Come in Close and Learn

Date: July 8, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Gareth Icenogle

Come in Close and Learn is a podcast of the Sunday Worship Services at Laguna Presbyterian Church. This morning our new interim pastor, Rev. Dr. Gareth Icenogle is preaching. Rev. Icenogle is preaching from Mark 4:1-20. It is the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

The service is included below in its entirety. If you would like to scroll forward to listen specifically to the sermon, “Come in Close and Learn” beings at the 29 minute mark.

Transcript

(Audio only)

An Open Door

Date: July 1, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Kathy Sizer

An Open Door is a podcast of the Sunday Worship Services at Laguna Presbyterian Church. This morning we begin our new sermon series on Discerning Open Doors. Rev. Dr. Kathy Sizer is preaching from Genesis 12 and Rev. 3:7-8. We are also celebrating the Eucharist this morning.  It is the 6th Sunday after Pentecost.

Transcript

(Audio only)

Ambassadors for Christ

Date: June 24, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Ambassadors for Christ is a podcast of the Sunday Worship Services at Laguna Presbyterian Church. This is the Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley’s final sermon at LPC before his retirement at 46 years as Senior Pastor and after 55 years of faithful ministry in the Presbyterian Church. Dr. Tankersley is preaching from 2 Cor. 5:17ff. It is the 5th Sunday after Pentecost. We are celebrating the Season of Pentecost.

The Video of the 10am hour is now online!

Transcript

Living with Confidence

Date: June 17, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet

Living with Confidence is a podcast of the Sunday Worship Services at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet is preaching from 2 Cor. 5:1-10. It is the 4th Sunday after Pentecost. We are celebrating the Season of Pentecost.

This morning we celebrate the baptism of Jaden Laurel Lang and hear an affirmation of faith from one of our graduating seniors, Garret Tyler, Class of 2018. At the 10am hour we recognized 5th graders who are being promoted, as well as our graduating seniors. We are so proud of the faith commitment of our children and students.

Transcript

Living with Confidence (Audio ony)

Scripture: 2 Cor. 4:16ff-5:1-10, NRSV

2Cor. 4:16   So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

2Cor. 5:1   For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling— 3 if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

2Cor. 5:6   So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

Letter of Christ

Date: June 10, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Letter of Christ is a podcast of the Sunday Worship and Communion Services at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching from 2 Cor. 3. It is the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost. We are celebrating the Season of Pentecost.

Transcript

Letter of Christ – 2 Cor. 3

When a Presbyterian pastor searches for a pastoral call from a church he or she must fill out a personal information form for a search committee to review.   That form includes answers to a list of questions, as well as references that may be consulted before a personal interview.  Those references are called by telephone  or asked for written letters of recommendation for a particular candidate. The PIF is very important as a beginning step of getting to know a possible candidate.

The committee may have a series of questions to ask a reference. I have given many telephone references for pastors seeking new calls.  It is a learning experience.  One learns a great deal about the church asking for references. The questions say a lot about the concerns and issues of a calling congregation. They reveal the theological convictions. The callers are always seeking to qualify a candidate by determining if the recommend-er is telling the truth or just giving a weak endorsement.

In the first century Greco-Roman world small Christian house churches regularly entertained visiting missionaries. The small fellowships expected the visiting missionaries to produce letters of reference or endorsements from other churches that had experienced the ministry and character of the missionary.  These letters were a guarantee and the beginning place of trust.

Apparently, there were some in the Corinthian church that insisted on the Apostle Paul presenting such letters for himself. This request for letters of recommendations for Paul offended the apostle.  After all, he was the founding pastor of the Corinthian fellowship.  He had spent at least a year and a half living in Corinth.  They knew him well.  From Paul’s perspective there was no need for such letters.  He was not commending himself again.  He asked them:

“Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” 2 Cor. 3:1-3

Most of the members of the Corinthian Church knew him well. Could there be any question about his character?  Was there anything in his teaching or preaching that did not ring true?  Who was he after all?  Did they no longer trust him?  Had they come to the opinion that he was an arrogant blowhard seeking to take advantage of them, to enroll them in his school, to get financial contributions from them?  It may well have been that the church had listened to other visitors who had questioned the integrity of Paul’s life and message.  Therefore, it was like he was beginning again in building a relationship with this church.

It was likely that Paul’s opponents had suggested to Corinth that Paul had distorted the gospel of Jesus Christ. He had failed to see and to present the truth of God’s salvation.  His gospel of the grace of God was not fair to the letter of the Law of Moses.  If one were to be a Christian it was necessary not only to believe in Jesus, but also to keep the law.  That is, the Gentiles men had also to receive the sign of the Old Covenant, that is, circumcision.  From that obedience all the other kosher rules about purity and eating had also to be observed.  It was Christ plus the Law of Moses.

Paul had heard this critique before. This had been the problem in the Galatian churches as well.  Jewish Christians from Jerusalem had followed his visit to Galatian and made the same argument.  This had occasioned Paul’s passionate letter to the Galatians.  Burning with hot anger, the Apostle presented a systematic presentation of justification by faith in Christ alone.  Having believed in Jesus as God’s Messiah, the fulfillment of God’s promises, was it necessary to add any obedience to faith in order to receive the gift of God’s grace?   Absolutely not!

To add legal obedience by keeping the law was to seek God’s love on one’s own terms.   Already God had done for humanity what we could not do for ourselves.  In Christ God had acted to reconcile the world to Himself and us to each other.  Nothing could be added to faith, hope, and love.

But not only that! The Galatian and Corinthian Christians had believed in God’s promises revealed in Jesus and the Holy Spirit was given to them as they were baptized into Christ.  The Spirit of God was a gift received through faith.  The Spirit of Jesus was came into the hearts of the believers and they were set free from bondage to the Law of Moses.  This was salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus and  in receiving the promised Holy Spirit.

Therefore, through faith the believers in Corinth had entered the New Covenant. This was the Covenant promised by the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31.  He said the day would come in which God would act to remove the human heart of stone and replace place it with a heart of flesh upon which the Lord would write and empower the obedience of love through the Holy Spirit.

From that moment on the Christian life was to be lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit would grow the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and self-control.  No legal obedience to the Law of Moses was possible.  The Law convicted us of sin and drove us to the mercy of God to be received as a gift from the heart of God.

The Corinthians had experienced the grace of God’s love and stood in right relationship with God, not on the basis of legal obedience, but on the basis of God’s gift and empowerment through the Spirit. To suggest anything else was to doom any who tried to add anything to faith in Christ as necessary to enter the New Covenant.  To add circumcision and kosher habits to faith  was to fall into slavery to a law which no one had ever obeyed.

Paul said it so clearly to Galatia:

“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. The only thing that matters is faith working through love. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Live by the Spirit.” Galatians 5

This was the good news that Paul the Apostle brought to Corinth. It had been believed.  The Holy Spirit had been received through faith and the new life in the Spirit had begun.  In Corinth grace was turning into gratitude.  Nothing could be added to Christ’s grace!

The Apostle, in the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit had become a letter writer. He had written the New Covenant of liberty upon the hearts of the believers.  He had written not with ink and paper, but with the Spirit of the living God.  The tablet or the paper as we would say, was not made of stone, but of the fleshly heart of the believer.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.   And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” 2 Cor. 3:17-18

Paul was a minister of the new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Cor. 3:4-6

“You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God.” 2 Cor. 3:2-3

Like the Apostle Paul I have been seeking to write a letter in the heart of Laguna Beach. It is the letter of the new covenant, sealed in the blood of Christ and in the life giving, love inspiring Spirit of God.

This is what makes the message good news and power. I did not come to Laguna Beach to set you right by some fancy argument requiring legal obedience.  I did not come to Laguna Beach to build a moral community in which people took pride in their works and were self-justified.  I brought the gospel of liberty to this city and to this church.

What has borne fruit in Laguna Beach is an act of God and not the acts of any human, including me. My call was to preach what I had received:  “grace! mercy! Love, new life in the Spirit, transformation by the power of God! Freedom in the Spirit!  Liberty to love and to work for the healing of the world!

Human nature always wants to add something to grace for the sake of justification. But nothing can be added to Christ’s love.

As C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

“It is God who daily pretends that we are his perfect children.  He knows that we remain sinners saved by grace apart from works.  It is true that we get up every day and dress up in Christ’s righteousness to pretend that we are Christ.  We know that our pretending is rooted in God’s pretending.  But over a life time the Holy Spirit transforms us until the day when we are fully with God in his kingdom and have become like him who saved us, Little Christ’s.”

This was the truth of the gospel of God’s salvation that Paul wrote into the Greco-Roman world. It made him one of the most important persons who ever lived, N.T. Wright said in his new biography of Paul.

In the 16th century it was the Protestant Reformers who rediscovered the gospel of God’s grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone, Christ alone.  When this gospel of salvation was preached in the power of the Holy Spirit Europe was transformed.  Wherever this gospel has been proclaimed in a holistic sense, persons and cultures have been transformed and the kingdom of God has grown even in the midst of evil and suffering.

I want to identify with Paul. I have been and I want to be a writer.  I have not published a literal book, but I have gathered a lot of material.  I want to get some of it down on paper.  But in the deeper sense, the letter I have been writing is already written into your hearts.  I wrote it over 46 years in building on other peoples work, but I wrote it in total dependence on the Holy Spirit to write the good news into your hearts.  The Spirit has done that through this very fragile human person.

Last Monday evening was so filled with joy and love as we celebrated our 46 years of service together.  The people from the restaurant shared their commentary on us with some of us.  They remarked that they serve many groups and even churches, but we had impressed them so much by our spirit, our joy, our love, and our thanksgivings.

What happened? They had read the letter written by the Spirit of God into the heart of LPC.  This Spirit is contagious.  I once read a book entitled, The Contagious Congregation. It was about the church as God intended it to be, aglow with the Spirit, manifesting the fruit of the Spirit, saints alive in community for the sake of the world, not trying to enslave the world with new legalisms or morality, but seeking to set the world free to live into God’s justice, righteousness, joy, and love.

We have not labored together in vain. We have not achieved perfection. We are each sinners saved by grace but on the way of the new covenant.  Once again we are invited to the Table of Grace and to the work of the Spirit.  Come to him and be built up in him by his Word and Spirit.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

The Aroma of Christ

Date: June 3, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

The Aroma of Christ is a podcast of the Sunday Worship Services at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching from 2 Cor. 2. It is the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost. We are celebrating the Season of Pentecost.

This morning we are joined by artist, vocalist, Diane “Dr. Dee” White-Clayton. Her solo is entitled, “Give Me Jesus” an African-American Spiritual (at 13:30 on this recording). She joins the choir in singing, “Sanctus” from Gospel Mass by Robert Ray. Jesse Hughes is playing bass, Thor Fay is playing drums, and Sookyung Bang is playing piano. Choir is conducted by Linda White. Chancel Bells are playing, “He Leadeth Me”.

Transcript

THE AROMA OF CHRIST, 2 Corinthians 2:12-17

Thursday evening the Presbytery of Los Ranchos approved my request to be “Honorably Retired”. There was a sense of surprise and an audible gasp in the body when the motion was presented. Some jokingly said “no”, and the motion was unanimously passed. I sat there remembering that for all these years I have watched pastors being honorably retired stand before the Presbytery and receive their clay chalices.

On one retirement occasion in front of the whole Presbytery the pastor dropped the clay vessel and it shattered all over the sanctuary chancel floor. To say the least it was an embarrassing moment. Thank God the moderator of the Presbytery promised that a new one would be made and presented to the retiring pastor.

I confess I have always dreaded the moment in front of the Presbytery when my name would be called and I would receive the chalice. That will happen, I think, in September. I have spoken on behalf of several retiring pastors and it has been an honor to do so, but still I dreaded my moment in the limelight.

For 46 years I have been a fixture in the Presbytery and a part of the leadership team. Barbara Murphy, formerly on the staff of Presbytery, who retired several years ago, could not believe I was still working. So I have been in ministry with gratitude in my heart for the gift of being a member of a vital Presbytery and a pastor of Laguna Presbyterian Church.

However, I do not take the word “honorable” for granted. We have seen dishonorable behavior and speech at every level of leadership in our world. In the lives of politicians, business leaders, sports personalities, educators, and religious leaders we have seen about every form of dishonorable speech and behavior.

Supposedly, the leadership professions have ethical standards, but in the last few decades it has seemed that simple ethical standards like, verifying facts, telling the truth, living honestly, and accepting accountability for one’s behaviors have not been embraced or accepted by the authorities unless it was publicly exposed, and then we have often heard denial upon denial, excuses upon excuses, and the spinning of interpretations of facts in order to cover up what should never have happened in the first place.

Honorably Retired had always seemed to me to be a category designated by our Church’s Constitution to signify a person who had simply chosen to retire from active labors in ministry. Before being dishonorably retired pastors have often renounced the jurisdiction of the church and refused to submit to the church’s discipline. Now I am filled with thanksgiving that at the end of June I will have received the title of Honorably Retired.

I was ordained on August 18, 1963. If my calculation is correct that means 55 years. 55 years in which I could have done dishonorable things. God forbid! I have prayed that I might finish well and without bringing discredit to the name of Jesus and his church.

Nevertheless, I am aware that Jesus’ public ministry was only about 3 years. Given more time he might have been tempted in overwhelming ways. The Apostle Paul ministered around 30 to 40 years. Even these great leaders were accused as unworthy of the designation of “honorable”. In fact, Jesus and his apostles were always in trouble with the “principalities and powers” of the world. Both died as criminals and enemies of the Roman Empire, of Greek culture, and of true Greco-Roman and Jewish religion. Their faithfulness to the will of God led them into conflict with the opponents of the kingdom of God. But to the end they were obedient to the will of God, as they understood it.

I am grateful that the church I have served for all these years regards my life and ministry as worthy of the word “honorable”. But sometimes I wonder.
In my last three sermons this June I want to review some of the metaphors the Apostle Paul used to interpret his life and ministry in his correspondence with the church in Corinth, Greece.

THE AROMA OF CHRIST
The Apostle wrote to the Christians of Corinth, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor. 2:14-16).

What an interesting way to interpret one’s life and ministry! An aroma! A fragrance! I confess that when I walk through the cosmetic section of shopping mall stores that I enjoy the smell. Almost always the fragrances are powerful. I am tempted to breathe deeply until my allergies cause my eyes to water and my nose to sneeze. Then I remember my hay fever and move to another part of the store.

A couple of years ago my wife discovered she really liked the cologne that one of my pastor friends was wearing. She bought me some for my birthday. When I put it on it drove me crazy. My eyes watered; I began to sneeze and wheeze. The fragrance was too much when on my body.

I have been amazed by the chosen names of women’s perfumes: “Alien; Eternity; Lolita; Pink Sugar; Euphoria; Obsession; Emotion; Enchanted; Envy; You Are Divine; Young Forever; Sex in the City Fantasy; Tabu.”

The Apostle Paul wrote that he was “the Aroma of Christ”. What did he mean? I think he meant that the personality of the resurrected Christ had come upon him so powerfully through the Holy Spirit that the grace of God had become the fragrance of his life.

In his letter to Timothy he confessed that in his before Christ life he had been a “Blasphemer, a Persecutor, and a man of Violence.” But beginning with his experience with the resurrected Jesus Christ upon the Road to Damascus, the grace of God had overflowed to him. This was the grace and love of God that saw him, understood him, accepted him, forgave him, and claimed his life and gifts in order to bless the Gentile world.

“I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:12-17).

Have you ever come to know another grace filled life? There is something very winsome about the personality and character of a grace centered Christ filled life. It is a life that radiates what it has received as a gift. It is a life that shows hospitality, faithfulness, encouragement, acceptance, understanding, affirming words, smiles, and hope. It is a life that challenges us to be our best, to live into our potential, to grow the fruits of the Spirit, and to manifest the gifts of the Spirit. It is a life in which the love of God dwells, a life that is centered in the truth that became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth.

This was the life that the Apostle Paul brought with him into the seaport city of Corinth around 50 A.D. Some saw, heard, and received this grace and moved toward life. Others saw, heard, and rejected this grace and moved toward death. This was a grace that claimed the totality of one’s life. This was not cheap grace, but the costly grace of God that worked transformation in the believers life.

Not a Peddler of God’s Word.
In the Greco-Roman world there were teachers who gathered disciples who followed them and who supported the teacher. Often peddlers were merchants selling a product and then moving on and leaving the buyer with something of limited value or false value.

When the Apostle Paul came to Corinth he carried in his personhood, his speech, and his behaviors the enduring qualities of the life of God revealed in Jesus. He was not a peddler of a philosophy or teaching. He was not seeking to make a living on the backs of the Corinthians. He talked the talk and walked the walk.

He spoke as a person of sincerity.
Often Paul’s antagonists accused him as lacking in integrity, of being self-centered, dishonest, lacking in sincerity. He wrote in 2 Cor. 1: “This is our boast, the testimony of our conscience; we have behaved in the world with frankness and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God—and all the more toward you. For we write you nothing other than what you can read and also understand; I hope you will understand until the end.”

Paul was no sophist speaking cleverly, but shading the truth for the sake of selling a product. He was no false prophet, but one whose logic made rational sense and which corresponded with the truth of God and life experience.

I remember walking into a friends house who was about to purchase a set of books from a traveling salesperson who had been trained to make every argument, address any objection, and answer any question. I sat down with the family. They were about to sign on the doted line when I began to raise questions, which the salesperson, a young man, could not answer. Gradually, my questions and observations led my friends not to complete the purchase. The salesperson became angry. He asked if he could use their telephone. We heard him call his controller and to ask why the sales approach had not worked. He wanted an answer. At last, he stormed out the front door and my friends thanked me.

We live in a culture in which organizations, businesses, religions, and world views are constantly seeking to sell us something, whether or not we need it. This is what advertising is about. Sophisticated strategies and arguments are developed in order to shape our thinking, shade the truth, and sell us a product or an ideology. By the time we are sophomores we think we know everything only to discover that there is more to be revealed or to learn about the scheming of the winds of doctrines that float around the spiritual marketplaces of our lives. Indeed, some of our television preachers are selling us half-truths that will deceive and will fleece the flock.

Paul’s listeners in Corinth were suspicious of him. They complained that his promises were unreliable. He spoke out of both sides of his mouth. He was not an impressive presence. He could say “Yes” and “No” at the same time. He assured his readers that God is faithful and trustworthy. “In Christ every one of God’s promises is ‘Yes’.” 2 Cor. 1:15-22

Therefore, Paul spoke as a person of sincerity.

Also, he spoke as a person sent from God.
Paul was not just representing himself. Remember the movie, The Apostle? Robert Duvall, a radio evangelist and pastor, killed his youth pastor, a young man, who was having an affair with his wife. He beat him to death in Texas, retreated to Louisiana, and began again. He acted to restore himself to ministry by baptizing himself in the river and starting anew. He was resending himself.

Not the Apostle Paul! He had been encountered by the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus and the direction of his life changed forever. He became a person called and sent by God on a mission.

He had not joined a new profession in order to make a living. No! The Word and the Spirit of God, together with the encouragement of the disciples brought an awareness that he was being called to suffer for Christ as a person sent on a mission to herald the good news of God’s love for the world. The person and Word of Christ claimed his life. The new pursuit of his life was to know Jesus Christ, the power of his resurrection life and the fellowship of his suffering.

This was not the way of self- aggrandizement, but the way of self-sacrificing love for those who had never heard the good news of the gospel. Therefore, in great weakness and trembling he had accepted this call to be an apostle to the Gentiles and to plant believing communities in every city his visited.

He was a person who spoke the word with sincerity and a person who was sent by God on a mission. And who had stood in the presence of God. “For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence” (2 Cor. 2:17).

Jeremiah the O.T. prophet critiqued the false prophets of Israel with this accusation: “they had not stood in the presence of the Holy God to receive a word from God.” Rather, they spoke only what pleased the king and his court. It was always blessed assurance and never a call to repentance and integrity of leadership. He warned that by trusting in the Temple and the priests and by neglecting the social justice and righteousness of God’s kingdom that God’s judgment was coming upon the nation. Of course, Jeremiah incurred the wrath of the power elite of his nation. They threw him into prison where Jeremiah suffered for telling and living the truth.

So it was with Paul. He had stood in the presence of Jesus Christ. He knew what he was to proclaim and he did not compromise the truth of God’s reign.

I confess that I have prayed that my life and ministry might be filled with the fragrance, the aroma of Christ. I have been aware that some would experience me and my word as a violation of their political and economic world views. The word of God would cut across the grain of felt convictions about truth and reality.

Last week I watched portions of CNN’s program, “1968”. After living through that year my Thanksgiving sermon at La Canada Presbyterian Church was “How Can We Give Thanks in a Year Like This?” I hated standing at the door that Sunday morning to receive both praise and anger. Some thought I had spoken the truth in love. Others suggested that I was either a communist or a member of the John Birch Society. The deeply felt convictions of people drove me to my knees in prayer asking the Lord to give to me the inner validation of his Spirit and the courage to speak the Word as I had heard it. It would have been so much easier to totally avoid what was on everyone’s heart that year, but I could not. Over 55 years I have had my motives weighed in the balance over and over again. Out of all the years I have prayed that my life and words might truly express the reality of knowing Christ and become the fragrance of Christ whatever the cost to me. Thank you for welcoming and listening to me all these years.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

A Shared Inheritance

Date: May 27, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Kathy Sizer

A Shared Inheritance is a podcast of the Sunday Worship Services at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Kathy Sizer is preaching from Romans 8:12-17. It is Trinity Sunday.

Transcript

A Shared Inheritance (Audio only)

Sermon Text: Romans 8:12-17

12 So then, brothers and sisters,[l] we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba![m]Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness[n] with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

The Paschal Mystery

Date: May 20, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

The Paschal Mystery is a podcast of the Sunday Worship Services at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on John 12:23-26; 15:26-27; 16:4-15. It is Pentecost Sunday!

Transcript

The Paschal Mystery

Sermon Text: John 12:23-26; 15:26-27; 16:4-15

I have an enlarged picture hanging on my home office wall that was presented to Kay and I on my 25th anniversary as your pastor.  It received a lot of laughs when presented by Byron and Donna Beam.  It was a posed picture taken in the high sierras many years ago.  We decided to pose the picture with my hairy legs over a boulder with Kay sitting on top of me with book in hand. It appears as if my legs are her legs.

The book she carried into the mountains with the Beams, and the Maxwell’s, had become her favorite text that she used to lead a grief class.  Some of you were in her class.  The book was written by Kenneth Mitchell and Herbert Anderson and was entitled, All Our Losses, All Our Griefs.

We were at a stage of beginning to contemplate the losses and griefs of our lives. We were getting in touch with our personal mortality and the various seasons of our lives. It was a productive time of spiritual growth. It was during that time that I became aware that we all experience many losses and that they are necessary loses which must be grieved in order for us to be free to live into the future.

I was only beginning to be aware that we all grieve the loss of our youth, of our wholeness, of our dreams, of our honeymoon’s, of our ideas of God and Church, and that these losses must be mourned. Looking at the picture that appeared as if my legs were her legs would have been good reason to mourn.  A woman’s beautiful smile and upper body but with a man’s hairy legs was a sight to behold. There she was holding her open book. That juxtaposition would cause any one to mourn the loss of wholeness.

In what has become a classic book on Christian spirituality by Ronald Rolheiser entitled, “The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality.” Rolheiser has a chapter named “A Spirituality of the Paschal Mystery” (Rolheiser, 199:141ff). Two or three members of our church have given me copies of the book over the years. I have found it to be a source of creative understanding of the Christian journey of discipleship. Last week my spiritual director encouraged me to read again the chapter on the Paschal Mystery. Suddenly, I rediscovered a paradigm for my thinking about the various seasons of my life, of the deaths and new beginnings through which I have moved and am still moving.

Rolheiser writes:

“Christian spirituality does not apologize for the fact that, within it, the most central of all mysteries is the paschal one, the mystery of suffering, death, and transformation. In Christian spirituality, Christ is central and, central to Christ, is his death and rising to new life so as to send us a new Spirit” (Rolheiser, 1999:142).

The pattern of the Paschal Mystery is seen in the seasons of the life of Christ. The pattern begins with:

Good Friday…”the loss of life-real death”

Easter Sunday…”the reception of new life”

The Forty Days…”a time of readjustment to the new and for grieving the old”

Ascension…”letting go of the old and letting it bless you, the refusal to cling”

Pentecost…”the reception of new spirit for the new life that one is already living” or to put it in colloquial language and to recast the model:”

“Name your deaths”

“Claim your births”

“Grieve what you have lost and adjust to the new reality”

“Do not cling to the old, let it ascend and give you it’s blessing”

“Accept the spirit of the life that you are in fact living”.

“This is something we must undergo daily, in every aspect of our lives. Christ spoke of many deaths, of daily deaths, and of many rising and various pentecosts.  The paschal mystery is the secret to life.  Ultimately our happiness depends upon properly undergoing it.” (Rolheiser 1999:148)

Let me share how some of this has worked out in my life:

As a young man at the age of 20 I chose to walk through an open door into my future. At the time I remember driving my car home at the end of my second year at Texas Texas.  I said to myself that I would not be coming back for my junior year.  It was not that I did not like the university, but I felt there was a new beginning already happening in my life, but it required me to walk into the future.

My parents delivered me to Westmont College in Santa Barbara not really understanding what was happening.   Sometime in that fall in Santa Barbara I called home to Texas to speak with mom and dad just to check in.  During the telephone conversation I was overwhelmed with emotion.  I began to weep.  I felt so alone.  I was realizing I was entering my adult years.  I was separating and individuating.    I was really hurting and grieving the loss of home and security that I had taken for granted in Texas.  It was not that I wanted to go home.  It was simply that I was beginning to grieve the loss of my childhood world.  Without understanding it I somehow accepted that I dare not cling to the past.  Courage was required to keep on moving and growing even though it was painful.  What I was reaching out for was a new spirituality for that season of my life.  Yes, a continuing Pentecost of the Spirit that would empower and sustain my journey.

I remembered the Abraham story of being called from the land of his birth, the security of his family, to go into a future with only the promise of God to be with him. Haltingly, he trusted God and walked into a future with the promise that through him the nations of the earth would be blessed.

My own Holy Longing drove me to seek the security of love along the way.

I foolishly entered a young marriage that ended in disaster and relational death.   In those years I confronted a major death of my dreams, relational security, and love.  I thought that my 8 years of preparation for ministry had been wasted and that the dreams of being a minister were over.  I tried to hang on to previous securities, but that did not work.  My Jewish psychologist told me that I would cry until there were no more tears, but that one day I would see clearly, respect my wounds, and build a new life.  In a series of unexpected resurrections I let go and chose a new life.   What I received was new Spirit, a new spirituality that informed and inspired my choosing life, new relationships, forgiveness, and steadfast devotion to the Lord who had called me into his purpose and plan for me.

One evening when I was feeling terribly alone in my pain I took a drive down to the café where I often ate dinner alone. As I walked toward the café my mom and dad drove up in great concern for me.  I welcomed them, but I knew there was no going back.  I had no guarantee of a future, but already the plants of hope were springing up from the soil of suffering. I was in a liminal space and  God’s Pentecost Spirit was doing something new in me.

Two years later I worried that I would never trust enough to commit to a new marriage.  When I met Kay on a blind date I panicked.  We thrashed around for many months.  Already I was on the staff of La Canada Presbyterian Church.  A whole new life was opening up.  But could I be free of the wreckage of my past.  One more divorce and I knew I would be finished.   I was really afraid.  Somehow through naming my deaths, grieving my losses, and letting go of the past, the Lord allowed me to be raised to trust and to love.   Our marriage has been a paschal mystery of deaths and births of love.  We learned to grieve together, to lift up our lives and to accept a new spirituality for the new seasons of our life.

When I received the call to pastor LPC it was like a death and resurrection.  I had wondered if there would ever be another call or if my life was a dead end.  But God’s Spirit issued a new call that required dying to the old and coming alive to the new.  On the day of our departing celebration in La Canada Gary Demarest and I stood holding each other weeping. I was clinging to my brother whom I was voluntarily leaving. I knew that like Mary Magdalene on Easter Sunday morning that I could not cling to the joy and security of that fellowship in ministry. I was leaving the nest anew.

We arrived in Laguna Beach with the future of the church and our future up for grabs.  There were anxieties and fears. There was a letting go of the past comfort level and security in order to walk into the new.  I discovered that I needed a new spirituality to sustain my life as a father and as the pastor of a church with growing potential.  There was no going back, but always a deep appreciation for the gift of life, love, and a future.

There have been over 40 years of waiting and watching, of dying and rising, of letting go and letting God. Yes, 40 years of surrender and gradually living into a deeper relationship with the Lord and his people. We have seen the resurrection of LPC, of restoring and faithfully seeking to do mission. 46 years ago we could never have expected to see a restored congregation, a vital program, a strong staff, a rebuilding of the house of God, the mission outreach, and  people whom I have loved and who have been the foundation of my life in community.

It has taken a spirituality of patience and of waiting, of teaching, preaching, serving, and of leading a people in trusting and stretching.

And then came the presbytery discerning process in which congregations sought to leave the PCUSA. 10 congregations in our presbytery were dismissed with their property.  The presbytery was divided.  I pleaded in Town Hall meetings in most of the 10 churches for them to remain and to trust God that we could be one church and yet maintain the identities of our local congregations.  It was a time of risk.  The result was that the Presbyterian Church USA has lived through Good Friday, suffered, been broken and divided, and in the process it has had to die to the dream of what our ancestors thought we could become together.

Now something new is being birthed. We have named our death, accepted our losses, mourned our separated brothers and sisters, and are just now allowing our shattered dreams and disappointments to ascend to heaven, to learn from the past, but now also to ask for and to see a new Pentecost of the Spirit among the remaining churches. We have experienced and continue to anticipate the resurrection of a new church, disciplined by its failures, but alive and united as never before in God’s call to love one another   and to build together the kingdom of God.

Over the last months I have realized that my most difficult death was approaching. I knew that this year was a good time for the church and for me to retire.  I did not realize fully how difficult it would be for me.  It meant my dying to a church family that I have loved for the sake of leaving home again and entering into a new future that only God can give.

With Kay having the stroke last fall, with my spiritual struggling with the possibility of losing my wife of 50 years I was launched into a painful grief. My spiritual director said I was in a “Perfect Storm.”

In this sermon and in many other ways I have been naming my deaths, longing for new life, mourning the loss of my life’s work, seeking to adjust to the new reality, slowly letting go and learning, and praying for Easter and Pentecost to arrive.

Once again, I feel as vulnerable and stretched with fear as I did on August 18, 1963, when I was ordained to the gospel ministry by the Presbytery of Los Angeles. A couple of Saturdays ago I saw a small Book of Worship on my bookshelf in my church office. I took it from the bookshelf and read the words penned on the inside opened page written by the first Senior Pastor with whom I served. All I could do was grieve and cry. Strange that there was still grieving, mourning, memories, joys, profound losses, failures and successes! Maybe the small book represented the journey of the American Presbyterian family over more than 200 years in this new world. Along the way, our spiritual ancestors died to the old and came alive to the new.  They walked into the unknown trusting the God of the Covenant.

Did you watch the Royal Wedding from London yesterday? Our good Episcopalian Bishop took the world to church in his sermon. He preached the gospel of the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Hearts and Heads were rolling down the aisles of the chapel of Windsor Castle.  He spoke of the fire of God’s love as the next great revolution in the advance of civilization.  He quoted the Jesuit  who wrote that human civilization developed because humanity discovered fire.  It changed the world.  So it will be anew when humanity discovers the fire of God’s love blowing through the heart of those touched and transformed. So may it be!

Here I am Lord. Still on the journey of discipleship, living the Paschal Mystery that you lived, praying for faith, hope, and love in this new season of my life and of our life.

And of course you are with me in this. This is a season of transition in which the membership of LPC will have to name their death, claim their births, grieve their loses and adjust to the new reality of loving a new pastor and of setting a new vision toward which to move. You will be required to let go of me, to not cling to the past, and to embrace a new, deepened spirituality, a new Pentecost of the Holy Spirit adequate for new challenges.

This will happen in your life and mine.

The Lord has a future and a hope for us all. The good news is that the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, is with us and in us.  This Spirit is the Advocate, the one who comes along beside us. This Spirit dwells within us. The Spirit brings illumination to the Word of God.  This is the Spirit of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. He is the heart of God the Father and the creator of heaven and earth. He promises to guide us into the fullness of truth, to cause us to remember all that Jesus said and did. He is our Comforter in all our loses. He is the Helper and Counselor who acts on our behalf and who promises to lead us into God’s future. He is the Good Shepherd who protects, teaches, imparts wisdom, and will lead us into the fullness of eternal life.

In all of this we rejoice. His Spirit is putting to death the sin and unbelief that are in us.  His Spirit will at last bless all humanity and all of reality will be transformed into the kingdom of light and love.

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Jesus' Prayer for Us

Date: May 13, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Jesus’ Prayer for Us is a podcast of the Sunday Worship Services at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on John 17. It is the 7th Sunday of Easter and we are celebrating The Great 50 Days, and the Ascension of Our Lord. A Happy Mother’s Day to all!

Transcript

Jesus’ Prayer for Us  – Sermon Text: John 17:6-26

A couple of years after I stood for Moderator of the G.A. of the PCUSA I was invited to be a mentor in a program established by the Lilly Foundation called THE COMPANY OF NEW PASTORS. The Lilly Foundation funded the program within our denomination in response to a pastoral crisis the national church was facing.

Statistics revealed that young men and women graduating from our theological seminaries and being ordained as pastors around the nation were only lasting in ministry around 5 years. After 4 years at the university and 3 to 4 more years in seminary, and having jumped threw all the huddles required by presbyteries in preparation for a call to ministry, our candidates came out of the ivy covered halls of our seminaries to face challenges for which they were not prepared.

Therefore, the PCUSA with the support of the Lilly Foundation, developed Company of New Pastors that would place the new graduates under the direction of seasoned pastors who had survived their early years in pastoral ministry, weathered the testing of the local church, and demonstrated gifts to help beginning seminary graduates persevere and flourish in the life of the church.

I asked Candie Blankman to be my co-mentor so that we would have both a man and woman working with groups of young men and women fresh out of seminary in their pursuit of pastoral calls, but especially in the process of what it meant to continue the work of spiritual transformation in their lives. Candie and I worked with two different groups over nearly ten years.

Once or twice a year we were to meet in study, worship, and fellowship. It was a joyful time and in some ways a stressful and painful time of helping our younger brothers and sisters spiritually mature as we also were in process of dealing with all the complexities of our own lives.  We established deep friendships, prayer partners, fun times of being together going out to eat, laughing, and simply sharing what it means to be authentic persons who belong to Christ, to one another and to the larger church.

The study curriculum over 5 years revolved around our Reformed Worship liturgy that we follow each Sunday with Call to Worship, Praise in Song, Prayers of Confession, Scripture readings, Preaching, Affirmations of Faith; the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Table, Self-Offering, and launching into mission in the world. We shared our life experiences. We read many books; there were daily scripture readings and times of prayer; there was the writing of papers, book reports, and each member teaching the larger group around the themes we were studying in the context of church life.  In between our yearly times together there were telephone check-ins, letters, connecting at G.A.s, and presbytery meetings.  Our goal was to facilitate the process of flourishing for a lifetime of good ministry in the church.

I look back on those ten years and I realize we were doing what Jesus had done over a three year period with his disciples. They had been living closely together.  They had begun a ministry that would impact the world.  Jesus was allowing the 12 to see, to hear, to learn, to be inspired, and to deal with the joys and sorrows of life with him.  This was the beginning of the New Israel, the Church of Jesus Christ, and the work of spiritual transformation that would bring healing, wholeness, and liberation to the world.

In the Upper Room Jesus brought the training time to its conclusion by allowing his disciples to listen to his prayer for them and for all those who would believe in him through him. John 17 is another version of the Lord’s Prayer that the church has prayed over two thousand years.  It is so rich in theological/spiritual depth.  We could spend many Sundays unpacking its great themes.  But this morning I want to lift up three petitions of Jesus’ prayer for us that I believe are at the heart of the prayer.

First, Jesus prayed that God the Father would protect his disciples from the evil one.

“While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost.” John 17:12-16

Jesus knew that the 12 needed to be protected. They were in the world, yet they were not of the world.  They belonged to the Father and the Father had given them to Jesus.  He understood their weaknesses and strengths.  In many ways they had followed Jesus out of self-interest and anticipation of a better future.

I remember my early aspirations and ambitions in following Jesus. Entering the service of the church meant taking on the identity of a major religious institution and the pathway of upward mobility.   I loved the Southern Baptist evangelists with their pink sport coats and white buck shoes.  Their rallies were entertaining and life giving.  It was an invitation to take the glory road to recognition and cultural power.

From preaching on the streets of my hometown I went to Westmont College where I was invited to be the preacher on the Westmont Gospel team that would travel to many parts of California the following summer. I remember being in Bakersfield for a Sunday evening rally in a church.  After our singing and preaching a teenage girl came up to me at the reception and asked me to autograph her Bible.  I was thrilled.   Saturday night Youth for Christ rallies were big productions with many decisions for Christ. This was indeed the glory road.

Around the Table in the Upper Room in Jerusalem as Jesus instituted the New Covenant in the broken bread and cup of wine that symbolized the broken body and shed blood of Christ, Luke’s Gospel tells us that the disciples were seated at table and were arguing among themselves as to which of them was the most important and who would sit at Jesus’ left and right when he came into his kingdom.

Even at that late hour, Jesus confronted his disciples with the truth that “Satan had demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Lk. 22:31-34

Jesus understood that self-centeredness, pride, and vaulting ambition had been the cause of Satan’s fall.   Jesus had already had to deal with the evil one in his own struggle with his identity and destiny.  Satan had played upon his desire to be a successful Messiah and to be recognized by the world.  His own experience had given him compassion for his disciple’s vulnerabilities.

Therefore, the content of his prayer in John 17 lifted up the challenge of unity among his disciples. Satan would seek to divide them, to destroy their unity, to provoke them against each other, to put each other down, to seek to get ahead and to establish their own positions of honor and prestige in the community of disciples. Yes, even to spiritualize their positions of power over one another.  They were not able to hear or to see that Jesus had chosen the way of downward mobility and servanthood in order to shape and form his disciples.

Nothing destroys or mocks the body of Christ in the world like disharmony, discord, unconfessed sin, and schism within the church.

Things have not changed much. The history of the church is riddled with division, schism, pride, ambition, and the pursuit of upward mobility.  Most often Satan’s divisive influence has revolved around doctrinal purity and practice.  Often the evil one has used conflicts and tribal walls of polarization to overwhelm and to disembowel the fellowship of the church.

All one needs do is read some church history. Around 1000 AD the church divided between east and west. It was either Constantinople or Rome. In the 16th century the Protestant Reformation happened.  It led to the division between Protestants and Catholics. Europe was divided. I remember being in Geneva, Switzerland, when Pope Paul VI made his visit.  He was coming to Protestant territory, the parish that John Calvin pastored and out of which the Reformed church grew.   The Pope’s visit was historic.   The descendants of Calvin and Luther still dialogue with Rome and the Vatican, but the separation has led to religious wars and to Protestant martyrs.  I am glad I am a Protester in the lineage of Calvin, but these days I am learning a great deal from the Roman Catholic spiritual formation leadership of the Jesuit Order.

In the last 5 years the PCUSA has demonstrated that the toxic power of schism is working its way among us. Many have argued that this is the process by which the church is reformed.  Yet, the surrounding world watches the church in its multiple expressions and wonders why we cannot be reformed and still stay in fellowship and mission.  So Jesus prayed that his disciples might be one even as he and the Father were one.  He understood that the evil one had always stirred up division and separated the followers of Jesus.

Secondly, Jesus prayed that the Father would sanctify his disciples in the truth. “Your word is truth.”

Tragically, it has been the truth of God’s word that has often separated us. Different interpretations of Scripture have led to conflict and division.   Jesus later said to Pilate that he had come to bear witness to the truth.  Pilate, the Roman governor asked him, “what is truth?” For Pilate the power of the Roman legions enforced Roman truth.  The holders of political, economic, and religious power dictated the answer to the question of truth.

I was invited to participate in the Jewish/Christian conversations or dialogues for the purpose of helping to write a new paper to present to the G.A. I will never forget the session we had at Princeton Seminary in N.J.  The subject was truth.  First we shared in small groups of Jews and Presbyterians our understanding of truth.   Then the small group reported to the larger group.  I was stunned when Rabbi after Rabbi had no answer about truth.  Truth was whatever a person or group decided it was.

When Joe Small, the head of our Louisville office of theology and worship shared I was so thankful for him. He said that one of the six chief ends of our church recorded in the Constitution is the “preservation of the truth”. But what is truth in our divided Presbyterian family.   He argued that truth is personal and not just a conceptual notion or principle discovered by reason.  Rather, Jesus Christ was the incarnation of grace and truth.  He was the “way, the truth, and the life”.

What he meant was that the disciples of Jesus had received the revelation of the Word of God, the written and proclaimed Word of truth that was in-fleshed in Jesus of Nazareth.  To come to know him was to know the personal truth of God’s reign over creation and history.

“Your word is truth”. When I first became a follower of Jesus in my sophomore year at the university, I was caught up in the Bible memory program of the Navigators.  They gave us small packets of cards with Bible verses to memorize.  It was like vocabulary words of a new language.  The first  verse I memorized was Psalm 119:9,11.  “How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to your word.  I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.”

I quickly discovered that the world, the flesh, and the devil were alive at the university, but also in my own heart. I needed the truth of God’s word to guide and protect me from the temptations of the world.  It caused me all kinds of inner conflicts as the evil one sought to seduce me to the ways of moral relativity.  Who wanted a moral compass where money, sex, and power ruled the day?   But I was desiring to seek the Lord and to not stray from his commandments.  The memorization of God’s word of truth saved me from making greater mistakes than I did.

If I were to live a holy, sanctified life I was totally dependent on the power of God’s truth revealed in his word and Spirit. So Jesus prayed that his disciples might come to desire to build their lives on the word and Spirit of Christ.

But then the disciples heard Jesus pray that they might be filled with the life giving love of the Word and Spirit of God.

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Jn 17:25-26

When our last CNP group gathered with all the national groups to celebrate our five years together we travelled to the retreat center south of San Francisco. The last afternoon we took the Bart train into the city.  Those young pastors chased me all over the city.  We had coffee at Fisherman’s Warf.  We climbed the hill to Grace Cathedral and walked into a yoga class in the nave of that awe-inspiring church.  Strings of many colors were hanging from the ceiling making clouds of many mixed patterns.  The experience called us to the beauty and mystery of worship in the house of God.  We moved up and down the hills of SF  as the group posed Abby Road Beatle type pictures.   We had a great Chinese dinner.

It was our last time together. We had grown to love one another and to celebrate being one in Christ.  We commissioned them and launched them into the churches they were already serving.  We now follow them on Facebook, post our pictures, and remember the blessing of being called into the ministry of Jesus Christ.  What joy!  How many times have we repeated this colorful pattern at LPC?

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Living Into Joy

Date: May 6, 2018 Author: Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley

Living Into Joy is a podcast of the Sunday Worship Services at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching on John 15:1-17. It is the 6th Sunday of Easter and we are celebrating The Great 50 Days.

This morning the Nominating Committee responsible for nominating Ruling Elders, Deacons, Carson Trust, and LPC Foundation was elected by the congregation. The business was conducted at the beginning of the 10am hour and is included in this podcast.

Transcript

LIVING INTO JOY 

Sermon Text: John 15:1-17

As I read Jesus’ story in the Gospels of the N.T. I am drawn to him and I want what he had in his life. He was a real human being.  He came into this world by means of a human birth through his mother Mary.  Jesus was carried into the safety of Egypt in order to escape his enemies.  He grew up in Roman occupied Galilee as a carpenter’s son in training to follow in Joseph’s footsteps.  With his family he traveled back and forth between Nazareth and Jerusalem for the high holy day celebrations. He grew up in the synagogue in Nazareth where he was well known by his friends and neighbors.  As a young man he was taught the scriptures of his people.  Luke’s Gospel said of him, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” Luke 2:40

By the age of 30 he had a growing sense of God’s calling to his unique mission. After being baptized in the Jordan River by his cousin John he returned to his hometown Nazareth synagogue to launch his mission. On the Sabbath day he read to his village friends the text from Isaiah 61. He then proclaimed to them that in his reading of the prophets words that the passage had been fulfilled.

They were stunned. He had just said that he was Israel’s Messiah, the Anointed One, to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of Jubilee, of the Lord’s favor. Luke 4

The sermon was received and appreciated, but after listening more to him, the crowd became angry and tried to kill him for his grandiosity and insensitivity to his people’s concerns. The crowd rage failed, but in that event the course of Jesus life and ministry was defined.

In the midst of great signs and miracles, in the hearing of good news, in the healing and forgiving of human brokenness and despair deep joy and troubling hostility spread before and against him.

He called disciples to himself. They followed him all the way to Jerusalem in his final journey to complete his mission. As he faced Holy Week in Jerusalem he gathered the 12 disciples in the Upper Room. There he sought to prepare them for his coming departure from them. John’s Gospel narrates in chapters 13 to 17 what Jesus did and said that evening.

He washed his disciples feet as a humble servant. He instituted the New Covenant as he broke the bread and shared the cup.  He taught them that it was necessary for him to go away, to return to his Father.  He assured them that if he went away that he would come again to them and take them to be with himself in the fullness of God’s kingdom. He promised them peace with the assurance of God’s triumph over the ruler of this world.

Jesus promised to send them the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, to be with them and in them. He grounded them in the great truth of their abiding in him for the sake of bearing the fruits of the Spirit.  He spoke to them of the new commandment that they love one another as he had loved them.  He taught them that they could only bear the fruits of love and joy if they remained in fellowship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Comforter and Helper would cause them to remember all that Jesus had said and done. The Advocate would bond them in the love and joy of the one triune God, but only if they remained in Jesus’ Word and Spirit. Apart from him they could do nothing, but with him and in him their lives would flourish.

And then he prayed for them. In John 17 he prayed that they might be one even as he and the father were one.  They would be attacked by the evil one who would seek to destroy their unity, but the disciples were to be of good cheer because Jesus had overcome the world and God’s victory was assured. They would not understand until later, but they would come to trust in the final triumph of the rule of God over all that would seek to destroy the kingdom of God.

As never before I have gotten into Jesus’ effort to prepare his disciples for his leaving them. The circumstances of my life almost dictate this dynamic in my own soul and ministry. I am getting ready to retire from LPC after 46 years of intimate fellowship, worship, service, teaching, preaching, and spiritual sharing with people I have loved and will continue to love forever. I have repeatedly asked myself what I want to say in this goodbye time.

What I have said in our weekly dialogue groups is the message of John chapters 13 to 17. I have shared with the groups my deep “thank you” for all the ways that you have honored me over the years. My exhortation has been that you honor and love your new pastoral leadership  in the way you have loved me and my family, that you stay united in love for God and for one another, and that you continue to discern God’s mission for our congregation  as you move forward in trust and obedience.

I confess that this has been a joyful, yet painful time in my life journey. But I do not want to miss any of it, either the tears or the laughter. This is a valley and a mountaintop we must all experience to be whole.

So on this Communion Sunday I want to reflect with you on Jesus’ words in John 15:11. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, so that your joy may be complete.”

“So that my joy may be in you.”

Jesus’ joy! This is joy I need in my life to sustain me.  This is the joy that we all need.  What was the substance of Jesus’ joy, that he named as “my joy”?

Joy for Jesus was anchored in his intimate relationship with God his heavenly father. I think this was an intimacy or what some theologians name as Jesus’ “God consciousness”.  He became aware from an early stage of his life that he was his Father’s Son, born of the Spirit and the object of the Father’s love and joy.

This found expression from the moment of his baptism. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Whenever he was troubled he retreated to the hillside, to the desert, to the solitude and the silence of the fields, to the place where John baptized him.  There he listened anew for the Father’s affirmation. He contemplated the mystery of God, of the Holy One of Israel.  One day at a time he centered himself in this relationship.

This relationship taught him that he was one with the Father from before time, that his was the Word that called all things into being. The light of God’s creation was shining in his heart, and the power of the Spirit was brooding over and in his soul.  What took shape in his life were the grace and truth of God.  In his unity with the Father the revelation of the heart of God was being manifest.

This was the joy, the meaning, the purpose, the being, the love and reality of his personhood in which he took such joy. This truth anchored his heart and mind. In his body the living Temple of God dwelt at the center of Israel’s life.  From this holy power of love and joy of the kingdom of God grew into the darkness of a rebellious enemy occupied territory.

But his hour had come; his time had arrived. He would face into his destiny at the cross where he would make atonement for the sins of the world and reconcile the world to God’s self in a self-sacrificing offering of divine love that promised to redeem all humanity and indeed the whole cosmos.

The long sermon of the Book of Hebrews said it like this: “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.” Hebrews 12:1-2

Jesus’ joy, “my joy”! This was the very joy of God’s salvation story, of the Word becoming flesh to live among us for the sake of searching for us and finding us, and bringing us home to a great celebration of restoration of life as God intended it be from the beginning.

“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11

“That your joy may be complete.”

In John 16 Jesus asked his disciples,

“Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, ‘ A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’?

Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come.  But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world.  So you have pain now; but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” John 16:19-22

Jesus wanted his joy to be in the disciples, but he knew that between the moment of his spoken words until the completion of God’s salvation story our lives would be characterized by both pain and joy. Indeed, the whole creation is in labor pains until it will see the completion of the story.  Therefore, as we abide in Jesus and he lives within us, we will experience the labor pains of a world being healed and transformed at the same time.  The pains of the creation and the groans of suffering are within each of our lives.

What this means is that God’s salvation story is not yet complete either within me, or you, or within the cosmos. I love the way the Apostle Paul wrote of this to the Roman church:

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. 

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8

Jesus sought to prepare his disciples for his departure. He desired that they be filled with his joy and that his joy might be complete.

So we come to his Table this morning to receive his Spirit of love and joy. Here we abide in him.  Here he grows the reality of his joy in the heart of each disciple and in the heart of his church.  Here he imparts the truth which the Apostle Paul wrote,

“For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 14:17

By Dr. Jerry Tankersley