Annual Report 2016 – Laguna Presbyterian Church
Laguna Presbyterian Church Annual Report 2016 (PDF CLICK HERE)
Theological Reflections by Rev. Jerry Tankersley on our 100th Anniversary
The Book of Hebrews was written as a long sermon exhortation for a congregation facing major challenges in the first century. The internal evidence of the book reveals a church made up of both Jews and Gentiles who were being tempted to revert to their former religions under the pressure of persecution and social resistance.
The preacher of the sermon argued that following the way of Jesus Christ was better, and the only way to live into God’s promised Sabbath Rest or Eternal Life. To turn back, to quit, to return to the past were not options for those seeking a life-giving future.
“Do not abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. We are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.” 10:35-39
Chapters 11 and 12 brought the sermon to its emotional peak. Some have called these chapters the Westminster Abbey of the biblical story of God’s Faithfulness and the Faithfulness of a great cloud of witnesses who have been running in a long race or marathon.
There were a number of theological truths or lessons to be learned from this race. Let me name a few:
First, the race was inspired by Faith.
Faith was defined, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” 11:1
The saints running the race had been captured by hope and conviction about the promises of God. These promises could not fail because the God who created all things made them. The Creator had acted in the history of Israel to accomplish his purpose and plan. Through the power of God’s Word and Spirit, creation came into being.
Human believers trusted these promises. Men and women who had seen, heard, and believed were declared to be righteous. The unseen had awakened within them an imagination of what might be in the fullness of time. The Starter had sounded the signal that launched the race. Men like Abel, Enoch, and Noah began to run. This faith separated them from those who could not see nor believe.
Others followed in faith, hope, and love.
Secondly, the race was inspired by a Vision of its destination.
Abraham was called to set out and to leave behind his native land and family. He set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. He did not know where he was going. All he knew was that he had heard the call from the Creator to journey, to run toward the Vision.
“He looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
“Abraham’s family confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. They were seeking a homeland. They desired a better country, a heavenly one. God was not ashamed of them. He had prepared it for them.” 11:8-16
The promise was that Abram and Sara would become the father and the mother of a multitude of nations. Yet, Sara was barren. There were no children. Due to age, it was now humanly impossible. Still Abram trusted God. He believed and laughed at the promise, but he endured, because his faith was in God’s possibilities and power.
This faith turned Abraham’s family into a nomadic group that ran into God’s future inspired by the vision of a heavenly city. The vision was tested repeatedly, but the old couple persevered, even when the promised child of Isaac was placed on the altar. Abraham trusted that even if the child died, God was able to raise him from the dead. The longing for the Promised Vision burned in his heart and it drove him into God’s future for the family. Nothing was impossible.
Likewise, Moses was captured by the Vision. He had opportunity to enjoy the riches of Egypt as Pharaoh’s daughter’s adopted son, but he “chose to turn his back on the fleeting pleasures of sin for the greater enjoyment of the wealth of suffering with Christ.”
Moses saw the invisible God leading the liberated Jewish slaves out of bondage into the freedom of the Promised Land.
This call upon Abraham and Moses was the race inspired by the visions of a homeland, of a new place promised by God. This was a race that would lead into the City of God and into God’s promised rest. These runners were not about to turn back from the Vision.
At long last, the children of Israel arrived in the Holy Land, the Promised Land. King David desired to build God a house, but God said “no.” Instead, God would build him a house, a dynasty. David’s son Solomon would build the temple with the resources accumulated by his father. Many contributed to the City of Jerusalem, the Davidic capital. The City and the Temple united the 12 tribes, and called the scattered tribes of Israel to travel to the Holy City at least three times a year for festivals and celebrations of the Holy One of Israel present in the Temple. Yet the earthly city of Jerusalem was not the final destination for God’s people.
The ultimate dwelling place for God was in the body and life of Jesus of Nazareth. He was the temple that dwelled among his people. To see, to hear, and to embrace him was to worship in Spirit and in truth. His body became the Church, the temple of the Spirit. But the Church was not an end in itself. Rather, the Church was made up of a new humanity that continued the race into the fullness of the kingdom of God in the New Creation that has still not fully arrived.
From Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, witnesses alive with the light of God carried the gospel of the kingdom. At last they arrived in Laguna Beach.
The founders and developers of LPC for the past 100 years have been driven into the future by the vision of working together with God, in planning and building a mission church on the coastline of South Orange County. Many were drawn to this place because of its beautiful coastline and imaginative people. Creative artists were drawn to Laguna Beach. It was a small village between L.A. and San Diego. But having once seen the hills, the Pacific Ocean, the sunsets behind Catalina Island, people went back home, sold everything and moved toward this closest approximation of Paradise on earth, Laguna Beach.
It is still a desirable homeland. The founders of LPC had a compelling vision of building a church at the center of L.B. for the purpose of worshiping God, of making disciples, of teaching the Bible, and of growing up with the village that would become the City of Laguna Beach. In 1928, the sanctuary of LPC was built and dedicated as a place large enough to seat all the residents of the village.
Anna Hills was a member of the charter generation of LPC. Her paintings of the landscapes and seascapes of our coastline are now on display at the Laguna Beach Art Museum. She had a vision that translated onto canvas. Her devotion to Jesus Christ, to his Word, and to the mission of God, arose out of a heart of faith and hope. In 1928, upon the dedication of the new sanctuary, she painted a small canvas of the new church and gave it to Pastor Ray Brahams. She autographed it on the back and dated it. On my 15th anniversary as pastor of LPC, Hap Brahams, one of Ray’s sons, gave it to me as a personal gift. I treasure it. It is an image of the Vision that has inspired several generations working together to build the kingdom of God in our growing city.
The building is an icon that points beyond itself. It sits at the center of a city in which there is great spiritual need, a city blessed with much wealth. It is a lighthouse of the gospel. To the runners in this long marathon race it witnesses to the continuing vision the Word and the Spirit give to us. As a people we are a little colony of heaven. We are called to be a people on the move in this place, running the race into the fullness of the kingdom of God. We do not know when we shall arrive, but from generation to generation we pass the baton and light the torch. The race goes on toward the Vision. Through us and many other congregations, the vision has inspired the mission of God.
Thirdly, the race was a long obedience in the same direction.
At times the race moved the people of God through dark valleys of hardship and pain, even suffering, despair and persecution.
One only need remember Israel’s race of 40 years through the Sinai wilderness. Because of lack of faith in the presence and power of God, they were not allowed to enter the Promised Land. There were many hardships, temptations, and failures. Moses was tempted to abandon his leadership calling. Rebellion threatened his position. Even Moses failed, yet the Lord spoke with him face to face. He was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, only to see it from afar.
Jesus recapitulated Israel’s 40 years in the desert. For 40 days and nights he was tempted by the devil. He must have questioned why the race led through these temptations and struggles with the evil one and within his own soul?
When the race is difficult we are tempted to quit, to turn back, to betray our calling. The Apostle Paul learned that he was called to suffer for the cause of Christ. He would bear the cross of Christ in his long race around the Greco-Roman world. He experienced his own weaknesses and vulnerabilities. His “thorn in the flesh” humbled him. He learned in the midst of his weaknesses that only God’s grace could see him through.
His race was joyful at times and easy, and filled with much reward. But other times it was a bitter endurance race through Death Valley.
Reread Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS. It is the story of a long journey or race to cleanse the world of the ring of power that was able to seduce and to destroy the one who wore it. The hobbits, Frodo and Sam, carried the ring to Mount Doom, the only place where the ring could be destroyed and Middle-Earth healed of the destructive powers of evil. They arrived at their destination, but only after much suffering, endurance, and obedience. It was a parable of the Christian life and the final victory of the people of God, but only after much patient endurance.
Or consider C.S. Lewis’s THE HORSE AND HIS BOY. It was a story of a long journey of a mission to save the land of Narnia. As the boy moved through a dark mountain pass he was accompanied by a frightening presence that he thought was a ghost who would kill him. In the nighttime journey he lamented about the long and terrifying trip in which he and his companion had been wounded. Only at daybreak did he discover that the one who drove the long race for the sake of saving Narnia was Aslan, the Christ like lion. Victory was achieved, but not without a long obedience in the same direction.
The novel by S. Endo entitled SILENCE, now made into a movie, was about the Jesuits seeking to plant the church in 17th century Japan. The journey from Portugal to Japan took months. It produced hardship for those on the journey. The mission seemed a failure. In Japan the missionaries were persecuted and executed in horrible ways. What was even worse was the loneliness of being in a far away place in the presence of pagans determined to destroy the fledgling Christian church. What was explored in the novel was the sense of the absence of God, the silence of God, and the questions of why a good God, a living God, would allow his servants to suffer in that way? Why no intervention to save and to prosper the mission? How could devoted priests fall away from faith and surrender to the darkness?
These were the circumstances of the recipients of the Letter to the Hebrews.
“They conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war.”
“Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonments. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.” Hebrew 11:32-38
One can only wonder about the low times in the history of LPC when it seemed the mission might fail. We remember names and faces that have disappeared from the fellowship. Faces of those who threatened us, who maybe even desired to terminate us and destroy us, march through our dreams and fantasies. How many years have we financially come in on a wing and a prayer at the end of the year? What does this recent schism in the Presbytery of Los Ranchos mean? Who is faithful and who is heretical? Could it be that the Lord will allow the PCUSA to melt into nothing in the fires of our times? Will we have enough resources to pay our debts and to stay afloat in Laguna Beach? What will we make of the deep divisions in our political culture and institutional life? Will not the rapid rate of change lead us into despair, hopelessness, and spiritual anarchy? Can we survive the rigors of the race? Where is this long race headed?
Fourthly, the race’s goal is sure.
“All these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised.” 11:39
There is no perfection in this life. We run on, but the final goal has never been crossed. As we run we carry a sense of incompletion. So it was for all those saints who ran during this lifetime. Hill after hill destroys fantasies that they are the last challenges. Surely this valley, this dark night of the soul, will end with a new daybreak?
Just when we thought we were on the cusp of perfection, of achievement of a lifetime of work, the heavy rock rolls back upon us and we are required to begin to push anew. How many more times can we do it?
The reality of the race is that during this lifetime the runners will never finish the race and run into the spiritual perfection for which they have longed. The line of sin runs through the heart of every disciplined runner. The good news is that from beginning to end we run by the power of the abiding truth that there is one who has run the race before us and entered the presence of the living God. He has finished the race and is therefore the anchor of our hope of completing and arriving in due time. See Hebrews 6:9-20
After making atonement for our sins with his own blood once and for all, he sits at the right hand of God where he makes intercession for us. He and all the saints, the great cloud of witnesses, have gathered around the throne of God, and they are the crowd that roots us on and continuously prays for us.
The preacher said it so powerfully:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
Endure trials for the sake of discipline.
Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for you feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.” Hebrews 12:1-12
During our 100th anniversary of “Celebrating God’s Faithfulness,” let us not lose sight of God’s promises and our responses. May we be claimed over and again by the great Vision of entering God’s Rest, the Eternal Sabbath, in the kingdom of God with all God’s Saint’s. Even though the race has required patient endurance and suffering, let us not lose sight that we are God’s children. We have been saved; we are being saved; and we will be saved in the fullness of God’s time.
Thank you for running with me as our hope is anchored in Christ and our future destiny is completed in Christ. Lord Jesus, are you running with us? Yes! To the finish line! Into the heavenly City of God!
Pastor Jerry Tankersley
Laguna Presbyterian Church