Sunday, February 21, 2016

Lent II - Our Call and Our Commission

Second Sunday of Lent
February 21, 2016
Fr. Philip Eberhart

Our Call and Our Commission

This past couple of days I've been involved, once again, in the work of the Diocese as we convened a discernment community to work with a potential candidate for Holy Orders that Bishop Bill sent us from West Texas.  Along side of that work, I've been scheduled to preach this morning, and have sensed a call to preach on the Call we have as Christians to share our faith, as a reflection of the heart of God for the world, and the Commission we have to Go and Teach all Nations.

Someone was joking this week that they had seen a sign in front of a church that named the church The NO-Great Commission Baptist Church!  Apparently they had decided that the Great Commission didn't exist - that Jesus actually meant something else - that they could pretend that the words of Jesus, sending us to the World for which He died, simply didn't exist!  In my mind, when I heard that, I thought of a common malady that is found in many churches these days - it is simply characterized as an "US FOUR - NO MORE" mindset.  Completely self-centered and closed society, focusing on its own needs and wants.  The problem today is that those churches can be 4000 people, not just 4!

This morning I want to tell a farmer story - one about seedtime and harvest and the work that is included in that lifestyle.  Turn with me to Mark 4 for just a moment.

“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk then the head then the full grain in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe he puts the sickle to it for the harvest has come.” -- Mark 4:26-29 

As most of you know, I grew up on a wheat farm in eastern Colorado, a fact that is part of my life story and a proud heritage that I hold close and dear, not just for the roots that it gives me, but for the context and lessons that I take from the knowledge of the land and the process of seedtime and harvest that we engaged in year after year as I grew up.

Let me be clear with you all.  I believe that these Kingdom parables are given to us, in the terms they are given to us, farming terms - to that we can all understand the process, no matter what land we are from or what time we live in.  These parables are UNIVERSAL, across all times and places on our planet !!  We probably, most of all, are at risk of not grasping their reality, because we are not engaged, in our urban and city culture, in the process of growing things, of planting or of harvesting our food.

Throughout the NT, Jesus is using these images and parables to instruct his disciples, soon to be apostles (sent ones) as to the reality of His Kingdom and it processes of growth.

Here are some Kingdom distinctives that Jesus pointed out to his followers:

1.  Seed has the potential of life inside it - by nature!  Peter calls it "eternal seed" or "seed that springs up to eternal life" -  [1Pe 1:23 NASB] 23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God."

2. Sowers are those who carry and plant "seed" in the soil of the hearts of men and women they meet.  The parable of the sower is one which teaches us the necessity of following in our Master's footsteps who was and is the Master Sower!   This parable is applicable to all of Jesus' followers, be they local missionaries or global missionaries.  We pray Sunday after Sunday that Jesus would make us a "united, biblical and missionary Anglican Witness in North America."  We are all missionaries. We are all sent to the work of the field - both as sowers and as harvesters.

3.  There are SEASONS which we need to be aware of in this process: 
      a.  The Season of Preparation:   The work is done by the Spirit of God in the hearts of men and women

      b.  The Season of Planting:   The work is done by both the Spirit and Us in cooperation with Him and under His direction.

      c.  The Season of Growing:   The work of God and the natural potential of the Seed in the soil (or the soul)

      d.  The Season of Harvest:     The work of the Lord of the Harvest and the workers He sends in the Harvest.

      Of the seasons, we only have some control over the second and fourth.  God has invited us into the process of the Work of the Kingdom as sowers and as harvesters.  He is the "LORD OF THE HARVEST" and as such, He has invited us to sow into the fields HE has prepared and then to "put in the sickle for the harvest is ripe!  (Joel 2) Multitudes, multitudes are in the valley of decision!"

The question for us this morning is where is your field?  Do you believe that God has sent you in the field?  Do you "pray the Lord of the Harvest to send forth laborers into His Harvest?"  If so, then the natural outcome of those prayers, is that you will become on of the Sent Ones - the Apostolic Band of Jesus Followers who are sent to do the work of the Kingdom of God in the world, field by field.

We Enter a new field,
We Sow into the soil (souls) of the field,
We wait for God's promised growth - that is the potential of the seed - 
And we Join in the Harvest of Souls that God has promised.

I know that many here pray that prayer to the Lord of the Harvest - or at least you pray for greater numbers, here at REZ.  Both are the same prayer, and God is inviting us into the Kingdom work of Sowing and Reaping.

One last scripture that I want to remind you of - and we use this when we are talking about money, from the context in which it is found, but it is a universal principle of the field:  

[2Co 9:6 NASB] 6 Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

The secret of a bountiful harvest is bountiful sowing!  It is a financial principle but it is also a principle of the life of the sower and the seed - a parable of the growth of the Kingdom of God on the earth!!
For a long time I took the parable of the sower and turned it on its head - thinking, as a smart farmer that I was, that the parable was really all about the soil and the preparation of the soils for the seed.
It was as I looked at a life size statue of The Sower in the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, NC that I realized the soils were not the point at all, but the seed - and a sower who would be obedient to fling as much seed as humanly possible, everywhere he went!!

Friends, the SEED as I indicated earlier is the enduring and unlimited, eternal Word of God!  That is what we are planting in the hearts of those around us, - the seed isn't our ideas or opinions about things (we are very willing to plant that stuff almost everywhere as well!) - the SEED is God's ideas and what GOD says about people and circumstances; what GOD promises about our life and our destiny in Him; what GOD says about how to live and how to make our life after His image.

This is the SEED we have to sow!  Not our good ideas, but GOD IDEAS.  God's Word is the Seed that is eternal, that springs up to eternal life in the hearts of those who receive it.
But the sower sows indiscriminately!  The Sower NEVER judges the soil, he just casts the seed!  

Where are you casting seed these days? What does that even look like in your daily life and work?

You know we can get in trouble for quoting the bible in our workplace.  People have been fired for having bibles and scripture verses visible on their desks!  We are living in a hostile environment.

Just let me point you to two passages:
Gal 5: 22-23
[Gal 5:22-23 NASB] 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

and from 1 Cor 13
[1Co 13:4-7 NLT] 4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
What if the Fruit of the Spirit and the Unconditional Love of Jesus, are a part of the vehicle for the delivery of imperishable seed, into the lives of those around us?  What if?

I just want to challenge you to consider this morning that you are an agent of the Kingdom of God and the task is unfinished!  Does anyone question that?

So let us live in such a way that what we say and do may be a catalyst for the planting of the Seed of the Word of God in the lives around us - so that God may give grown and we may all become harvesters in the field that God is appointed us to.

Amen and Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched forth you hands on the hard wood of the cross, that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace;  So clothe us with Your Spirit, that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of You, for the honor of Your Name.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The State of the Flock - Feb 7, 2016

FEBRUARY 7, 2016

Well this morning it probably has to be said first and gotten out of the way, "Go Broncos!"  It's not every State of the Flock that includes this opportunity and we need to mark the day in some way for posterity.  And so we pray for good play by both teams and for no injuries along the way.  

Let's pray:
Father, as we come again to a milestone as we pause to look back and then to look forward, we give You thanks!  We are in a place of extraordinary convergence,  just as for us on this day many things are overlayed as we worship together - in these days ahead many things are coming together as by Your hand.  Help us Lord Jesus, to walk with our eyes wide open, so as not to miss the opportunities you place before us - opportunities to partner with You in the work of redemption; to gather with you in the work of harvest; to be your hands and feet, your eyes and ears and mouth, One Body of Christ, with many members, each doing their work as you direct. Be the Head of this Body of Christ and let us take our place in the larger Kingdom purposes you have for our city and for our nation.  We appeal to Heaven, for Mercy and for Grace; for You Lord, to bring us through these days victorious, just as you were victorious over the grave as you rose from the dead.  You are our Resurrection, Lord Jesus Christ.  
Amen and amen.

This morning I want to look back briefly at some of our gains, and some losses from this past year;  I want to share some personal reflections on what God seems to be doing and how we fit in His plans.  I want to give you a clarion call - the sure blast of a trumpet - this morning as we look forward to what is ahead, not just for REZ but for our land, our One Nation Under God, Indivisible with liberty and justice for all!

2015 has been an extraordinary year, not without its challenges, of course, and its losses.  Perhaps the greatest loss we suffered was that of our dear sister, Sandy Steele.  Her absence has left a hole indeed, and many of us still feel the sting of her loss and the loss of her prayers and advocacy for mission.  Sandy was a truly extraordinary survivor and she lived her life in no uncertain terms, which is probably what we miss the most!  We are grateful that Sandy was given to us, in the language of our prayer, "to be with us as a companion on the way", to challenge us as only Sandy could, and to brighten our lives with her wry wit and with her spectacular painting and eye for God's special beauty.  

+ + +

The year past is a year that has seen our church family lose and gain as well.  As in almost every year, friends have left for other assignments, other places of worship, other work, and other places to live.  We miss our friends and feel the loss of their presence and their contributions, physically and spiritually, to the work in which we engage, week by week.  

We pray for those who have moved on from our fellowship and we welcome those who have come.  In the ebb and flow of our life here at REZ we have the opportunity to touch and heal and empower and engage each person that God sends to us.  So much of our life and mission here at REZ is the work of Being the Body of Christ and of bringing each person to further healing and maturity, in the Spirit of Paul's challenge to the Ephesian church:  

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

This passage and the one we use as a touchstone from Acts 2:42 and the verses following, are guideposts for our life and journey together. Our work at REZ is to "devote ourselves to the Apostles' teaching (the Word of God), to fellowship (deeply shared life together), to breaking bread (a Eucharistic community, in the temple and extending out from house to house), and to prayer (the abiding conversation with our Father, for ourselves and for others, locally and globally).  More and more these verses prove to be the focused center of our life and direction.

In 2015 we have discovered more and more depth in our study of God's Word, as we meet week by week, in our homes and in our Adult Forum class.  Through bible and book study this past year we have drawn closer to Jesus and to one another, moving more and more toward fulfilling a vision of being "mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ."  That work will never be completely done, but we are more together than we can be separately in God's Kingdom.  Sharing of life is a reality at REZ, as we live together in the ups and downs, in the good times and bad times.  REZ is not afraid of suffering or broken people - as we look around we jokingly call ourselves the "land of broken toys!"  But we believe that God is in the redemption business, as we've recently heard again.  Life transformation is a part of our DNA here, "growing in every way to be more and more like Christ."  A large part of that shared life is a gift of hospitality.  As God welcomes us to His Table each week, we welcome each other to our own tables and we welcome those whom God brings our way.  This is called Eucharistic Hospitality and it is inherent in the words describing our devotion to "the breaking of bread."  And last but never least, we pray.  We don't talk a lot about it - we actually pray.  If you've been in a service you know we pray!  Our service is drawn from the Book of Common PRAYER!  But more than that we pray in genuine concern for one another, and for the world; we pray for healing regularly; we pray over those who have a broken spirit - who have wounded lives. In fact fully 1/3 of our membership is involved in some kind of prayer ministry at REZ, from healing prayers to intercessory prayer, week by week. We will pursue these four foci further this year as we press into all that God has for us and we begin to see the fruitful manifestations of that life:

>  A deep sense of awe and wonder among God's people as we see God answer prayer in miraculous ways...

>  A radical generosity, characterized by love and sacrificial giving to each other as needs arise...

>  Worship that is filled with God's presence, in Word and Sacrament, daily "in the temple and from house to house... 

>  Real shared life where real problems and challenges meet real hope and real help...

>  Loving community characterized by joy and praise to God for His good gifts ... and finally

>  An atmosphere of God's favor, drawing new people into the Kingdom of God each and every day!

+ + +

Looking back at this year I cannot but mention the grace of God that has been manifested among us in our Reverend Ladies, Rev. Margie and Rev. Barbara.  How God has gifted you both in extraordinary ways and how we are blessed to receive and host, and we pray, continue to empower you for all that God has.  Our fellowship is in a context in the Anglican Church in North America and in the International Diocese that is, like us, growing in our knowledge of and response to God.  In these days, we are all precariously balanced on the tight rope, walking across the Grand Canyon!  More and more churches are finding themselves either compromised or swallowed up in the crisis which is our culture today, but I believe that crisis is a mix of danger and opportunity.  We must resist the temptation to go in our own power, instead relying on God's power and His timing, as it is manifested in our bishops of the ACNA, in the Global Fellowship and in our own, Bishop Bill Atwood.  There has been questions of timing for ordinations, or receptions, and other advancements of those among us who are ordained or seeking the work of Holy Orders.  All I can do is urge patience and prayer.

As you will read in Deacon Michael's letter this morning, God is faithful and will, as Paul prayed, "open doors for effective ministry" in His time and in His ways.  Rev. Barbara and Rev. Margie are being used here and in the wider community according to their giftings in teachings, preaching and counsel.  I am sure that Deacon Michael will be priested at our Bishop's visitation this year. We are seeking a date from his office even now.  And our lovely Ethel is in the process, having sucessfully completed her discernment phase, both locally and at the diocesan level, and she is experiencing an amazing advancement not from our processes but from God's favor as she teaches and is entering into Spiritual direction across the city and taking her place among the Statewide Intercessors, as a leader in her own right.  I am proud of all that are and have been in the REZ Ministry Mill !!  God has chosen us, not just me, but us - as a place where ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are raised up, healed up, filled up and sent out.  Some are used by God here, some are on their way - I name Jacques Kustritz, now a Deacon in the Diocese of Cascadia - Joshua Dixon, soon to be ordained Priest there as well - and Darren Johnson, whose letter to the parish will be available afterwards, who is a Chaplain (Missionary) in Missouri.  That is not to mention others who have come through or spoken here to us or been mentored among us.  And more are coming!

Friends, this is a unique ministry that we have, of building into the leaders and pastors of the future.  We get the benefit of their lives among us for a time, but they are, as we all are, destined to GO.  Which brings me to the Mission Portion of my address.

+ + +

Along with being Super Bowl/Annual Meeting Sunday, and Last Sunday of Epiphany / Transfiguration Sunday, today is World Mission Sunday for the ACNA.    Our prayer hand out reflects this in our midst this morning and I point you to a video you can find on the Anglican Global Mission Partners website, along with a letter from me, in my role as the new President of the Board for the New Wineskins Missionary Network. See the following:

As a parish we are a constituent member of the Anglican Global Mission Partners, which our own Ray Howard was instrumental in leading in many ways for many years.  I am proud to serve, as of last November, as the new President of the Board for the New Wineskins Missionary Network, which will have is triennial conference this April 7-10, an event which I hope some of you will be able to come to with me in North Carolina.

Friends, Mission is at the core of our DNA.  Mission is why we exist.  It is at the center of the existence of the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit!  Our church not only exists for each other, but for God's world.  We must never forget that, and we endeavor not to here.  We value and nurture our relationships with our partners in the Gospel around the world.  From Rwanda and Uganda, to Kenya, to Russia and to Israel; in Turkey, Armenia and Iran, in Tunisia and Ghana, Congo and S. Africa.  I tell people that we are a church that is like a Hobbit - we're small in stature but have a very big footprint!

This coming year we will have a summer visit from Jacob and Ruth Dolinsky, our pastor partners from Nazareth, Israel and we will visit them in their home in September.  Al Throckmorton and myself have also been invited by Dr. Vitaly Voinov of IBT, who visited REZ this past summer, to attend the convocation of IBT partners at the Institute for BibleTranslation headquarters in Moscow.  We are praying about that opportunity in mid-September.

Mission is not only global in nature, it is local and finds its most practical applications in our every day lives.  In Acts 1:8, as Jesus himself promised the Holy Spirit just days before Pentecost, He said, "When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will receive power to be My witnesses; in Jerusalem, and all of Judea and in Samaria and to the ends of the earth."  Those concentric circles always start from Jerusalem!  Where is your Jerusalem?  It starts at your home and family, with your neighborhood, your workplace or play place or where you do business in the community.  Every time your life impacts in one of these places, the circles begin, like ripples in a pond, and I believe that through that, through you, God's influence will reach every shore!!

Here in Denver, we impact lives through involvement with Alternatives Pregnancy Center, as you heard last week, with the James Resource Network, on which I also serve as a board member.  We are active in volunteer opportunities with those who are choosing life and who are stretched and stressed by that choice!  

We are also active in Kingdom ministries across the city of Denver, in partnerships with other churches, in our own denomination and across denominational and racial divides.  REZ has become known for its Kingdom mindset and leadership in the things that bring the Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven.  Not the least of those activities is one that began last spring, called 10 Days Together.  Many from REZ took part in daily prayer or evening services of worship and prayer, from Ascension to Pentecost last year.  This event was an ACTS 29 moment for our city, becoming a gateway for a fresh outpouring of God's Spirit on His Church in Denver!  We repeated it in the Fall during the Days of Awe, from Rosh Hashannah to Yom Kippur.  The high Holy days of Israel in the fall were a time of unification and blessing in the city, as our Messianic believers hosted the evenings of prayer alongside our other Christian fellowships.  We look forward to another 10 Days Together series of events this year, beginning on the National Day of Prayer and Ascension Day, Thursday, May 5th.  I hope that you will make plans to come along, as once again we press into all that God has for our church and for our city in the work of His Kingdom.

This brings me to my final call:

I don't think anyone here will dispute with me that we are in extraordinary times - the word "crisis" has been mentioned already, a time of danger and a time of opportunity.  Here I speak of our nation and the task which lies ahead of us in November.  I do not believe that the answer to our crisis lies in politics or Washington DC, but we have an opportunity to shape the future, as no other generation has had in recent memory.  We are on the cusp of seismic changes in identity, as the two sides amass their troops.  We have been watching with horror and dismay, the political "three-ring-circus" as it wends it way toward a culmination in November.  I am convinced that we have not had a more significant time in my lifetime.
Because of these realities, I am more and more willing to show up, to stand up, to speak up, and to put up - because I cannot afford to shut up!  We need to Stand UP!  Many went to the David Jeremiah meeting in Denver this last fall.  About 12,000 were in attendance and we were told to stand up - to stand for Jesus even in the face of unpopularity.  The message of Jesus Christ is not one that people want to hear today but it is more needed now that perhaps ever before in our history!  Its time to show up and to speak up!  We as Christians bring values to the table - God's values - what our Declaration of Independence calls, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."   All of these are at risk in very real ways in these days.  

But our strongest position, between now and November is "on our knees."  And in November, we stand up and go to the voting booth.  En Masse!  It's time to make a real change in the direction of our culture and nation.  As I said that begins on our knees!  I was invited to attend a conference in December of virtually all the national level prayer leader from around our country.  At that meeting an initiative was announced, rooted in our historic past and the leadership of Gen. Geo. Washington.  As a General he had a small band of ships, a proto Navy to command, and needed a flag.  So he commissioned a flag which was a prayer, flying at the tops of the masts.  Today we are joining that group of ships and flying that flag.  From now till November, we will join hundreds of thousands across America in A National Appeal to Heaven.  I will be getting a book by this title for us to have and we will be using this flag as a theme for the 10 Days in both Spring and Fall this year, as well as a focus for our own prayers for our church, for our nation and for the world.  Resources for prayer at at as Every Home for Christ is one of the spearhead ministries for this movement.

Friends, we can not longer sit and be silent in our pews.  It is time to stand up, to pray up, to live up, to the calling we have at God's Church, as God's people to be "salt and light" in an increasingly dark and unsavory world!  May God fill us with His power for witness;  may He lead us in paths of righteousness for His Name's sake; may He set a table for us in the wilderness; and may He be our All in All, Jesus Christ, worthy of our Utmost for His Highest!

In Christ Jesus,
    Fr. Phil+
Fr. Phil Eberhart
Rector, Resurrection Anglican Fellowship
Epiphany, 2016