Sunday, October 29, 2017

A PRESIDENTIAL DECREE ... TO PRAY!

Sunday, Sept 3
13th Sunday of Pentecost
Fr. Phil Eberhart+



Today is the first Day of Prayer ordered by a sitting President of the United States since Woodrow Wilson did it in 1918, 99 years ago.  So, I want to use my time judiciously and speak to some meaty issues from our scriptures this morning and then spend some minutes observing the order of the day ... praying to God for our land.

We have a goodly number of "prophets" who have arisen among us in the past few weeks.  In fact, being a prophet is kind of "in vogue" in some circles these days!!  There are two kinds of prophets in the world - Those who speak God's Word like Jeremiah, (see v. 16) and suffer for it because it creates a tension inside of them with the world in which they live - they speak and the WORD is not popular.  This was the struggle that we see Jeremiah engaged in here in this mornings passage:  He is struggling with his call as a prophet.  The sweetness of God's Word in his mouth and as he consumes it - but the rage that follows him, when he tells others of what God has said!  He in turn, says some hard things to God:  He asks if God Himself is going to abandon him?  He asks if he can still drink from pure and sure waters?

Let me say that if you fancy yourself a prophet, your in for it!  Most of the "real" prophets I know, struggle with the Word of God. It's described as a fire inside;  a heavy hand on you;  indignation is the word for what Jeremiah felt.  For Jeremiah, the calling was literally "a pain" like an incurable wound!  But if you sit with it, the pain, the weight of God's hand, the indignation;  if you persist in the calling as a 'true' prophet - here's where you come to:

"If you return (this is the same word as repent, turn back - if you stick in with the relationship with your God) I will restore! It's the same word used twice - return, turn back and restore, rebuild!  It's as in the picture we get of the Jews returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding - it's all one thing!   If you don't walk away from your calling to speak for ME, God says, If you stick
with it - stick with ME, I will restore you, rebuild you AND you will find yourself "speaking for me" - You will be MY MOUTH!

Can you imagine?

Now I have to say there are and always have been other prophets among us.  Not the Jeremiah kind, but the Balaam kind. Those who take their own opinions and spout them out there and baptize their opinions with "thus saith the Lord."  I just want to caution those who fancy themselves as "prophetic" that this kind of struggle is on-going.  I would urge you to allow
God to "put a burning coal to your mouth" like Isaiah, or like Jeremiah here, "extract or divide the precious from the worthless."

In my experience most of what comes out of our mouths is of the later kind!   We have to be vigilant to the extreme as both James and Peter urge in their letters, to capture our tongues and then to "speak, if we're given to speaking, with the VERY WORDS OF GOD!"  Proverbs reminds us that "life and death are in the power of the tongue."  James tells us that "great fires are set; great ships are guided... by the tongue."  We must be vigilant about our words, friends.  If we are not, Satan shows up.  IN THEM.

Peter had that experience!  Much to his surprise and chagrin!  Right after being commended as being anointed by the special wisdom from God - by none other than Jesus himself.  After being told he was the ROCK - on which God's Church was going to be built!  WOW.  One moment Peter spoke the VERY WORD OF GOD:  "You are the Messiah; the Son of the Living God!" and in the next sentence he switched over to his opinion!  The popular belief under which the disciples labored until the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, was that He was their kind of Messiah; the coming King of the Jews - which He was as He just said to Peter - but not in the way they thought.

This is the beginning of Jesus' teaching about His Cross!  Now catch the significance of this setting; they are up in Ceasarea Phillipi, in the north of Israel, almost as far away from Jerusalem as you can get in Israel - away from the danger of the Sanhedrin and the High Priest. This is at the beginning of Jesus preaching and teaching ministry in Galilee and the North.  No CROSS in sight! NO SUFFERING in sight! In the disciples' minds, its a straight in shot, to land this thing in Jerusalem and set up the KINGDOM of MESSIAH.  They are arguing about the seating chart in the Throneroom!!!  Get the picture.

And here, in that setting, Jesus begins talking about suffering - suffering that He will have to go through!  WHAAAAAT?!!!!!  Not only no, but ...  So Peter grabs his arm and leads him aside and begins to lay the word on Him.  That what Peter did, cause that's what PETER DOES.  Open mouth, insert foot!

So Jesus sets him straight - allowing him to see what spirit he was of, at that moment.  You see, we think we have it cooked!  We have God all figured out!  And then He goes and says or does something that is diametrically opposed to our worldview "for HIM."  After all, isn't God subject to OUR WORLDVIEW?  One friend of mine said of "original sin" that God created us, and we've been trying to return the favor ever since!

SO, let me land this plane...

Turn to your gospel lesson in your bulletin with me.  

I want you to look with me at proximity.  Look at the verses and where Jesus goes immediately after this encounter with Peter and his foot-in-mouth disease.  

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

This is the second mention of the CROSS in the teaching of Jesus.  Jesus repeats these phrases twice in His teachings, before He goes down to Jerusalem.  Once earlier, almost as a passing phrase, and here, in response to Peter's foot-in-mouth, as a reminder!  On the heals of teaching them the truth about who He is, what He has come to do AND how it will be done.  

The disciples all, not just Peter, had this idea of the Messiah.  When He healed people, and fed 15,000 and faced-down the Pharisees, they interpreted those actions along the lines of their preconceived notion of Him.  But here Jesus lays out the FULL MEAL DEAL.

This is about SACRIFICE - This is about SURRENDER.

Jesus is the model of those things:  Paul picks up the theme in his Roman letter this morning:  

JB Phillips says it this way:

Romans 12J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)

We have seen God’s mercy and wisdom: how shall we respond?

12 1-2 With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.
The MESSAGE puts it this way...

Place Your Life Before God

12 1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

A week or so ago I had a conversation with a friend.  Have you ever gotten so wrapped up in something, you know, like living, that you just couldn't "let go."  You're losing sleep...  You're not eating... You're overwrought... You worry all the time... You can't let go!
I told my friend about a little exercise I do on occasion, when I find myself in those places.
Hold out your closed fists, facing up.  Now listen to this again: (the Message 12:1a) and place it before God as an offering"
Now here is the exercise -  ready?   Open your fists!   OK?   Now close them?   Now open them!  Now close them.  Now open them!
Got it?
The next thing the Word says is "embracing what God does for you" - how can you receive or embrace what God wants for you if you have your hands closed and tightly wrapped around something else?
You see that was Peter's problem - He had his hands tightly wrapped around his conception of the Messiah and the Messiah's behavior.  Any time we do that, we are going to get challenged by God, because the ONLY thing God want's in our hands is His hand.
Let's exercise again:   close your fists, Open, close, Open, close, Open!  Which way are you going to live?  When you close your fists, inhale and hold!  When you open your fists, exhale and rest!  Which way to you want to live?  I move we exhale and rest in God's plans for us - in what He wants to do - in the Way He wants to do it.
How does the Scripture read?
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths!"  And it goes on... "Do not be wise in your own eyes.  Fear the Lord and turn away from evil."

Let's pray and exercise!

Lord Jesus Christ, we can so easily get wrapped around the axle of our life!  Teach us to fully rely on You, to release our life, to rest in your way, your provision - your "ways and means."  Help us not to be "wise in our own eyes" - not to have a higher opinion of our selves or of our opinions, than we ought.  Teach us to order our thoughts and lives after your Word and Your Word alone. Help us to separate the precious from the vile and worthless in our culture and lives.   Lord, like Jeremiah, Peter, Paul, ... we desire to speak your Words to those around us.  Help us make sure they're Your words, not ours.  Words that are filled with both Truth and LOVE.  Sometimes its a hard balance, Lord.  Keep us quiet until we can do it your way!  
Help us with our exercises!  Closed, Open, Closed, Open...  Let us remain open to you - receiving from You - Willing, Available and Obedient, every day, in every circumstance, and with every opportunity.

We pray in Jesus Name and for the sake of His Kingdom come, His will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.
Amen and amen.

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