they had the power to write it another way.  Why would Thomas appear as the doubter, not once but consistently?  Why would Peter be the bumbling, impulsive leader that he was?  Why tell the story of his denials and the cock crow?
Why put in Philip's mouth, the words, "Well, Jesus, if you would just show us the Father it would be enough for us."

Why indeed.  Why?  Because every word is true.

If you have never said YES to Jesus Christ...  If you stand in the same place as these disciples, confused and disbelieving, but wanting with all your heart to "see the Father";  If you can hear Jesus say to you, I am the way,  I am the truth, and I am the life.  Then I invite you to say these words:

"Lord Jesus Christ,  Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!"  

"I know I can't see, I know I have trouble believing.  I ask you, Lord Jesus Christ, to take my hand and be my Way - be My truth - be My life, this day.  I turn my life over to you, Lord.  And I ask you to give me Your life.  Help me know you as the Truth and to walk in your Way.  Thank you, Jesus, for your love and sacrifice on the Cross for me.  I accept and receive You into my life, in Jesus Name.  Amen"
 
Now let's all turn together again to the opening prayer for our day today:  Let us personalize it a bit putting a me or my in instead of the we and us:

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to me, I have gone astray from your ways, and bring me again with a penitent heart and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.