Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Eve 2018 - Fr. Phil

Christmas Eve
Dec 24, 2018 - 9 PM
Fr. Phil Eberhart

We want to welcome you all again tonight to our first Christmas celebration as REZ in this new facility.  Isn't it amazing what God has done?!!

Christmas is about bringing the hope of salvation to the world.  It's what the whole Church is to be about!  It's our work, together with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit - all active together in the world with one purpose.

God so loved the world, that He sent His one and only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, that those who believe in Him might have eternal life.

I got a post this morning from one of our members who is with family elsewhere tonight.  It told a story of a elderly lady who accidentally ran her grocery cart into a display of dishes, knocking them over and breaking many.  Everyone was standing and watching her try to gather up the shards, murmuring about "how are we going to pay for this?"

A good Samaritan knelt beside her to help her.  Then another.  Finally a young man, came and helped her up, saying: We can clean this up ma'am.  You have a cut on your hand we need to get taken care of.  And you owe us nothing - we have insurance for this kind of thing.

The Gospel message for this evening is that when we make a mess of our life, or life just happens and its messy, painful, cutting...
God has an answer.  Grace!  

John said in his gospel:  
[Jhn 1:14 KJV] 14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Grace... is God's policy!  It's not exactly like insurance - some would say Fire Insurance!  I would say LIFE insurance - eternal Life insurance.

Jesus was sent as a baby - I don't think I can do that justice in a few sentences.  What we celebrate here tonight takes a lifetime to contemplate - to wrap our minds around - if ever!  The best gift ever given!

In the midst of the rush and over-stimulation of the season in our over-commercialized culture, we hear moments of the message.  We see glimpses of hope, like the story we just heard.

After Jingle Bell Rock or Rockin around the Christmas Tree, comes O Holy Night on the play list.

I want to urge you to stop there!  I want to encourage you to consider the meaning of the season!  In the rush and crush of the season, we need to stop and breathe.  We need to recall why all this ...  IS all this?

It's about a baby!  It's about a miracle.  
It's why you're all here tonight in this place, at this time.  A miracle has happened in God coming among us, full of grace and truth.  He is bent down and helping us pick up the broken pieces.

But this baby wants to come in to live at your house.  ... to live at your address ... to live in your heart. He's waiting for an open door.  

Tomorrow or Wednesday the radio stations will all return to normal!  Christmas will be over.  But for us Christmas begins tomorrow - 12 days of meditation until Jan 6, the Feast of Epiphany.
The shedding of light.   

I hope that you will take some time to read and re-read the Gospel from tonight or the other accounts of Jesus birth.  Tonight we just make a beginning!

Our opening prayer this evening said it well...

O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the revelation of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Another of the Christmas Day prayers will be a good way to close it tonight, as we go into our communion and contemplation time.

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

ADVENT IV - Deacon Ethel LeResche ... "Because it's all TRUE!!"

[The audio for the sermon is available now on our Spreaker website by clicking on the Title above.]

Mic 5:2-5a 

[c] But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace

Ps 80:1-7 

Rescue and Restore

80 For the Pure and Shining One
Asaph’s poetic song, set to the tune of “Your Decrees Are Like Lilies”
God-Enthroned, be revealed in splendor
    as you ride upon the cherubim!
    How perfectly you lead us, a people set free.[a]
    Loving shepherd of Israel—listen to our hearts’ cry!
    Shine forth from your throne of dazzling light.
In the sight of Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh,
    stir up your mighty power in full display before our eyes.[b]
    Break through and reveal yourself by coming to our rescue.
Revive us, O God! Let your beaming face shine upon us
    with the sunrise rays of glory;
    then nothing will be able to stop us.
O God, the mighty Commander of Angel Armies,
    how much longer will you smolder in anger?
    How much longer will you be disgusted with your people
    even when they pray?
You have fed us with sorrow and grief
    and made us drink our tears by the bowlful.
You’ve made us a thorn in the side of all the neighboring lands,
    and now they just laugh at us with their mocking scorn.
Come back, come back, O God, and restore us!
    You are the Commander of Angel Armies.
    Let your beaming face shine upon us with the sunrise rays of glory,
    and then nothing will be able to stop us!

Heb 10:1-10 
Christ’s Eternal Sacrifice
10 The old system of living under the law presented us with only a faint shadow, a crude outline of the reality of the wonderful blessings to come. Even with its steady stream of sacrifices offered year after year, there still was nothing that could make our hearts perfect before God. 2–3 For if animal sacrifices could once and for all eliminate sin, they would have ceased to be offered and the worshipers would have clean consciences. Instead, once was not enough so by the repetitive sacrifices year after year, the worshipers were continually reminded of their sins, with their hearts still impure. For what power does the blood of bulls and goats[a] have to remove sin’s guilt?
So when Jesus the Messiah came into the world he said,
“Since your ultimate desire was not another animal sacrifice,
    you have clothed me with a body[b]
    that I might offer myself instead!
Multiple burnt offerings and sin-offerings
    cannot satisfy your justice.
So I said to you, ‘God—
    I will be the One to go and do your will,
    to fulfill all that is written of me in your Word!’ ”[c]
First he said, “Multiple burnt-offerings and sin-offerings cannot satisfy your justice” (even though the law required them to be offered).
And then he said, “God, I will be the One to go and do your will.” So by being the sacrifice that removes sin, he abolishes animal sacrifices[d] and replaces that entire system with the new covenant.[e] 10 By God’s will we have been purified and made holy once and for all[f] through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus, the Messiah!
  1. Hebrews 10:4 The Aramaic can be translated “bulls and birds.”
  2. Hebrews 10:5 As translated from the Aramaic. See also Ps. 40:6-8. The Hebrew of Ps. 40:6 has, “My ears you have pierced.” The Clementine Septuagint has “My ears you have prepared.”
  3. Hebrews 10:7 Or “in the scroll of the Book.” The Aramaic can be translated “from the beginning of your writings [the Torah] it is spoken of me.”
  4. Hebrews 10:9 Or “he abolishes the first.”
  5. Hebrews 10:9 Or “the second” (covenant).
  6. Hebrews 10:10 Or “made holy through the offering up of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all.”

Luke 1:39-56 King James Version (KJV)

39 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;
40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.
41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
54 He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.
56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
This is the last Sunday in Advent.  Advent means “to come”.  It means Jesus is coming.  Every year we hope that THIS is the year he comes back.  Our beloved King, Commander of Angel Armies, Good Shepard.

We commemorate his first coming, remembering that he saved us from death, he became the sacrifice for us, that birds and beasts sacrificed in the temple could not accomplish our redemption.  He brought a new covenant from heaven.  Covenants are tricky things—more than a contract, in which each party is responsible for holding up their end of the deal—in the new covenant God the Father exacts the price for sin, and then God the Son pays the price.  It is a humbling thought. 
There is even more.  Our Father gives us good things.  As it says in James, “every good and perfect thing comes from the Father” and so at this time of year, we also celebrate the coming of good and perfect things—gifts from the Father, gifts for each other.  An expression of gratitude and love given and shared.

I remember when I was little and it was almost Christmas.  The anticipation was almost more than I could bear.  It wasn’t just PRESENTS, it was Grandmother’s raisin cookies, that only came at Christmas.  It was getting all bundled up and making snow angels and building magnificent snow sculptures in the yard—we actually got our picture in the paper one year with a life-size baby elephant.  OK—dad helped.  The great Christmas Tree Hunt every year, wallowing in the snow drifts in the mountains carrying a sharp saw (and living to tell the tale).  It was taking the train to Illinois to see the grandparents, and reading “The Night Before Christmas.”  Did you know that my granddaddy was the actual real Santa?  He was round and had white hair and was very very jolly.  I got up one night and snuck out to the living room—there he was, putting presents under the tree. Proof!
I’ve never really lost that excitement.  Now I look forward to the Return of the King.  The Commander of Angel Armies instead of Santa.  Scripture talks about all creation standing on tip-toe awaiting the coming of the King.  Amen!  let it be so.
It’s inventory time, at the end of the old year, and the beginning of a new one.  I have had a pretty profound year—two new ministries, Restoring the Foundations and Hospice Chaplain—both require stretching my spiritual muscles to the max.  And both require experiencing the world from a new perspective.  Like Mary in our Gospel passage I have been thrown into the deep end and realize how very small and helpless I am.  I am also beginning to see, in a very small way, how large the real world is.  I’m not talking about the natural world that our five senses are aware of, nor even the galaxies and expanses of outer space that our man-made instruments can detect, but the spiritual realms that are so much larger and more real than our “reality.”

And like Mary, I am struck by the contradictions:  she was a peasant teenager raised up, to be honored for eternity, mother of the King of Kings.  I am confronting dark spiritual forces through RTF and watching the Lord free the prisoners, just as he said he would in Isaiah.  Daily, I watch him work through my presence and prayer drawing people to him in their last days.  Profound mysteries.

As Christians we are called to live in another reality—in our religious jargon, we call it the Kingdom, or life in the Spirit.  We are called to be counter-cultural.  Our laws are different, because they are based on the laws of God and reflect aspects of His personality.  We love others because God loves us.  We don’t judge because we will be judged.  We forgive because we are forgiven.  The world calls this foolishness, or even insanity.  We are radicals, profoundly radical, and bear witness to the mystery and contradiction of that other reality.

Our scriptures today stress that mystery and seeming contradiction.  Little Bethlehem, not big enough to be called a clan is THE most famous place in the world, and the son of a carpenter is the King of Kings.

Oh, wait, he wasn’t actually the son of a carpenter—he was (is) God.  That changes things.  But not the appearance of things.  Our earthly reality tells us that Jesus was the son of Joseph, a craftsman from a small town in a remote outpost of the Roman Empire, in a time long ago before flush toilets.  Why do we celebrate this?
Obviously there is something else going on here.

We have small clues that another reality exists.  Unexplainable things happen—we call them miracles.  People with incurable diseases are healed.  Others are called home.  Financial windfalls happen in the nick of time, or we struggle along and pray.  We don’t always understand, other times we do.  The Holy Spirit informs us, talks to us, and frees us from bondage, but we don’t actually see him, hear him in the usual way through our ears, or touch him.  If it seems as though we are living in a world where we can only see a tiny part of what is going on and it makes no sense for lack of data, you are right.  But instead of just revealing, God chooses to hide the true reality, to let us “see through a glass, darkly.”  The only way to make sense of what we are experiencing is to rely on him, and his perception.  We are confronted with the need for faith.

There are many, of course, who don’t see any contradictions, and are not aware of any need for faith.  If there are questions, then we are victims of random chance.  The world constantly totters on the brink of chaos and no law is absolute.

This life, this universe, although hopeless and dark, is all there is for them.  I grieve for them.  No matter how infantile my understanding of the spiritual realm is, it gives much greater light to my world than I see in theirs.  Every fiber of my being rings with hope, diamond-bright knowledge of the reality of another reality.  I know the King has come, is coming, and will come again.
I look for the Light of his coming every day.  I wait on tip-toe listening for the sound of the shofar in the distance.  I pray daily that I will not miss the signs of his approach.
Because I do know something:  IT’S ALL TRUE.

Sunday, December 16, 2018


DECEMBER 16, 2018

So I have a question to begin with this morning...

How important is it when you repeat your self?  It means that you want something specific to happen or something done a specific way ... according to the instructions right?  YOUR  instructions!  Anyone with kids?

The same is true when we see this in the Scriptures...

Jesus said... Truly, truly I tell you ...  How true is that?

And in our reading this morning Paul says to the Philippian church... REJOICE ...

That is the theme of the day I believe.  The Third Sunday of Advent, we turn the corner from a kind of dread at the appearing of the Day of the Lord to an excitedly nervous anticipation.  It's like waiting on the birth of a child.  Dad's often have this experience!  

When Val had the twins, from the time we checked in and they began to induce her labor, we were 36 hours till they were born.   I have to tell ya, even for patient guys, 36 hours is a long time!   She got tired of my face and sent me home, then called me back at 4 am - but it still went another 12 1/2 hours before the twins were born.  And the doc told me to go get something to eat, so I left the hospital and went to McDonalds --- I was hungry!  Walked back in and Val had gone to the delivery room in transition. They were paging me all over the hospital!!  I almost missed the birth of my twin daughters after 36 hours of labor!  Made it by about 10 minutes!!

Advent is kind of like that!!  Wait for it ...  wait for it ....  wait for it....
suspense builds, anticipation is high.    You almost give up ... or you want to.

I've been praying for renewal and revival in our culture, in our nation for 30+ years!  Do you give up and go back to fishing?   My prayer has been, "LORD, don't pass us by!"

I see what is happening around the world, the Presence of God in worship in Africa, the immediacy of His witness in Jerusalem and Nazareth and in the Galilee in Israel.
Yet we persist in our unbelief, like they did in his own home town. On the outside, to the naked eye, it looks like things are getting worse and worse.  Is it just me?

The instruction that Paul gives the church in Philippians 4 is the kind of stuff that life long studies are made of!  This section of Philippians has been so oft quoted in bible studies that it needs to be emblazoned on the walls of the Church - or piece of paper on your mirror in the morning!!  It needs to be somewhere where you will see it often and repeat it to yourself, almost hourly!!


Even from our OT reading it echos this morning...

  Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! 15 The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. Th e King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. 16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. 17 The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.  (Zeph 3:14 ff)

But Paul goes on and lays out a plan for us to attain and maintain an attitude of PEACE ...   Have you ever heard of "The Peace that passes Understanding?"   Here it is.  
Is that something that you desire?   Is your life so filled with peace that you can go home now.  I don't need to hear the rest of the sermon!   I've got this cooked!

I for one, can hardly wait to hear what I'm gonna say!!

Look with me down the page from the first lines of the reading from Philippians 4...

FIRST -  Show others your GENTLE SPIRIT
  Jesus little brother, James, uses the same word when he says [Jas 3:17] "the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle,[G1933] reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy."

How is that for a check list?  When you look in the mirror in the morning, run that check list on your spirit and heart!  But how do we get there?  Does ANYBODY pass that test?   EVER??

Paul goes on.  Here's HOW!!  Well first the WHY !!

SECOND -  You are able to be all those things James talks about ... PURE... PEACABLE ... GENTLE ... REASONABLE,  FULL OF MERCY AND GOOD FRUIT ... UNWAVERING... WITHOUT HYPOCRICY!"  because THE LORD IS NEAR.

Any questions?   

How do you consider God to be for you...  like the Bette Midler god -  Out, there ... somewhere... God is watching us... God is watching us.  The great DEISTIC heresy of the Great Watchmaker that wound it all up and left it to us.  "God helps those who help themselves!"  NO!  God helps those who CANNOT help themselves!!  US!

OR do you consider God to be IMMANENT - NEAR - AT HAND.  Jesus was certainly in this camp!!   "I watch to see what my Father is doing, and do that!"

OK.  THIRD --  Here is the list in v. 6
       Paul contrasts our worrying and anxiety with a posture of prayer like the one that Jesus took, over and over and over and over.  It was so marked in His life that His disciples determined that in comparison they didn't ever know HOW to pray and they asked Him to teach them,   Thus we have the Model Prayer we call the Lord's Prayer.  That's a whole sermon series!!

So Don't worry!  But Pray... in fact with SUPPLICATION - When we bow our head or bow our knees we are moving toward supplication.  It is prayer out of our deep sense of need to the only source that can actually change the circumstances in our life!

Oh and don't forget THANKSGIVING!   We enter his gates with what?  Thanksgiving in our hearts and We enter HIS Courts with what?    PRAISE
It's an attitude of Gratitude!

MAKE YOUR REQUESTS -  Please be specific with God.   
Val put a request in the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem 18 months before our girls were born - I WANT TWO, BEAUTIFUL, HEALTHY CHILDREN
Very specific and direct - rolled up and placed in the wall of 24-7 prayer in Jerusalem after over a decade of being told NO CHILDREN are in your future.
Almost a million dollars in medical treatments, all to no avail.  Six simple words... I Want 2, beautiful healthy children.  She just forgot, One At A Time!  
God answered her specific request with a specific answer.

KNOWN -  God wants to know you, intimately.  Now if you've read Ps 139 you might say, "but He already knows me, better than I know myself!"   EXACTLY.
It is in prayer to GOD that He can begin to reveal to us, WHO we really are IN HIM!  Paul said his whole goal in life, above all his accomplishments (just a chapter earlier in this same letter) was to 
KNOW GOD AND TO MAKE HIM KNOWN.  His goal was to know God in the same way that He was known by God - That happens through prayer and interpersonal communion with God - talking with him.  There is no such thing as intimacy without conversation!  Hello!

Now here is the great thing, in v. 7
And the PEACE  -- the SHALOM of God -- The Wholeness of your salvation life IN HIM, begins to take hold!  
In fact , it sets up guard!  These are military terms.  Peace POSTS A GUARD over your heart and mind!  Not just calm in the storm, but PEACE - Settled knowing that God is able, in the face of the greatest storms and trials - GOD IS ABLE !   That PEACE actively guards your heart and mind so that nothing can shake you.  You are IN CHRIST!
St Peter put it this way:   [1Pe 1:5 NASB] 5 [You] are protected[G5432] by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

OK ... so now what?

Take control of your mind!  One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control!
FINALLY Paul says...
Think on these things...

There is our target friends. Where would we find all those things?  On the nightly news?  In the papers or blogs we read?  ANYWHERE in the information overload we experience every single day?  NOPE.

One place...  Hold up you hand in front of your face.   Small finger... HEAR ... next finger ... READ ...  middle finger ... MARK .... index finger ... LEARN and thumb... INWARDLY DIGEST.

Only one place.  Paul said it to the Corinthian Church too:  

[2Co 4:5-6 NASB] 5 For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

Let's bow our heads and our hearts...

Our Lord and God, Christ Jesus, Messiah.  You are the very image of the invisible God!  Help us to fix our eyes on YOU, JESUS ... 
Open our eyes to see you in all your splendor - shine in our hearts, to give us the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in Your face, Jesus.
Keep us in your peace, your Shalom.

Lord , have mercy!
Christ, have mercy!
Lord, have mercy!