Monday, March 26, 2018

Palm Sunday - Mtr. Barb Russo - The God who wins by losing

The Rev. Barbara M. Russo

Resurrection Anglican Fellowship
Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018

The great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.  So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord -- the King of Israel!"  Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:  "Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.  Look your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!"  His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.  (John 12:12-16)

     For most of my childhood, my family was not church going, but I do remember being in church on Palm Sunday when I was about ten years old.  Along with all the little girls in our Sunday dresses, I was lined up on the sidewalk outside the church, followed by all the little boys.  One of the church ladies handed us each a palm frond and told us that our job was to march into the church waving the palms and to shout Hosanna -- whatever that meant.  I had no idea and she didn't explain. All the adults sat in the pews and smiled at how cute and sweet we were.  Back then, processing with the palms was just for little kids.  For me Palm Sunday was a reminder that in seven days there would be Easter candy, a new Easter dress and the start of spring break.  I was in college before I learned that Palm Sunday is not really cute or sweet, and has nothing at all to do with spring break.

     On Palm Sunday, nearly two thousand years ago, Jesus mounted a colt and entered Jerusalem like a victorious King.  Nowadays, people think of the donkey as a humble mode of transportation, not noble or kingly in the slightest, so it's easy for most people to miss what Jesus was up to.  But the crowd on that beautiful spring day outside Jerusalem knew their Bibles and knew their history.  They weren't thinking how modest it was of Jesus to come on a donkey.  They were remembering King Solomon riding a donkey to his coronation, and they were remembering the prophet Zechariah predicting that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem "Triumphant, riding on a young donkey, a colt" (Zech 9:9)

     For six hundred years, God's people had been waiting for Yahweh to come and throw out the foreign rulers and set things right, like he had done more than one thousand years earlier when the whole Egyptian army drowned in the Red Sea.  For centuries, the Hebrew people had been subjugated, first by Babylonian armies, then Persian and Greek armies.  Then, when Jesus' grandfather had been young, the Romans had taken over.  Anyone who saw a man ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, like King Solomon had done, exactly the way Zechariah had predicted, would have know what it meant.

     And if that man was the healer who had been teaching about the Kingdom of God for three years, it couldn't mean anything except that deliverance as finally here, this was it.  All around Jesus, people begin to shout, "Hosanna, Hosanna -- save us, Save us" and "Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord," the ancient cries of welcome for the King of Israel.  The people waved palm branches, a symbol of the nation of Israel, and a sign of victory for every culture in the ancient Mediterranean world.  The crowd laid their coats down under Jesus' feet the way we lay down a red carpet for visiting celebrities.  For the strangers in the crowd, it might have been just a moment of national pride, an in-your-face acclamation of Jesus as King, rather than Caesar.  Which is why the Pharisees said to Jesus, 'make them stop, before the Romans come crashing down and hold us responsible for what you are doing!'  But Jesus knew there was something far more important going on than national pride; far more important than anyone's wish to placate the Romans and keep the Sanhedrin in power.  Those things were at the very bottom of Jesus' priority list.  He knew the most important thing at that moment was to demonstrate to the people there, and for all time, before his crucifixion, who he really was, who he knew himself to be.

     Jesus did not ride into Jerusalem that day to preach or to heal, but mostly to die.  His ceremonial entry occurred on the very day the Passover Lambs were selected for slaughter.  He knew that the religious leaders were itching for an excuse to get him out of the way, and that his actions would provoke a charge of blasphemy.  He mounted the colt anyway.

     He knew that entering the city as a triumphant King would give the Romans all they needed to execute him for treason.  He mounted the colt anyway.

     He did not have to do it.  He did not have to set himself up for arrest and execution, he could have avoided it, gone back to Capernaum, married a nice Jewish girl, and died in his sleep.  He knew that once he got on that donkey, his fate was sealed.  But he knew it was the right place, he knew he was the right person, and he knew it was finally the right time.  Dreading the agony of the cross, he mounted the colt anyway.

     Only Jesus knew that the celebratory parade was also his funeral procession.  He knew the crowds bursting with national pride were doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. But no matter.  While everyone was cheering and laughing as if everything from here on out would be easy and fun, Jesus bore the terrible truth alone.  He mounted the colt.

     The crucifixion of Jesus was not an accident, a terrible mistake, a plan gone wrong.  Months earlier, Jesus had said to his disciples, "No one takes by life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord." (John 10:18)  He had carefully planned and arranged this entry into Jerusalem, knowing exactly what would happen, knowing exactly what it would cost him.

     Why in God's name, would anyone do that?  Why would anyone willingly choose to suffer the physical, emotional and spiritual horror of scourging and the cross?

     Like a mother throwing herself in front of an oncoming truck to save her toddler, Jesus bore the full force of evil and separation from God, so that we do not have to experience it.  As Jesus hung on the cross, Satan and the powers of evil threw at him everything they have on us.  He died, but by the mysterious and paradoxical capacity of God, Jesus turned the tables on evil, and guaranteed evil's ultimate defeat.  We serve a God who wins by losing.

     His choice of the cross opens the door for each of us to have a relationship with God that is full and life-giving, and intimate.  Jesus died for me,  Jesus died for you.  If there had been any other way to do what was needed, and to hold onto you and me, God and Jesus would have found it together.  There was no other way.  Jesus knew it.  He chose the cross.  He mounted the colt.

     God alone is capable of holding together celebration and grief, tragedy and triumph, and of empowering us to do the same.  We don't have Easter without the cross, nor the cross without Easter.  This Holy Week, we invite you to walk the final week of Jesus life with us, to enter into the pain and the glory, to arrive at Easter Day next Sunday with more than candy and springtime in your hands.  Jesus is inviting all of us to learn to be people of the God who wins by losing.

Copyrighted by Barbara M. Russo, 2018

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Lent V - REZ ... What if ???

March 18, 2018
Lent V
Fr Phil Eberhart

REZ... What if... ??

A few weeks ago Deacon Ethel put a quote in our Thursday evening Constant Contact from John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard Churches...  Just wondering?

What would God do if we gave Him the chance? 
What if fear or self-interest didn't restrict us? 
What if the need for control didn't overwhelm us? What would God do?
If our own ministries were not the important issue, what would it be like? 
If "church" wasn't about us, our place, and our ways, but instead was about Jesus and what he wanted to do here on earth, what would He reveal of His heart? 

What if it did not matter to us what was said about us--good or bad--and the only opinion that mattered was Jesus'? What would it be like?
What if we loved what Jesus loved? 
What if we let God be God and we just be His people? 
What if self-protection wasn't the issue and we didn't care about looking foolish?   

What would God do?
Don't you want to know? 
Don't you want to find out?" 

That's probably enough to keep us thinking for a while, isn't it?

What would God do?   What COULD God do?

I want to show you again a video that we played at our advance meetings, but I don't think everyone has seen it yet.

What if ... we found a treasure hidden in a field?

That was the first words I heard from Lawrence's mouth that morning in late July.  "I found a treasure hidden in a field."

Just weeks before that call I had driven past the property, a route I rarely drive, and I remember looking at the church and the land and asking God, "What is up with this?"  So much land and the church looks dead.  God, what about us?

We hadn't yet heard from our funeral home landlords.  There was no reason for me to be asking that question, after 16 years "on the move" as a "church in a box."

Except... it's time.  It's our time. 

I ran across a verse this week in my reading and listening:

2 Cor 9:10
"He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness."

I want to talk to you for a moment about the nature of seed.  

>  Seed is first of all fruit - it is the fruit of another seed planted somewhere.
and all those seeds lead straight back to God, the creator!  There is no other ultimate source for seed.

>  Seed is for two things:  for bread/food or for planting/multiplication.

Eating and Sharing or for Planting and harvesting.  Both are completely legitimate and one without the other is completely inadequate for life.

>  Seed is only limited by your planting!
In the passage referenced above, 2 Cor 9, as we've heard before Paul is preparing a gift to go to the poor church in Jerusalem.  He is reminding the church  in Corinth of their promise and readying them to meet his request with their readiness to give.

In verse 6, under the heading "The Cheerful Giver", Paul talks about the principles of sowing and reaping.  

1>    You can only reap from what you sow!  If you sow sparingly, you will likewise reap sparingly!  If you sow bountifully, then you will reap a bountiful harvest!  Simple and understandable.

Do "sparingly" and "bountifully" refer to specific amounts?   NO.  They refer to the proportion you give.  We know this from Jesus himself.  He highlights the proportion given by the widow whose two coins made up a penny!  She gave all that she had!  She sowed bountifully!

2>  Your heart matters in this transaction!  V. 7  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  The word for "cheerful" is the word from which we get our word "hilarious."  Remember a couple of weeks we talked about JOY in giving?  God loves a hilarious giver!  Another version says, God loves hilarious generosity.

3>  The process of planting creates harvest - no planting=no harvest! Harvest always includes multiplication of the seed, because its the nature of "seed" according to the grace and plan of God.  Read on in 2 Cor:  

This generous God who supplies abundant seed[g] for the farmer, which becomes bread for our meals,[h] is even more extravagant toward you. First he supplies[i] every need, plus more. Then he multiplies the seed as you sow it, so that the harvest of your generosity[j] will grow. 11 You will be abundantly enriched in every way as you give generously on every occasion,[k] for when we take your gifts to those in need,[l] it causes many to give thanks to God. 

God's plan is an ever increasing and abundant cycle of giving and planting and harvesting.  And out of that process we get supplied and God gets ever increasing glory and thanks!

Do you remember the verses from Acts 2 that we've looked at for so long as our model for church life?

Every believer was faithfully devoted to following the teachings of the apostles. Their hearts were mutually linked to one another, sharing communion and coming together regularly for prayer.  A deep sense of holy awe swept over everyone, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. All the believers were in fellowship as one body, and they shared with one another whatever they had. Out of generosity they even sold their assets to distribute the proceeds to those who were in need among them. Daily they met together in the temple courts and in one another’s homes to celebrate communion. They shared meals together with joyful hearts and tender humility.  
They were continually filled with praises to God, enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord kept adding to their number daily those who were coming to life. 

Common Devotion to the Word - Community - Communion & Prayer...
The hallmarks of the New Testament Church!
Holy Awe - Miracles, Signs and Wonders
Sacrificial sharing - radical generosity - daily meetings in homes and in
the temple courts - shared meals with joy and humility.  Filled with praise to God - enjoying favor from every quarter. And the Lord adding to their number daily.

I hope that you are in a place that you can see what's happening here at REZ!  It's incredible and I am humbled to be a part of all of it.  

What if?

What if we took Acts 2 and 2 Cor 8 and 9 seriously?  What could God do?

Now for just a moment let's look forward.

What if a place was given us where Daily prayer happened - all kinds of prayer - intercession, praise, healing, morning prayer, evensong.  

What if a place was ours where we could host the study of the Word of God?
From the Torah to Revelation - from the Psalms and Proverbs to the life of Jesus the rabbi from Nazareth - from the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel to the letters of Paul to the churches.  What if?  Anyone remember Precepts? 
Godspeed?  Soul Keeping? 

What if we were also a house to house fellowship?  What we are doing in our lenten groups expanded and became a normal part of our life together?

What if we hosted groups of pastors for prayer together, business men and women for lunch from the DTC,  marriage retreats, ALPHA or the Jewish version:  ALEPH!  

Friends, I want you to see a picture of what's possible - what hasn't been possible for us for so long!  

And now God has given us an indescribable gift - The Treasure Hidden in the Field - and the building is the medium, it's the FIRE PLACE!  But friends, the TREASURE is sitting next to you!  The FIRE is here in our midst.  The FIRE is the stuff that these verses we've read are made of.

What if?  What if?

Let's pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross in order that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace;  So clothe us with your Spirit, that we, reaching out 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.

Holy Spirit, come with your flame of love and consume the sacrifices we lay on this altar this morning - cause us to burn with your Holy FIRE.  Let us be a place of warmth and light in a cold and dark world.  Use us to bless others with your grace and peace, reflecting the light of your countenance.  Let your power move through us a we reach out our hands to pray and to heal.
Send your Power in witness again, as on the Day of Pentecost.

God our Father, be glorified as ABBA among us.  Let your broken heart beat in our Body.  Let your love for the world, that sent Jesus, fill us and send us as well.  Bring your people, Father, who love your Kingdom, and let your Kingdom come among us here, as it is in heaven.

Let's sing together:
"For I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded, that He is able...
To keep that which I've committed, unto Him against that Day!"

"For I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded, that He is able...
To keep that which I've committed, unto Him against that Day!"
"For I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded, that He is able...
To keep that which I've committed, unto Him against that Day!"

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Lent III - On The Joy (of the Lord) in Giving

March 4, 2018
Lent 3
Fr. Phil Eberhart

The Joy in Giving

'For God so loved that He ...  GAVE!"

'Setting our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross...'

"Beloved ones, we must tell you about the grace God poured out upon the churches of Macedonia. For even during a season of severe difficulty and tremendous suffering, they became even more filled with joy. From the depths of their extreme poverty, super-abundant joy overflowed into an act of extravagant generosity. For I can verify that they spontaneously gave, not only according to their means but far beyond what they could afford. They actually begged us for the privilege of sharing in this ministry of giving..."

This morning I want to share with you from scripture the foundation of giving and the link that it has with the JOY OF THE LORD.

We prayed on Ash Wednesday and on Lent 1 from Psalm 51 

Starting at v. 10:

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right[b] spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit. 

Where does the joy of our salvation come from?  
Where does the Joy of the Lord, which is our strength, come from?

Is the joy of the Lord, primarily a feeling that rises out of our circumstances?

O... I hope not!  

But that is the way we live.  Our joy is dependent upon and subsidiary to our "feelings" about our circumstances.  Joy is a feeling for us.  But is it, really?

I want you to turn to Gal 5 for a moment.

In the later part of the chapter Paul makes a statement that we write on cards and wall plaques - we underline it in our bibles and memorize it.

It's about the "fruit" of the Spirit.  A pretty distinguished list ...

So JOY is a fruit of the Spirit.  These things are all the naturally-supernatural outcomes of the indwelling Spirit of the Living Christ in our lives.  They are like "fruit" - they grow naturally on the branches that are connected with Jesus!

Can I suggest a study on each one of those - but let me help you with the study of JOY as a Fruit, not a feeling!

Let's look back for a moment at the 2 Corinthians 8 passage again... this time I want to read it from the JB Phillips translation:

Somehow, in most difficult circumstances, their joy and the fact of being down to their last penny themselves, produced a magnificent concern for other people. I can guarantee that they were willing to give to the limit of their means, yes and beyond their means, without the slightest urging from me or anyone else. In fact they simply begged us to accept their gifts and so let them share the honours of supporting their brothers in Christ. 

This seems to suggest that their joy was unconnected to "the fact of being down to their last penny!"  WOW!

How weird is that?  

Paul is using the testimony of these Macedonian churches, that were in joyfully willing and available obedience, to provoke to jealousy a church in Corinth that was lagging behind in their promised generosity.  

And it appears here in this testimony that the Joy of the Lord - their joy in their salvation, wraps around the experience of their giving!  When I say it "wraps around" it, I mean that it is present as both motivation and as outcome!  The Joy of the Lord is "superabundant" in them as an outgrowth - a fruit - of their new relationship with Jesus and that JOY OF MY SALVATION is the motivation for their willing generosity, even "beyond their means."  

Let's look finally at what Jesus himself told His disciples on His last night with them:  Turn to Jn 15... and I just want to highlight some important verses in these two chapters and then we will land the plane this morning.

Listen to these words:

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 

But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.  “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 

And in chapter 16, Jesus speaks plainly about the next three days in their life...

20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy. 21 It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. 22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy.23 At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name. 24 You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy. 

So let's recap for a moment what Jesus said here...

1.  We must abide (find our home) in Him and in His love...

2.  Obedience to His command is a key to abiding ...

3.  His command is to love each other!  Simple, not easy...

Three more verses from Jn 17:

13 “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy.  
17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 
21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. 

4.  Our joy will come through our faith in and our confession of the Resurrected Jesus, like the disciples in the Upper Room.

5.  We experience the Resurrected Jesus today, by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.  This is the reason for Pentecost!

Peter says it best as he sums up our faith in a few sentences in his 1st Letter:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 

6.  Joy "inexpressible and filled with glory" is the outcome of our faith in Jesus, raised from the dead and living again.


Welcome then to the vine and the life of God, flowing through you as you abide in Jesus.  Welcome to the joy of giving yourself away - not just your money, but your heart and life to Jesus first and to others in the Body of Christ and out in the world.  

Friends, JOY is what sets us apart there.  JOY is what makes us different.  JOY is the light of the Gospel being lived out in and through you, no matter the difficulties, whatever they may be.  When the world squeezes us, what comes out is Jesus!  JOY is spelled: Jesus - Others - You !!    He is the priority in our lives.  And giving, in all its forms, is a matter of the overflow of that relationship!  And it is an exponential spiral, up into the very Glory of God!

So let me pray a prayer that has been on my heart for you for many years, one of Paul's apostolic prayer for the church, from Ephesians 3:

Let us pray:

14 So I kneel humbly in awe before the Father of our Lord Jesus, the Messiah, 15 the perfect Father of every father and child[e] in heaven and on the earth. 16 And I pray that he would unveil within you the unlimited riches of his glory and favor until supernatural strength floods your innermost being with his divine might and explosive power.
17 Then, by constantly using your faith, the life of Christ will be released deep inside you, and the resting place of his love will become the very source and root of your life.
18–19 Then you will be empowered to discover what every holy one experiences—the great magnitude[f] of the astonishing love of Christ in all its dimensions. How deeply intimate and far-reaching is his love! How enduring and inclusive it is! Endless love beyond measurement that transcends our understanding—this extravagant love pours into you until you are filled to overflowing with the fullness of God!
20 Never doubt God’s mighty power to work in you and accomplish all this. He will achieve infinitely more than your greatest request, your most unbelievable dream, and exceed your wildest imagination! He will outdo them all, for his miraculous power constantly energizes you.
21 Now we offer up to God all the glorious praise that rises from every church in every generation through Jesus Christ—and all that will yet be manifest through time and eternity. Amen!