Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent I - Happy New Year, Church!! Be Ready!

Advent I
Nov 29, 2015
Fr. Phil Eberhart

Happy New Year, Church!

WE made it through another year to the new celebration of Advent 1!

Our readings throughout this season point us to the twin peaks of Jesus coming:  His Incarnation and His Second Coming in Glory.

As you move through this 4 weeks of preparation, we are preparing for more than just another holiday, just another occasion for food and family and friends gathering.  We are not preparing for the gift giving on Christmas morning, but we are preparing for the Gift Himself - as the saying goes, Jesus is the Reason for the Season!

So this morning I want to set the table for the season.  We have lots going on, both here at Rez and in our preparations personally.  The season is filled with anticipation and hope.  We are all busy with various gatherings and preparations along the way.  I pray that we do not forget to keep the main thing the main thing.

That, in fact, is the gist of the Gospel reading this morning on Advent I.

"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

The themes of being ready - being on guard - watchful and literally here, sleepless, are throughout the teaching of Jesus about this time.  The parables he uses to describe this time - of wise and foolish virgins - of bridesmaids - waiting for the groom who comes in the middle of the night; of having our oil lamps trimmed and burning, full in anticipation and readiness for the time of His coming!

I was amused a bit by the wording of the warnings that are given-
dissipation is literally the headache associated with a hangover!
The word for Luke uses for  drunkenness is METHE - (sound familiar)?  and then the worries Jesus speaks about are those worrisome, distracting cares of this life. So we need to watch out for hangovers, for meth and the distracting cares of our life!! 

There is a lot that presses in on us from our culture - many many things that catch our eye and keep us from focusing on the main thing.  Being awake and alert, on guard - is a common warning in Jesus' end time discourses.   And it is the remedy to the things He warns us about - the distracting cares of our life, the headaches and all that is even worse.

Jesus closes the discourse with a final warning...  Be Alert at all times - sleepless, praying even in the watches of the night.  Prayer is our tool - our weapon - at all times, but especially in the trying times of the end of days.  And Jesus says to pray specifically for two things:  For STRENGTH to escape "all these things" and finally, STRENGTH to stand before Jesus Christ, the "Son of man."

Friends, the kind of strength that will be needed in the coming days is both physical and spiritual.  We need to heed the warnings here and in all the other places that Jesus speaks of these days and prepare ourselves, physically - and that means not just a physical strength, but the strength that comes through preparedness in your whole life: Physical, mental, emotional, financial - strength in every conceivable way.  But more than the preparations for our physical well being, its also time to put in the preparation for our spiritual well being!

So, what are we preparing for and how?

Once again I want to take you back to the verses just after the day of Pentecost and the description of the power and the position of the early Christian community.  Why here?  Because of one little word in the above discourse... IT!  


Look at the reading from the beginning.  Make a little square around the word IT in the last paragraph.  Now what above is Jesus referring to?  There are several choices:
A.  Signs in the heavens
B.  Distress on the earth
C.  Jesus Second Coming
D.  Kingdom of God

I say that IT refers to "D"... The Kingdom of God!

It is the only thing that fits.  All the other choices are parts of that one thing!  And that one thing is the point of it all!  From beginning to end, the whole story of salvation history is about the kingdom of God. 

And so, when we look at Jesus' teachings and His life and miracles, all were pointing to the Coming Kingdom of God. 
And I believe that the finest example we have of the purity and forcefulness of the Kingdom coming among us, is the picture we have of the early church in the 2nd through the 8th chapters of the Book of ACTS.

And ACTS 2:42-47 capture the  picture best.

What does it mean for us to be READY - Prepared in strength for the days ahead ?

It means that we devote ourselves again, as they did at first to...

A. The Apostles' teaching, ie. the Word of God.  We need to be a people of the BOOK.  I think we've heard this recently!  And we are taking steps to make it more of a reality among us, beginning in Epiphany and Lent of next year.

B.  The Community or KOINONIA.  We are better, safer, stronger, wiser when we're together than when we're apart!  Do not forsake the gathering of yourselves together, as the habit of some is, but all the more, encourage one another as you see the Day approaching"
(Heb 10)

C.  The Breaking of Bread - what I've come to call Eucharistic Hospitality.  It is taking the life we find at this table and extending it outward into the places we live and work, and move, and have our being!  The WELCOME that Jesus gives us here, we are to take with us and give to others, out there!

D. and finally, PRAYER.  Plain and simple, in all its forms and functions, in all its groupings and outcomes, prayer is the air we breathe!  No special adornment or instructions here, for they are found EVERYWHERE in the Word of God.

And in the verses following what is the outcome of this lifestyle:

1.  A deep sense of AWE - God's presence is felt among us.

2.  Miraculous signs and wonders are everyday happenings.

3.  Intentional Community and a Generous Shared Life

4.  Isa. 58 / Mt. 25 outcomes from #3 above.  Justice is the extention of the ministry of Jesus among His People (Luke 4:18).

5.  An Open life of worship, sharing of meals, house fellowship,
Holy Communion exhibiting the JOY and GENEROSITY of living life in The Kingdom of God.  Lives and a "life together" characterized by praise and the favor of God experienced in and then outside the community.

6.  Finally, seeing the Lord add daily to the Company of the Committed, what George Eldon Ladd used to call the Church. 

This is the blueprint for all that Jesus is talking about in our passage today.  This is how we "get ready" for the end of days - It's the same way we are instructed to live all our days! 

So I want to urge you, along with Jesus, to Be Vigilant, Be Watchful, Sleepless in fact - in Prayer as we prepare for the soon coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  I think we all have a similar sense of urgency in our days.  Now that, in and of itself, is not the preparation - it can be filled with fear and foreboding - but we are to be moving in an opposite Spirit - the Spirit of God - displaying what Paul urged on Timothy, his young disciple, when he said, "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but One of Power and of Love and of Sound thinking."

So as Jesus warns in our Gospel reading, "when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."  And further he says, "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down..." Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength... to stand."

And let us close as we opened this morning with our collect for Advent I:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Power of Thanks!

The Power of Thanks!
Thanksgiving Eve 2015
Fr. Phil Eberhart

So here's a question?

How many here say "Thank You" to your server, every time he or she fills your water glass, when you go out for dinner?

I know that sounds a little trite, and it probably is as an example, but what I want to talk about tonight is the Power of "THANKS!"   And it seems pretty smart to set the bar low at the beginning.  Even something that trite, that small, is an example of a mindset - can I call it a LIFE-SET - that begins with small things and moves through our whole lifestyle to the Big Things, like giving Thanks to God.

Paul urged the Thessalonian Church to "Give thanks in all circumstances [or for all things], for this is the will of God for you who belong to Christ Jesus."  1 Thess 5:18

Tonight I want us to come away thinking about our lifestyle of thanks.

So let's start with Scripture:

The words "thank 29", thanks" 98, thanksgiving 35, thankful, etc occur an aggregate of 160 times throughout the Old and New Testament. 

There are several that stand out!

David's song before the Ark of the Covenant in 1 Chron 16  is a great place to start:

1st of all I want you to note the setting:  This is the song to be sung be the Levites and priests, along with the musicians, in front of the Ark of the Covenant.  This is the OT sign of the very presence of God in the midst of His People.  Where is that today?

Not the literal box, but the sign of God's Presence with us?

The Table of the Lord - and isn't it interesting that the Greek word for thanksgiving is... any guesses?

EUCHARISTIA ...   Sound familiar?

Friends we are called to a place of thanksgiving - to an act of thanksgiving - each time we come to this table!  God has already made His dwelling place among Men... and we have a foretaste at every Eucharist.

Now I've kind of jumped to the end of the sermon here, but I wanted to show you the root and branch to which we are attached, as Anglican Christians.  Now the question is what happens when we go from this place?  Does the attitude of thankfulness permeate, like the Elements, into our very blood stream - into our DNA - you know, the 18" drop?  from our head to our heart?

Thanks giving is the response that God prescribes, both for the reception of the daily necessities of life (food, water, air, our heartbeat) - "give us this day our daily bread." - and the prescription continues when things aren't so hot in our lives... even have one of those days?

Even the world knows the Power of Thanks:  Just ask people like Andrew Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale, even Joel Osteen.  Thanks forms the basis of an attitude about life that empowers our lives and the lives of others around us - it opens up doors of opportunity - pathways for light and joy and peace to flow in.  It works as an agent of change for circumstances that are less that what we desire.
In his books, "From Prison to Praise" and "The Power of Praise" Merlin Carothers tells story after story, testimony after testimony, of the way that THANKS-giving works in our lives and in our circumstances.  It reminds me of the advice that Paul gave to the Philippian church:  "Be anxious for nothing - Don't worry about things, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with THANKSGIVING, make your requests known to God.  And the peace of God, which passes our understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

You need to know that I'm not talking about a rose-colored glasses denial of reality, but an affirmation of God's sovereignty and love, even in the midst of the challenges of our life on planet Earth.  It's no accident that the most often repeated phrase in the OT is the offering of Thanks, we find throughout the Psalms ...  "Give Thanks to the Lord for He is good!  His faithful love endures forever!"  Over and over again in one form or another we are enjoined to Give thanks to the Lord.  The reasons are frankly as endless as God Himself!  No matter what our circumstances, God is and remains faithful to us.  His love for us remains unchanged and unchanging. 

 If there is one message that rings through the whole of scripture it is the message of God's unchanging faithful love.  Even the Lamentation of Jeremiah the weeping Prophet gives testimony to God's great faithfulness.  In his third chapter, Jeremiah describes his woes for 20 verses, in very graphic terms, and then for the remaining verses, another 40 verses He tells of the faithful love of God.  Even for Jeremiah, one of the most abandoned and persecuted prophets in the history of Israel,  His praise outweighed his woes, 2 to 1!

How does your praise do on that scale?  Is there twice as much thanksgiving as there is complaining to God?  It's not that Jeremiah didn't have things to complain about, ya know.  But he stopped before it went too far, and recalled the "Faithful love of the Lord that endures forever!"

Let's turn to our prayers and do just that ourselves, coming finally to the table of Thanksgiving - of Eucharist - as we turn our lives with  our joys and our troubles over to Him who holds all things in His hands.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

An Everlasting Covenant - A Great Cloud of Witnesses

All Saints Sunday
Nov 1, 2015
Fr. Phil Eberhart

An Everlasting Covenant - A Great Cloud of Witnesses

Today is our celebration of All Saints -  Yesterday was All Hallows Eve, that where the name "halloween" came from.
In Spanish La Dia de la Muerta - the day of the dead.

But the fact of the matter is, according to the Creator of the Universe, all that is not true!  This is not a day to commemorate the dead, but to celebrate the living!  

Do you remember how God introduced Himself to Moses at the Burning bush in Sinai?  Exodus 3:5-6 God tells Moses to take the sandals off of his feet, because "this is holy ground." But he continues.  Can someone read what He said to Moses?

I Am the God of your father; of Abraham, and of Isaac and of Jacob.

In his discourse with the Pharisees one time on the subject of resurrection, uses this piece of the historical writing of the Torah, to make his point about the resurrection of the dead:

This passage is in fact, covered in each of the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke and they are virtually identical passages.  And Jesus adds some commentary to the passage from Exodus.  He quotes it and then adds: 

"For God is not the God of the dead, but of the living."

My point here this morning is that death, though it seems final to us, isn't to God.  And furthermore, that all those we celebrate today are also celebrating, because they are in God's ETERNAL presence.

The Bible tells us that we are, in fact, surrounded by this company of saints who have gone before us.  The picture there in Hebrews 12 is of a great stadium - like we will see on TV tonight as the Broncos play the Packers, (God bless em!)

Football has been described as 22 guys on a field desperately in need of a rest, surrounded by 70,000 desperately in need of exercise!

Friends we are the ones on the field today! And the 70,000 represent those who have moved from the field, up into the stands, to cheer us on!  I'm not clear on what they can see or not see of the actions down here, but I can tell you that when we make a touchdown - when someone comes to faith in Jesus Christ - there is a party in the stands!!!

Think about that tonight as the touchdowns are scored.  You won't see football the same ever again!

But I don't want to stop there.  There are a couple more facets of this day that I want to explore:

What is the significance of the table (communion) on this day?  The table of communion is significant every Sunday for us here at REZ.  We are Anglicans and as such, we believe that we partake at the Table of the Lord, and so we do!  But I want to bring this image, into the perspective that we have been talking about.

What we partake of here at this table is a foretaste of what we will partake of at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb!  We read about it in our OT lesson today:

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.

Now I changed our backdrop this morning in order to be able to add some perspective to our view this morning.  As we part the veil, just like the veil of the Temple was rent in two and parted by God at the time of Jesus death, we can see into the heavenly banquet table prepared for us and for all who die in the Lord!

​There is a banquet that is waiting us when we die - when we move through the veil - up into the stands.  And friends, I want to ask you, how does this perspective effect you?  

Turn with me to Hebrews 12:1-3 (NLT)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.[a] Because of the joy[b] awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people;[c] then you won’t become weary and give up.

The Olympiad is in view here, another stadium with thousands upon thousands - we have seen the spectacle on our TV's as well !   So how do we live in view of these truths?

A.  Get rid of what slows you down!  Runners even weigh their shoes!  They are obsessed with speed! and many will walk the course, the track before the race, to make sure they can see every step.  

B.  That there are no impediments - nothing to trip them up. The word in the Greek is only used in this one place in the NT!  It means to be standing around so long that the grass and weeds grow up and surround your feet and legs!  That's the way sin is pictured here;  without vigilance, it grows to ensnare your feet from running the race!

What is the prescription - the antidote?

C.  Look to Jesus!  If we stay faithful to the image, He is both the starting line and the finish line!  If you remember in the movie, Chariots of Fire, the extraordinary efforts that the runners took with trainers, working on their starting at the gun, and on the concentration of looking to the tape at the end and stretching into it as you cross the finish line.

Jesus is the starting gun and the finish line!  He is the author and the perfecter of our faith!  We learn how to run the race by looking at him - the writer continues!...

D.  Keep the JOY in view!  Olympians of every age will tell you that picturing the win is the first step to winning!  Seeing yourself on that top stand, with the National Anthem playing; the gold medal placed around your neck.  Thousands cheering and waving the flag!  

Can you see up into heaven - that Great Cloud of Witnesses - all those who have gone before us, who have run the race and "finished the course."  

Read these last verses of the Isaiah passage this morning with me again:

And he will destroy on this mountain

the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the LORD has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the LORD for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Remember where it is that we are heading, friends. And how it is that we are going to get there!

Looking Unto JESUS.

Turn back a couple of chapters in Hebrews with me for a moment:  Heb 10:19-25

19 And so, dear brothers and sisters,[f] we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20 By his death,[g] Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21 And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.
23 Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Let us ...
   ... go right into the presence of God!
   ... hold tightly to the hope we affirm!
   ... think of ways to motivate one another!
   ... not neglect our meeting together, but
          encourage one another.

Friends, what we are part of here is way bigger than we first thought.  It's not about us, for sure!  It is about finishing what God started!  

On this All Saints Sunday, I invite you to remember the Covenant that God has made with us from the beginning and renewed in Jesus Christ!  An everlasting covenant, that stretches back into the ages past and goes forward to its culmination at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb!  We are part of this great sweep of God's History - HIS STORY is our story!
We are part of it.  Will you commit to being a part again.  Will you commit to this Table and this People of God?  
I met a young lady the other day at the club, who has bought the story that our tolerant culture is selling, that there are many ways to God.  She said her grandmother was a devout Christian, but she never went to church.  For her the Church was kind of irrelevant - didn't need it to have a relationship with God.  While I believe that is true on an individual level, I also believe that the Church is God's Plan A.  There really isn't a plan B.  And we are better together than we are individually!  Amen?  Look at someone close to you and say, "I'm better WITH you than WITHOUT you!"

And so we pray again as we did at the beginning of our service:
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.