Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Holiness Dilemma: Formula or Formation?

Pentecost 14
Aug 30, 2015
Fr. Phil Eberhart

The Holiness Dilemma: Formula or Formation?

If you've been listening to the readings thus far this morning, you have heard a theme running through them all. Anyone want to take a stab at the theme?

Holiness, in a word. 

Holy Living.  What the reformation writer William Law entitled, "Holy Living and Dying."

In our world the concept of holiness is almost entirely turned upside down!  From the beginning, immediately after the Fall of Adam and Eve, we have been searching for the way back to God through religion and rules, rather than right relationship.  And in that very statement I've given up my bias, my preconceptions - that Holiness - what God is commanding (some might say de-manding) of us, is found in lists - I call them "to DON'T lists" - Something like the way we typically read the 10 Commandments!

Don't lie, don't steal, don't covet, don't swear by God's Name, don't worship other idol gods;  don't kill, no adultery, don't miss church on Sunday!  I like that one! Well I like them all, - the Don'ts and the Do's... because they make for a sane and safe society.  Honoring of parents and keeping the Sabbath are the positives, and the rest become a TO DON'T list.

And the Jews added over 600 other TO DON'Ts over the millenia to the list, just like us.  We love to make what God commands into a formula:  Don't do 1 and 2 and 3 and thus will happen.  That is the reason that Jesus, when he was about to leave his disciples, said this:

This is my "new commandment" - love each other in the same way I have loved you.
You see friends, what Jesus was trying to get across and what I'm trying to say this morning is Holiness isn't about the rules, its about the relationship.

Jesus Christ was holy because He only did what He saw His FATHER doing.  He had a habit of being in relationship with His Father in heaven - We can see it in his life, how he lived every day, day-in, day-out. He lived in reference to His Father's will; in rev-erence to God's presence and purpose, in His life and in His work, each and every day.  He was the perfect example of our three ways of discipleship:  Willingness (Not my will, but Thine be done), of availability (Behold, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world) and of obedience (I DO only what I see My Father doing.)

Friends, the sermon doesn't need to be long this morning in order to beat you over the head about all the you Shouldn't be doing - most of us are aware of the things we do that are outside of the will of God for us!     We love to keep rules and make TO DON'T lists and we think God loves that too - if we didn't why then does our world around us only see the lists?  So many only see the TO DON'Ts.  Even today.  Our culture has a great grasp on what we stand against!  But do they know what we stand FOR?

Do people who rub shoulders with you know experientially the LOVE OF GOD - unconditional love of God?  Do they see in you the FATHER HEART of God, his compassion and unfailing love for them, right where they are at in life?

To show that kind of love, that kind of grace, that kind of compassion, we have to have experienced it ourselves - we have to have come out of the rules and into the relationship.


It has taken me years to come to the knowledge that I am a child of God, beloved of God, just like he promised in John 1:12 - "to as many as receive Him he gave the power (right) to become children of God."   You see this is the relationship that God wants with us - for us to become his children, not just His creation.  He loves us as His creation!  But we relate to Him, personally, as His children.  Jesus taught us in fact, in the Lord's Prayer, to begin there:  We have in fact renamed the prayer to the OUR FATHER!  What Jesus taught us was  a prayer of relationship, not rules.

God is our Father - with all the weight of what that means for us (something that we have twisted now and all but eliminated in great segments of our society) - our cultural "father wound" is gaping and oozing - all because we have determined to ignore God as our Father.  We are far more comfortable with God as Lawgiver, as Teacher, as Judge in the far-away heavens; a Bette Midler god that is "watching us," but never personally involved.

Coming to know the Father heart of God is perhaps one of the greatest revolutions in the evolution of my own walk with God.  I heard a story this week of a father who took his son on a camping trip - a kind of right of passage into manhood.  To become a man, the father said, you must stay out in the woods blindfolded for one night, sitting on a tree stump throughout the night in the dark, with only the sounds around you.  Throughout the night the sons fears raged, as blindfolded he could only hear the sounds of the forest and imagine.  But come morning light he removed the blindfold to find his father sitting on a nearby stump, having sat with him throughout the night, protecting him and "with him."

I grew up with a Father wound - one I didn't even know I had.  As an adopted son, I was assured of my parents love - that they "chose" me - that I was God's "gift" to them.  But I was always plagued by the abandonment (even though it was completely subconscious - submerged in the depths of my soul) - until I occasioned to meet my birth father and to hear from my adoptive father, his own fears of losing me to a "new" father figure!  God himself turned that full circle at my ordination, when both men were present and blessing my becoming a Priest of God - Father Phil.  

Friends, its about your relationship with the Father.  OUR FATHER in heaven!

Isn't it interesting that the next words are HOLY IS YOUR NAME.  We become holy by being in relationship to the ONE whose Name is HOLY.  John, the beloved disciple (self described) said

[1Jo 3:1-2 ESV] 1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. ...  2 Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

The one who sees God as He is, becomes like Him!  Jesus told his disciples that if they had seen him, they had seen the Father!  Paul tells us that Jesus is the "express image of the invisible God!"  

So how did "proximity" and the dailiness of their relationship "form" the disciples into Sons of God?  I believe that the gospel stories are repleat with examples, just one from our reading this morning though:

Jesus is "entertaining" the Pharisees, up from Jerusalem.  And of course, as almost always happened the Pharisees came with their list!  That what it meant to be a Pharisee, after all!
And the infraction "du jour" was the disciples did not go through the ritual washings prescribed by the "law" in order to be "clean" enough to eat with them.  The Pharisees noted the infraction and brought it up to Jesus.

And Jesus was a kind to them as ever!  He only called them hypocrites, not a brood of vipers, this time!  You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."

'This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.'

Probably the most frightening words in this story are the words "In vain do they worship me."

Friends, I want to urge you this morning not to be here worshipping "in vain."  Don't make this God thing into a rule thing!  Don't approach other people with your rules on your sleeve!

The point of our worship here this morning is so that, in encountering His Presence, we may become more like HIM.  In looking to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our Faith, we may come to know Him, as Paul said, "in the dynamic power of his resurrection and in the shared suffering of his cross, becoming like him, even in the death he died."

Listen to how The Message puts it:
The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant ... I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it. (Phil 3: 7-11)

And so it was with so many of the disciples, not instantly, but over their lifetimes, these words became true of them, every one, save John, who died a natural death, the only disciple of the original 12 to do so!  

It is about our relationship with Jesus, friends.  It is not about the rules.  Its not about the formula, its about the formation!  It is about becoming like Him, in our life every day and in our death, when it comes, however it comes.  Holiness is being WITH HIM and becoming LIKE HIM.
Holiness is willingness - availability - AND obedience!  As James said in our reading as well, doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. ... those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act-they will be blessed in their doing.

Please turn back to the opening Prayer and let us pray it again, together:

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Kingdom Life: Living On Purpose!

12th Sunday of Pentecost
August 16, 2015
Fr. Philip Eberhart

A Kingdom Life:  Living On Purpose!

Have you ever wondered ... How can I make my life count for something?  It's kind of the "mid-life crisis" question!!  

In the first half of life, we are content to build our kingdom - to get ahead, to get settled, to build a family, raise children, and be busy about the activities and pursuits that all that entails.  But then the kids graduate, the dog dies, the empty nest hits, or some crisis of life hits, as they always do...
our health, our parents health, ageing, kids in crisis as adults, ... there are a myriad of causes, but we enter a phase of crisis that causes us to question assumptions long held - our internal guides sometimes crumble and we begin a search for greater meaning and purpose -- perhaps I should say THE greater meaning and purpose for our life.  Where do we find that?

Our scriptures this morning have a lot to say about the kind of life that issues from that call to live ON PURPOSE!

It's called "wisdom" or "the fear of the Lord", even "maturity."

David asks the question directly:  Who among you loves life and desires long life to enjoy prosperity?

We've heard a lot about prosperity from various church leaders in our American church, as if its the "right" of the Christian and we should hold God responsible for our prosperity and well-being.  But let me go on record that I believe in prosperity, but I see it as a result not a right.  As an outcome, rather than a reward.

But the Bible says that God is a rewarder of those that diligently seek Him!  (Heb 12:6) And indeed He is, but the rewards that God grants are far deeper than dollars and cents, than cars and clothes, than houses and lands.  The verses that follow that in Heb 12 outline a reward that is far deeper and has nothing to do with outward comfort or prosperity - it has to do with the reality and presence of God's Kingdom - the hope of His greater reward of Heaven - and with the ability to wait in patience for both of those things.

I want to look for a few minutes this morning on the nature of that Kingdom kind of life.  ... to look at the nature of Living On Purpose - His Purpose - for your life.

This can happen whether you are young or old, it doesn't depend on age!  Granted often, mileage plays a role in our "wisdom" and "maturity" but it doesn't HAVE TO!  Life experience is a harsh teacher, in my experience - we "LIVE AND LEARN", but what we learn often is not the lessons of the Kingdom of God, but the lessons of self-preservation and protection, of isolation and bitterness.

A KINGDOM LIFE is different - and it can be lived by someone in their twenties just as well as someone in their seventies!  

First, this is a life lived in relationship to a higher power, purpose, and calling.  The first question we must answer is WHOSE Kingdom am I working for?  Mine?  or God's?

This is a question of encounter and of WILLINGNESS.  

Last week we heard from Fr. Edward on that encounter with The Bread of Life - the ultimate meaning and fullness that come from a relationship with Jesus Christ, and coming to live fully in His presence and power on a daily basis - this is Our Daily Bread!

Do some of you have to be reminded to eat?  Some but not many!  

Do any of you only eat once a week - like on Sunday morning? 

Kingdom life is living in relationship and in reference to the KING and His guidance.  It is a "daily bread" kind of experience.  We speak of it here at REZ as the need for WILLINGNESS.  It has to do with your WILL and who is in charge of your will and direction each day.

Most of us have work-a-day jobs or daily routines of some kind - we encounter others in the course of life and have opportunity to interact with them at various levels.

Kingdom living means that you are living in REFERENCE to the KING!  You are living with your eyes wide open to HIS MERCIES and HIS LEADING.  You are living, not for yourself but for Him and for Others.  One of our bishops, Todd Hunter, leads a church planting initiative that started in California and the Northwest, and is now all across the country, called Churches For the Sake of Others!  C4SO!  Bishop Todd puts out great materials and blogs for this kind of effort and lifestyle.  

Kingdom life is living in relationship to the needs of others around you.  We need to stop, look and listen sometimes - actually most times, if we hope to be hearing the needs around us.  This is the kind of thing that Jesus directed his disciples to do as they went out ahead of Him in Luke 10.

Speak Peace - Hang out - Find and Meet needs -  THEN Say. "The Kingdom of God has come near you."

Those aren't hard things to do.  Almost all of my prayers for people I encounter as a pastor, start with a prayer for peace!  It's almost a universal need, especially in our culture and society today.
I love the little bumper sticker:   "NO JESUS, NO PEACE;  KNOW JESUS, KNOW PEACE!"
This is where we start, but it gets better, if you let it.

That is where our second tenet of Kingdom Living comes in.  To hear people you have to listen to them, and that takes time - something which we have very little of - especially for other people. People who we just met or who we may not wish to be close friends with, don't usually get much of our time, do they?

AVAILABILITY.  "Lord, what am I doing here?"  or moreover, "Lord, what are YOU doing here?  And how can I be a part of it?

I know many here are living out these tenets in your lives and you can give inspirational testimony to how God uses us and our prayers in the every day warp and woof of life, the natural comings and goings of jobs, and family and school events and grocery runs.

And every once in a while, we not only hear others speak, but we hear God speak!  We get directions from Him, the King! A word to say, a bible verse to share, a prompting from the Spirit of God to pray or to do something concrete - a bigger tip, a smile, a prayers along the way.  We have to choose - will we do what God says or not?

OBEDIENCE.  "YES, LORD!"  Essential equipment in the Kingdom of God!  I love this little passage from Ephesians this morning:
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Do you think that people might sit up and notice something different if we lives our lives that way?

As Wise, not foolish.

As Redeemers of Time, not wasters of time.

As Understanding of God and His Will and Ways, not as faithless unbelievers.

As Those who live carefully, not in drunkenness and debauchery, 
Instead filled with THE SPIRIT - Capital S!  Filled with song, I love this picture:

"Singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all
times and for everything in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Anyone here prefer that picture to the rat race? 

Friends, there is a reason that God's people prosper, and its because of these things, not some magical seeds of giving, so that we can get back from God!  

Prosperity is the end result of a life lived in the Fear of the Lord!  A Kingdom life is one that is filled with hope, with faith, with grace and with the anticipation that God is present and able to use us, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, in all the places that we "live and move and have our being," be they pleasant or not so pleasant.  It doesn't mean that we are going to be excused from the hardships of life, but that in and through those very hardships, we will come to know a peace that passes understanding, that resides in a Person, who is the still point in an ever moving and sometime chaotic world.

Would you pray with me, head bowed?

Lord Jesus, I want to be willing.  I give you my will.  Please lead me and guide me each day.

Lord Jesus, I make my self available to You.  Help me use Your time wisely, redeeming it and not wasting it.

Lord Jesus, I will be obedient.  When you speak and direct me, Lord, I will go.  I will do what you say.

Lord, I want my life to count in Your Kingdom.  I give it to you again to do with as you please.
Use me to further your Kingdom and bring those who do not know You, to acknowledge and to love you.

In Jesus Name I pray,


Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Unity of the Spirit - Ephesians 4:1-16

Pentecost 10
Aug 2, 2015
Fr. Phil Eberhart

The Unity of the Spirit - Eph 4

Turn with me to your reading from Paul's letter to the Ephesians this morning.  Ephesians 4 if you have your bible or a bible on your phone.

This morning I want to do some verse-by-verse exposition from this chapter, because I believe it to be so important for us as Christians today and as a church and a part of the Body of Christ.

Paul begins this chapter by tying it to the prayer and benediction he has just finished in the previous chapter -- one with which we are very familiar.

"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly above anything we could ask or even think, according to His all surpassing power that works within us -- to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus from generation to generation for ever and ever.  Amen!"


Our favorite word!  THEREFORE ... on account of what was just prayed...

I URGE YOU - I Appeal to you, I beg you - Paul uses the exact same word in Rom 12 - which is the verb form of the Name Jesus uses in the Gospels for the Holy Spirit's personal presence in our lives!!  "Parakaleo"

I walk along beside you cheering you on!  

Live a life worthy of what you are called to!  ... a life that is "becoming" to the Christ Jesus that you serve.  After all you are "becoming" like Him !!   and here is a short list, in Paul's ever practical making of lists of behavior for his churches:

The Amplified says it this way:
with complete lowliness of mind (humility) and meekness (unselfishness, gentleness, mildness), with patience, bearing with one another and making allowances because you love one another.
Be eager and strive earnestly to guard and keep the harmony and oneness of [and produced by] the Spirit in the binding power of peace.
The list is quite like other lists  in Galatians and in the Colossian letter as well.  Practical lists of the way we are to look to one another and to outsiders who encounter us in our day-to-day walk.
How do people who encounter you, experience Jesus?
And here Paul ends with the phrase,  

again the Amplified helps us with some clarity:
Be eager and strive earnestly to guard and keep the harmony and oneness of [and produced by] the Spirit in the binding power of peace.
Or from The Message:
pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

This phrase "The Unity of the Spirit" is used only twice in the New Testament, both times in this chapter!  I believe that this is a supernatural unity that is an outgrowth of our being "IN CHRIST" - and what Paul says presently following bears that interpretation out.  But this unity - this BEING ONE - is not something that just happens - it is something we strive for, eagerly, earnestly guarding our harmony - our ONE NESS.
Pouring ourselves out of each other - Jesus called it "Laying down our lives for one another."  

"Alert at noticing differences and quick a mending fences"

Friends, our unity - our one ness is not automatic - have you guessed that by now?  It is something that we must work hard at every day, in every circumstance where we rub one another the "wrong way."  Anyone ever do that to you?

You see, Oneness never shows itself more clearly than when we have an opportunity to be offended - and we don't take it!

"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

Why?  Because ...  Let's read the next whole sentence together:

Any questions?

We who are experts at dividing, fighting, separating - offending and being offended - We partake of a ONENESS in Christ that is almost unfathomable!

And this ONENESS is shown most profoundly when we discover the giftings that come from our relationship with Jesus Christ -
Look at the next sentence:

Read it again:
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift.  

Now jump down to verse 11: and continue reading:
(after the parentheses)  The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,

Now, how many of you believe that those were or are for someone else.  A pastor or preacher, a leader in the church, someone who stand up front here in a suit or a robe?  But not for you?

Now go back up to before the parentheses - and read that line again:
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. 

To whom?
Each of us.

Are you an each of us?  Are you?  and you?
We are all "eaches" are we.  These gifts are meant for and are given to "each" of us - that means ALL OF US.

ALL of us have these gifts in varying measure and capacity.

Now let me take a rabbit trail for just a moment...

Are these gifts, like the other gifts of the Holy Spirit, say from 1 Cor 12 or Rom 12?  Well I would say, Yes AND No!
Yes they are from - find their home in - the Holy Spirit!
But NO - these gifts differ as they are "motive" gifts or even "modes" for particular ministries in the Church.  The gifts in Corinthians and Romans are more "in the moment of ministry" gifts = almost "tools" from a Holy Spirit tool box - given in the moment or for a particular season of ministry.

Whereas, these 4 or 5 gifts, however you count them, are internal modes of ministry. They're "motivations" from which we are fashioned and by which we work throughout our lives IN CHRIST - to play our part in the shaping and maturing of the Body of Christ.

For the moment let's count them as 5 motivational giftings:

Imagine a bar or line from left to right:


       OUTWARD ========================== INWARD
             Focus                                 ^                            Focus

Each of these describes a particular way of seeing your calling
and of relating to others both inside and outside the Body of Christ!

Are you always looking outside?  Are you entrepreneurial in your focus?  Are you burning up inside about those who do not know Jesus?  Do you want people to grow in their faith?  Do you want people healed and delivered of troubles, addictions, bad choices?

Each of these reflects a particular part of the spectrum of giftings that Christ has given to be in and through the Church!

Now I want to see the WHY as we land the plane this morning:

As we "rub shoulders" in the Body of Christ - actually its even closer than that - the view here is microscopic - sub dermal.
What is it that is "under your skin?" 

In the Body of Christ, we are all part of that internal reality that is oneness in an amazing diversity.  Paul describes it this way, at the end of our reading:

One of my favorite picture books is "The Amazing Machine!" It's kind of an anatomy book for laymen.  It is fascinating to page through and begin to understand the intricate complexity of our bodies - their internal organs structures, the musculo-skeletal system, the endocrine system, the nerve structrues and the brain - and how it all fits together and works together to form a living, breathing, active, intelligent, caring human life.  One that is infinitely valuable and worth the price that Jesus paid for it!

I need to stop, but I want to stop leaving you wanting more here.
I want us to long for this reality we've read about with all our being!  And not just for us at REZ, but for the whole of the body of Christ, the Kingdom Church that Jesus is working to perfect.

Would you take some time to consider the gifts that God has motivated you with?  Would you look around you to see who you can "rub shoulders" with - who you can catch more of another gifting from?  The gifts are given, my friends, so that we can all "rub one another the RIGHT way!"  Closer to Jesus!

Let us pray:

Dear Jesus, you have given each one of us gifts to serve you in unique and special ways in your Body.  I pray that you would come by Your Spirit and reveal to us - to each of us - the capacity and motivation that You have put inside of us in order that we all together might grow up into the full stature of maturity in Jesus Christ.

Come Holy Spirit and do that work in us that both teaches us our own value in your Body and the value of each and every other part of your Body!  Keep us from a self-seeking nature that becomes cancerous, and give us your Jesus Nature, that lays down our lives for one another, and for the world.

In Jesus Name we pray and for His sake.
Amen.  Amen.